“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”
Like 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…”
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).
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)”
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.
A recent article by historian Randall Balmer making the rounds of social media presents a useful, and for some seductive, counterpoint to the standard narrative of the Culture Wars and abortion. The gist of the article is the unmasking of the ideological interests generating the opposition to abortion, particularly the fear of interference in segregated private religious schools in the aftermath of public school desegregation. Whatever an individual’s feelings about abortion or the role of conservative religious groups in contemporary politics, the article’s title, “The Real Origins of the Religious Right,” alone should give one pause, based on the critiques of rhetoric that we have been presenting at Culture on the Edge. The language of “real origins” suggests the construction of a narrative to promote a particular vision of the world, not simply a description of what happened. The line following the title doubles down on this. “They’ll tell you it was abortion. Sorry, the historical record’s clear: It was segregation.” Continue reading “A Seductive Tale of Origins”
The versatility of clothing makes it a preferred means for constructing and negotiating identities; not only individual identities (just think of a teenager’s anxieties when choosing clothes!), but also collective ones. Clothes make the man, and political actors are well aware of this…. As for the military dictators of the twentieth century, they often thought that it sufficed to appear on television in a three-piece suit in order to civilise their regimes and reassure public opinion. One might say, again parodying the French title of J. L. Austin’s book How to Do Things with Words, ‘Dressing is doing.’ (195-6)
[This is one of an ongoing series of posts, quoting from Bayart’s The Illusion of Cultural Identity, that further documents the theoretical basis
on which Culture on the Edge is working.]
Over at the blog for the Bulletin for the Study of Religion, Merinda Simmons has been among those invited to respond to their query about the line–if any–between scholarship and politics.