The Alchemy of Circumstances

novelAfter quoting from Maria Iordanidu‘s novel, Loxandra (c. 1963)–a novel set in the early 19th century in the city then known as Constantinople–concerning an episode in which an otherwise unassuming shopkeeper is questioned by the protagonist as to whether he had participated in the massacre of Armenians–Jean-Francois Bayart goes on: Continue reading “The Alchemy of Circumstances”

Takin’ It to the Streets

churchsignIt’s sort of interesting to see how an apparently counter-intuitive model of identity uncontroversially (and probably unintentionally) finds its way into everyday life.

Consider, for example, the above church sign that I snapped on my way back from walking my dog this past weekend. Continue reading “Takin’ It to the Streets”

The Ambivalence of Intellectuals

bourdieu

“intellectuals are holders of cultural capital and, even if they are the dominated among the dominant, they still belong among the dominant. That is one of the foundations of their ambivalence….”

So wrote the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (d. 2002), in the closing lines to a 1996 address entitled “The Myth of ‘Globalization’ and the European Welfare State” (published in his little book, Acts of Resistance [29-44]). I think these lines are well wroth remembering when we read scholarship that writes against the grain, as some call it, or which undermines elite narratives by doing history from the ground up (what we once called social history). For, despite what they likely see as their own noble goals, the supposedly silenced voices that they recover are the products of their own travel grants, sabbaticals, and the privilege that comes with earning ones living by writing and talking about features of other people’s lives that strike us as interesting. Continue reading “The Ambivalence of Intellectuals”

“Hey You!”

leninandotheressaysLouis Althusser’s (d. 1990) essay collection, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (1968; English translation 1971), in particular the essay entitled “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation),” is crucial for anyone interested in rethinking the common perception of identity-as-expressed-quality as instead being the interiorized result of prior and assorted (i.e., among actors of varying authority) social acts of identification and interaction (as briefly suggested in this post). As Althusser wrote in that essay:

I shall then suggest that ideology ‘acts’ or ‘functions’ in such a way that it ‘recruits’ subjects among the individuals (it recruits them all), or ‘transforms’ the individuals into subjects (it transforms them all) by that very precise operation which I have called interpellation or hailing, and which can be imagined along the lines of the most commonplace everyday police (or other) hailing: ‘Hey, you there!’

You Made Me What I Am Today

birthday cakeNational Public Radio’s science correspondent, Shankar Vedantam, reported yesterday on some empirical research on the effects of people doing those patterned and repetitive, rule governed behaviors that we call rituals.

You can listen to the story here.

The punchline is that, according to researchers at the Harvard Business School (hardly the only place doing empirical, experimental research on ritual, of course), rituals like singing “Happy Birthday to You” and blowing out candles on the cake prompt people to report that, when they later eat it, the cake is more satisfying and tastes better (and that they’re even willing to pay more for it). As Vedantam sums up the findings: “Rituals seem to increase anticipation and make people more mindful of what they were eating. Performing a ritual before you eat a carrot apparently makes the carrot more tasty than it was before.” Continue reading “You Made Me What I Am Today”

But Which is Hip to Drink?

NestleResourceWaterHave you heard of Nestlé’s new product “Resource”? With bottled water a competitive $11.8 billion international industry in 2012 alone, it makes sense that suppliers will work very hard to dress up their products to give them any advantage in the marketplace. Keeping in mind that they’re selling water, they’re doing this by dressing it down: its simpler, more authentic, and there’s green, yellow and blue on the label. “Resource” is so natural, in fact, that you can see right through it, like there’s nothing there. Maybe that’s because they use 50% less plastic in the bottles. How much purer can it get? Continue reading “But Which is Hip to Drink?”

Regulating Significance

Picture 9Perhaps one of the more important articles demonstrating, in a practical situation (the production and sales of so-called Oriental carpets), how discourses on authenticity are ways of managing an otherwise unregulated economy of signification (both meaning and value), is Brian Spooner‘s long but rich essay in Arjun Appadurai’s edited volume, The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 1986: 195-235).

They Just Call it “Food”

authentic signIn a recent exchange between the spoiled, impetuous young King (who, on this occasion, was angered by a disrespectful comment from his uncle) and his far more seasoned, politically powerful grandfather, in season three of the TV series Game of Thrones, viewers heard the following:

Joffrey Baratheon: I am the king! I will punish you.
Tywin Lannister: Any man who must say, “I am the king” is no true king.

The rule of thumb that I would propose is that as soon as we switch from just doing something ourselves to talking about doing it–telling someone else how to do it or comparing the various ways in which it is done–then whatever it was that we were doing is no longer what it’s all about. That this applies doubly when it comes to talking about someone else’s doings, no matter how fair and balanced we think we’re being, cannot be overlooked.

After all, here in Alabama people just call it “food” and eat it.

 

Persons, Displaces, and Things

religionmigrationIn early September 2013 there’s a conference in Liverpool, hosted by the European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR) and the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR). The description of the event–entitled “Religion, Migration, and Mutation”–starts as follows:

conf description1 Continue reading “Persons, Displaces, and Things”

Blurred Boundaries

clintonobamaIn preparation for the first meeting of Culture on the Edge, at the University of Alabama, the group looked at some resources that purport to study identity in a more dynamic, theoretically-engaged way–e.g., works devoted to studies of diaspora, hybridity, syncretism, etc.–in hopes of finding models for how to study the production and movement of identity but without (unintentionally, perhaps) reproducing the very thing one means to study. Continue reading “Blurred Boundaries”