Books can be the best Christmas gifts, at least in my humble opinion. I have already finished one novel that I received for Christmas, Singapore Exile Murders by F. van Wyck Mason. Written, published, and set in 1939, the novel incorporates the responses of Europeans and Americans in southeast Asia to the global events leading up to World War II, making it an intriguing historical artifact based on one person’s imaginings. As a piece of data, the language in the novel surprised me at points, including the off-hand use of terms for African-Americans and Chinese that would be considered offensive today.
Beyond illustrating how what is considered acceptable has shifted in the past 75 years, these problematic terms (by our standards) also illustrate the ways everyday language reinforces, even makes appear normal, social hierarchies. The ways that Europeans and European-American characters use these terms in casual speech places African-Americans (who do not appear as characters in the novel) in the position of menial, hard laborers and Chinese (who are primarily servants, rickshaw pullers, and the like) as clearly inferior. The condescending labels thus socialize people into particular positions of inferiority and superiority by making the hierarchy appear natural, simply the way things are. Continue reading “PC Power”
A culture is not a costume. That sentiment has become a common theme on social media and student newspapers (here from James Madison University and here from Chapman University, for example) with the approach of Halloween. The sentiment makes sense with people, primarily identified with a majority community, masquerading for fun as a stereotyped member of a minority. The history of using minority images for entertainment and benefit of majorities is long and painful, including the blackface minstrel shows of a century ago. Such costumes reinforce the costumed person’s majority status as he/she masquerades as something other, thus demonstrating differences in power.
However, accusations of cultural appropriation also can become assertions of power and control from some in minority groups. In the video embedded below, the narrator describes cultural appropriation as “when you hijack a part of a culture without permission, not out of respect or tribute.” Continue reading “What Should You Be on Halloween?”
Darth Vader vs. Luke Skywalker, Sauron vs. Gandalf, Voldemort vs. Harry Potter. Stories are full of good and bad characters, sometimes complicated with the redemption of a character like Darth Vader, but what does it take to maintain such a stark division between good and evil?
Continue reading “Good vs. Evil Makes a Good Story”
As a person who works at a small, Catholic liberal arts university that has a mission to serve underprivileged students, I am often intrigued by the manner in which discussions about the educational rights of the underprivileged weave their way through the academy. I’m interested precisely because it seems that almost every scholar I know can talk about how enraged they are about the barriers that exist for underprivileged students, but few seem to openly connect this to the fact that the ways we are groomed to think about our own jobs simply reproduce these very same inequities. Continue reading “This Job Would Be Great If It Weren’t For The Students”
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.
2. Name one of your favorite theory books.
Bruce Lincoln, Holy Terrors: Thinking About Religion After 9/11 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003)
This is one of my favorite theory books because of its approach toward and definition of religion. The definition, which has four parts, revolves around the first component: the foundation of religion, Lincoln asserts, is discourse. What makes religious discourse different from other types of discourse is that it appeals to a transcendent source (the most familiar version of which is “God”), which subsequently sets that claim beyond effective human critique significantly increasing the political weight of such claims. The other three components (practices, communities, and institutions) come to life only insomuch as they are socio-structural manifestations of that discourse. Continue reading “You Are What You Read, with Leslie Dorrough Smith (Part 2)”
For Foucault, a grid of classification is an application of power that permits action on a subject, perhaps making him or her a subject of disciplinary practices that nudge the subject towards conformity with an ideal posited within the grid at hand. Continue reading “On Agency”