Innumerable Shades of Grey

planned parenthood shootingYes — about a week ago there was yet another mass shooting in the US, this time at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, CO. (I won’t go into the even more recent mass shootings in Georgia or California yesterday.)

There’s not too many details in the public domain yet (at least when I wrote this post), but we know that a middle-aged, white male suspect was apprehended after a stand-off with police (pictured above), that three people (including a cop) were killed, and that several more wounded. Continue reading “Innumerable Shades of Grey”

Taking Theory for Granted

parliamentanthemWithout arriving on the scene with the work of a social theorist like Emile Durkheim in our back pockets, I’m not sure what we would make of the French parliament joining together yesterday to sing their national anthem in the wake of Friday night’s bloody Paris attacks. Continue reading “Taking Theory for Granted”

You Made Me the Individual That I Am Today

driverstestA story the other day on National Public Radio’s morning show was on the US Republican party’s ongoing efforts to recruit more voters from the Latina/o community.

Give it a listen. Continue reading “You Made Me the Individual That I Am Today”

“I Was an Orphan. I Grew Up in Pennsylvania…”

A man in a suit with the text "Nostalgia. It's delicate. But potent"Tonight is the series end to Mad Men, the story of the early years of Madison Avenue ad men (and women). When last we saw him, the protagonist, Don, had given away his car to a young scam artist, offering him a new start, and was seated alone at a bus stop, his belongings in a big paper sack. His ex-wife, Betty, had been diagnosed with lung cancer but was going back to school anyway. His onetime boss and then partner, Roger, was playing an electric organ in their freshly vacated offices while Peggy, once a secretary but now an integral part of the creative team, had rollerskated her way into a new found self-confidence and a new office, armed with some erotic Japanese art.

peggy Continue reading ““I Was an Orphan. I Grew Up in Pennsylvania…””

Why, When I was a Kid…

Picture 8The other day I was cruising around the web reading old New York Times pieces and came across one entitled “Does Religion Oppress Women.” As with many things on the web (e.g., the banana slicer for sale at amazom.com), the comments section is the best part. For example:

Picture 5kaybee’s comment stood out for me because it nicely represents a commonplace strategy — a strategy at home within the academy no less than in comments on the web — of positing a pristine originary moment that, once expressed or shared, is only later corrupted and polluted. It’s a model not unlike the telephone game (problematically known as “Chinese whispers” earlier on), which judges the contemporary against the pure source, and one that we find in the U.S. supreme court (when a justices measure current behaviors by the standard of what the writers of the Constitution intended) as well as in the study of etymology itself (whose own etymology denotes studying the true meaning of a word). Continue reading “Why, When I was a Kid…”

Every New Beginning…

the-beginningThere’s a few pop songs that strike me as containing some great nuggets of social theory, and so they stick with me — such as a line about nostalgia from Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” (that I once blogged about here). Another is Semisonic‘s 1998 hit “Closing Time.”

Don’t know it? Give it a listen, below, while you’re reading. You’ll remember it. Continue reading “Every New Beginning…”

Secret Agent Man

a man with a plug in the back of his headThe approach to identification advocated here at the Edge puzzles some readers since it troubles the usual notion that we have of the individual who does things for certain reasons. We talk about interests and purposes, yes, but we don’t presuppose the usual sort of agent doing things in the world.

Is that a contradiction?

I don’t think so. Continue reading “Secret Agent Man”

On the Spot with Craig Martin

“On the Spot” backs members of Culture on the Edge into a corner to talk about their backgrounds, their ongoing work, and what might be gained by an alternative understanding of how identity works.

craigguitarQ: Craig, the shift that we’re all making at Culture on the Edge – from describing identities that either do or do not complement each other to studying the historically situated identification practices that make it possible to claim an identity – is not all that typical for scholars of religion. Do you agree? And if so, then what did you do your early work on and when (and why) did you start to make this theoretical shift?

A: I find that a lot of scholars claim that there is, of course, no essence to any religious or cultural tradition, but who then go on to talk as if there was. Continue reading “On the Spot with Craig Martin”

The Other Shoe Drops

stayingpowerIn the same issue of The New York Review of Books that I cited elsewhere (the June 20, 2013 issue), there appears a review essay on two new books on the history of Christianity. Written by the Cambridge University historian, Eamon Duffy, and entitled “The Staying Power of Christianity,” it tackles Robert Wilken’s The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity and John O’ Malley’s Trent: What Happened at the Council. For those interested in bringing more nuanced social theory to the study of religion, Duffy’s opening lines promise much: “If an anthropologist from the star system Sirius were to teleport to earth to conduct a field study of Christianity, where would she go?” What follows is a quick list of several different sites–e.g., a Greek monastery on Mount Athos, a papal mass in St. Peters, a Pentecostal snake-handling service, a Quaker meeting house, etc.–that makes plain that the notion of a homogenous thing called Christianity is hardly a given for many current scholars. “History is written backwards, hindsight is of its essence,” Duffy writes in concluding his introductory paragraph, “and every attempt to characterize any great and complex historical movement is an act of retrospective construction: what is left out of the story is just as significant as anything included.” Continue reading “The Other Shoe Drops”