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The University of Chicago Press and Signs are pleased to announce the competition for the 2017 Catharine Stimpson Prize for Outstanding Feminist Scholarship. Named in honor of the founding editor of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, the Catharine Stimpson Prize is designed to recognize excellence and innovation in the work of emerging feminist scholars.
The Catharine Stimpson Prize is awarded biennially to the best paper in an international competition. Leading feminist scholars from around the globe will select the winner. The prizewinning paper will be published in Signs, and the author will be provided an honorarium of $1,000. All papers submitted for the Stimpson Prize will be considered for peer review and possible publication in Signs.
Eligibility: Feminist scholars in the early years of their careers (fewer than seven years since receipt of the terminal degree) are invited to submit papers for the Stimpson Prize. Papers may be on any topic that falls under the broad rubric of interdisciplinary feminist scholarship. Submissions must be no longer than 10,000 words (including notes and references) and must conform to the guidelines for Signs contributors.
Deadline for Submissions: March 1, 2016.
Please submit papers online at http://signs.edmgr.com. Be sure to indicate submission for consideration for the Catharine Stimpson Prize. The honorarium will be awarded upon publication of the prizewinning article.
Papers may also be submitted by post to
The Catharine Stimpson Prize Selection Committee Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society Northeastern University
360 Huntington Avenue
263 Holmes Hall
Boston, MA 02115
Exhilaration and anxiety, the yearning for community and the quest for identity: these shared, contradictory feelings course through Outside the Gates of Eden, Peter Bacon Hales’s ambitious and intoxicating new history of America from the atomic age to the virtual age.
Born under the shadow of the bomb, with little security but the cold comfort of duck-and-cover, the postwar generations lived through—and led—some of the most momentous changes in all of American history. Hales explores those decades through perceptive accounts of a succession of resonant moments, spaces, and artifacts of everyday life—drawing unexpected connections and tracing the intertwined undercurrents of promise and peril. From sharp analyses of newsreels of the first atomic bomb tests and the invention of a new ideal American life in Levittown; from the music emerging from the Brill Building and the Beach Boys, and a brilliant account of Bob Dylan’s transformations; from the painful failures of communes and the breathtaking utopian potential of the early days of the digital age, Hales reveals a nation, and a dream, in transition, as a new generation began to make its mark on the world it was inheriting.
Full of richly drawn set-pieces and countless stories of unforgettable moments, Outside the Gates of Eden is the most comprehensive account yet of the baby boomers, their parents, and their children, as seen through the places they built, the music and movies and shows they loved, and the battles they fought to define their nation, their culture, and their place in what remains a fragile and dangerous world.
To read more about Outside the Gates of Eden, click here.
Just a snippet from a fab piece by Jennifer Tyburczy for Artforumon the research informing her recent book Sex Museums: The Politics and Performance of Display, which places the museum in its spatial, political, and sexual contexts, each imbricated by the other, as well as our notions of public and private. You can read more from her “500 Words” piece here.
The big surprise, though, was that as soon as I started to write about sex museums, they started to close. The latter part of my book is dedicated to an ethnography of these spaces. It was disconcerting when I would plan out a visit to Los Angeles to see an erotic museum that then closed mere months before I could make the trip. Part of the book became about the failure of these ventures, and I don’t mean in a Jack Halberstam, Queer Art of Failure kind of way. Ultimately, many of these museums could not provide what visitors wanted, which was a really raw experience with sex drawn from the archive and arranged in displays. A lot of the museums I discuss—whether in New York, Denmark, or Spain—had an ingrained idea of who their normative visitor was and where their threshold of shock was located. Without fail, they always set the bar too low. People wanted more! The demands of being a twenty-first-century museum taking on the onus to display sex overwhelmed a lot of the museum planners. Typically they censored themselves in some way that visitors noted. The heartening message here is that we shouldn’t assume that people will be shocked and turned off by displays of diverse sexual cultures and people. Museum visitors are smart and savvy, and ready and willing to have that experience. My work makes an argument for the emotional and sexual intelligence of a viewer.
Taussig’s work is the sort of bewilderingly beautiful prose (one is often tempted to call it poetry) that’s able to operate on multiple intellectual levels. The first essay in the collection, “The Corn Wolf: Writing Apotropaic Texts”, immerses the reader fully and mercilessly in the style. It opens with a poor graduate student realizing that writing up their fieldwork is the most difficult and important task of graduate school, and also the one thing graduate school teaches you nothing about. Fieldwork and writing; “they are both rich, ripe, secret-society-type shenanigans. Could it be that both are based on impossible-to-define talents, intuitions, tricks, and fears?”
No wonder many careerist academics dislike him.
Of course the essay isn’t so much about graduate writing as about his own writing, and about the act of writing—the magical act of writing—itself.
For example, Taussig considers anthropology’s treatment of magic and shamanic sorcery: “Pulling the wool over one’s eyes is a simpler way of putting it… What we have generally done in anthropology is really pretty amazing in this regard, piggybacking on their magic and on their conjuring—their tricks—so as to come up with explanations that seem nonmagical and free of trickery.”
This seemingly nonmagical academic form of writing—or mode of production, as he calls it—is what he refers to as ‘agribusiness writing’: “Agribusiness writing is what we find throughout the university and everyone knows it when they don’t see it.” Against it he pitches the idea of ‘apotropaic writing’, a magic that connives with the prosaic to produce a counter-magic of its own.
When anthropologists demystify shamanic sorcery, for instance, the ‘wolfing’ moves of apotropaic magic would reveal the sorcery implicit in the act of the ‘scientific’ anthropologist’s recasting of shamanism. Indeed, the fact that the wonder and magic of the everyday world has been demystified by science is a sort of magical transformation itself. Is this how we re-enchant the world? By the use of story-telling and writing to re-position what seems like the boring, unmagical workaday world of everyday capitalist drudgery and expose it as the magical sleight-of-hand and tricksterism that it is? “I have long felt that agribusiness writing is more magical than magic ever could be and that what is required is to counter the purported realism of agribusiness writing with apotropaic writing as countermagic, apotropaic from the ancient Greek meaning the use of magic to protect one from harmful magic.”
The point of Silver’s statement rests on whether or not a Trump nomination would destroy the Republican Party. The book’s argument is that party elites—unelected insiders—control who ultimately ends up nominated at the convention, and that decision is made many months before the primary campaign season even begins. Was anyone but Trump the nominee (say Marco Rubio, or even Jeb Bush), then The Party Decides had it right all along; if Republicans put forward DT, then it may be less a sign that the statistically supported data of the book is incorrect, and more a case of the possible dissolution of the Grand Old Party.
In the meantime, you can hear more about the book and what a Trump nomination might signify on today’s episode of The Brian Lehrer Show below:
The Pet Collector reminds us of the most fundamental role of language: the ability to name things, and by doing so, to make them belong to us, and we to them. (The naming of and “dominion over” animals are central to Adam’s role in the Garden of Eden.) But the Collector doesn’t just take possession of his adopted family of animals; in his excessive abundance of attachments, he is clearly also possessed, and appears to be a fearful hoarder of living things. Arlo, by contrast, only needs his one companion, Spot, and he is comfortable with letting Spot go when he finds a human family to join at the conclusion of the film.
All this reeks of what anthropologists used to call totemism, the adoption of natural things (animals and plants) as kinfolk and symbols of kinship in so-called primitive cultures. The problem is that dinosaurs were unknown to primitive cultures; they are a thoroughly modern discovery, never named, classified, or adopted until the British paleontologist Richard Owen proclaimed their existence in 1843. Could it be that modern cultures need totemism too? Freud’s Totem and Taboo argued that totemism was obsolete in the modern world, while taboos still abound. But he failed to consider the possibility of a distinctively modern totemism, in which the animal counterpart and companion to the human species is an extinct family of prehistoric animals discoverable only by modern science. Dinosaurs provide the perfect Darwinian allegory for the human race — namely, the possible (or should we say highly probable) prospect that human beings could wind up just like them — extinct. That, it seems to me, is the best explanation of the strange array of contradictory attitudes toward dinosaurs as popular icons. They are friends and companions, on the one hand, and feared enemies, on the other. They are ferocious wild animals and domestic pets, vicious predators and peaceful vegetarians. In short, they are a mirror of all the varieties of our own human species, distributed across a genus of extinct animals that exist only in the realms of unbridled imagination and biological science — a perfectly modern combination.
On January 6, 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered the State of the Union address known as the “Four Freedoms” speech. Then recently elected to an unprecedented third presidential term, Roosevelt had run on a platform that included the promise to “not send American boys into any foreign wars.” In the days leading up to his speech, Nazi Germany had begun a bombing campaign on the coal port at Cardiff, Wales, and the Roosevelt administration had announced the Liberty Ship Program to build freighters for the war effort. A few days after the address, thousands of Jews were killed in a pogrom in Bucharest, Romania, and over the next several weeks, anti-Jewish measures spread across Eastern Europe.
This was the state of things that prompted Roosevelt to articulate “four essential human freedoms” as a basis for a secure world: freedom of expression; freedom of religion; freedom from want, which, he explained, “translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants everywhere in the world”; and freedom from fear, focusing on dramatic reductions in armaments to eliminate the possibility of wars of aggression. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Four Freedoms became a touchstone for American foreign policy. Memorialized in a famous series of Norman Rockwell paintings, they were later incorporated into the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
The broad acceptance of the Four Freedoms does not mean that they provoked no dissent. Roosevelt’s call for freedom of expression and freedom of religion were largely uncontroversial, but his appeal for freedom from want and fear were received as partisan gambits intended to bolster the New Deal and advance a Democratic program. In later years, freedom from want came to define Roosevelt’s domestic agenda, notably when he called for a “Second Bill of Rights” to include employment, health care, housing, and education in his 1944 State of the Union address.
In the 2016 State of the Union last Tuesday, President Barack Obama presented the American people with four questions that resonate in some striking ways with Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. The form of this State of the Union address, whose difference from the typical “laundry list” speech was much emphasized, offers a model for the kind of renewed citizenship that the President seeks to promote—one whose sources I trace in Imagining Deliberative Democracy in the Early American Republic. Rather than tell the nation what to do, or explicitly articulate national values as Roosevelt did, Obama has attempted to frame a discussion around the core questions that have animated his presidency.
Obama’s experience as a law professor, well-versed in the Socratic method, was clearly evident when he offered these four questions for discussion and debate:
First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?
Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us—especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?
Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?
And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?
Capacious, timely questions, they offer important frames for discussion during this election year.
Three of Obama’s four questions arise from lack of consensus around the ideas of freedom from want and fear. This connection is clearest in the first question, where the phrase “opportunity and security” uses Latinate words to restate the absence of “want” (from Old English) and “fear” (from Old Norse by way of Middle English). Opportunity and security are words that emphasize process, and so they are well suited to inquiry. Underlying the question, “How do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?” is the assumption that there is general agreement that “everyone” should be given “a fair shot.” This framing invites discussion of whether the means to that end is a Second Bill of Rights, or some other set of policies. The President did not call for these values to be reconsidered but rather he sought to shore up an established consensus—one based on the wide popularity of Social Security, the New Deal program with the most sustained impact, and the success of later federal programs, including Medicare.
The second and third questions—involving technology and world leadership—highlight some of the most significant differences between Roosevelt’s day and our own. There is a striking gap between Roosevelt’s call for disarmament to create a world free from fear and the race to develop nuclear weapons that was already underway when he spoke. After the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, nuclear weapons quickly emerged as the iconic representation of how science and technology did not just serve humanity—they also threatened its extinction. Climate change now has even greater symbolic force in this regard. Obama’s exhortation to figure out how to “make technology work for us, and not against us” speaks directly to the challenge of harnessing modern forms of power that compromise human agency, including the capacity for effective governance. The excruciatingly slow response by world leaders to the climate change crisis highlights how technology threatens to overwhelm human capacities for response.
Implicit in the third question is the same focus on directing events, rather than having them direct us: How can American leadership be effective while relying less on the military? Obama described his controversial foreign policy as offering “a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power. It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.” He also evoked the “power of example,” particularly in connection with the need to resist Islamophobia, and he quoted Pope Francis’s remarks on tolerance in his speech to Congress last September, when the Pope said that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.”
Even as he extended Roosevelt’s freedom of religion to Muslims, President Obama largely ignored the way some groups—including many that are Catholic— have challenged his domestic policies on gay marriage and access to birth control and abortion as violations of their religious freedom. The closest he came to this theme was a reference to persistent disagreements over the Affordable Care Act, which are driven in no small part by provisions for women’s reproductive health. How does religious tolerance coexist with women’s agency and independence? Freedom of religion, largely uncontroversial in Roosevelt’s day, has become a source of profound conflict over social policy.
The fourth and final question—How can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?—returns to a signature theme of the Obama presidency: the need to create a more constructive, less divisive politics. This theme has been a touchstone of his State of the Union addresses over the years, and it is one that he began to develop very early in his national career. As has been widely remarked, Obama came to national prominence in 2004 with a speech to the Democratic National Convention emphasizing commonalities: not blue states or red states, but United States. The focus on unity took on new dimensions in his March 2008 speech “A More Perfect Union,” which he began with the words “We the People”—a phrase that he used again in this State of the Union address. He went on to note that “Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together, and that’s how we might perfect our Union.” There is consensus about ends, he insisted again: “The future we want—all of us want—opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids, all that is within our reach. But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates. It will only happen if we fix our politics.”
The President acknowledged substantive differences and structural barriers—many of them related to the outsize role of money, the consequences of gerrymandering, and the distorting effects of fragmented and conflict-driven news media—and called for trust building, compromise, and active citizenship. Cynicism and skepticism are easy, he observed. Real change is hard and requires what he called “our better selves,” echoing Abraham Lincoln’s evocation of “the better angels of our nature.”
For the last seven years, the national conversation that Obama had hoped to pursue about the appropriate roles for the private and public sectors has been overwhelmed by the cultural issues that he mostly wanted to sidestep. It was this post-Cold War conversation about economic models that he thought might bring Democrats and Republicans to the table. Instead, it earned him the label “neoliberal” from his party’s left wing, while the Republicans gave him the back of their collective hand. Meanwhile, identity politics has been resurgent on both the right and the left: there has not been such intense focus on matters of identity since the early 1990s.
Has the President succeeded in articulating the grounds of a new consensus that will permit “rational, constructive debates” about the four questions of economic justice, technological change, national security and global peacebuilding, and effective citizenship? There was a clear suggestion that a change in tone will require a shift in attitude—akin to what newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a return to “sunny ways” (ways that Michelle Obama evoked with a marigold-colored dress).
Religious rhetoric runs through the President’s address. On two occasions he invoked a spirit of “unarmed truth and unconditional love,” a phrase from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Nobel Peace Prize address. These words amplify the President’s message and introduce a spiritual dimension to his vision, with the aim of creating a sense of common purpose. Like his rendition of “Amazing Grace” at the memorial service for the victims of the Charlestown shootings last June, these moments from the speech may help to bridge the religious divide and allow for the President’s consensus-building project to proceed. By presenting these questions now, and by infusing them with this spiritual element, he hopes to shape the 2016 campaign—and his legacy.
Sandra M. Gustafson is associate professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of Imagining Deliberative Democracy in the Early American Republic and Eloquence Is Power: Oratory and Performance in Early America.
With a 2 percent annual growth rate, 5 percent unemployment, and zero inflation, the US economy is the envy of the world. Growth seems to be rising and unemployment seems to be falling, which means that most analysts expect an even better US economy in 2016. Throw in low gas prices and a strong dollar, and what’s not to like?
If the US economy is doing so well, why are ordinary people so unhappy with their own economic prospects?
The aggregate US economy may be growing but most people’s personal economies are not. Census Bureau data show that real per capita income is still below 2007 levels—despite six years of solid economic growth. And Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that despite today’s low unemployment rates the jobs still haven’t come back.
Back in 2006 the employment rate of the civilian population—the proportion of adults who had jobs—was over 63 percent. Allowing for people who are still in school, people who are retired, people who are disabled, and people who prefer not to work, that was just about everyone. When the economy is doing well, people who want jobs can get jobs.
Compare that with 2015. For all of 2015 to date the employment rate has been stuck below 60 percent. In fact, the employment rate has been not risen above 60 percent since the technical beginning of the “recovery” in June, 2009. Over the last six years, the economy has recovered. Employment has not.
The difference between the 63 percent employment rate of 2006 and the (well under) 60 percent employment rate of 2015 is roughly 7.5 million people. That’s the number of jobs missing in today’s roaring economy. Bringing today’s employment rate back up to 2006 levels would require the creation of more than 7.5 million new jobs.
What’s more, since the Global Financial Crisis there has been a shift from full-time to part-time employment. Some 2.5 million full-time jobs have disappeared, to be replaced by part-time employment. Assuming that people have basically the same preferences as they had before the recession hit, this means that the US economy is really short 10 million full-time jobs.
And remember, this is the economy at its best. The current “recovery” won’t last forever. It is already the fourth longest expansion of all time and about to overtake the World War II period to become the third longest. If the next recession hits while the economy is already 10 million jobs short of full employment, God help us.
The managers of the US economy don’t seem to be worried about this. On December 16, 2015 the Federal Reserve raised interest rates (albeit by a tiny amount) for the first time in seven years. The Fed expects that “economic activity will continue to expand at a moderate pace and labor market indicators will continue to strengthen.” In other words, the Fed expects more good news.
More good news for whom? As analyses from the Financial Times show, banks are increasingly parking their money at the Fed, not lending it out to businesses and consumers. Along with the Fed’s increase in lending rates (from 0 to 0.25 percent) came an increase in the interest rate the Fed pays banks on their own deposits at the Fed (from 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent).
For the last six years banks have parked trillions of dollars of excess funds in their accounts at the Federal Reserve. After all, they can earn 0.25 percent risk-free by borrowing money from the Fed and placing it directly in their own accounts at the Fed. Banks now hold some $2.5 trillion in excess reserves in these accounts. Those holdings give banks collectively an extra $6 billion in annual risk-free profits.
Before the Global Financial Crisis, US banks held virtually $0 in excess reserves in their Federal Reserve accounts.
What we see today is a US economy that is great for banks, great for bankers, and not so great for ordinary workers. Employment rates are down, employment hours are down, and wages are down. Bank profits are up, up, up to record levels. It’s no wonder that ordinary people are not as optimistic as the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.
In the end, the Fed can’t fix the problems of the US economy. The Fed can help the banks (and the bankers who serve on its boards) but it can’t make companies hire more people. Only government can do that, and the US government has shown no willingness to create jobs in this recession, or even in this century.
The US government should be borrowing that cheap Fed money and using it to put people to work. Education, healthcare, and infrastructure could all absorb millions of workers to do jobs that desperately need to be done. President Obama should make this clear to Congress and put people to work. Fixing the jobs crisis can’t wait for the next president—or the next recession. It is already long overdue.
The controversy surrounding Alice Goffman’s On the Run is nothing new—the book’s appearance was met with both laudatory curiosity and defensive criticism, from within and outside academic sociology. On the Run offers an ethnographic account based on Goffman’s work in the field—and the field happens to be a mixed-income, West Philadelphia neighborhood, whose largely African American residents lived their lives under the persistence presence of the cops, whose pervasive policing left Goffman’s subjects, the members of her community, caught in a web of presumed criminality. The elephant(s) in the room: how does a privileged white woman engage in this kind of (often passé) participant-observer research without constantly self-checking her positionality? How can this type of book—and its more sensational elements—be true to the word? Who has permission to write about whom? And what happens when these questions leave the back-and-forth behind the closed doors of the academy and bring up very real suggestions about legal culpability, fabrication, and the politics of representation?
In a long-form piece for the New York Times Magazine, Gideon Lewis-Kraus assesses Goffman’s predicament and how her personal experiences shaped several of the more controversial aspects of the book’s account. All the while, he traces the book’s emergence during a crucial (and heated) moment for the history of sociology, when data-driven analysis has bumped the hybrid reportage/qualitative ethnography favored by Goffman into the margins of social science, and considers how the events following its publication played out in the media—and what all of this might mean for Goffman’s own future (and those of her subjects, neighbors, peers) and that of her discipline.
Following this excerpt, you can read the piece in full here.
But what her critics can’t imagine is that perhaps both of the accounts she has given are true at the same time — that this represents exactly the bridging of the social gap that so many observers find unbridgeable. From the immediate view of a participant, this was a manhunt; from the detached view of an observer, this was a ritual. The account in the book was that of Goffman the participant, who had become so enmeshed in this community that she felt the need for vengeance ‘‘in my bones.’’ The account Goffman provided in response to the felony accusation (which read as if dictated by a lawyer, which it might well have been) was written by Goffman the observer, the stranger to the community who can see that the reason these actors give for their behavior — revenge — is given by the powerless as an attempt to save face; that though this talk was important, it was talk all the same.
The problem of either-or is one that is made perhaps inevitable by the metaphor of ‘‘immersion.’’ The anthropologist Caitlin Zaloom, who studies economic relationships, explained to me that it’s a metaphor her own field has long given up on. The metaphor asks us to imagine a researcher underwater — that is, imperiled, unreachable from above — who then returns to the sun and air, newly qualified to report on the darkness below because the experience has put a chill in her bones. This narrative of transformation is what strikes critics like Rios as so patronizing and self-congratulatory. But Goffman herself never understood her work to be ‘‘immersive’’ in that way. The almost impossible challenge Goffman thus set before herself is the representation of both these views — of drive as manhunt and drive as ritual — in all their simultaneity.
Goffman could have covered herself by adding another paragraph of analysis, one that would have contextualized but also undercut the scene as the participants experienced it. Almost all of her early readers thought she should do that. It would have made her life easier. But she didn’t. This was a book about men whose entire lives — whose whole network of relationships — had been criminalized, and she did not hesitate to criminalize her own. She threw in her lot.
Five hundred years after St. Teresa, and there are still very few models for women of how to live outside of coupledom, whether that is the result of a choice or just bad luck. I can’t remember the last time I saw a television show or a film about a single woman, unless her single status was a problem to be solved or an illustration of how deeply damaged she was. This continues even as more and more women are staying single longer and longer.
I’ve been single for the most part going on 11 years now, and so I have heard every derogatory, patronizing, demeaning thing said about single women. “There has to be someone for you,” a married woman friend once said exasperatedly after I recounted another bad date. Implying, unconsciously, that there must be one man somewhere on the planet who could stand to be around me for more than a few days at a time.
And so it’s hard to get people to understand why a woman would ever choose to live a life alone. We no longer have to choose between being a brain and a body, but I can’t help but think that we lose something when we couple up, and maybe that thing is worth preserving. I pointed out to a different friend that it was the nuns who were the most socially engaged, working with the world’s most vulnerable. My friend, married, asked “as devil’s advocate” whether they were simply compensating for the lack of romantic love and children with their social concern. Yes, I said, maybe. “But we all have needs that aren’t met, and we’re all looking for substitutes.”
To read more about The Dead Ladies Project, click here.
The sociologist Diane Vaughan coined the phrase the normalization of deviance to describe a cultural drift in which circumstances classified as “not okay” are slowly reclassified as “okay.” In the case of the Challenger space-shuttle disaster—the subject of a landmark study by Vaughan—damage to the crucial O‑rings had been observed after previous shuttle launches. Each observed instance of damage, she found, was followed by a sequence “in which the technical deviation of the [O‑rings] from performance predictions was redefined as an acceptable risk.” Repeated over time, this behavior became routinized into what organizational psychologists call a “script.” Engineers and managers “developed a definition of the situation that allowed them to carry on as if nothing was wrong.” To clarify: They were not merely acting as if nothing was wrong. They believed it, bringing to mind Orwell’s concept of doublethink, the method by which a bureaucracy conceals evil not only from the public but from itself.
More explicitly, for Vaughan, the O-ring deviation decision unfolded through the actions and observations of key NASA personnel and aeronautical engineers, who grew acclimated to a culture where high-risk was the norm, and which fostered an increasing descent into poor decision-making. As the book’s jacket (and Useem) note, “[Vaughan] reveals how and why NASA insiders, when repeatedly faced with evidence that something was wrong, normalized the deviance so that it became acceptable to them.”
You can read more about The Challenger Launch Decision here, and the Atlantic piece in full on their site.
In the early days of 1937, the Ohio River, swollen by heavy winter rains, began rising. And rising. And rising. By the time the waters crested, the Ohio and Mississippi had climbed to record heights. Nearly four hundred people had died, while a million more had run from their homes. The deluge caused more than half a billion dollars of damage at a time when the Great Depression still battered the nation.
Timed to coincide with the flood’s seventy-fifth anniversary, The Thousand-Year Flood is the first comprehensive history of one of the most destructive disasters in American history. David Welky first shows how decades of settlement put Ohio valley farms and towns at risk and how politicians and planners repeatedly ignored the dangers. Then he tells the gripping story of the river’s inexorable rise: residents fled to refugee camps and higher ground, towns imposed martial law, prisoners rioted, Red Cross nurses endured terrifying conditions, and FDR dispatched thousands of relief workers. In a landscape fraught with dangers—from unmoored gas tanks that became floating bombs to powerful currents of filthy floodwaters that swept away whole towns—people hastily raised sandbag barricades, piled into overloaded rowboats, and marveled at water that stretched as far as the eye could see. In the flood’s aftermath, Welky explains, New Deal reformers, utopian dreamers, and hard-pressed locals restructured not only the flood-stricken valleys, but also the nation’s relationship with its waterways, changes that continue to affect life along the rivers to this day.
A striking narrative of danger and adventure—and the mix of heroism and generosity, greed and pettiness that always accompany disaster—The Thousand-Year Flood breathes new life into a fascinating yet little-remembered American story.
Like many scientists, Dr. Packer, a professor of ecology, evolution and behavior at the University of Minnesota, has fought his share of battles in the pages of professional journals.
But he has also tangled with far more formidable adversaries than dissenting colleagues. He has sparred with angry trophy hunters, taken on corrupt politicians, fended off death threats and, in one case, thwarted a mugging. Like the lioness, his opponents discovered that he is unlikely to give ground.
“My reflex is to confront the danger and go right at it,” he said.
Dr. Packer’s boldness — he concedes some might call it naïveté — eventually led to the upheaval of his life in Tanzania, where for 35 years he ran the Serengeti Lion Project, dividing his time between Minnesota and Africa. Assisted by a bevy of graduate students, he conducted studies of lion behavior that have shaped much of what scientists understand about the big cats.
But in 2014, Tanzanian wildlife officials withdrew his research permit, accusing him of “tarnishing the image of the Government of Tanzania” by making derogatory statements about the trophy hunting industry in emails, according to a letter they sent him. And in April, while visiting the Serengeti to film a BBC documentary, a chief park warden informed him that he had been barred from the country. (Apparently, he had made it through customs by mistake.)
Dr. Packer described the events leading to his banishment in his recently published book, Lions in the Balance: Man-Eaters, Manes, and Men with Guns. It mixes episodes of spy novel intrigue with detailed descriptions of scientific studies and PowerPoint presentations.
To read more about Packer’s work published by the University of Chicago Press, click here.
To read more about Lions in the Balance, his latest book, click here.
Eduardo Lalo, as a review in Necessary Fiction notes, is a name familiar to very few English readers. “At the time of this review, a Google search of ‘Eduardo Lalo’ turns up very little in English—only a basic Wikipedia page. One hoping to read more about the author must brush up on one’s dusty Spanish skills.” The Cuban-born Lalo, however, began to gain more cosmopolitan acclaim with the publication of his book Simone, which won the Rómulo Gallegos International Novel Prize, an award that aims to “perpetuate and honor the work of the [titular] eminent novelist and also to stimulate the creative activity of Spanish language writers.” (The award is somewhat comparable, though much larger in scope, to the Man Booker Prize.) ” On the heels of the award, the the book’s first English language translation, by David Frye, has recently been published by the University of Chicago Press. The plot arc of the novel is complex, and the book’s narrative fealty vacillates between the subject positions of a self-educated Chinese immigrant, a jaded novelist, and the eponymous Simone.
From Necessary Fiction, which manages to condense the core of what is at stake for Lalo:
Just when we have uncomfortably settled into the doomed love story, the book takes a significant turn. Toward the end of the novel, the narrator and a novelist friend of his interrogate a visiting Spanish writer about the literature of the peninsula, and the lower quality work—in their opinion—that many Spanish publishers publish. (There may be some continental agreement to that, as Javier Márias has stated that he had no desire “to be was what they call a ‘real Spanish writer.’”) It is, at first, a strange shift. While the plot is held in abeyance, the book tries to make a larger point about the treatment of literature. In part, the point is that Puerto Rican writers have been unfairly ignored, while more maudlin and unoriginal writings from “real Spanish writers” have received outsized attention.
While the narrator obviously has significant pride in his Puerto Rico, it inevitably comes with a concomitant sense of resentment—part of the dark shadow that follows this novel sentence-by-sentence. Upon seeing the name “Colony Economy” on a carton of milk in a coffee shop, the narrator muses about how Puerto Rico’s history “overwhelms and defines” him. It is an apt lens through which to view Simone—characters who cannot quite escape the world they were born into, or the childhoods they were subjected to, a country shackled by the past and every extension of happiness undercut by sorrow. “What is left of the men and women of this country?” the narrator muses. “What remains but the coffee and the centuries, ground down and percolated, flowing through steel tubes, pouring from plastic spigots?”
We have reached a crossroads in our history. For all the achievements and riches of our time, the world has never been so unequal or more unjust. A century ago, at the time of the First World War, the richest 20% of the world’s population earned eleven times more than the poorest 20%. By the end of the twentieth century they earned seventy-four times as much. Today, despite seven decades of international development, three decades of the Washington Consensus, and a decade and a half of Millennium Development Goals, our world is even more divided among the haves, the have-nots, and—as President George W. Bush once quipped in an after-dinner speech—the have-mores.
When it comes to wealth, rather than income, the picture is more extreme. Globally, the richest 1% now own nearly half of all the world’s wealth. The poorest 50% of the world, by contrast—fully 3 billion people—own less than 1% of its wealth. Anyone with assets of more than $10,000 a year is an exception to the global norm and is better off than 70% of everyone else alive. Yet most of us are so preoccupied by the relative few with more that we rarely stop to notice this. There is growing awareness today of the consequences in rich countries of rising income inequality: we know what it means to talk of the 1% there. But when it comes to the much greater gaps between rich and poor the world over, we confine ourselves still to talk of “global poverty”.
How often are we told that, if only we could see what life is like in a cramped slum in Dhaka or on some scrabble of land in rural Chad, we would be moved to help? But the problem is not one of our empathy. We are all familiar with the shape of a human body in hunger. The details, like glass paper, scarcely catch the imagination any more. It is not one of distance, either. A growing number of the wealthiest people in this world live in high-rise apartments that tower up and over the slums below—and they know only too well that before all the “beautiful forevers” will be lived a thousand impossible todays.
The problem, rather, is one of perspective, of what we choose not to see. There is no shortage of books telling us “why nations fail” or what “the bottom billion” on this planet must do to succeed, no shortage of policy papers from the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund saying much the same. But we still have not properly confronted how the poverty and suffering of a great many are connected to the wealth and privilege of a few. We are slow to admit that the problem is one not of poverty traps at the bottom of the pyramid but of a great confinement of wealth at the top. Total global wealth was estimated at $263 trillion in mid-2014, up from $117 trillion in 2000. That was the same year that the world agreed to bind itself to achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 (with the headline ambition of halving the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day). Those goals end this year, in 2015, in many cases not having been met. Meanwhile, global wealth keeps on growing: by 8.3% from mid-2013 to mid-2014 alone.
There is a politics to this, but it is all too often ignored in a debate which to date has preferred to focus on the economics of who has what. The [it’s time to] paint this wider political context back into the picture, since our problems stem less from market forces than from the failed policies behind them. If this is partly cause for despair, then it is also cause for hope: our present predicaments are more amenable to change than we are often encouraged to believe.
But acting on this requires first grasping the full scale of the problem before us. Few of the world’s richest people intentionally exploit the world’s poor, it is obvious to note, and none of us is personally responsible for the plight of distant strangers. But some of us have not earned the base privilege we enjoy in this life: it is ours by fortune of inheritance and geographical luck, for the most part, and it comes at the cost of others.
Friday marks the anniversary of one of the most infamous legal decisions in the history of our country, Korematsu vs. United States.
Seventy-three years ago, during World War II, the United States government forcibly removed 110,000 Japanese Americans from their homes and confined them in detention camps. Loyal citizens lost their property and liberty, based solely on their ancestry. The Korematsu decision validated that action: Relying on a deeply flawed evidentiary record — which included blatant racial animus, hyperbolized threats and misrepresentations by government lawyers — the Supreme Court ruled that the need to protect against the threat of espionage outweighed individual rights.
The federal government has since acknowledged the injustice of Japanese American internment, through reparations, monuments and even a “confession of error” from an acting solicitor general, Neal Katyal, in 2011. As grandchildren of detainees, we can attest to the value of these gestures.
But as law professors, we must acknowledge another truth: The high court has never formally overruled Korematsu, and indeed has declined opportunities to revisit its decision. In law-school-speak, Korematsu remains “good law,” despite widely acknowledged “bad facts.”
We wish we could say that in 2015, Korematsu is a relic—that it survives as a mere technicality and has no real import. But we know better. Our legal system relies heavily on precedent, meaning that even a discredited opinion is a danger if it remains on the books.
Whenever we’re in danger of forgetting that the modern Republican Party is captive to a movement, one new excitement or another will jolt us back to reality — whether it is a trio of high-flying presidential candidates who’ve collectively served not a single day in elective office or an uprising by congressional Jacobins giddily dethroning their own leader. Each new insurrection feels spontaneous even as it revives antique crusades to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, “get rid” of the Supreme Court or — most persistent of all — rejuvenate the Old South. Half a century before Rick Perry indicated secession might be an option for Texas, John Tower, the state’s first Republican senator since Reconstruction, accepted the warm greeting of his new colleague, Senator Richard Russell, the Georgia segregationist, who reportedly said, “I want to welcome Texas back into the Confederacy.”
Tower is one of the more statesmanlike figures in “Nut Country,” Edward H. Miller’s well-researched and briskly written account of Dallas’s transformation from Democratic stronghold to “perfect test kitchen” of a new politics of Republican protest that combined the libertarian cry for “freedom” with the states’ rights model of constitutional order.
A go-getting paradise with an economy enriched by government contracts (aerospace and defense), Dallas might seem a curious place for anti-Beltway insurgency. But dependency bred anxiety, and “wealth and fear” took form together, as the journalist Theodore H. White observed in 1954. The tide of newcomers, many from the Midwest, inhaled the fumes of “Texanism,” according to White “a synthetic faith that lets them oppose all the controls and exactions of the federal government in Washington as an invasion of sacred and immemorial rights, while at the same time providing, with its frontier and vigilante memories, a complete answer to the newer problems of minorities, labor and the complexities of city living.”
One of the new Dallas Republicans was Bruce Alger, a Princeton graduate and disciple of Ayn Rand, elected to the House of Representatives in 1954. Initially an Eisenhower supporter, he declined to sign the notorious “Southern manifesto,” with its defiant sneer at civil rights, but soon became an “artful champion of Jim Crow.” In November 1960, four days before the presidential election, he led a group of 300 protesters who converged on a downtown Dallas hotel and accosted Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson when they entered the lobby. Television cameras captured the moment — along with Alger holding aloft a placard that read “L.B.J. Sold Out to Yankee Socialists” — helping to plant the image of Dallas as a “city of hate.”
Carl De Keyzer’s The First World Warreproduces newly restored glass-plate images (scratches and flaws meticulously removed, which involved De Keyzer’s pursuit of the original glass plates from international archives, private collections, and museums), depicting the experience of WWI from vantages and perspectives previously lost to history. A recent post at Slate‘s history blog, The Vault, featured several images from the book taken by the photographer Arthur Brusselle, who was commissioned by the Belgian government to travel to those sites that had seen the most devastation and document his encounters (these particular plates are held in the archive of the City of Bruges).
From Rebecca Onion’s post at Slate, with a couple of accompanying images below:
Two of the towns in the photographs below—Diksmuide and Nieuwpoort—were the sites of the Belgian Army’s final stand against the invading German Army, in October 1914. Pushed to the coast, the Belgians, accompanied by British and French troops, created a 22-mile defensive line from Nieuwpoort to a village named Zuidschote. The nearly monthlong Battle of the Yser, during which the Belgians purposefully flooded part of this landscape in order to deter German advances, ended in defeat for the Germans and allowed Belgium to keep a small percentage of its land under its own control.
Arthur Brusselle, Diksmuide (1918–19). Photo copyright: City of Bruges.
Arthur Brusselle, Diksmuide (1918–19). Photo copyright: City of Bruges.
To read more about The First World War, click here.
To see more sample images from the book, click here.
From Molly McArdle’s interview with Jessa Crispin about The Dead Ladies Project at Travel + Leisure:
“Though they are not all ladies, her subjects took part in what could be called the creative life, whether they made, published, or fed great works of art. Crispin’s book mixes criticism, memoir, and travel writing into a collection of essays that is brutal and empathetic, languorous and impatient, smart and, well, smart.”
What are the responsibilities of a travel writer? How do they differ from the responsibilities of a traveler? Do travelers have any responsibilities at all?
“Of course travelers have responsibilities! You have the responsibility not to be an asshole! Not to see this country as being laid out on a platter for your taking. You are a guest—you have to respect that this place has nothing to do with you. Too often you see travelers looking at a landscape and asking, “What can I take from this?” Even the obnoxious dudes who make a big deal about the difference between the “traveler” and the “tourist.” Travel writers have an even greater responsibility, because then they are telling stories about this place that has nothing to do with them, and there is a very long history of travel writers doing and saying terrible things. Acting like colonialists, lying about what happened, trying to make themselves look like the conquering hero, bringing their home land’s assumptions and value systems to a place where they don’t belong. Just for example, Paul Theroux scanned all of Asia and only found sexually available, complacent, totally submissive women (shocker) in an essay he wrote called “China Dolls.” Or, that guy who claimed he discovered Machu Picchu even though people were living right by there! So as a contemporary travel writer, it is your job to know the sins of your fathers and carry them and not repeat them.”
To read more about The Dead Ladies Project, click here.
Protecting America’s life and property against the calamities of the weather is a daunting task to manage, above and beyond the formidable meteorological challenges involved. There is a tremendous range of “weather” for the NWS to keep an eye on: land weather, airport weather, marine weather, fire weather, hydrologic weather. To properly protect America’s life and property against the calamities of the weather, therefore, NWS forecast offices are operational around the clock.“The weather never sleeps and neither do we” is the usual stock phrase Neborough forecasters use to enlighten outsiders about their schedule and, by extension, their importance.
The primary responsibility of an NWS forecast office, of course, is to advise and alert about the potential for hazardous weather. Only when hazardous weather warning requirements have been met do forecasters turn their attention to routine products and services. Indeed, during a hazardous weather event, the NWS becomes transformed into what Fine (2007, 40) calls an“activated organization . . . verging on being overwhelmed and understaffed, until routine can again be established.” In this, NWS forecasters readily resemble firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders— primed for hazardous weather, they seem perpetually caught in a lull before the storm. But pushing the analogy any further may be misleading. In contrast to firefighters (cf. Desmond 2007, 81ff.) and other emergency professionals, NWS forecasters experience little or no workload downtime.11 In 2008, five years after the implementation of the IFPS, with the work schedule radically revamped to accommodate for the realities of the new forecasting process and the new forecasting process already an old routine, Neborough forecasters were still struggling to keep up with the weather. To be sure, their workload has been exacerbated by an expanding list of IFPS-driven forecast responsibilities, which, coupled with a series of staff cutbacks due to a shrinking budget, force offices to “do more with less,” to use another favorite NWS catch phrase. What drives this heavy workload in the first place, however, is the fact that we have come to recognize “the weather” not as a finite phenomenon, like a wildfire or a robbery, but as ever present and relevant. As competition among the various weather forecast providers emboldens our appetite for more, faster, better weather information, what counts as the weather further expands in detail and significance. And so, too, does the charge of NWS forecasters. NWS forecast offices more closely resemble a newsroom in this respect—busy during routine operations, verging on understaffed during emergency conditions.
It is this trait of the weather that, in the context of NWS operations, makes weather forecasting an auspicious case study for probing the process of decision making in multiple decision- making regimes. But first, the basics. By way of an introduction to the process of meteorological decision making, the remainder of this chapter goes over the main components of a typical shift at the Neborough office: data analysis; deliberation; and finally, the actual doing of the forecast. In practice, of course, these components are thoroughly intertwined. There is no actual moment when diagnosis ends and prognosis begins. Rather than constituting the means and ends, respectively, of forecasting action, diagnosis and prognosis are in fact“two names for the same reality” (Dewey 1922, 36). Ne-borough forecasters never switch from a diagnostic to a prognostic frame of mind—they just continue making increasingly more consequential decisions as the forecast submission deadline draws nearer. If anything, meteorological prognosis analytically precedes diagnosis, as will become evident in the following pages. This empirical reality of NWS forecasting, while unintelligible from a rational choice perspective, is entirely consistent with pragmatist accounts of the decision-making process. “We do not use the present to control the future,” writes Dewey (1922, 322); “We use the foresight of the future to refine and expand present activity.” The formal distillation and ordering of the NWS forecasting routine into a diagnostic, a deliberative, and a prognostic component denotes therefore the temporal, or processual, unfolding of forecasting action rather than its analytic structure.
TAKING OVER THE HOT SEAT
No shift can start without a briefing by the outgoing forecaster to get the incoming forecaster up to speed with the big weather picture and developing concerns. As in any other work setting whose rhythm is dictated by a shift schedule, weather briefings form an essential, organic part of the forecasting routine as they allow for efficient resource management, minimize duplication of effort, and promote forecast-to-forecast continuity. Weather briefings almost always occur right at the workstation of the outgoing forecaster. Indeed, if the incoming forecaster does not find the outgoing forecaster at his desk as she walks in, she will seek him out in his cubicle and, together, they will walk back to the operations deck to begin the briefing. This is not a mere formality but a testament to the role of screenwork—that is, the processing of information via computer screens— as the organizing principle of meteorological expertise (Daipha 2013). As already noted, if they cannot see it, forecasters cannot think, never mind talk, weather. The departing forecaster relies on the computer screens to make a case for his forecasting decisions, reasoning through the assortment of weather displays he flags as pertinent. For her part, the incoming forecaster relies on the computer screens to keep up with the action, to bring into focus what portends to be the weather forecasting problem of the day. As will become apparent time and time again, screenwork forms the backbone of every aspect of the meteorological decision-making task.
A briefing is in reality two briefings in one, a briefing about forecast concerns and a briefing about technology malfunctions, and forecasters at Neborough will invariably cue “weather wise” and “equipmentwise” to signal the end of the initial pleasantries and the start of the briefing or to segue into the next section. Depending on the weather situation du jour and the familiarity of the incoming forecaster with the current weather system—in other words, depending on whether she has worked that desk the previous day—briefings may last from several seconds to over ten minutes, not infrequently turning into protracted meteorological discussions on model performance and biases or similar past weather events. Throughout, the two forecasters will be poring over the computer screens, the outgoing forecaster guiding the action with the computer mouse. Anything and everything deemed relevant information can be included in the weather briefing: model(s) of choice and reasoning behind it, forecast dilemmas and ultimate decisions, remarkable personal weather observations and puzzling spotter reports, verification concerns, deliberations with neighboring offices, weather features to watch out for, upcoming hazards and how they have been addressed so far, interoffice coordination issues. The conversation is relaxed and collegial, a good-natured back and forth. Yet, even between forecasters who know each other well and have a high regard for each other’s forecasting skill, the exchange is clearly underwritten by a handing off the baton dynamic: the outgoing forecaster is eager to make his forecast stick, especially if he is coming back in a few hours, while the incoming forecaster is intent on not missing a beat but not necessarily committed to the particulars of the existing forecast.
Margaret (short-term desk, day shift): So you guys still thinking some action today?
Dick (short-term desk, midnight shift): Yes. Yes. Todd [at the neighboring office to the southwest] and I were talking it over, and there’s just enough cold air advection aloft, and it’s a sharp enough upper trough, that I was not going to go against tit . . . But, as you can see here, there’s a fair amount of action upstream right now in [adjacent states to the southwest], and the potential is there for all that to work in and just stabilize the air mass out of all severe possibility. So, it’s not something I’m entirely confident in, but with the other factors in place I just showed you . . .
Margaret: So, it must be all instability aloft, because it feels pretty comfortable out there.
Dick: Yeah . . . I mean, see here, we are eventually looking at a minus twelve [degrees Celsius] at 500 [millibar atmospheric pressure level]. But it’s going to be this evening before it gets down into our part of the Northeast . . . so, that’s part of the problem, too, that . . . if anything busts the forecast is that the cold pool . . .
Margaret: Takes forever?
Dick: . . . takes forever to get in. so that’s something to keep an eye on. . . . Anyway, I did what I could; it’s in your hands now.
“Equipmentwise” the briefing can take up an equal amount of time—hardly surprising given the big science character of NWS forecasting operations. Technology fails forecasters in big and small ways, from the radar going down during a severe storm to the server being slower than usual, and it fails them in multiple ways at once. The log of any given shift during my stay at Neborough contained at least two equipment malfunction entries, with that number doubling during hazardous weather conditions. The weather spares no one, certainly not the people tasked with anticipating its every move.
Finally, a“changing of the guard” of sorts takes place. Throughout the briefing, the outgoing forecaster has remained seated at the desk chair with the incoming forecaster standing or leaning against the desk next to him. The briefing completed, the outgoing forecaster will now stand up and, sometimes with some kind of verbal or nonverbal flourish, he will offer the seat to his relief of the day.
The incoming forecaster is now in charge of the workstation. But not until she has adjusted the computer screens according to the settings stored under her user profile will she have truly taken control of the desk and of the weather. The customized, unique combination of weather display formats, color graphics, and sound alarms effectively transforms the workstation into on’s personal workspace, and Neborough forecasters are quick to switch over to their profile the moment they claim the seat. That is especially so because, stored under a forecaster’s name but accessible by all, is a set of personal “best practices” for looking at weather information: the so- called Procedures, accumulated over one’s career and updated as necessary. To study the wind along the atmospheric column, for example, one forecaster might prefer the 850, the 500, the 250, and the surface millibar height charts, color coded just so, while another might routinely find the 700, the 500, the 200, and the surface charts more insightful. Where the Procedures become truly useful, however, is in their ability to recall elaborate composites of data graphics in a matter of seconds. As a result, the variation among forecaster profiles can appear quite staggering. Yet, despite their seemingly idiosyncratic nature, forecasters’ profiles reflect eminently social decisions, the result of apprenticing at particular meteorology programs and forecast offices, under particular mentors, with particular technologies, and so on (see Daipha 2010). For example, unlike other Neborough forecasters, Biff and Phil have primarily organized their Procedures according to weather scenarios, something they learned to do at X- University, which they attended several years apart. And Margaret and Phil are in the habit of looking at weather data in really busy four-panel displays, something they picked up, as it turns out, while interning in the same forecast office in the Midwest.
To be sure, our forecaster does not, as a rule, have to change the previous weather display settings. Rarely did I witness a Neborough forecaster request that the display settings be changed or explained when hunched over someone else’s workstation— following the weather was straightforward enough. In fact, there is an argument to be made that no profile presets are truly necessary, and that the default settings would more than suffice for the task ahead. Certainly, most forecasters like to claim that relying on their Procedures is only an issue of expediency. In practice, however, temporal constraints and the threat of information overload lead to a near absolute dependency on such preset templates for studying the weather.
2:45 p.m. Phil was working an administrative shift in his cubicle today but has been called on forecast duty because of the potential for severe weather later this afternoon. He logs into one of the vacant workstations, turns to the left graphics screen, goes to File/Procedures/select User ID, selects his user name, clicks on severe Weather Tools from the drop-down menu, and selects to load all six of the included information sources from the new drop-down menu. Repeats the same process for the middle graphics screen, this time clicking on Meso [analysis] stuff and selecting five information sources (mostly guidance products from the storm Prediction Center) out of approximately twenty-five. While waiting for the data to load, he next turns to the right graphics screen but now selects Biff’s user name and clicks on severe_Neborough Radar_Right. He tells me he has been meaning to copy this procedure into his own user profile. He likes how “nice and clean” Biff has set up his radar info for right-moving storms. . . . Within fifteen minutes, in consultation with Tom (short- term desk), Phil is ready to press “send” for the first severe thunderstorm watch of the day. He rubs his hands together in excitement: “And we’re rolling!”
To read more about Masters of Uncertainty, click here.
The recently published May 2015 issue of PMLA included a special feature in its “Theories and Methodologies” section devoted to a number of wide-ranging commentaries by contemporary scholars on Andrew Cole’s The Birth of Theory. Cole’s book—readily endorsed by Frederic Jameson and Mladen Dolar, among others—situates Hegel’s dialectic as the ur-theory and method of social analysis from which most of the major thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries would further constitute “theory” as distinct from systematic philosophy. In collaboration with PMLA, we’re pleased to excerpt the opening of Cole’s own piece for the journal, “The Function of Theory at the Present Time,” which follows below. You can read more about the issue in full here, or visit Cole’s page at Princeton University, here.
From “The Function of Theory at the Present Time”
by Andrew Cole
Let me start by defining “theory,” because the definition itself illustrates why we can name Hegel as its inventor, rather than Marx or Nietzsche, both of whom pick up where Hegel left off. As I suggest in The Birth of Theory, Hegel founds theory in his break from Kant, which I regard as the signal moment when philosophy transforms into theory as we now know it. What makes Hegel different from Kant, in other words, is what makes his habits of thought—his dialectic, above all—lasting and familiar and such a part of what goes into critical theorizing today, even within schools of thought that celebrate their anti-Hegelianism or are indifferent to Hegel. In Hegel we find the following three features that I am content to call “theory.”
First, theory is distinct from philosophy, because it challenges the grounds on which you can presume to describe the world, as the first section of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit makes clear in its portrayal of a subject (or “consciousness”) who is in tatters after failing to account coherently for objects in the world. Hegel is bold here. He starts the Phenomenology of Spirit by undoing philosophy as practiced in his day. He gives you no transcendental ego, no handy schematic for possible experience, no subject who cognizes the world effortlessly but has awkward moral problems, no geometrical proofs, and no dislike of contradiction. And with no transcendental ego on the scene, Hegel leaves room for something far more compelling: the Other, in all of its epistemological and ethical significance. (The Other is also Hegel’s invention.)
It’s for these reasons that I think theory is best defined, in the first instance, as philosophy against itself. Theory, like philosophy, requires rigor of thought, but it tries not to confuse consistency for systematicity. It’s not for everyone, as Hegel’s long reception history has made clear. But what’s challenging about Hegel is what’s difficult about getting a grip on thinking itself (even today, philosophers of mind find it nearly impossible to define “consciousness”). In this respect you could say that the shift from Kant to Hegel is the shift from experience to thought—thinking no longer being spontaneous experience but active reflection, a perspective on experience. In Kant, in other words, we do the work of reading a difficult philosophy about what constitutes experience. But in Hegel we read experience itself and face the difficulties of thinking with the kind of confidence you might expect from philosophy. Granted, Kant makes room for an alternative: not cognition but “thinking,” which involves not constitutive concepts—those sorting mechanisms hidden deep within our noumenal selves that render the manifold legible to our understanding—but rather regulative concepts, which we consciously contrive to help us divine ideas about what we can’t experience directly, the supersensibilia (see Critique of Judgement). Hegel, however, collapses this distinction between constitutive and regulative concepts and dispenses with the supersensibilia or noumena that necessitates such conceptual distinctions in the first place. And without constitutive concepts, there’s no Kant: the whole core of his “Copernican” first Critique drops out. The result is radical. It not only nullifies critical philosophy but also leads to another important aspect of theory as it emerges in Hegel’s work.
The second feature of theory holds that we are linguistic beings and that experience is so structured like a language that it qualifies as a language. Kant would never say this. At most, he speaks of the empty but temporal unfolding of the “inner sense” (Critique of Pure Reason 255 [b291]) or the succession of perception following on the order of events. But Hegel says that “it is in language that we are conceptually productive” (qtd. in Birth of Theory ii), which means that we not only think in language but also conceptualize in language. For Hegel, concepts are not just logical operators but figures—figures that then double back and do conceptual work (ibid. 156–61). In other words, in Kant, concepts huddle together while supping at the table of categories, always minding their manners and doing what they’re tasked to do: process the manifold. But in Hegel concepts leave the table and in so doing depart from fixity, from order, from transcendence. It’s as if all concepts in Hegel are regulative concepts, which for Kant (in his third Critique) are indeed the stuff of language, poetry, art, imagination, allusion, analogy, and other forms of thought by which we labor to make sense of what’s initially other to us. In this sense, theory is concerned with the materiality of thought, the materialization of thinking—which brings us to yet another feature of theory.
The third aspect that can be said to define theory is that theory historicizes thought, studying its materialization across disparate forms of human expression—music, literature, art, architecture, religion, philosophy—either in a diachronic or synchronic analysis—or, aspirationally, both at once. It’s enough for a scholar to focus on one of these disciplines or only one mode of historical analysis, but Hegel’s ambition was to think these all at once or pursue a project of writing that would take him from form to form, time to time, place to place. This is the hardest kind of critical writing to do, and Hegel didn’t always succeed, at times offering what we can all agree are culturally blinkered positions. But the method is there, as is the hope for it, once more scotching Kant’s conceptual scheme. Here, again, Hegel works over Kant’s constitutive concepts. To be sure, if Hegel was going to deal in fixed concepts, he would, in true dialectical fashion, put them in the wrong place—not in the self but in history, whereby the concept of a period or some other totalizing conception of a historical moment (like an episteme) is always in tension with the individual examples emerging from within its frame, examples that have a share in conceptualizing a period precisely because they conceptualize by other means: through figuration. Examples—be they poems, paintings, sculptures—are never adequate to their moment. Rather, they are behind or ahead. They contradict their age and one another. Or to turn this formulation around: every present moment is a tangle of emergent and residual forms.
Those are the three main points in what I argue is Hegel’s invention of theory in opposition to Kant’s philosophy, and I support my case by offering multiple histories of dialectical thinking from Plato, Plotinus, and Aristotle to Hegel (more on this below); from Hegel to Marx (whose theory of commodity fetishism restages Hegelian eucharistic fetishism); from Hegel to Nietzsche (whose dialectical tendencies for once deserve acknowledgment); from Hegel to the nineteenth-century English and American critics experimenting with Hegelianism contra Victorian formalism (T. H. Green, Bernard Bosanquet, William Courthope, Leslie Stephen, Vida Dutton Scudder); from Hegel to Bakhtin (whose Hegelianism is always a question); from Hegel to Jameson (always honest about his Hegelianism); and from Hegel to Deleuze, in whose work you’d expect to find Hegel as an epithet, but who instead supplies perhaps the best example of a patently Hegelian “conceptual figuration,” whereby figures do the work of concepts and vice versa. When the gap between Hegel and Deleuze closes, a space for utopian thinking opens up, in which dialectics is energized by phenomenologies past and present.
It’s fine, of course, even de rigueur, to call yourself a theorist but not a Hegelian. But if any of the three points listed above seem important for the task of theorizing, even if you use different emphases and terms, then you have Hegel to thank. That is fundamentally my argument about theory, no more and no less. If none of your theoretical program is included here, it doesn’t mean it’s not important. My aim, at any rate, in The Birth of Theory is to explain why dialectics merits the name “theory” in its most general and particular sense—theory as a certain relation to philosophy, theory as a point of view on concepts and on the process of theorizing, and theory as reflection on history. All of this begins quite clearly in Hegel, and I am unapologetic for saying so in the light of lingering worries about “origins” (Birth of Theory 22–23).
But if dialectics is theory, then where did Hegel get his dialectics? Here we enter into a history of thinking from Plato to the present that strangely hasn’t been undertaken in the disciplines of theory. The reason for this lacuna is not the range of that history but rather the prevailing assumptions about the nonvalidity of premodern, or specifically medieval, thought today. Theorists can’t underestimate the Middle Ages any longer. As I argue in chapters 1 and 2, Hegel didn’t invent his dialectic. Rather, he took it from the Middle Ages. In (again) seeking to depart from Kant’s critical philosophy, Hegel deliberately adopts the distinctly medieval dialectic of identity/difference as the signal instance of dialectical thinking itself. But what makes identity/difference a medieval dialectic? The answer comes in the realization that while these two logical categories, identity and difference, are familiar to theorists today (thanks to Hegel), so familiar as to seem to have no history, they weren’t properly dialectical in the philosophy of Plato or Aristotle. They had their dialectical beginning, rather, in postclassical philosophy, in Plotinus in particular, who radically modified the ancient discipline of dialectic by prioritizing the thinking of differences in identity and identities in difference. By setting the categories of identity and difference at the center of dialectic, Plotinus fashioned a powerful dialectical mode of contemplation that was influential throughout the Middle Ages, with Nicholas of Cusa representing perhaps the last and best known example. Hegel, I show, drew from this medieval tradition of dialectical thinking by following the form, placing identity and difference at the center of his own dialectic. In so doing, he rejected the classical, or antique, legacy of dialectic, as well as the early modern aspersions against medieval dialectic.
Yet if we are to understand what makes Hegelian dialectical theory critical on its own terms, then we need to unthink Marx’s (and Engels’s) famous statement “It has not occurred to any one of these philosophers to inquire into the connection of German philosophy with German reality, the relation of their criticism to their own material surroundings.” At least, we need to rethink its target. For if any philosopher “inquired into the connection of German philosophy with German reality, the relation of their criticism to their own material surroundings,” it was Hegel. And his “master-slave” or, more accurately, “lord-bondsman” dialectic is the example right under our noses. As I show in chapter 3 of The Birth of Theory, this most famous dialectical scenario in the Phenomenology of Spirit represents Hegel’s explicit critique of precapitalist modes of production evidenced in the German states while Hegel was alive—the forms of Grundherrschaft historians consistently characterize as feudalism. In his critique, Hegel reveals himself to be presciently proto-Marxist and exposes, prospectively, how patently absurd it is to blame Hegel for condoning capitalism or to declaim that “Hegel’s stand-point is that of modern political economy,” as Marx says (qtd. in Birth of Theory 118). There was no capitalism around for Hegel to critique. The truth of the matter is born from an analogy: what feudalism is to Hegel capitalism is to Marx.
The analogy itself aims to do two things: to show that Hegel is presciently Marxist in his critique of his “own material surroundings,” thereby explaining why Marx would find Hegel’s dialectic to be theoretically necessary to begin with; and to restore modes of production to the analysis not only of history or literature but of theory and philosophy, grounding these latter in the contexts of their emergence.
Congrats to Swan Isle Press and Anthony Geist for their translation of The School of Solitude: Collected Poems by Luis Hernández, which was just announced as one of the longlist candidates for the 2016 PEN Literary Award for Poetry in Translation. The book collects the prolific work of the legendary (and legendarily troubled) Peruvian poet Luis Hernández, who published three collections of poetry by the age of twenty-four, not to publish again until his untimely death in 1977 at thirty-six years-old Drawing upon the numerous notebooks he kept in the interim, The School of Solitude is the first book of Hernández’s writing to appear in English.
To read more about The School of Solitude, click here.
This e-book features the complete text found in the print edition of Dangerous Work, without the illustrations or the facsimile reproductions of Conan Doyle’s notebook pages.
In 1880 a young medical student named Arthur Conan Doyle embarked upon the “first real outstanding adventure” of his life, taking a berth as ship’s surgeon on an Arctic whaler, the Hope. The voyage took him to unknown regions, showered him with dramatic and unexpected experiences, and plunged him into dangerous work on the ice floes of the Arctic seas. He tested himself, overcame the hardships, and, as he wrote later, “came of age at 80 degrees north latitude.”
Conan Doyle’s time in the Arctic provided powerful fuel for his growing ambitions as a writer. With a ghost story set in the Arctic wastes that he wrote shortly after his return, he established himself as a promising young writer. A subsequent magazine article laying out possible routes to the North Pole won him the respect of Arctic explorers. And he would call upon his shipboard experiences many times in the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, who was introduced in 1887’s A Study in Scarlet.
Out of sight for more than a century was a diary that Conan Doyle kept while aboard the whaler. Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure makes this account available for the first time. With humor and grace, Conan Doyle provides a vivid account of a long-vanished way of life at sea. His careful detailing of the experience of arctic whaling is equal parts fascinating and alarming, revealing the dark workings of the later days of the British whaling industry. In addition to the transcript of the diary, the e-book contains two nonfiction pieces by Doyle about his experiences; and two of his tales inspired by the journey.
To the end of his life, Conan Doyle would look back on this experience with awe: “You stand on the very brink of the unknown,” he declared, “and every duck that you shoot bears pebbles in its gizzard which come from a land which the maps know not. It was a strange and fascinating chapter of my life.” Only now can the legion of Conan Doyle fans read and enjoy that chapter.
Oldstone-Moore, a lecturer in history at Wright State University (and, at least as recently as his faculty head shot, a beard-wearer), approaches facial hair as an index of the vertiginous roil of masculinity itself. “Whenever masculinity is redefined, facial hairstyles change to suit,” he writes. “The history of men is literally written on their faces.” In considering the subject, Oldstone-Moore is in good company. The Supreme Court, the Roman Catholic Church, Rousseau and Plutarch have all weighed in on the subject.
He is monomaniacal in his attentions, charting the course of human history in the reflection of a razor. Like Zelig, at any given moment in history, beards were (or, as suggestively, weren’t) there. Oldstone-Moore finds them (and their corollary, mustaches) everywhere: in ancient Sumer and ancient Rome; in the Bayeux Tapestry, the plays of Shakespeare and the poems of Whitman; in the courts of Europe as well as its festering proletarian dens. (One of the book’s acknowledged shortcomings is the demographic limit of its focus, largely on Western Europe and the United States.)
Even in our current beardophile moment (Oldstone- Moore notes in his introduction that Gillette’s sales are down), to single out facial hair for sustained, scholarly investigation is to invite charges of triviality. Such accusations are necessarily allayed by the beard-first myopia that allows Jesus Christ to be summarily described as “the most recognizable bearded man in Western civilization” or the sack of Rome in 1527 “another turning point in beard history.” It is probably an overstatement to suggest that, where Hitler and Stalin were concerned, “an analysis of mustaches might have alerted the Western allies to the real possibility of German-Soviet agreement.”
But perhaps this is to give the author too little credit. Oldstone-Moore is a sensitive observer, who dispenses ironies with a light hand; tonsorially enthralled as he may be, he also seems in on the joke.