Sociology

The Hoarders

December 15, 2014
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The Hoarders

This past week, New Yorker critic Joan Acocella profiled Scott Herring’s The Hoarders, a foray into the history of material culture from the perspective of clutter fetish and our fascination with the perils surrounding the urge to organize. The question Herring asks, namely, “What counts as an acceptable material life—and who decides?,” takes on a gradient of meaning for Acocella, who confronts the material preferences of her ninety-three-year-old mother, which prove to be in accord with the DSM V‘s suggestion that, “hoarding sometimes begins in childhood, but that by the time the hoarders come to the attention of the authorities they tend to be old.”

In The Hoarders, Herring tells the tale of Homer and Langley Collyer, two brothers to whom we can trace a legend (um, legacy?) of modern hoarding, whose eccentricity and ill health (Langley took care of Homer, who was both rheumatic and blind) led to a lion’s den of accrual, and a rather unfortunate end. As Acocella explains:

In 1947, a caller alerted the police that someone in the Collyer mansion may have died. After a day’s search, the police found the body of Homer, sitting bent over, with his head on his knees. But where was Langley? It took . . .

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Citizen: Jane Addams and the labor movement

December 10, 2014
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Citizen: Jane Addams and the labor movement

On this day in 1931, Jane Addams became the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Read an excerpt from Louise W. Knight’s Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy, about the ethics and deeply held moral beliefs permeating the labor movement—and Addams’s own relationship to it—after the jump.

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From Chapter 13, “Claims” (1894)

On May 11 Addams, after giving a talk at the University of Wisconsin and visiting Mary Addams Linn in Kenosha, wrote Alice that their sister’s health was improving. The same day, a major strike erupted at the Pullman Car Works, in the southernmost part of Chicago. The immediate cause of the strike was a series of wage cuts the company had made in response to the economic crisis. Since September the company had hired back most of the workers it had laid off at the beginning of the depression, but during the same period workers’ wages had also fallen an average of 30 percent. Meanwhile, the company, feeling pinched, was determined to increase its profits from rents. In addition to the company’s refusing to lower the rent rate to match the wage cuts, its foremen threatened to fire workers . . .

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Top 40 Democracy

November 19, 2014
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Top 40 Democracy

Eric Weisbard’s Top 40 Democracy: The Rival Mainstreams of American Music considers the shifting terrain of the pop music landscape, in which FM radio (once an indisputably dominant medium) constructed multiple mainstreams, tailoring each to target communities built on race, gender, class, and social identity. Charting (no pun intended) how categories rivaled and pushed against each other in their rise to reach American audiences, the book posits a counterintuitive notion: when even the blandest incarnation of a particular sub-group (the Isley Brothers version of R & B, for instance) rose to the top of the charts, so too did the visibility of that group’s culture and perspective, making musical formatting one of the master narratives of late-twentieth-century identity.

In a recent piece for the Sound Studies blog, Weisbard wrote about the rise of both Taylor Swift and, via mid-term elections, the Republican Party:

The genius, and curse, of the commercial-cultural system that produced Taylor Swift’s Top 40 democracy win in the week of the 2014 elections, is that its disposition is inherently centrist. Our dominant music formats, rival mainstreams engaged in friendly combat rather than culture war, locked into place by the early 1970s. That it happened right . . .

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On the Run: Best Nonfiction of 2014

October 31, 2014
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On the Run: Best Nonfiction of 2014

 

On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City chronicles the effects the War on Drugs levied on one inner-city Philadelphia neighborhood and its largely African American population. Based on Goffman’s six-year-long ethnographic experience as a participant-observer in the community, the book considers how a cycle of presumed criminality engendered by pervasive policing obscures the friendships and associations of a group of residents, small-time drug dealers, everyday persons, and the lives they lead into nodes in a network of surveillance under operation 24 hours a day—and the very human costs involved. The book was recently named to Publishers Weekly’s list, Best Nonfiction of 2014, after garnering praise from both the New Yorker and the New York Times Book Review.

You can read an excerpt from the book, “The Art of Running,” here.

To read more, click here.

 

 

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Excerpt: Packaged Pleasures

October 22, 2014
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Excerpt: Packaged Pleasures

An Excerpt from Packaged Pleasures: How Technology and Marketing Revolutionized Desire by Gary S. Cross and Robert N. Proctor

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“The Carrot and the Candy Bar”

Our topic is a revolution—as significant as anything that has tossed the world over the past two hundred years. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, a host of often ignored technologies transformed human sensual experience, changing how we eat, drink, see, hear, and feel in ways we still benefit (and suffer) from today. Modern people learned how to capture and intensify sensuality, to preserve it, and to make it portable, durable, and accessible across great reaches of social class and physical space. Our vulnerability to such a transformation traces back hundreds of thousands of years, but the revolution itself did not take place until the end of the nineteenth century, following a series of technological changes altering our ability to compress, distribute, and commercialize a vast range of pleasures.

Strangely, historians have neglected this transformation. Indeed, behind this astonishing lapse lies a common myth—that there was an age of production that somehow gave rise to an age of consumption, with historians of the former exploring industrial technology, while historians . . .

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Arresting Citizenship and American crime control

January 21, 2014
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Arresting Citizenship and American crime control

Amy E. Lerman and Vesla M. Weaver’s forthcoming Arresting Citizenship: The Democratic Consequences of American Crime Control considers the contemporary carceral state of American democracy—beginning with the mind-blowing premise that one-third of America’s adult population has passed through the criminal justice system and now carries a criminal record. Arguing that this system fundamentally creates a growing group of second-class American subjects through an ill-determined relationship between “citizen” and “state,” the authors argue that each stage of American criminal justice disempowers its constituents and defies America’s core democratic values. In a recent piece for the Stone blog at the New York Times, Weaver (along with Jason Stanley) pressed the book’s arguments further and questioned whether the United States has become a racial democracy.

As they write:

Given the centrality of liberty to democracy, one way to assess the democratic health of a state is by the fairness of the laws governing its removal. The fairness of a system of justice is measured by the degree to which its laws are fairly and consistently applied across all citizens. In a fair system, a group is singled out for punishment only insofar as its propensity for . . .

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Starring Mandela and Cosby

December 26, 2013
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Starring Mandela and Cosby

Ron Krabill’s Starring Mandela and Cosby: Media and the End(s) of Apartheid (2010) considers the implications of a particular paradox: during the worst years of apartheid, the most popular show on television in South Africa—among both Black and White South Africans—was The Cosby Show. In the wake of the death of Nelson Mandela, Krabill’s emphasis on how the esteemed human rights advocate and then political prisoner’s image was rendered invisible (it was illegal to publish photos of Mandela) just as Bill Cosby became the most recognizable Black man in the country, remains integral to understanding the crucial role media played during the end of apartheid. The argument advanced in Starring Mandela and Cosby, which contends that Cosby’s presence in the living rooms of White South Africans helped lay the groundwork for Mandela’s release and ascension to power, speaks to the influence of a shared space for communication in a deeply divided nation. In light of Mandela’s death, the book recalls a time when American popular culture’s icon of middle-class African American life was necessarily substituted for one of the world’s most admired public figures—and the social and political consequences of this exchange. An excerpt from the . . .

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Excerpt: Excommunication

December 4, 2013
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Excerpt: Excommunication

An excerpt from Excommunication: Three Inquiries in Media and Mediation by Alexander R. Galloway, Eugene Thacker, and McKenzie Wark

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From the editors’ Introduction:

The field of media studies today generally understands media along two interconnected axes: devices and determinacy. On the one hand, media are understood as synonymous with media devices, technological apparatuses of mediation such as the phone, the file, or the printing press. And yet such technological devices are imbued with the irresistible force of their own determinacy. Media either determine a given social, cultural, or political dimension, or media are themselves determined by the social, cultural, or political. Media makers affect media consumers and thus establish hierarchical relationships with them, or media-savvy individuals express their own desires by way of the tools and machines that extend their will. For media studies generally, media are, in short, determinative devices, and they are thus evaluated normatively as either good influencers or bad influencers.

Consider the major traditions that continue to inform media studies today. With the Frankfurt School and Adorno and Horkheimer’s theses on the culture industry, one finds an emphasis on media as technologies of domination. The extorted reconciliation . . .

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Lawmakers approve gay marriage in Illinois

November 6, 2013
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Lawmakers approve gay marriage in Illinois

From the November 5, 2013, edition of the Chicago Tribune:

Lawmakers approved gay marriage Tuesday in a historic vote that saw supporters overcome cultural, racial and geographic divides and put Illinois in line with a growing number of states that have extended the right to wed to same-sex couples.

After more than a year of intense lobbying by both sides, gay lawmakers made emotional pleas to colleagues to give their families equal rights even as opponents argued that doing so would unravel the foundation of society.

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An excerpt from The Nuptial Deal: Same-Sex Marriage and Neo-Liberal Governance by Jaye Cee Williams:

I met Patrick Singleton and Bryce Kiplinger at an outreach event sponsored by Marriage Rights Now. The purpose of the event was to sign up members in a well-known, “gay-friendly” sports bar. As we waited for potential supporters to enter the bar, Patrick broke the ice by introducing me to his partner, Bryce: “As you can probably guess, when we hold hands, we get a lot of second glances.” Patrick is a graying white man who looks as if he must be nearing his . . .

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Andrew M. Greeley (1928-2013)

May 30, 2013
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Andrew M. Greeley (1928-2013)

Saddened today to note the passing of Andrew M. Greeley  (1928–2013)—priest, sociologist, journalist, prolific critic, novelist, and philanthropist. Father Greeley (his preferred moniker) was a priest’s priest—while at the same time an ardent and impassioned critic of established Catholic authority. His writings spanned academic treaties—ecumenical and secular, ethnographic and sociological—weekly newspaper columns, literary potboilers, and vehemently outspoken diatribes against the hypocrisy of the Church in which he was ordained. Among these, the University of Chicago Press was fortunate to publish two works, Priests: A Calling in Crisis (2004) and The Truth about Conservative Christians: What They Think and What They Believe (coauthored with Michael Hout; 2006). A longtime affiliate of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, Greeley also gifted the school with a 1.25 million dollar endowment in 1984 (despite three denials of his own tenure while a professor), which was formerly used to endow a chair of Catholic studies.

“I’m a priest, pure and simple,” he once said, “albeit a priest with a condo in the John Hancock Building and a home in Arizona.”

Chicago Sun-Times obituary

New York Times obituary

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