Using Four-Lettered Words: Part Two


“What Justice Kennedy has undertaken in this initial statement of fact, or more properly, of data, that is to say, facts accepted for purposes of the argument…”

– Jonathan Z. Smith, “God Save This Honourable Court” (Relating Religion, p. 382)

While she was on our campus a few weeks ago, I noticed Monica Miller using the word “data” to refer to the things that she studied — things such as African American religion, scholars of African American religion, rap lyrics, and rap artists — and so I asked her a question or two about what she thought was entailed in that word and why she seemingly opted for it rather purposefully in both her public lecture, the evening before, and then during an informal lunchtime discussion with our students the next day. And then, just the other day, Leslie Smith posted on this site, using this four-lettered word in her post’s title — a use that did not go unnoticed by some on Facebook who soon were debating what was termed the dehumanizing effects of such objectifying terminology. (And now the Bulletin‘s blog has entered the debate as well.) Continue reading “Using Four-Lettered Words: Part Two”

There’s No Place Like Home, Part 2: How You (Yes, You) Became My Data

magnifying glassA few weeks back, I published a post about the interesting politics behind regional identity, focusing specifically on Kansas City, which is where I currently live.  In that post, I talked about how the narrative of “flyover country” allows certain regions of the United States to be highlighted as valuable, interesting, or otherwise unique at the expense of others depicted as having little cultural value, this despite the fact that such portrayals are often patently false or otherwise completely subjective.  If I may quote and condense that post, my main point was this: Continue reading “There’s No Place Like Home, Part 2: How You (Yes, You) Became My Data”

On the Spot with Leslie Dorrough Smith

“On the Spot” backs members of Culture on the Edge into a corner to talk about their backgrounds, their ongoing work, and what might be gained by an alternative understanding of how identity works.

leslieQ: Leslie, you have a book out soon that is on the way a certain rhetoric of chaos vs. order is used by some groups in the U.S. to organize themselves, by distinguishing their members from others, their preferences from others, and their values from others. Is that a fair (if general) description of your project? Could you tell us more?

A: Yes – this is a fairly unorthodox approach to a very mainstream subject.  The book, which is about the rhetoric of one Christian Right group, is entitled Righteous Rhetoric: Sex, Speech, and the Politics of Concerned Women for America (Oxford, 2014). Continue reading “On the Spot with Leslie Dorrough Smith”

Coloring Columbus: On the Importance of Leaving Out the Details

Christopher ColumbusI am the parent of three children, two of whom are elementary school-aged.  As such, I have now twice been handed an image of Christopher Columbus (not unlike the one featured above) that they each have dutifully colored, which appears to be a requisite kindergarten activity at our local public school. Because of the historical evidence that details Columbus’s systematic torture and murder of the peoples whose lands he colonized, I have always found this exercise something akin to coloring a picture of Saddam Hussein or some other such figure. Continue reading “Coloring Columbus: On the Importance of Leaving Out the Details”

There’s No Place Like Home?: The Narrative of Fly-Over Country

Ruby SlippersI have lived most of my life in various parts of what some have referred to as “fly-over country,” a term often used to describe the vast majority of the U.S. that lies between the coasts.  As the name implies, the popular perception is that these places aren’t particularly worth a visit because they are thought to lack cultural diversity, professional opportunities, and are often considered to be the seedbeds of a tired but persistent traditionalism that denies the value of progressive thinking. Continue reading “There’s No Place Like Home?: The Narrative of Fly-Over Country”

Hitler’s Ride

icon_bug2Photo credit: NPR

A recent NPR story by author Maureen Pao tells of a sort of bait and switch going on with some of the world’s most famous consumer products, the branding strategies of which are tied to national identity.  Did you know that Levi’s jeans are now no longer manufactured in San Francisco (nor even the United States), or that Stoli Vodka is now not “Russian” at all, but is produced in Latvia? Even the iconic body style of the original Volkswagen Beetle was last produced in Mexico.  Additionally noteworthy to Pao was the decision to move the production of Britain’s famous condiment, HP sauce, to the Netherlands, something likened to “selling the family’s silver.” Continue reading “Hitler’s Ride”