Sociology

The AACM at 50

March 13, 2015
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The AACM at 50

2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Inc.(AACM), founded on Chicago’s South Side by musicians Muhal Richard Abrams (pianist/composer), Jodie Christian (pianist), Steve McCall (drummer), and Phil Cohran (composer). A recent piece in the New York Times by Nate Chinen summarizes their achievements, in short: Over the half-century of its existence, the association has been one of this country’s great engines of experimental art, producing work with an irreducible breadth of scope and style. By now the organization’s significance derives not only from the example of its first wave—including Mr. Abrams, still formidable at 84—but also from an influence on countless uncompromising artists, many of whom are not even members of its chapters in Chicago and New York. The AACM’s legend extends beyond their Chicago origins—just as emphatically as it remains intertwined with them. Aiming to “provide an atmosphere conducive to the development of its member artists and to continue the AACM legacy of providing leadership and vision for the development of creative music,” the AACM turned twentieth-century jazz on its head, rolled it sideways, stood it upright again, and then leaned on it with the right combination of grace and pressure. Among the events organized around this anniversary are Free at First . . .

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Blood Runs Green: Your nineteenth-century Chicago true crime novel

March 6, 2015
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Blood Runs Green: Your nineteenth-century Chicago true crime novel

Below follows a well-contextualized teaser, or a clue (depending on your penchant for genre), from Sharon Wheeler’s full-length review of Blood Runs Green: The Murder that Transfixed Gilded Age Chicago at Inside Higher Ed. Blood Runs Green is that rarer beast—academic research in the guise of a true crime account. But it leaps off the page like the best fictional murder mystery. Mind you, any author presenting these characters to a publisher under the banner of a novel would probably be sent away to rein in their over-fertile imagination. As Gillian O’Brien says: “The story had everything an editor could want: conspiracy, theft, dynamite, betrayal, and murder.” So this is far more than just a racy account of a murder in 1880s Chicago, a city built by the Irish, so the boast goes (by the late 1880s, 17 per cent of its population was Irish or Irish-American). At the book’s core is the story of Irish immigrants in the US, and the fight for Irish independence through the secret republican society Clan na Gael. In England, and running parallel to events in America, is the saga of Charles Stewart Parnell, a British MP and leading figure in the Home Rule movement. Who . . .

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Excerpt: Renegade Dreams

February 17, 2015
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Excerpt: Renegade Dreams

An excerpt from Laurence Ralph’s Renegade Dreams: Living through Injury in Gangland Chicago *** “Nostalgia, or the Stories a Gang Tells about Itself” At the West Side Juvenile Detention Center, inmates hardly ever look you in the eyes. They almost never notice your face. Walk into a cell block at recreation time, for example, when young gang members are playing spades or sitting in the TV room watching a movie, and their attention quickly shifts to your shoes. They watch you walk to figure out why you came. I imagine what goes through their heads: Navy blue leather boots, reinforced steel toe, at least a size twelve. Must be a guard. That’s an easy one. Then the glass door swings open again. Expensive brown wingtips, creased khakis cover the tongue. A Northwestern law student come to talk about legal rights. Yep. Benjamin Gregory wears old shoes, the kind a young affiliate wouldn’t be caught dead in. Still, the cheap patent leather shines, and, after sitting in the Detention Center’s waiting room for nearly an hour and a half, the squeak of his wingtips is a relief. It’s a muggy day, late in the spring of 2008. “I’ve been coming here . . .

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Excerpt: In Search of a Lost Avant-Garde

February 9, 2015
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Excerpt: In Search of a Lost Avant-Garde

  An excerpt from In Search of a Lost Avant-Garde: An Anthropologist Investigates the Contemporary Art Museum by Matti Bunzl *** “JEFF KOONS <3 CHICAGO” I’m sitting in the conference room on the fifth floor of the MCA, the administrative nerve center which is off limits to the public. It is late January and the temperatures have just plunged to near zero. But the museum staff is bustling with activity. With four months to go until the opening of the big Jeff Koons show, all hands are on deck. And there is a little bit of panic. Deadlines for the exhibit layout and catalogue are looming, and the artist has been hard to pin down. Everyone at the MCA knows why. Koons, who commands a studio that makes Warhol’s Factory look like a little workshop, is in colossal demand. For the MCA, the show has top priority. But for Koons, it is just one among many. In 2008 alone, he will have major exhibits in Berlin, New York, and Paris. The presentation at the Neue Nationalgalerie is pretty straightforward. Less so New York, where Koons is scheduled to take over the roof of the Metropolitan Museum, one of the city’s premiere . . .

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Everything’s coming up Howie

January 23, 2015
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Everything’s coming up Howie

    Adam Gopnik, writing in the New Yorker, recently profiled eminent American sociologist Howard S. Becker (Howie, please: “Only my mother ever called me Howard”), one of the biggest names in the field for over half a century, yet still, as with so many purveyors of haute critique, better known in France. Becker is no wilting lily on these shores, however—since the publication of his pathbreaking Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance (1963), he’s been presiding as grand doyen over methodological confrontations with the particularly slippery slopes of human existence, including our very notion of “deviance.” All this, a half dozen or so honorary degrees, a lifetime achievement award, a smattering of our most prestigious fellowships, and the 86-year-old Becker is still going strong, with his most recent book published only this past year. From the New Yorker profile: This summer, Becker published a summing up of his life’s method and beliefs, called “What About Mozart? What About Murder?” (The title refers to the two caveats or complaints most often directed against his kind of sociology’s equable “relativism”: how can you study music as a mere social artifact—what about Mozart? How can you consider criminal justice a mutable convention—what about Murder?) The book is both a jocular . . .

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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 workers eighteen . . .

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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. *** 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 living outside of Pullman who . . .

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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 then was a . . .

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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  *** “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 of the latter stress . . .

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