Dinner Dates: Mike Pence, Family Values, and Washington Masculinity

Mike Pence is pictured. | Getty

When word broke this past week that Vice President Mike Pence has a longstanding practice of refusing to dine alone with any woman not his wife in order to ensure that he is not tempted by an illicit relationship, the reactions from all sides of the aisle were intriguing but pretty predictable.  On the left, the claim was that this behavior was not only sexist and completely diminishing of women, but that such a move would prevent many women politicos from (literally) getting a seat at the table in an atmosphere where never-ending work schedules make working meals a prerequisite for employment.  On the right, a general rejection of the sexism thesis was followed by praise for Pence and his commitment to his marriage. Continue reading “Dinner Dates: Mike Pence, Family Values, and Washington Masculinity”

“All About the Gut”

rallyWith Merinda Simmons’s post in mind, from a few days ago, concerning the use of “feelings” in current political discourse, a couple things stood out this morning in a radio story on a supposed shift in current US politics. Continue reading ““All About the Gut””

Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore

On Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver delivered a really entertaining bit on the duel between–or conflation of–facts and feelings that played out during the Republican National Convention:

We talk a lot on this blog about the vested interests present in any interpretation or identification. Appeals to facts and empiricism all too often present them as implicitly neutral or self-evident. Vaia Touna calls our attention to the sticky wicket of interpretive acts in this post, for example, on the hermeneutical quicksand that attends reading maps and recording history. Continue reading “Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore”

Profitable and Harmful Fear

I-5_north_approaching_I-10_east_split-_long_viewDo you remember when a few people suggested that Obama would crown himself dictator, run for a third term, confiscate all of the guns, etc., etc.? Now that the primaries and caucuses for the election of his successor are virtually complete, those fears seem to have dissipated, replaced with new fears, of course. And stoking fear happens across the political spectrum. Someone is taking away our opportunities (whether identified as immigrants or the superrich). Someone is trying to take away our vote (whether a particular party or campaign, SuperPACs or legislators through redistricting and new voting requirements). If the other party (whichever is other within the conversation) comes to power, they will take away vital rights (reproductive choice, second amendment, privacy, etc.). We are repeatedly told to be afraid. With all the talk of fear, it appears that the freedoms and quality of life in the United States hang by a thread.

And yet, if we step back and think about it, our way of life is not as tenuous as some would lead us to believe. The horrific shooting in Orlando this past weekend is both tragic and scary, fanning our common fears of mass violence, especially among communities who feel targeted. While people discuss various aspects of the shooting and propose potential policies that might prevent it (depending on which cause they emphasize; homophobia, religious zealotry, access to guns, mental illness, . . . ), we need to remember that we are more likely to die in a traffic accident (as the signboard counts of YTD fatalities remind us) than in a mass shooting, yet that fear is not as visceral. Continue reading “Profitable and Harmful Fear”

On False Problems

pbourdieuThis is part of a collection of posts of quotations from The Sociologist and the Historian, (first published in French in 2010 and in English in 2015), a short collection of transcripts from a series of late 1987/early 1988 radio interviews between Roger Chartier and the late social theorist, Pierre Bourdieu.

If these false sociological problems, false scientific problems, persist, this is because they are often based on real social problems or on real social interests. For example, as you suggested, I believe that the majority of these oppositions between macro and micro, objective and subjective, and today, among historians, between economic analysis and political analysis, and so on, are false oppositions that do not resist three seconds of theoretical analysis, but that they are extremely important because they fulfill social functions for those who use them….

The interest in false problems is that they are eternal. Besides, from the point of view of science, these false problems are often rooted in real political problems: that’s the case, for example, with the opposition between individuals and society, individualism and socialism, individualism and holism, all those ‘ism’ words that I see as absurd, without any sense. These oppositions can always be reactivated because they have something to do with the opposition between collectivism or socialism on the one hand and liberalism on the other. And by way of these underground affiliations, political struggles can be brought into the scientific field. Now, the autonomy of the scientific field depends on the establishment of frontiers against these false problems…. (37-9)

Listen to the original radio broadcast, in French, here.
Bourdieu&Chartier-FinalVisuals2

On Anachronism

bourdieuThis is part of a collection of posts of quotations from The Sociologist and the Historian, (first published in French in 2010 and in English in 2015), a short collection of transcripts from a series of late 1987/early 1988 radio interviews between Roger Chartier and the late social theorist, Pierre Bourdieu.

I believe that one of the contributions of my work … has been to turn the scientific gaze onto science itself. For example, to take occupational classifications as the object of analysis instead of using them without hesitation or reflection. The paradox is that historians, for example … often show an extraordinary naivety in their use of categories. For example, it is impossible to conduct longitudinal statistical studies comparing the status of medical doctors from the eighteenth century through to our day — perhaps I’m inventing this example — without being clear that the notion of a ‘doctor’ is a historical construction that has constantly changed. It is the very categories with which the historic object is constructed that should be the object of a historical analysis.

The same pertains in relation to the terms with which we speak about reality. ‘Politics,’ for example, is completely a historically constituted notion, constituted very recently; the world of what I call the political field is practically an invention of the nineteenth century. You could discuss — I don’t want to go out on a limb, being faced here with a redoubtable historian — but I believe that all these notions, all the words and concepts that we employ to conceptualize history, are themselves historically constituted; and strangely, historians are actually the most apt to fall into anachronism since, whether to seem modern or to make their work more interesting, or out of negligence, they employ words that are currently used to speak of realities within which these words were not current, or else had a different meaning. I believe that this reflexivity is extremely important. (11-12)

Listen to the original radio broadcast, in French, here.
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Freedom Fighter or Prophet

Indian_freedom_fighter“Look! . . . Up in the sky. . . . It’s a bird. . . . It’s a plane. . . . No, it’s Superman!” When someone points out something in the distance, like an object flying through the sky, it can be hard to recognize just what it is. We attempt to name it, place it in a clear category, but sometimes our categories don’t fit, especially when working with complex societies, and the category that we attempt to force it into often influences what we actually see.

Arkotong Longkumer, in Reform, Identity and Narrative of Belonging (a 2010 book on the Heraka movement in northeast India), analyzes an intriguing community and movement that engaged politics, economics, social change, ritual shifts, and ethnicity, to name a few areas of interest. The context of the movement was the increasing imposition of British rule in the region in the early twentieth century, including the British encouragement of immigration to the area that disrupted the traditional migration cycle and the agricultural system that required it. The simultaneous opportunity for education and government jobs combined with the necessity of alternative forms of labor in the wake of declining agricultural production. All of this required a revision in ritual practices and social restrictions to reduce the expense of animal sacrifices and the limitations on mobility and individual independence from the community, as they adapted to the changing environment. The contexts also fostered interest in uniting different groups politically in opposition to, at times, the British and other communities. In fact, the image above of one of the leaders is entitled “Indian Freedom Fighter”. Continue reading “Freedom Fighter or Prophet”

And Our 12 Points Go To…

eurovisionvotingLike Wimbledon, I watch the Eurovision finals each year — we started doing it a few years ago. I was in Greece during the finals back in 2009 (“This is our night!”) and, since then, have gotten a kick out of the finals, especially the hour long voting ritual once all the songs have been performed, when local hosts, presumably from each country’s own telecast, “call” into the host city to reveal who their country voted for. That the awkward time delays in almost all of these reports makes it seem like a 1970s interview from halfway around the world, coupled with the fact that each country’s local host presumably wants to get as much as they can from their 30 seconds on air with the estimated 180 million viewers worldwide, while the event’s hosts back at the venue squirm on-air because they just want to hear their votes so they can speed things along, makes it all the better. Continue reading “And Our 12 Points Go To…”

You Are What You Read, with Leslie Dorrough Smith (Part 4)

For a new Culture on the Edge series “You Are What You Read” we’re asking each member to answer a series of questions about books — either academic or non-academic — that have been important or influential on us.

4. Name a book that could serve as the perfect foil for your current research project (e.g., an example of a scholarly trend you’re working against).

Between Jesus and the Market

When I think about a trend in scholarship that I’m working against, I (ironically) consider one of the first volumes that shifted my academic path towards the study of rhetoric, and which remains one of the most influential volumes to my present focus today.  Previously in this series I mentioned the pivotal role that Roland Barthes’ Mythologies played early on in my thinking, but in terms of influence, I could just as easily have mentioned Between Jesus and the Market: The Emotions That Matter in Right-Wing America, by Linda Kintz.

Kintz’s work earns a paradoxical place in my mind for the same reason that I feel so conflicted about much of the scholarship on evangelicalism and fundamentalism out today: although often historically incisive and analytically helpful, Kintz writes with a clear agenda to politically defeat her subjects. What strikes me as odd about this position is that almost all scholars who do this contextualize their own political positions as somehow fundamentally different from those that they critique. This, to me, is worth mention because believing that one is fundamentally different from those that they study often proves to be an analytically questionable position. Continue reading “You Are What You Read, with Leslie Dorrough Smith (Part 4)”

Your Turn: Are they “illegals” or “post-fetal persons”?

Mexican children

For the past several days this image has circulated around Facebook in response to the recent flood of Central American children reaching the southern borders of the U.S. in hopes of gaining safe passage, many of them escaping violent home countries. If you’re unfamiliar with the dynamics of what’s gone on, you can read more about it here.

Clearly, this situation has given many political groups ample opportunity to engage in the manufacture of various identities as they take sides on the issue. What identity strategies have you seen at play in this conflict? How have they operated? In what political/social/cultural contexts do they appear to be effective? It’s your turn.