Is the Media Free?

Much public discussion today includes concerns about the freedom of the press. People fear that some politicians and businesses exert pressure to cover them favorably, especially as some have denounced the mainstream media. We can consider, however, whether the media of any form is really free.

Pierre Bourdieu in a 1996 series of essays entitled On Television (English translation by Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson published in 1998) wrote: Continue reading “Is the Media Free?”

Miss Japan and the Structures We Inhabit

dig13623-230The recent selection of Miss World Japan has created a stir. The BBC headline “Miss Japan Won By Half-Indian Priyanka Yoshikawa” forefronted only the aspect of her heritage that some found problematic because they do not see Yoshikawa as “pure” Japanese. Last year’s crowning of Ariana Miyamoto as Miss Japan (in the Miss Universe franchise) faced similar responses, as Miyamoto’s parents are Japanese and African-American. While it is easy to see these controversies as signs of the insularity and even xenophobia of some Japanese (which ironically reinforces particular stereotypes of Japan as foreign), that designation is unfair in two ways. First, these two Japanese women and their supporters have challenged such attitudes in Japan, thus refuting the generalizability of the stereotype. Second, such preferences for ethnic purity among some in Japan are not as different from common attitudes in the United States. Continue reading “Miss Japan and the Structures We Inhabit”

Of Victims and Agents

I’m hardly the first to point out how curious the current coverage is of white communities in decline, dealing with poverty, alienation, and, in some cases, severe drug addiction, as opposed to the coverage of black communities that have long lived with many of the same problems. Continue reading “Of Victims and Agents”

The Individual as Product and Producer

anthony-giddens

Every research investigation in the social sciences or history is involved in relating action to structure, in tracing, explicitly or otherwise, the conjunction or disjunctions of intended and unintended consequences of activity and how these affect the fate of individuals…. For the permutations of influences are endless, and there is no sense in which structure ‘determines’ action or vice versa. The nature of the constrains to which individuals are subject, the uses to which they put the capacities they have and the forms of knowledgability they display are all themselves manifestly historically variable. (p. 219)

Giddens makes an important point here, one frequently overlooked by scholars who emphasize either agency or structure in their work, and thereby failing to understand the two as heads and tails of the same situated, historical complex. Continue reading “The Individual as Product and Producer”

Good vs. Evil Makes a Good Story

10346022996_3f96743f5f_oDarth 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”

A Lesson in the Sociology of Luck

espositoGrowing up in Canada, you were likely a hockey fan; no different than how baseball is the so-called American pastime, in the Canada where and when I grew up it was hockey. Living near Toronto, the odds were pretty good that you’d be a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. And back then, there weren’t too many teams in the league, so you probably felt a rivalry with pretty much everyone, since you were able to tell stories about pivotal wins and loses to each.

And it was in that context that I disliked Phil Esposito. Continue reading “A Lesson in the Sociology of Luck”

This Job Would Be Great If It Weren’t For The Students

Graduation

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”

Only What’s on the Menu

fiveeasypiecesFor a long time my wife and I worked at different universities, in different U.S. states, and it required some long distance driving when we got together, which in turn required coffee. So I’d often stop into a McDonald’s while on the drive, pick up a cup and maybe some food, and then get right back on the interstate, to save time. Since I knew it was “to go,” I’d usually start off my order by saying, “Now, this is to go…,” but I always found that after I finished ordering — “Yes, of course: supersize that!” — they’d always ask,

“Is that for here or to go?”

It was as if they hadn’t even heard me answer that question right from the start. Continue reading “Only What’s on the Menu”

Pretty Strategies and Rusty Tactics

Picture 6Looking for a good example of the arm wrestling match between structure and agency, between authorized systems and the way they’re inevitably contested? Then visit the University of Alabama. Continue reading “Pretty Strategies and Rusty Tactics”

Isn’t That Special

notspecialI found this interesting pic online not long ago and it occurred to me that the sort of alternative approach to identity being entertained at Culture on the Edge — an approach to identification that structurates and historicizes agency and intention — is likely one that runs counter to the commonsense notion of the individual, of the self, that most of us have, making this idea of the individual itself a social thing. This alternative approach therefore places emphasis on the collective situation in which our idea of the individual comes into existence as a discursive item, as a social, legal, political fiction which helps to make possible the worlds that we take for granted.

Case in point: private ownership is possible only once we have legally defined and distinguished individuals in place.

To entertain such a radically historicized and socialized notion of the self, of identification as a means to signify the self, means that we have to be willing to entertain that we, each of us, are not special, at least not how we usually think of it. Instead, we might consider that we become special to certain people, at specific times, for particular reasons. We thus turn our attention to the strategies of specialization, as an ongoing process and series of discrete practices, rather than seeing its product as a free floating, transcendental value — much like the move from expressing an identity to studying the techniques and sites of identification.

If we insist on thinking of ourselves as unique, as special, as rugged individuals who stand out from the crowd, then, it is because of the others to whom we are related, in structured situations not of our making. What makes us stand out, in short, are the shoulders we’re thrust upon.

standout