Isn’t That Special

I 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.

a woman hovering over a crowd of people

Resistance is Futile

black stairs for a brick buildingOur Department is located in a late 19th century building that was originally a residence, built in New Orleans style, with balconies, wrought iron railings, and staircases on the exterior of the building. The stairs seem a little steep, so you get a work out going up.

One thing I’ve noticed here, over the past decade or so, is how this particular architecture makes certain gender ideologies evident. Continue reading “Resistance is Futile”

No There There

a hand printSometime ago I realized that there was important theoretical work signaled by gerunds—verbs that masquerade as nouns; for instance, as I once phrased it, the advantage for a social theorist of the concept “social formation,” as opposed to, say, “social forces,” “society,” “group” or even “institution,” was that it “nicely represents not only the ongoing work of bringing an imagined social group into existence but also the sleight of hand in making it appear always to have existed.” So “social formation” could name a thing, of course, prefaced by an indefinite article, for example, but, simultaneously, it can also name the ongoing process whereby the supposed thing comes into being, repeatedly and continually. Singing a national anthem is therefore an event in the day and life of members of a social formation, yes, but at the same time it is a socially formative act, i.e., a repetitive act constitutive of the formation of a particular, shared idea of citizenship—one element of a never ending process of identifications we might awkwardly term citizenizing. Continue reading “No There There”

Structure and Agency

a video of a women going up stepsI saw an interesting video the other day, of a woman, Amy Tso, who has climbed the “Grouse Grind” over 900 times — a challenging 3 km hike up a mountain in British Columbia that includes nearly 3,000 stairs and which takes about two hours to climb.

At the 58 second point of the video she comments, “Usually we go around this step,” while we see her walking by a rock ledge that’s just a little higher than most tired hikers would like — “save more energy,” she then adds. Continue reading “Structure and Agency”