Sociology

Press release: Richerson, Not By Genes Alone

May 3, 2006
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Press release: Richerson, Not By Genes Alone

Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution offers a radical interpretation of human evolution, arguing that our ecological dominance and our singular social systems stem from a psychology uniquely adapted to create complex culture. Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd illustrate here that culture is neither superorganic nor the handmaiden of the genes. Rather, it is essential to human adaptation, as much a part of human biology as bipedal locomotion. Drawing on work in the fields of anthropology, political science, sociology, and economics—and building their case with such fascinating examples as kayaks, corporations, clever knots, and yams that require twelve men to carry them—Richerson and Boyd convincingly demonstrate that culture and biology are inextricably linked, and they show us how to think about their interaction in a way that yields a richer understanding of human nature.… Read the press release. Read an excerpt. . . .

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Press release: Miller, Reluctant Capitalists

April 26, 2006
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Press release: Miller, Reluctant Capitalists

In a time when the arrival of yet another Starbucks, Best Buy, or Borders to a neighborhood is viewed as routine, the presence of the chain bookstores is still challenged by a formidable contingent of book buyers who consider the association between books and mass consumerism as crass. In Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption, Laura J. Miller explores what it is about books that elicit such passions in consumers, and why the business of selling books is viewed with such skepticism by book lovers.… Read the press release. Read an excerpt. . . .

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Review: Derluguian, Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus

April 25, 2006
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Review: Derluguian, Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus

The New Left Review recently published a lengthy review of Georgi M. Derluguian’s Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus: A World-System Biography. From the review by David Laitin: "Derluguian’s method of elaborating class formations, their reformations and historical alliances through the technique of ethnography is an ingenious juxtaposition, making for a text that is both sociologically revealing and narratively gripping. His is a new form of class analysis, based on observation of the micro-sociological details of everyday life; but it also projects the political implications of those ground-level class alliances, and helps to reveal the processes that turn susceptibility to violent breakdown into actuality…. Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus gives direction to future work on the perils of authoritarian decline." Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus is a gripping account of the developmental dynamics involved in the collapse of Soviet socialism. Fusing a narrative of human agency to his critical discussion of structural forces, Georgi M. Derluguian reconstructs from firsthand accounts the life story of Musa Shanib—who from a small town in the Caucasus grew to be a prominent leader in the Chechen revolution. In his examination of Shanib and his keen interest in the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu, . . .

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Mullaney on BBC Radio 4

April 13, 2006
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Mullaney on BBC Radio 4

Yesterday, Jamie L. Mullaney discussed her new book Everyone Is NOT Doing It: Abstinence and Personal Identity on BBC Radio 4’s program "Thinking Allowed." Mullaney and host Laurie Taylor discussed abstinence and the significant role it plays in the formation of personal identity. In contrast to such earlier forms of abstinence as social protest, entertainment, or an instrument of social stratification, not doing something now gives people a more secure sense of self by offering a more affordable and manageable identity in a world of ever-expanding options. You can listen to an audio file of the program by visiting the Thinking Allowed Web site. . . .

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Review: Miller, Reluctant Capitalists

April 13, 2006
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Review: Miller, Reluctant Capitalists

The rise and dominance of superstore chains in the book retail industry is as much a fact of life in the UK as it is here in the States. In the UK, the 140-store Ottakar’s chain is a takeover target currently in the sights of the two largest players in the UK market, Waterstones and WH Smith. In his review in the New Statesman of Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption by Laura J. Miller, Nicholas Cree writes, “Waterstone’s, it seems, is scarcely more popular among the bien-pensants than are giant supermarket chains. Why people might feel this antipathy, and how the rise of chain booksellers has affected consumers, are the subjects of Laura J Miller’s study.” Miller’s book charts the evolution of bookselling from independent bookstores through the era of shopping mall stores to the current dominance by superstore chains and online retailing. More than in most industries this transition has generated consumer antipathy, as Cree notes, as well as passionate debate among booksellers, publishers, and the public. Miller uses interviews with bookstore customers and members of the book industry to explain why books evoke such distinct and heated reactions. Read an excerpt from the book. . . .

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Harcourt on the "Language of the Gun"

April 12, 2006
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Harcourt on the "Language of the Gun"

Last week, Bernard Harcourt lectured at the University of Chicago Law School. His lecture was based on his book Language of the Gun: Youth, Crime, and Public Policy. In the book, Harcourt recounts in-depth interviews with youths detained at an all-male correctional facility, exploring how they talk about guns and what meanings they ascribe to them in a broader attempt to understand some of the assumptions implicit in current handgun policies. The University of Chicago Law School Faculty Blog features an audio file of Harcourt’s talk, along with slides that accompanied his presentation. . . .

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Smith on AAUP’s "Iraq book list"

March 28, 2006
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Smith on AAUP’s "Iraq book list"

Since Iraq continues to be the daily focus of international news, the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) has just announced the timely release of an updated and revised version of its "Iraq book list" at Books for Understanding. The comprehensive list "guides journalists, librarians, and other researchers to the best scholarship now available." Included on this list is Philip Smith’s new book, Why War?: The Cultural Logic of Iraq, the Gulf War, and Suez. Comprised of case studies of the War in Iraq, the Gulf War, and the Suez Crisis, Why War? decodes the cultural logic of the narratives that justify military action. Each nation, Smith argues, makes use of binary codes—good and evil, sacred and profane, rational and irrational, to name a few. These codes, in the hands of political leaders, activists, and the media, are deployed within four different types of narratives—mundane, tragic, romantic, or apocalyptic. With this cultural system, Smith is able to radically recast our "war stories" and show how nations can have vastly different understandings of crises as each identifies the relevant protagonists and antagonists, objects of struggle, and threats and dangers. Read an excerpt. View the AAUP’s Iraq book list. . . .

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Press release: Jeffrey C. Goldfarb, The Politics of Small Things

March 27, 2006
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Press release: Jeffrey C. Goldfarb, The Politics of Small Things

Entering the 2004 Democratic Party presidential primary, Howard Dean’s candidacy figured to be a brief one. For one, Dean had zero experience in national politics and emerged, at least politically-speaking, from a relatively inconsequential state. Worse, he was viewed as an outsider by major donors to the party, all but ensuring that his would be a minimally funded venture. Yet, powered by grassroots Internet initiatives like MoveOn.org and Meetup.com, Dean, in a remarkably short period of time, would not only generate an unprecedented amount of campaign donations, but emerge as the party’s frontrunner. Given what we thought we knew about presidential politics, Dean’s ascent as a viable candidate was not only improbable, but also revelatory and inspiring. How did this rapid accumulation of political momentum occur? For Jeffrey Goldfarb, the secret to the Dean campaign was its recognition of power latent in the "politics of small things"—the human interactions that take place within our homes, workplaces, schools, churches, and elsewhere in our everyday lives.… Read the press release. . . .

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Press release: Michele de La Pradelle, Market Day in Provence

March 23, 2006
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Press release: Michele de La Pradelle, Market Day in Provence

An institution as old as time, the outdoor farmers’ market has experienced a renaissance in recent decades as consumers have sought an alternative to chain supermarkets and pre-packaged goods. For patrons of these street markets, the tomatoes are always redder, the lettuce greener, the melons larger, and the meat and fish more fresh. But are they? In Market Day in Provence, the late Michèle de La Pradelle (1944-2004) lifts the curtain behind the traditional farmers’ market once and for all in her award-winning study of the street market of Carpentras, France One of the oldest and most celebrated markets, Carpentras is the model for its more modern cousins. But they are all alike, according to de La Pradelle, in that above all else, money rules. On any Friday, several hours before dawn, trucks file in along the cobblestone streets of the city bearing goods not brought in from farmers but from wholesalers—many of whom supply the superstore chains surrounding the city. The vast majority of produce, meats, dairy products, and fruit here is of the same quality and price as elsewhere in the city. But the products at the market appear different, even fresher—a tribute to the market’s spectacle of . . .

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Review: Edward Castronova, Synthetic Worlds

March 6, 2006
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Review: Edward Castronova, Synthetic Worlds

The Guardian‘s Steven Poole recently reviewed Edward Castronova’s Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games: "Those who spend their nights pretending to be elves on the internet are, it appears, worthy of more than your bafflement or idle contempt, for this is the future of human society. Already, as the economist author points out, massive multiplayer online roleplaying games such as World of Warcraft host large economies whose apparently fictional currencies are traded against the real-life dollar, and political institutions are just as real in the virtual world as they are when housed in actual buildings.… Castronova’s discussion is detailed and thought-provoking, although … his optimism seems to underplay the fate of the underclass that will inevitably be locked out of these digital utopias: after all, some people will always have to maintain infrastructure and energy and food supplies while the rest sublime happily into cyberspace." Read an interview with Edward Castronova. . . .

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