Seeing the Ordinary as Curious

Sometime ago, I uploaded to a Facebook album my own version of a Sociological Images post — worth reproducing here, I think: so consider this March 20, 2009, photo of a group of Cameroon’s Baka people performing for Pope Benedict XVI as he left for Angola.

A group of Pygmies from Cameroun's Baka tribe dance for Pope Benedict XVI before he left for Angola to start the second leg of his trip to AfricaSimple question: who is wearing a costume?

To rephrase, can you see an ideology to men’s neckties? Why would they have been banned in the 1979 Iranian revolution? Or are they so ordinary, so normal, as to pass unnoticed?

(Admit it: you thought I was just comparing the dancers to the Pontiff, didn’t you?)

Supermodel Blues

Some of you may have seen supermodel Cameron Russell’s recent TED talk on the topic of beauty (and, more to the point, its social construction).  In the talk, Russell enters the stage wearing a tight, revealing black dress and very high heels, but as the substance of her speech ensues, she quickly changes into a far more demure (not to mention much looser) skirt and sweater. Continue reading “Supermodel Blues”

The Race Card

Have you seen The Race Card Project online? It is a site that solicits your six words about race, such as:


Those interested in considering popular understandings of this one identity domain may find this website to be a rich resource–such as the above sample which presupposes the common notion of a deeper, stable subjectivity that transcends identifiers.

Visit the site here or listen to a National Public Radio segment on it from earlier today.

Why is a Praying Atheist Newsworthy?

This week, several media outlets (Washington Post and Huffington Post) have highlighted an atheist who advocates prayer. The man has blogged that when he started a twelve step program he began praying regularly to a being he created (without believing in the existence of a deity), which changed his life for the better. Last summer, I pondered a somewhat similar hypothetical scenario in which a self-identified atheist maintained a belief in god in order to illustrate, as my colleagues here at Culture on the Edge have been saying, that identifications are strategic, not intrinsic. That blog post received pushback from some friends asserting that atheists, by definition, cannot believe in god. Continue reading “Why is a Praying Atheist Newsworthy?”

The Evidence of Experience

scottJoan Wallach Scott, the well known historian, wrote a provocative and lengthy essay on the manner in which social historians and many area specialists have mistakenly drawn upon experience as if it was the evidence/starting point for their work (that is, material culture is seen an expression of a prior experience) rather than problematizing how public claims of having had an experience are themselves social and historical products. The essay was published in Critical Inquiry 17/4 (1991): 773-797 and is posted online as a PDF. Those wishing to rethink identity studies will benefit from this essay.

Learn more about Scott’s recent book on the politics of the issue of Muslim women and veils here.

Religion is Nothing Special

Picture 3The anthropologist, Maurice Bloch, published an important article in 2008 in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B [Biological Sciences], 363: 2055–2061; critiquing recent energy spent on developing an evolutionary, cognitive science theory of religion, it opens the way toward working not on a theory of religion but, instead, taking that which we normally call religion as but an instance of a wider, mundane, but no less interesting cognitive event that we might simply call signification–which itself ought to be the object of our studies.

Obtain a free PDF of the article at the publisher’s website here.


Everything Old is New Again in Thessaloniki

junkAn interesting video was posted earlier today by the British newspaper The Guardian, a film which is part of the Energy Bits documentary initiative. It is on a very interesting Greek “upcycling” project/business in Thessaloniki, in which found objects (from the garbage or junk yards) are transformed by artists, architects, etc., into rather cool, usable things. Continue reading “Everything Old is New Again in Thessaloniki”

Imagining Identity

OldSpoolOfThreadWhat if we, as scholars, told the following narrative? In the first century there was a man named Jesus who invented a magical spool of invisible thread. He carried the spool with him everywhere he traveled as an itinerant preacher. When those who heard his message accepted it, he would magically partition the invisible thread, handing an end to each new follower. Jesus’ disciples each carried an end of this invisible thread, and everywhere they went they too distributed it. Like the loaves and the fishes Jesus is said to have multiplied to feed the masses, so was the thread multiplied and divided—like a complicated spider web—across the face of the ancient Mediterranean world. In fact, the thread stretched not only across space but across time as well, although it has been divided innumerable times over the last two millennia. Contemporary followers of Jesus in the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant churches hold the thread today at its various temporal and spatial termini. Continue reading “Imagining Identity”

BET News Post

betnewsIn her latest piece, Monica Miller discusses Dr. Carl L. Hart’s new book that addresses issues on drugs and society. Read her post “Commentary: The High Price of the War on Drugs” on here.

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”