For the past few months, as I make the fifteen-minute walk between my residence and my office in Edinburgh, I have interacted with a particular pedestrian crossing. You know the kind with a button which we are supposed to dutifully press and then wait until the signal (here in the form of a somewhat generic, slim, green, male stick figure) gives us permission to cross the road? Some enterprising individual has taken this ubiquitous element of the Edinburgh cityscape and added their social commentary, in the form of a sticker reading ‘press the button to experience sense of agency.’ And this got me thinking…
Many of the buttons that we are routinely invited to press as we go about our lives — from door close buttons in elevators to office thermostats — don’t actually work, but are artifices serving only to provide that experience of a sense of agency. Indeed, according to the BBC, ‘Edinburgh has roughly 300 traffic junctions of which about 50–60 are junctions where the green man comes on automatically.’ And this is the case in many other cities across the world. These buttons sometimes work, sometimes don’t, never work, work at varying intervals at different times, and so on. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the buttons aren’t ‘working’, but that they are doing a different sort of ‘work’ than what we might first expect. They provide a sense of agency. This is not unlike the ‘work’ done by social surveys. Continue reading “Answer this question to experience sense of agency”
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 “Love, Community, and Cow Urine”
As I tried to suggest in a post last week, concern over dehumanizing the people we study has long struck me as a pseudo-problem, i.e., a problem of scholars’ own making, inasmuch as I think that we worry about this only for those with whom we already agree, with whom we already share some affinity. In a word, the fact of the concern is an example of our own identification practice/interests up and running. For all others, we, as scholars, are likely in tacit agreement that we are not trying to convey or conserve their self-perceived meanings or some ethereal quality that they apparently share with us but, instead, trying to figure out how in the world they could even think or act in the way that they do (i.e., in such cases the people we study are a puzzle to be solved and not a pristine human value to be protected from the prying eyes of outsiders), given that their actions or beliefs are so patently odd or curious or wrong or unethical or illegal or immoral.
To us, that is…. Continue reading “Oh, the Humanity…”