Is the Media Free?

Much public discussion today includes concerns about the freedom of the press. People fear that some politicians and businesses exert pressure to cover them favorably, especially as some have denounced the mainstream media. We can consider, however, whether the media of any form is really free.

Pierre Bourdieu in a 1996 series of essays entitled On Television (English translation by Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson published in 1998) wrote: Continue reading “Is the Media Free?”

“I Wish I Had Down Syndrome:” On Disability, Agency, and Classification

By Daniel Jones

“I wish I had Down syndrome.” These words were spoken by a student in a functional skills special education (SPED) classroom that I work in during the day. The student was speaking with another student who has Down syndrome (DS). Like many graduate students, I work multiple jobs while being in school. Claims of the disconnected ivory tower sometimes seem lost on me. In multiple instances, my research on the role of classification in society (regarding discourses of nature, religion, human-being, etc.) and my experiences in the workplace shape one another.

My experiences in the SPED classroom often engage my experiences with the critical study of religion and society. I have found that one helps me think through the other. The above quote was affectionately spoken by a student with cognitive and physical disabilities (without DS) to another student who has DS. Continue reading ““I Wish I Had Down Syndrome:” On Disability, Agency, and Classification”

Misattributions

pouring

It occurred to me sometime ago that when we pour something we’re not actually pouring anything. Continue reading “Misattributions”

The Individual as Product and Producer

anthony-giddens

Every research investigation in the social sciences or history is involved in relating action to structure, in tracing, explicitly or otherwise, the conjunction or disjunctions of intended and unintended consequences of activity and how these affect the fate of individuals…. For the permutations of influences are endless, and there is no sense in which structure ‘determines’ action or vice versa. The nature of the constrains to which individuals are subject, the uses to which they put the capacities they have and the forms of knowledgability they display are all themselves manifestly historically variable. (p. 219)

Giddens makes an important point here, one frequently overlooked by scholars who emphasize either agency or structure in their work, and thereby failing to understand the two as heads and tails of the same situated, historical complex. Continue reading “The Individual as Product and Producer”

A Lesson in the Sociology of Luck

espositoGrowing up in Canada, you were likely a hockey fan; no different than how baseball is the so-called American pastime, in the Canada where and when I grew up it was hockey. Living near Toronto, the odds were pretty good that you’d be a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. And back then, there weren’t too many teams in the league, so you probably felt a rivalry with pretty much everyone, since you were able to tell stories about pivotal wins and loses to each.

And it was in that context that I disliked Phil Esposito. Continue reading “A Lesson in the Sociology of Luck”

Blaming the Victim

hostagesAs I write this the fate of two citizens of Japan is still in question — kidnapped in Syria and threatened with execution if their government does not pay a $200 million ransom to ISIS. Continue reading “Blaming the Victim”

Only What’s on the Menu

fiveeasypiecesFor a long time my wife and I worked at different universities, in different U.S. states, and it required some long distance driving when we got together, which in turn required coffee. So I’d often stop into a McDonald’s while on the drive, pick up a cup and maybe some food, and then get right back on the interstate, to save time. Since I knew it was “to go,” I’d usually start off my order by saying, “Now, this is to go…,” but I always found that after I finished ordering — “Yes, of course: supersize that!” — they’d always ask,

“Is that for here or to go?”

It was as if they hadn’t even heard me answer that question right from the start. Continue reading “Only What’s on the Menu”

Pretty Strategies and Rusty Tactics

Picture 6Looking for a good example of the arm wrestling match between structure and agency, between authorized systems and the way they’re inevitably contested? Then visit the University of Alabama. Continue reading “Pretty Strategies and Rusty Tactics”

Everybody Plays the Fool

collaborate

When [Walter] Kirn was just starting his novel-writing career, he met a man who was a bold financier, an art collector, a fussy eccentric, a dog lover and a Rockefeller. They became friends.

But over the years Kirn began to learn that the man who called himself Clark Rockefeller was none of that — not even a dog lover. He was a psychopath and a killer.

How did Kirn fall for the fraud? Was Christian Karl Gerhartsriter — aka “Clark Rockefeller” — extraordinarily compelling? Or was the novelist, like a lot of other people drawn to the imposter, duped by his own desire to have an attachment to a famous name?

So opens a radio story on the curious case of Clark Rockefeller — or, might we say instead, the curious case of people, such as Kirn himself, who believed his friend to be the man he claimed to be. The difference between how we approach this story — is it about Rockefeller (pictured above) or Kirn? — tells us much about the social theory used to tell the tale. Continue reading “Everybody Plays the Fool”

Isn’t That Special

notspecialI found this interesting pic online not long ago and it occurred to me that the sort of alternative approach to identity being entertained at Culture on the Edge — an approach to identification that structurates and historicizes agency and intention — is likely one that runs counter to the commonsense notion of the individual, of the self, that most of us have, making this idea of the individual itself a social thing. This alternative approach therefore places emphasis on the collective situation in which our idea of the individual comes into existence as a discursive item, as a social, legal, political fiction which helps to make possible the worlds that we take for granted.

Case in point: private ownership is possible only once we have legally defined and distinguished individuals in place.

To entertain such a radically historicized and socialized notion of the self, of identification as a means to signify the self, means that we have to be willing to entertain that we, each of us, are not special, at least not how we usually think of it. Instead, we might consider that we become special to certain people, at specific times, for particular reasons. We thus turn our attention to the strategies of specialization, as an ongoing process and series of discrete practices, rather than seeing its product as a free floating, transcendental value — much like the move from expressing an identity to studying the techniques and sites of identification.

If we insist on thinking of ourselves as unique, as special, as rugged individuals who stand out from the crowd, then, it is because of the others to whom we are related, in structured situations not of our making. What makes us stand out, in short, are the shoulders we’re thrust upon.

standout