Taking Theory for Granted

parliamentanthemWithout arriving on the scene with the work of a social theorist like Emile Durkheim in our back pockets, I’m not sure what we would make of the French parliament joining together yesterday to sing their national anthem in the wake of Friday night’s bloody Paris attacks. Continue reading

It’s All About Us

23021165181_5d611c08df_zThe deadly attacks in Paris last Friday have generated sincere expressions of shock, solidarity, mourning, and anger from around the world, yet that response also generated critical hashtags such as #selectivemourning. As many have discussed in social media and articles, bombings in Beirut the previous evening received only limited coverage in the US media and few mentions on social media. We can blame the media, but that is a little simplistic, as the media not only directs our interests but also reflects them. If sufficient numbers in the audience clamored for more information about the attacks in Beirut or previous attacks on civilians over the past twelve months in Nigeria, Kenya, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, perpetrated by a range of forces, then the media coverage would increase. In fact, most who have pointed out the imbalance in the coverage are only doing so in the light of the Paris attacks. Few changed their Facebook profile photos for solidarity with Lebanon, despite it appearing in the news. Continue reading

At the Painting’s Edge

uacampusOur campus has a new painting, hanging in the lobby of our main library, depicting the University of Alabama prior to the Civil War — near the end of which most of the campus was burned down by northern troops passing through the city. But here, in this roughly 6 by 14 foot vibrant painting, we see the Rotunda brought back to life, as well as several other now missing buildings (only the remains exist today, such as a pile of debris that was once Franklin Hall that has come to be known as “the Mound“). Continue reading

The Unspeakable Profession: Sex Work, Silence, and Social Narratives

ProstituteWhen we think of things that we encourage children to be when they grow up, “prostitute” is not typically on the short list, needless to say.  In fact, when I talk with my students about the social stigmas regarding sex, several of them not infrequently remark that telling their parents that they have committed murder would be more desirable than admitting to sex work.

While there are a multitude of different conversations that would be necessary to explore why we are so quick to demonize sex workers but simultaneously worship others who sell their sexuality (supermodels, anyone?), I am interested in thinking through the social story we tell that permits us to so easily separate and compartmentalize people when the topic of sex is at stake. Continue reading

Everything Used to Be Named Something Else, No?

Picture 9Elections in Myanmar have been in our news recently — in fact, their first open national election in a quarter century. Depending how they turn out (something that will be evident by the time this post hits tomorrow, presumably), Myanmar might be in our news even more, especially since their constitution currently outlaws the frontrunner from even serving as president. Continue reading

What Should You Be on Halloween?

512px-Minstrel_PosterBillyVanWare_editA culture is not a costume. That sentiment has become a common theme on social media and student newspapers (here from James Madison University and here from Chapman University, for example) with the approach of Halloween. The sentiment makes sense with people, primarily identified with a majority community, masquerading for fun as a stereotyped member of a minority. The history of using minority images for entertainment and benefit of majorities is long and painful, including the blackface minstrel shows of a century ago. Such costumes reinforce the costumed person’s majority status as he/she masquerades as something other, thus demonstrating differences in power.

However, accusations of cultural appropriation also can become assertions of power and control from some in minority groups. In the video embedded below, the narrator describes cultural appropriation as “when you hijack a part of a culture without permission, not out of respect or tribute.” Continue reading

Save the ‘Nads! (And Other Things We Do Not Say)

Save the Tatas

As many of us are aware, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Despite the relative longevity of this particular disease awareness campaign, I remain intrigued by the story behind the origin of the Susan G. Komen foundation, one wherein Komen’s sister, Nancy Brinker, described her desire to start a foundation to raise awareness about breast cancer at a time (the early 1980s) when the diagnosis was still surrounded with secrecy and stigma.

One reason for my ongoing interest is that I wonder if the stigma surrounding breast cancer has been lifted or if it has merely changed. It is true that we are now able to openly discuss breast cancer in a way we never did before, and it is also true that much more money goes to breast cancer research now than in past decades. Yet if stigmas are nothing more than public attitudes that create social liabilities for those who bear them, then perhaps something more is going on. Continue reading

Is Your Group Oppressed?

TenCommandmentsAustinStateCapitol“A war against Christianity,” a friend on Facebook asserted, as he pointed to examples in the United States and around the world. The shooting at Umpqua Community College recently and the various occasions when ISIS has executed people identified as Christians provided prime examples. Others making similar claims point to shifts in US policy, including the removal of the Ten Commandments from schools and courthouses, restrictions on official prayer at public schools, and movements to remove “God” from the Pledge and US money. Continue reading

Love, Community, and Cow Urine

Garba_(dance)Constructing and maintaining a group, a community, requires significant effort, and at times that effort generates disagreements. In India, an organization announced this week that they were restricting admission to Garba, a traditional dance that is a major component of Navratri, a nine-night festival honoring the goddess. Only people recognized as Hindus can participate, banning specifically those identified as Muslim. A local leader of the VHP, an organization associated with Hindu nationalism, asserted, “Incidents of love jihad where Muslim boys lure and marry our Hindu girls happen at Garba. Our only aim is to protect our girls.” Continue reading

“So, Tell Me…”

Picture 13Once upon a time, in a land far away, and while walking around the book display at our field’s main national conference here in North America, I was chit-chatting with the editor of a major press in my field — a place at which I’d not yet published.

A question was posed to me that went something like this:

So, tell me: why do you publish at a place like Equinox?

There was a lot embedded in that question, I think. For, compared to the place where this person worked, Equinox was a much smaller player with far less prestige — why would such a publisher matter to me?

This editor was on the clock, doing fieldwork. It’s a business, after all.

Choosing not to address what I took to be a good dose of condescension not far from the surface of that question, I answered by saying something about how much I appreciated its willingness to take risks and also my sense of loyalty to a publisher who took a risk on me early on in my career — something that my interlocutor appreciated hearing.

After all, what editor doesn’t like loyal authors who return with new projects? Continue reading