I Saw the Sign, or Did I?

A Map of Elizabethtown College, particularly the northern corner of campus at the intersection of East College Avenue and Campus Road
A Google Maps Image of the northern corner of Elizabethtown College at the Intersection of E College Ave and Campus Rd

The northern end of Elizabethtown College sits at the meeting of East College Ave and Campus Rd. The vertex is more of a bend than an actual edge, justifying the placement of a conditional stop sign. Drivers can do the otherwise illegal so long as they are rounding the curve, but those moving away from the school must heed the sign conventionally.

Maybe you have similar intersections where you live, but signs like these appear to be rare in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. If anything, we make a habit of yielding the right of way to pedestrians, other automobiles, and yes, Amish buggies. Thus the rare conditional stop sign becomes a license to throw caution to the wind. Continue reading “I Saw the Sign, or Did I?”

What Gang Do You Claim?

gang sign mayorIn December of 2013, Russell McCutcheon penned a blog piece about the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service who was caught signing what many regarded as gibberish. McCutcheon’s post made two principle points: First, all signs are arbitrary and rely on agreed upon codes, policing and assumptions between those doing the communicating for any communication or “meaning” to be enacted. Second, the backlash faced by the interpreter demonstrates that “just because something is made up… does not mean that it doesn’t have consequences, doesn’t have effect.”

If you haven’t heard, a few days ago Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges claimed her allegiance to a local area gang. Or so an intensely politically problematic and pedagogically potent news report from KSTP 5 Eyewitness News (out of Saint Paul, MN) declared. Continue reading “What Gang Do You Claim?”

“Smile for the Camera”

factoryworkersI was browsing through the late Raymond Williams’s Marxism and Literature (1977) the other day and came across a passage in the chapter entitled “Signs and Notations” that read as follows:

For the ‘sign’ is ‘arbitrary’ only from the position of conscious or unconscious alienation. Its apparent arbitrariness is a form of social distance, itself a form of relationship…. The formal quality of words as ‘signs,’ which was correctly perceived, was rendered as ‘arbitrary’ by a privileged withdrawal from the lived and living relationships which, within any native language … make all formal meanings significant and substantial, in a world of reciprocal reference which moves, as it must, beyond the signs.

There’s a few important points here, I think, worth mulling over — perhaps with regard to the garment workers in the above photo. Continue reading ““Smile for the Camera””

“Can I See Your ID?”

Pass-IDOver the past couple of years I’ve noticed a curious new practice in stores when I use my credit card: I often must produce another piece of identification to demonstrate that the credit card is mine. Continue reading ““Can I See Your ID?””

Finding the Edges of a World Without End

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If my previous post made any sense then scholars ought to cease looking for meaning, identity, or significance in the objects studied (like the holiness of the altar or debating which Muslim is the proper sort of Muslim). Rather than doing interpretive, let alone normative, studies we’ll instead examine the usually taken-for-granted systems that groups of people use to make sense of their world–to make the world as it happens to be into a manageable world that, if done “properly,” more than likely appears to all of us as if it always has been that way and therefore ought to continue being that way. Continue reading “Finding the Edges of a World Without End”