April 23, 2013
Patricia Ticineto Clough,Queens College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York
War By Other Means: What Difference Do(es) the Graphic(s) Make?
In my presentation, I will focus on I Live Here, a boxed set of four books produced by 22 artists and writers. The four books are made up of journal entries, stories, images and graphic novellas about the war in Chechnya, the ethnic cleansing at the Burmese border, the disappearance and death of women around the Maquiladoras, near the Mexican border and the aids epidemic in Malawi Africa. Taking the four books as my focus, I will treat the affects that the graphics elicit as a way of politically branding war and the humanitarian responses to it. Overall I will explore the relation of the graphics to biopolitical governance and “aesthetic capitalism.”
March 26, 2013
Thomas Medvetz, University of California, San Diego
The Crystallization of the Space of Think Tanks: Technocrats and Activist-Experts in the American Field of Expertise
While the academic discussion on think tanks has deepened in the last decade, the origins of the organizational category itself remain murky. In this paper, I show that the think tank catetory formed in the United States as a once disparate array of organizations cohered into a relatively distinct institutional niche with its own interior dynamic. What caused the formation of this space of think tanks? I argue that the process began in the late 1960s through a structural convergence between two sets of experts in the American field of expertise. The first was a set of “non-state” technocrats who had come to play a growing role in political affairs since the Progressive Era. The second set of experts was an emerging breed of largely conservative “activist-experts” who put forward a major challenge to technocratic authority starting in the 1960s and 1970s. As the technocrats “opened” up their knowledge in response to the challenges posed by the activist-experts, and the latter engaged in closure processes to certify their knowledge, the two groups became more oriented to one another in their judgments and practices. Over the next two decades, they formed network ties, entered into more routine forms of competition and collaboration, and collectively established Intellectual products distinct from those of academia.
March 14, 2013
Avery Gordon, University of California, Santa Barbara
work: a view from the utopian margins
Gordon discussed The Workhouse: Room 2, a collaboration with Berlin artist Ines Schaber produced for documenta(13). Room 2 of The Workhouse engages with the history of the former monastery, workhouse, and prison Breitenau. Over time, Breitenau has confined many persons considered extraneous and disposable subjecting them to a regime of punishment and “correction.” Consisting of photographs, curtain, text, and audio files, Room 2 of The Workhouse presented glimpses of fugitive knowledge that emerge in and around this prison in order to conjure historical alternatives that could have been taken but were not and to contribute to an ongoing archive of re-memory whose aims are not correction.
March 12, 2013
Michael Messner, University of California, Los Angeles
Allies: Men Working to Stop Gender-Based Violence
Since the 1970s, some men have sought to ally themselves with feminist anti-rape and anti-domestic violence organizing, focusing especially on violence prevention work with boys and men. This presentation, based on life history interviews with activists, will focus on how different historical moments of engagement with feminism and anti-violence work, from the late 1970s to the present, created both opportunities and constraints for men's work as allies. This presentation will focus on two central points of tension: First, how the historical shift from a grassroots social movement to professionally institutionalized feminism shifts the ground for anti-violence prevention; second, how men as pro-feminist allies navigate contexts characterized by both heightened levels of critical scrutiny, as well as a tendency to be given premature public credit or adulation for doing this sort of work.
February 19, 2013
Max Boykoff, University of Colorado-Boulder
"Who speaks for climate? Making sense of media reporting on climate change"
In this talk, I will touch on salient and swirling contextual factors as well as competing journalistic pressures and norms that contribute to how issues, events and information have often become climate ‘news’. I will focus my attention on how particular problems and snags in the web of interaction between science, media, policy and the public have contributed to critical misperceptions, misleading debates, distractions and divergent understandings – that are detrimental to efforts that seek to enlarge rather than constrict the spectrum of possibility for responses to climate challenges. Mass media serve vital roles in communication processes between science, policy and the public, and often stitch together perceptions, intentions, considerations, and actions regarding climate change. Many dynamic, contested and complex factors contribute to how media outlets portray various facets of climate change science, politics and policy. To make this more concrete, at part of this discussion I will discuss factors and features that shape amplified media treatment of outlier perspectives on climate science-policy, particularly attending to traction gained by ‘climate contrarians’. Overall, I will situate issues like these in the wider context of a ‘cultural politics of climate change’, where formal climate science and governance link with people’s everyday activities in the public sphere.
February 5, 2013
Lisa Stevens, Boston College Lynch School of Education
"Immigrant youth, borders, and the politics of inclusion"
Undocumented. Illegal. Adolescent. English Language Learners. At-risk. These are many of the labels used to shorthand describe immigrant youth in America. In this talk, I will share narratives and analysis of the various borders encountered by recently immigrated youth as they seek to gain footing in the United States.
January 22, 2013
Kimberly Hoang, Rice University
"Technologies of Embodiment: Constructing Pan-Asian Modernity and Third World Exoticism in Vietnam’s Contemporary Sex Industry"
Turning to Vietnam’s segmented sex industry that caters to local elite Vietnamese men and Western businessmen, I illustrate how sex workers who cater to different clientele engage in different technologies of embodiment. In Vietnam’s uneasy emergence as a strong nation in the global economy, sex workers in a high-end niche market that cater to local elite Vietnamese businessmen work to construct new a pan-Asian modernity that follow distinctly non-Western ideals of beauty in representing their nations progress towards becoming a modern nation; women who cater to Western businessmen, on the other hand, embody Third World exoticism and perform poverty. By comparing markets that cater to local Vietnamese elites and Western men. I examine how changes in the macropolitical economy shape relations on the ground. Concurrently, I illustrate how individual agents, particularly those living in the developing world, not only react to, but also actively participate in nation building processes through their embodied practices.
November 27, 2012
Ashley Mears, Boston University
"High-End Ethnic: The Circulation and Reproduction of Cultural Schemas in Fashion"
The fashion modeling industry is perennially critiqued for valuing white, thin, and young women's bodies to the exclusion of most others. How do valuation packages such as these emerge, endure, and travel? This paper traces examines how ideas about beauty, race, sexuality and class couple with routines and practical tasks in organizations to yield stable repertoires of value across markets globally.
November 13, 2012
Kelley Joyce, Drexel University
"Classifying Bodies, Classifying Illness: Tracing the Creation of Autoimmune Disease"
Autoimmune disease has become a salient way of categorizing a range of diseases in the United States. Over 80 illnesses are now considered autoimmune or autoimmune related. The category affects how people experience their bodies and relationships, while scientific research, medical publications, and popular books use the term to describe seemingly disparate illnesses such as Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Type 1 Diabetes, and Crohn’s disease. But, where did the categories autoimmune and autoimmunity come from? How did they come to shape our bodies, medical practice, and popular culture? Contributing to the sociology of science and the sociology of medicine, Dr. Joyce will investigate the actors and social contexts that inform both the creation of the category autoimmune and its use to classify disease and bodies. This talk will show how the prevalence of this category is the result of decades of effort, collaboration, and negotiation. Scientists, advocacy organizations, popular science writers, pharmaceutical companies, and journalists all contributed to the rise of this way of categorizing bodies and lives.
October 2, 2012
Daniel Levine, University of Michigan
"Religion, Violence, and Rights in Latin America"
Long assumed to be an unquestioned and unchanging bulwark of established power and privilege, religion in Latin America has diversified and flourished while taking on a new social and political presence in more open and competitive societies. The last half century has also been a period of great violence in Latin America. Violence of all kinds affected the churches and was central to how and why religious actors engaged issues of rights, and of peacemaking and reconciliation in the wake of war and dictatorship. How did the churches experience and understand violence? Why did they take up new ideas about rights, sponsor social movements, and become advocates for democracy? Why at this time, in this way, and with what implications for the future? All these issues have been contested terrain in the churches, with positions evolving notably over time and often leading to divisions with fatal consequences for many. Understanding these changes requires analysis to reach beyond conventional categories like “church and state “to include the impact of violence and new ideas about rights, the realities of pluralism and competition, the relation between change at the grass roots and institutions, the changing encounter of religion with democracy and social movements, and the creation of new forms of power.
September 12, 2012
Emilie Dubois, Luka Carfagna, Juliet Schor, Boston College
"Mapping the New Economy: Cultural Capital, Digital Habituses, and Social Capital in a Boston Timebank."
The 2008 economic downturn has undermined economic security for many, bringing in its wake increased levels of unemployment and under-employment; reductions in wealth; and heightened economic fear and insecurity. As a result, a “new economy” of alternative forms of consumption, production, and financing has emerged. New economy initiatives include peer to peer innovations such as freecycle, Zipcar and RelayRides, which allow people to swap, share, and barter as substitutes for normative practices such as ownership, purchase and discard. From its online origins in file sharing and open source software, this peer-driven “sharing economy” has expanded rapidly in areas such as accommodations (Couchsurfing, AirBnB), transport, secondary markets for used goods (ThredUp), and finance (Kickstarter). In this paper we investigate one such alternative—the Boston Time Trade Circle, a “time bank” which organizes peer to peer trades in services. The TTC is an egalitarian sharing initiative in which each member’s time is valued equally. This makes it a sociologically interesting case to study issues of inequality and its reproduction. On the basis of 30 interviews with time bank participants aged 18-35, participation in 20 trades and interviews with leaders in the time bank movement, we explore a number of questions. What are the ideological commitments of time bank members and how do they align with the TTC’s own ideological stance? How does the time bank affect social relations and the social capital of its members? How does participation in the time bank relate to members’ work lives? Finally, how is cultural capital deployed in the time bank?
April 24, 2012
"Money Talks: Privileged Lifestyles and Conflicted Feelings among Elite Consumers in New York City."
Rachel Sherman presented Money Talks: Privileged Lifestyles and Conflicted Feelings among Elite Consumers in New York City at the department seminar on 4/24.
This ongoing project looks at how elites experience and talk about their privilege, particularly in terms of their consumption decisions. It is based primarily on in-depth interviews with two populations: elite consumers in New York City, and providers of elite lifestyle services, including financial planners, interior decorators, and personal assistants, who serve as brokers between consumers and markets. These interviews address elites’ lifestyle choices and the emotions surrounding them, particularly the conflicts they express and the justifications they use for their own entitlements. The project engages with broader theoretical questions about the cultural and sentimental foundations of legitimate inequality under capitalism, particularly how habitus and subjectivity relate to resource distribution and consumption.
April 10, 2012
"Rock Bottom: Celebrity and the Moral Order of Addiction"
Rebecca Tiger presented Rock Bottom: Celebrity and the Moral Order of Addiction at the department seminar on 4/10.
While addiction scientists try to convince the public, via documentaries and newspaper articles, that habitual substance use is a chronic relapsing disease requiring treatment, celebrity gossip blogs visually construct the rock bottom moments that make addiction "real" to millions of readers. Pictures of celebrities’ mugs shots for drug-related arrests or photos of them wearing alcohol monitoring anklets are often accompanied by stories steeped in the language of addiction and disease. Many readers post comments in response to these stories; they often relate celebrity addiction to their own experiences and contribute to the bloggers’ dominant narratives of habitual substance use as a form of badness and sickness requiring punishment and treatment. The visual text of celebrity, then, becomes the vehicle to connect the social problems and afflictions of the extraordinary with the ordinary.
In this talk, Rebecca Tiger will examine (1) the role that celebrity gossip blogs and visual images play in the social construction of addiction as a form of badness and sickness, (2) the interactive nature of social problem construction through celebrity gossip blogs and other media sites where readers and viewers respond to stories about celebrity drug use, and (3) the implication of these constructions for a society increasingly apt to view itself within the framework of disease and pathology.
March 27, 2012
"Resisting (and Reproducing) the Inequities of a Neoliberal Food System: Ethical Eating and Food Democracy"
Josée Johnston presented Resisting (and Reproducing) the Inequities of a Neoliberal Food System: Ethical Eating and Food Democracy at the department seminar on 3/27.
Ethical consumption is understood by scholars as a key way that individuals can address social and ecological problems. While a hopeful trend, it raises the question of whether ethical consumption is primarily an elite social practice, especially since niche markets for ethical food products (e.g., organics, fair-trade) are thought to attract wealthy, educated consumers. Scholars do not fully understand the extent to which privileged populations think about food ethics in everyday shopping, or how groups with limited resources conceptualize ethical consumption. To address these knowledge gaps, this talk will address how consumers from different class backgrounds and geographic contexts understand ethical eating, and work these ideas into everyday food practices. While the discourse of ethical eating is enmeshed with privileged eating practices, I will also address current challenges to the neo-liberal food system, and discuss ways to conceptualize these transformative possibilities.
March 13, 2012
"For the Family? How Class and Gender Shape Women's Work"
Sara Damaske presented For the Family? How Class and Gender Shape Women's Work at the department seminar on 3/13.
In the contentious debate about women and work, conventional wisdom holds that middle-class women can decide if they work, while working-class women need to work. Yet, even after the recent economic crisis, middle-class women are more likely to work than working-class women. Sarah Damaske deflates the myth that financial needs dictate if women work, revealing that financial resources make it easier for women to remain at work and not easier to leave it. Departing from mainstream research, Damaske finds three main employment patterns: steady, pulled back, and interrupted. She discovers that middle-class women are more likely to remain steadily at work and working-class women more likely to experience multiple bouts of unemployment. She argues that the public debate is wrongly centered on need because women respond to pressure to be selfless mothers and emphasize family need as the reason for their work choices. Whether the decision is to stay home or go to work, women from all classes say work decisions are made for their families.
February 21, 2012
"Touched by the 'Skank Fairy'?: Sexualization and Middle Class Displacement"
Danielle Egan presented Touched by the 'Skank Fairy'?: Sexualization and Middle Class Displacement at the department seminar on 2/21.
In this presentation, I will analyze the classist assumptions at work in the recent discourse on the sexualization of girls. I contend that the epistemological assumptions underpinning the popular literature rely upon and reproduce longstanding cultural anxieties regarding the eroticism of the poor in the Anglophone west. Analyzing the use of language, affect and hyperbole illuminates how the discourse on sexualization is plagued by an enduring middle class fantasy regarding the poor and is part and parcel of a much longer history of sexual protection movements which have a dubious legacy. The class coded nature of this discourse is particularly evident in discussions of clothing, comportment and in the use of the word “skank.” Clothing functions in a metonymic fashion whereby particular items get equated with action and later subjectivity (thong=sexualized action=sexualized girlhood). As a result, “skanky” pieces come to signify or predict a middle class girl’s descent down a slippery slope toward sexualized activities (oral sex for pay, intergenerational sex, sex games, low self esteem, cognitive delay, etc), tainted subjectivity and a “lonely and desperate” future. However, the prolific nature of this discourse, its problematic epistemological legacy, the level of affect deployed and the lack of solid empirical grounding raise another sociologically pertinent question—is this discourse only about sexualization? I will make the case that the problem of sexualization is not simply a girl’s problem, but rather that it is a displacement for something else—middle class instability in an increasingly precarious economic condition. To this end, the sexualized girl may be read metaphorically—I argue that she is an emblem of a porous, defiled and corroded social status. This presentation will draw on data from the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia produced since 2005 and will make use of historical materials, literature on the sociology of taste and affect as well as psychoanalytic theory as an explanatory framework.
February 7, 2012
Sharlene Hesse-Biber, Boston College
"Waiting for Cancer to Come: Genetic Testing and Women's Medical Decision Making"
Sharlene Hesse-Biber presented Waiting for Cancer to Come: Genetic Testing and Women's Medical Decision Making at the department seminar on 2/7.
Sitting with BRCA is like being a character in Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot, Being in a place where time becomes waiting. Waiting for cancer to come. “Not if I get cancer, but when I get cancer.” Wanting to act, yet feeling immobilized, unable to move forward. Feeling like “my breasts are ticking time bombs.” “Waiting for cancer to come.”
--excerpt from Sharlene Hesse-Biber’s book, Waiting For Cancer to Come. The cacophony of women’s voices that swirl around one another in the opening stanza of this poem captures the genetic testing experience and the myriad ways women come to terms with their genetic news.
When a young woman loses a mother and sister to breast cancer and finds out her risk of cancer is high as well, what should she do? Waiting for Cancer to Come explores the struggles women like this face every day to address their genetic risk of breast and ovarian cancer. A multi-billion dollar genetic testing industry is growing every year, and companies going pink for breast cancer awareness is more common than not, but few research studies have explored the dynamics involved when these cultural phenomena meet – from the perspectives of women who live this reality every day.
This research seminar talk will explore the complicated emotional, social, economic, and psychological factors at play in the lives of women who are tested positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations that indicate a high risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Genetic testing upends the lives of women across the country and Waiting for Cancer to Come walks through their journeys of despair, challenges, victories over their cancer risk, and ever-changing family dynamics.
Based on intensive interviews and on line surveys with sixty-five women who tested positive for the BRCA genetic mutation, this research seminar specifically explores women's medical decision making post-testing. The in-depth interviews reveal a decision-making process by which BRCA positive women frame their statistical medical risk for getting cancer and their decisions about the type of treatment to pursue post-testing within a broad socio-cultural context of engagement including their social networks of family, friends and increasingly online relationships. The extent to which women feel “ready” in their treatment decision-making makes their choice of surveillance or surgery an empowering or disempowering experience.
Women’s social networks form a “nexus of decision making" that does not, for the most part, mirror the medical assessment of statistical odds of their cancer risk or the specific treatment protocol framed by the medical establishment. Some important findings from the in-depth interviews are explored, elaborated and followed up through the use of on line survey that is linked to the in-depth interviews. I explore some of the policy implications of my research findings that provides strategies to better serve and empower BRCA positive women that will allow them to assess their genetic risk and navigate their treatment options to reduce their risk of developing cancer.
January 24, 2012
Anthony Farley, Albany University
Anthony Farley presented Prison Abolition at the department seminar on 1/24.
Anthony Farley is the James Campbell Matthews Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence at Albany University School of Law. A renowned author and critical legal theorist, Professor Farley's presentation brought the lens of critical race theory to bear upon the question of "prison abolition" in a historical social context.
November 29, 2011
Miliann Kang, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
"Intersectionalities: Theorizing Multiple Inequalities in Asian-owned Nail Salons"
Miliann Kang presented Intersectionalities: Theorizing Multiple Inequalities in Asian owned nail salons at the department seminar on 11/29.
Ethnographic research in Asian-owned nail salons reveals the multiple inequalities and contestations which shape intimate relations between diverse women in these sites. Kang explores the dynamics of emotional and body labor in the provision of manicures to expand the theoretical framework of intersectionality. Drawing on empirical cases varying by race, class and immigrant status of the clientele and neighborhood contexts, Kang develops the concepts of intersectional reproduction, disruption, rearticulation, and finally, forms of intersectional resistance.
November 8, 2011
"Finding a Way to Offer Something More: Reframing Teen Pregnancy Prevention"
Gretchen Sisson presented Finding a Way to Offer Something More: Reframing Teen Pregnancy Prevention at the department seminar on 11/8.
Advocacy organizations have consistently framed adolescent pregnancy as profoundly and enduringly detrimental for young women, their families, and their communities, despite equivocal evidence about the causal relationship between young maternal age and poor outcomes. Without this attribution, logic mandates that such organizations find more evidence-based justifications for teen pregnancy prevention that still address the lived experiences of populations most at risk for early parenthood. If such evidence-based justifications continue to be lacking, it is unlikely that these well- intentioned efforts will truly have a beneficial impact on the communities with which they are concerned. This paper presents such justifications, including recognition of the challenges inherent in parenting and protection of adolescence as a developmental stage, the need to make pregnancy prevention more accessible for those who chose it, and overall investment in adolescent sexual health. From this new paradigm, sexual health advocates can build a class-conscious model of sexual health that recognizes the necessity of providing more options for at-risk youth, the appeal of models of conjoint agency, and the necessity of comprehensive health resources and sexuality education. By adopting a new framework for teen pregnancy prevention, the promise of prevention within a social justice movement can begin to be discussed.
October 25, 2011
Lisa Dodson, Boston College
Beth Babcock, President/CEO Crittenton Women's Union
"Disrupting the Poverty Cycle: A conversation about a university and NGO collaboration"
Lisa Dodson and Beth Babcock led a panel discussion on Disrupting the Poverty Cycle: A conversation about a university and NGO collaboration at the department seminar on Tuesday, October 25.
October 13, 2011
Jared Del Rosso, Boston College
"Torture and the Liberal Ideology of Cruelty"
Jared Del Rosso spoke on "Torture and the Liberal Ideology of Cruelty" at the department seminar on October 13.
In 2007, Michael Hayden, the Director of the CIA, disclosed that the Agency had destroyed videotapes of its interrogations, including those that involved the use of waterboarding. The absence of the video recordings provoked a political debate about what, in fact, the recordings showed. In this paper, I draw on a discourse analysis of congressional hearings to document how proponents and critics of the Bush administration's "enhanced interrogation" program competed to fill the representational lacuna created by the destruction of the tapes. Proponents of the practice drew on the CIA's own account of its interrogations to construe waterboarding as a well regulated, professionally administered, and instrumentally organized practice. Critics, on the other hand, emphasized the use of water torture by non-democratic states to situate waterboarding within a counter-democratic discourse. I argue that both portrayals conform to a liberal ideology of state violence that disavows torture as excessive and ferocious cruelty while permitting expressions of state violence that may be credibly construed as callous, clinical, and instrumental.
September 29, 2011
Margaret Morganroth Gullette, Brandeis University
"Ageism: the New Ageism in America"
Margaret Morganroth Gullette spoke on "Ageism: the New Ageism in America" at the department seminar on Thursday, 9/29. Dr. Gullette has an international reputation as a cultural critic, feminist, and activist.
March 15, 2011
Rachel Schurman, University of Minnesota
"Fighting for the Future of Food: The Concept of 'Lifeworlds' and the Dynamics of Contention in the Struggle over Biotechnology"
Although social movement scholars have utilized a variety of concepts to explain the dynamics of social movement struggles (e.g., resource mobilization, movement-counter-movement dynamics, political opportunities, etc.), one of the major challenges this literature still faces is to take the adequate account of the cultural and social worlds that motivate and shape the interactions between activists and their adversaries. In this talk, I suggest that an understanding of the dynamics of contention surrounding social movements and their adversaries can be significantly advanced by the reconstructing and adapting of the sociological concept of "life worlds." Focusing on the controversy over genetically modified food, I show the utility of this concept for understanding the dynamics of contention in the thirty-year battle over biotechnology. I argue that viewing social movements and their opponents through the lens of life worlds allows us to better grasp these respective actors' ways of seeing and acting upon the world and their strengths, weaknesses, and points of vulnerability vis-a-vis one another.
March 1, 2011
Zine Magubane, Boston College
"Booker T. Washington—‘Father’ of Transnational Sociology?: Booker T. Washington, Robert Park, Tuskegee Institute and the Birth of ‘Global’ Sociology"
In "Why is Classical Theory Classical," her account of how sociology became "an international more strictly, inter-metropolitan, cultural formation," Connell (1997:1528) points to institutions like Rene Worms's Institut International de Sociologie, journals, and scholarly visits across the North Atlantic. One important institution she fails to mention, however, are historically Black colleges and universities. Even though they are rarely characterized as such, during the 19th century segregated industrial and agricultural institutions like Hampton Institute (located in Virginia) and Tuskegee Institute (founded in Alabama by Hampton alum Booker T. Washington) were key sites for intellectuals from across the globe to gather, discuss, debate, and exchange sociological knowledge — particularly around race.
February 8, 2011
Elizabeth Ferry, Brandeis
"Making Scientific Value: A Twice-Told Tale of the Mineral Species 'Aguilarite'"
In 1891 the mineral species "aguilarite" was discovered, described and named by a scientist from the Field Museum in Chicago, after Ponciano Aguilar, a mining engineer and mineral collector. With this event aguilarite emerged as a new kind of object, one that formerly did not exist as such. In this paper, I want to explore two different ways of telling the story of how aguilarite came to be and what happened next: one influenced by Actor Network Theory (ANT) and the other coming from world systems theory and structured by the description of commodity chains. Each of these methods builds on a series of metaphysical and methodological principles and each has strengths and weaknesses that follow from these premises. In this article, I explore what it means to tell the story of aguilarite from the perspective of Actor Network Theory and commodity chain analysis, particularly as part of the political economy tradition in anthropology. What does each type of account conceal and reveal about the discovery of aguilarite and what came next? What can the two accounts together tell us about aguilarite, Aguilar, 19th-century science, Mexican-US relations, and so on, that each one on its own cannot?
January 25, 2011
Lisa Dodson, Boston College
"Facing Untenable Choices: Taking Care of Low-income Families"
This seminar will discuss effects of profound inequality in family life, from the perspective of low-wage mothers and children. Today, 42% of all children in the US are low income — most of them living in working families. Beyond unsustainable earnings, low-wage occupations often have schedules that disrupt child/family care strategies. Across recent scholarship on low-income families, as well as in original field research, mothers and children describe untenable choices trying to meet the demands of the labor market, fulfill the terms of contemporary schooling, and care for each other. They also describe social stigma when unable to replicate the current norms of intensified parenting and devotion to personal success at work and in school. In fact, major social institutions (employment and education) are described as operating according to rules and expectations that, particularly in the expanding world of low-income America, pit mothers and children against each other. This sharp angle on work/family conflict tends to be ignored or, if highlighted, used as evidence of "personal irresponsibility" and failed families, thereby undermining common cause on a critical social issue.
November 9, 2010
Teresa Gowan, University of Minnesota
"Homeless in San Francisco: Discourse, Space, and Social Control"
In her ethnography of street homelessness in San Francisco, Teresa Gowan shows how contrasting ways of "doing homelessness" are not only elicited within different poverty management institutions but ultimately reworked, embodied, and ultimately spatialized across the more autonomous zones of homeless life. Asking how the very poor process the symbolic violence and social suffering of street life, this kind of discourse analysis offers one path through the representational minefield of contemporary poverty studies, demonstrating the intimate relationship between the ideas and behavior of the very poor and the concrete fantasies represented by neoliberal social projects of mass incarceration, "urbanoid" development, and responsibilization without resources.
October 19, 2010
Hilary Levey, Harvard University
"Playing to Win: Raising Girls in a Competitive Culture"
What motivates parents to get their daughters involved in competitive activities? I analyze the roots and effects of participation in competitive children’s activities using data from sixteen months of fieldwork spent in the worlds of competitive children’s chess, dance, and soccer, including 43 interviews with parents of elementary school-age girls and 17 interviews with their daughters. I show that the extensive time devoted to participation in activities is driven by parents’ demand for credentials for their children, which they see as a necessary and often sufficient condition for entry into the middle and upper-middle classes. Others have noted that an increasing number of children spend their time in these organized activities, but what is rarely discussed is their competitive nature. This competitive element is key, as parents worry that if their children do not participate in childhood tournaments they will fall behind in the tournament of life. Upper-middle and lower-middle class parents encourage their daughters to be competitive in particular ways in different after-school activities. These decisions result in different classed forms of femininity for young girls who learn to be either graceful girls, aggressive girls, or “pink” girls. I argue that such classed lessons in competitive after-school activities are an unexplored way in which class and gender reproduction occurs and, by training the sociological lens on this segment of life, we can explore how parents raise daughters to move up or sustain their current position in the hierarchy. Ultimately these activities seem to reinforce a less-than-level playing field.
October 5, 2010
Shawn McGuffey, Boston College
"Coping with Class: How Social Class and Mobility Mediate the Experience of Rape for Black Ghanaians and South Africans"
Noon, Media classroom, Room 211, O'Neill 2nd floor
September 21, 2010
Deborah Gould, University of California Santa Cruz
"Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP's Fight Against AIDS"
Noon, Media classroom, Room 211, O'Neill 2nd floor
April 13, 2010
Foreclosing Home: Rethinking the Meaning and Loss of Home in the Foreclosure Process
February of 2010 marked the 12th consecutive month in which more than 300,000 properties in the United States received foreclosure filings. The families residing in these properties are at risk not only for home loss but also health effects and family stress related to their housing insecurity. This talk explores the various meanings of home as a source of security, control, and freedom from surveillance, and the consequent risks to identity and security for those self-defined as at-risk of foreclosure.
March 23, 2010
I Need Baby, Baby Needs the Boot: How the Perception of a Scary World Can Turn Mother-Child Attachment on its Head
The psychological attachment literature focuses on infants' attachment to their primary caregivers, with infants' attachment behavior displayed most prominently during moments of perceived threat. In this talk, I investigate mothers' perception of threat in the social world (be it divorce anxiety, fear of layoff, or concern over terrorism) as a mediating influence on mothers' own attachment patterns with their children. Specifically, I examine two opposing maternal responses to perceived threat—drawing children closer, and endeavoring to toughen children up through independence training—and the maternal predicament when a woman has both of these responses.
March 10, 2010
A Savage Sorting of Winners and Losers: A Contemporary Version of Primitive Accumulation
February 25, 2010
Foucault and Kant on Enlightenment
Michel Foucault was obsessed with Kant's brief text on the Enlightenment and analyzed it in numerous lectures and courses during the final years of his life. I am interested in exploring not only Kant's and Foucault's notions of modernity but also how they view the vocation of the theorist and what they think theory can do. Specifically I would like to explore what they see as the limits of critique and the possibilities of theory beyond critique.
February 5, 2010
Dialectics of Social Change: Exit strategies for Capitalism in Crisis
December 1, 2009
Narrating Emotional Experience: Masculinity, Depression and Bob Dylan
Storytelling is pervasive in everyday life and research qualitative interviews, but meanings are rarely self-evident or transparent and contrasting readings of a text are always possible. Emotional experience can be especially difficult to narrate-it goes beyond words and the common structures of narrative discourse. In a case study I compare several readings of an interview segment collected long ago from a man who described a period of "bleak depression." I reinterpret the personal narrative in light of contemporary theorizing about masculinities and developments in narrative inquiry. The discovery of Bob Dylan hidden in a referent opens up new readings. Drawing from Bakhtin's theory of dialogic discourse, the case study illustrates how close attention to the appropriation of language expands understanding of gender and emotional distress.
November 10, 2009
Beginning with a somewhat magical image of the human body transubstantiating into a fleshless cybernetic machine, this presentation explores the fascinations and fears of magic in relation to contemporary information-based forms of power. Magic is today a common metaphor in the realms of advertising, mass entertainment, and politics. Think, for instance, of the magic of Disney, the magic of Macy’s, or the magic of this or that new technological innovation, fashion, or virtual battlefield. Drawing upon historical, anthropological, and theological discussions of the relationship between magic and technology, and also between digital and analogical forms of communication, “Digital Magic, Cybernetic Sorcery” attempts a sociological theorization of magic and its relationship to technology at three distinct moments of Northwestern history—(1) the fascinations and fears of “natural magic” during the European “witch craze” and Renaissance, (2) the suggestive mesmeric magic of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and (3) the hypnotic techno-magic of contemporary digital culture.
Once associated with streaming analogical flows of energetic-material connection between humans and our natural-historical environments, magical spiritual rituals were targeted for repression during the emergence of modern Northwestern society. Today, however, magic is making a big-time comeback with the onset of high-speed digital technologies of cybernetic command and control. In what ways do contemporary technologies of image management, sensory fascination, political persuasion, and the conduct of war operate as a kind of simulated return of repressed magical communications? “Digital Magic, Cybernetic Sorcery” concludes with a critical sociological mediation on the mesmerizing effects of being awash in the fascinations and fears of dense televisionary loops of communicative feedback. Here we find suggestive evidence of both the technological amplification of earlier modern modalities of social power and an unprecedented opportunity for future social and cultural change.
October 30, 2009
Is Race-based Medicine Good for Us?: A Scientific and Political Question
Public discourse on race-specific medicine typically erects a wall between the scientific use of race as a biological category and the ideological battle over race as a social identity. But “Is race-based medicine good for us?” is at once a medical and political question. I place the scientific debate over race-based medicine in the context of an equally heated battle over approaches to racial equality as well as the emergence of a new biological citizenship.
October 13, 2009
Donor Siblings or Genetic Strangers: The Internet and the New Networked Family
Following up on earlier work I will talk about findings from a web-based survey of women who became pregnant using anonymous donors. The Internet now enables anonymous donor parents and children to search for donor-siblings (others who purchased gametes from the same donor.) Some families wonder if biology roots family. Other families are using this information to make new kin claims and they expand their boundaries to include other children (and their parents). However, most relationships remain in virtual space; surprisingly few families meet in person. I am interested in discussing how the internet is producing new emotional ties. And the ways in which some families are developing guidelines for embracing their genetic kin who fall outside traditional reproductive narratives.
March 24, 2009
Democracy by Invitation: The Private Sector's Response to Participatory Budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil
Participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, gained international acclaim for turning over control of the municipal budget to poor people in their neighborhoods. Since 1989, through a series of meetings run by formalized procedures of debate and voting, ordinary people have made decisions about how the budget for municipal services in their neighborhoods should be spent. What preoccupies businesspeople in Porto Alegre is another set of concerns, a very different telling of the story of participatory budgeting and their own place in it. Businesspeople claim that they weren't invited to participatory budgeting; what they mean is that they can be outvoted there. My talk will examine business responses to this historic experiment in transforming municipal politics and citizen empowerment through democratic procedures.
March 10, 2009
An elder of the Dakota nation, Grace Lambert, spoke with bitterness about land-taking on the reservation where she was born and raised. After a family tragedy, her father sold their farm, "...and then some white man got it." Helene Ivarsdottir Lynghaugen told the same history through a different lens, reflecting on the journey with her widowed mother and two sisters from a rocky mountainside farm in Norway to North Dakota. She matter-of-factly stated: "We stole the land from the Indians." In fact, her mother's acquisition of land followed the letter of the law. However, her reflection captures how it felt to the dispossessed Dakota, and reflects the sense of culpability experience by many Scandinavian homesteaders.
At the urging of the U.S. government and under an agreement by the tribe, hundreds of impoverished Scandinavians homesteaded Dakota Indian Reservation land in the early twentieth century. This talk explores the process of Native American dispossession, the high levels of Dakota and Scandinavian women's land ownership, and the diverse and gendered forms of conflict and cooperation that ensued in the complex multicultural community that unfolded.
February 24, 2009
Citizens, Markets, and Transnational Activism: Monitoring sweatshops in South Africa, India, and Guatemala
Over the past decade, scholars and policy-makers alike have sought new approaches to protecting labor rights in developing countries, often looking to consumer boycotts and independent monitors to assure compliance with codes of conduct. This paper explores the dynamics of 'stateless regulation' through empirical research in South Africa, India, and Guatemala, and concludes that there are pitfalls, as well as promise, in turning to market forces to protect citizenship rights.
January 27, 2008
The Invisible Elbow and the Invisible Cold Shoulder: Reviewing public sociology from a fractal, movement-building lens
For the last two decades, the Movement and Media Research Action Project (MRAP) has operated with support from Boston College's Sociology Program. From this experience, Charlotte Ryan presents a conceptual model of movement-building distilled in collaboration with one of MRAP's long-standing community partners.
The model suggests that pre-figurative political practices (Breines; Belenky; Baker) are critical for movement growth, that learning is circular and collective, and prefigurative (we have to change ourselves). The model has implications for reimagining the public role of sociology. Format: Short presentation followed by a conversation based on questions posed.
November 11, 2008
Global Fields and Imperial Forms: the British and American Empires Compared
One of the many differences between the British and US empires is that the British empire largely relied upon formal imperialism entailing direct colonial control, while the US empire has tended towards informal (or indirect) imperialism. To explain this difference, existing narratives would point to America’s presumably “exceptional” political culture. Alternatively, this presentation argues that the difference lies in the different global fields in which the two states were embedded.
October 28, 2008
Structures and Subjects in the Global Economy: What Gender Helps Us See
There is a long history of looking at the differential impact of economics on women and men. In this talk I want to flip that question and investigate the impact of gendered meaning structures on the way political economic processes unfold. Working with data from my earlier work on gender in the maquila sector and with data from my current work on peso/dollar exchange markets, I will trace the processes that a gendered lens make visible and discuss the implications of that shifting optic on how we understand the economy.
October 7, 2008
Amy Finnegan, Jonathan Christiansen, Mike Cermak, Aideen Gleeson, Shelley White
Displacing Activism? The Impact of International Service Trips on Understandings of Social Change
Prior studies of civic engagement either conflate or isolate service and activism. In this study we examined the relationship between the two by interviewing students returning from international service trips. We show that far from being complementary, service and activism are competing identities with service being preferred. This had repercussions as students returned from abroad with a desire to be more engaged yet lacked the skills to do so. Our findings suggest that service-learning programs can incorporate and model a broader range of civic engagement activities to help students better understand the different approaches taken to enacting social change.
September 16, 2008
The Making of a Public Sociologist: Invitation to a Conversation"
Charlie Derber offered some reflections on how to study, teach, write, and act as a public sociologist. He discussed modes of publishing and teaching, relations to media, collaboration with activists, and professional risks. When he was president of the ASA, Michael Burawoy identified the Boston College Sociology department as exemplifying public sociology. This session lead to a conversation about how one educates or trains a public sociologist, what kind of impact public sociology can have, and how we can do the job better.
April 22, 2008
Social Movement Strategy in Alternative Consumption Projects
This paper analyzes the development of urban-rural “local food” institutions from a social movements perspective. Over the last decade, institutions that “shorten the links” between producer and consumer have developed through a diverse collaboration of many social sectors (farmers, agronomic experts, retailers, chefs, food writers, and a variety of consumers). Some agronomists and rural sociologists critical of the globalization and industrialization of agriculture have recognized this development as heralding a Polanyian “reembedding” of market exchanges in social relations. Some academic critics have questioned its politics. This paper uses social movements theory to analyze whether “local food” is a social movement. Drawing on 17 years of participant observation, 11 years of discourse analysis, and 2 years of participant action research, this paper analyzes whether and how local food “creates a ‘we’” [Melucci 1989], its “new idea” and technologies of dissemination [Eyerman & Jamison 1991], and the politics of its activity [Melucci 1996]. For these social movement theorists, protests, membership organizations, and campaigns tell us little about social movements. They require us to enter the empirically challenging world of culture, meaning, and identity.
April 8, 2008
Donatella Della Porta*
“Europeanization from Below: Social Movements and Multilevel Governance”
March 25, 2008
Esteban Calvo, Boston College
Work to Retirement Transitions and Happiness: Linking Public Policies, Social Structures, and Private Troubles
This study classifies work to retirement transitions according to their mode (gradual/abrupt) and perceived control (wanted/forced), and asks what type of transition makes people happier. Recent studies find that workers often view the idea of gradual retirement as a more attractive alternative than a "cold turkey" or abrupt retirement. Many policymakers also favor gradual retirement, as it may increase retirement income. Theory and conventional wisdom predict greater happiness for gradual retirees and people who report sense of control over their retirement. However, there is very little evidence as to whether phasing or cold turkey makes for a happier retirement. Using longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study, this study explores what shapes the change in happiness during the transition and once the transition has been completed. Results suggest that what matters is not the mode of the transition (gradual/abrupt), but the sense of control workers have over their retirement. Conceptualizing ‘sense of control’ as the result of the interplay of opportunities and choices helps to understand happiness in connection to public policies and social structures.
March 11, 2008
Juliet Schor, Boston College
The New Consumer Movement: co-optation or challenge?
February 19, 2008
Like a Family: Caring, exploitation, and race in paid carework
Professor Dodson will speak about her recent research on careworkers in long-term care to examine larger issues of gender, class, race, and carework in the current economy. The development of a family ideology promotes good care of residents and thus benefits nursing homes. Careworkers value fictive kin relationships with residents, yet the family model may be used to exploit these low-income careworkers.
February 5, 2008
“Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia Did Not”
Ulrike Boehmer, BU School of Public Health
Sexual Orientation and Health Disparities
November 6, 2007
Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, University of Massachusetts/Amherst
Documenting Desegregation: Equal Opportunity in Private Sector Employment Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Numerous commentators have concluded that the Civil Rights Act was effective in promoting increased access to good quality jobs for racial minorities. Many have worried as well that the pace of change has been too slow or stalled, particularly after 1980. Few have directly discussed under what conditions we might expect equal employment opportunity (EEO) to flourish. Explanations of status inequalities in the workplace have primarily relied on theories of social conflict and discrimination. Organizational perspectives on stratification, while not completely absent from previous research, remain a road less traveled. In this paper we present trends in race-sex inequality in U.S. workplaces since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and describe the organizational practices and discrimination processes that are likely to maintain status inequalities in the workplace and those which might be catalysts of change.
September 27, 2007
Feminist research challenges traditional researchers to dynamically engage with gender as a category of inquiry in the research process. Feminist researchers utilize all types of research methods –qualitative and quantitative and sometimes a combination of methods. What makes research “feminist” lies in the particular set of theoretical perspectives and research questions that places women’s issues, concerns and lived experiences at the center of research inquiry. Feminist research stresses the importance of taking into account how gender intersects with other forms of women’s oppression based on their race, ethnicity, class, nationality and so on. A primary goal of feminist research is the promotion of social justice and social transformation of women’s lives. Feminist research praxis emphasizes issues of power and authority between the researcher and researched, off setting these issues through the practice of reflexivity throughout the research process.
September 11, 2007
April 10, 2007
Hard Evidence: The Vexations of Lincoln's Queer Corpus
C. A. Tripp's posthumously published The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln (2005) sparked the latest battle in an ongoing cold war over Abraham Lincoln's sexuality. Unlike Larry Kramer's 1999 controversial "outing" of Lincoln, Tripp emerged wearing a mantle of academic ethos, disavowed political motive, and made clear from the outset that a convincing historical case rests on compelling evidence. However, as revealed in the copious response to Tripp's book by defenders and detractors, gay and straight alike an evidentiary struggle over Lincoln's sexuality is illusory, one that masks the heteronormative presumption undergirding and protected by the rhetorically constructed material status of evidence itself. As such, the vexations of Lincoln's corpus provide the ground for a queer refiguring of our understanding of public memory as a mirror and/or lamp, and in keeping with Gavin Butt's project of queering the evidential, offer a displacement of so-called verifiable truths from their positivistic frames of reference to render them instead . . . as projections of interpretive desire and curiosity. What I seek through this interrogation of the evidentiary battle over Lincoln's body is a queer critical politics of revelatory inducement, not historical adducement, and to consider desire as a material force in rhetorical productions of the past.
March 27, 2007
Movies, Madonna, and Malawi: Africa and the New Cult of Celebrity
Boston College Sociology Professor Zine Magubane discussed the recent upswing in interest about Africa and Africans in popular culture. Her talk addressed how Africa has historically been represented in popular culture, and compared it to what is happening today.
March 13, 2007
David Swarts (Boston University)
The Political Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu
Pierre Bourdieu has inspired much work in the sociology of culture and cultural studies, education, theory, and stratification, but received very little attention in political sociology and practically none in political science. Yet the analysis of power represents the core objective of Bourdieu's sociology. He proposes a theory of symbolic power, violence, and capital that stresses the active role that symbolic forms play as resources that both constitute and maintain social hierarchies. Moreover, he identifies a wide variety of valued resources beyond sheer economic interests that function as power resources and that he calls forms of capital, such as social capital and cultural capital Furthermore, individuals and groups struggle over the very definition and distribution of these capitals in distinct power arenas Bourdieu calls fields. His sociology sensitizes us to the more subtle and influential forms of power that operate particularly through the cultural resources and symbolic categories and classifications that interweave everyday life with prevailing institutional arrangements. Finally, Bourdieu offers not only a sociology of politics but also a politics of sociology. There is a political project in his sociology that for the most part goes overlooked in its reception outside of France. Swarts' presentation proposed a reading of Bourdieu as a political sociologist who offers both a sociology of politics and a politics of sociology.
February 20, 2007
Nazli Kibria (Boston University)
'Muslim American' and 'British Bengali': Identities of Bangladeshi Youth in Britain and the U.S.
In recent times, the unitary category of Muslim youth has marked media depictions of young Muslims of varied national, racial and class background. Drawing on her cross-national research on the Bangladeshi diaspora, Professor Kibria explored the impact of national context on Muslim migrant youth, specifically on their experiences of integration and Muslim identification.
February 6, 2007
The Way is the Goal: Ideology and Practice in the German Autonomous Movement
Over the last thirty years, extraparliamentary activism in Germany has given rise to two divergent democratic countercultures, both deeply committed to a non-hierarchical, 'collectivist-democratic' style of politics, but each embracing a distinct pattern of self-organization. One has roots in the Gandhian tradition of radical non-violence; the other in the Western European 'autonomous' movement (known in Germany as the Autonomen). These two movement countercultures have developed contrasting forms of collectivist democracy, marked by different ways of dividing labor and running meetings as well as different decision-making processes and tactical orientations. Given that both movements exist within the same political system, have the same class base and face the same opportunity structures, my work explores the role of ideology to explain their divergent organizational practices through a comparative analysis of twelve collectivist groups drawn on an equal basis from each counterculture. Darcy argues that the practices of the Autonomen and non-violence groups grew out of competing understandings within each movement of their own core concepts of autonomy and non-violence. The seminar focused on the effects of this ideological contradiction among the Autonomen and its implications for the movement.
January 23, 2007
Feedback, Fear, and Fascination: Cybernetic Social Control and Global Capitalist Power
This plenary presentation examined the global politics of cybernetic forms of social control in the realms of culture, economy, and war. It provided a critical sociological history of information-driven rituals of power and resistance in an era characterized by high-speed telematic communications, electronic surveillance, and ultramodern technologies aimed at colonizing the social imagination and body.
December 5, 2006
Ted Gaiser and Jared Del Rosso
Online Research: A Practical Approach
This seminar approached the topic of online research by introducing a number of topics followed by practical application of research techniques. The types of topics covered included recruitment, participant safety, and managing the research process in online environments. Using research experience from a study of penisanity.com, an online environment in which men explore meaning and masculinity in the context of their penis, they offered practical examples and experiences that aimed to assist attendees in developing their own online research strategies.
November 21, 2006
The Social Death of Stuff: Accumulation and Discard in the Global Economy
Recent consumer research has stressed consumers' tendency to singularize, sacralize, and sentimentalize products. While this line of inquiry has been productive, this paper argues that in recent years disposability and commodification have been more pervasive and quantitatively important trends, and that there has been a speed-up of the cycle of product acquisition and discard. This cycle involves the acquisition and discard of items on the basis of their social utility, i.e., fashionable-ness, rather than their functional product benefits. The paper presents the case of apparel in some detail using data on purchases of new apparel items and discards of used apparel, and also looks at acquisition data for a number of other products. It ends with a discussion of the theoretical context for understanding these trends, namely the relation between what it terms symbolic and utilitarian value, and argues that in advanced consumer societies such as the US, the salience of the former is rising relative to the latter.
October 24, 2006
daddy does cybernetics: Diary of a Mental Patient
Jackie Orr performed a historical, somewhat hysterical, story of U.S. Cold War culture caught between the threat of contagious panic and the government sponsored imperative to Keep Calm! Part social history, part political theory, part schizophrenic poetry, this piece of performance theory attempts to evoke the reasoned madness of an era from which we perhaps have yet to fully emerge.
Jackie Orr is an associate professor of sociology at Syracuse University, where she teaches and writes in the fields of feminist and contemporary theory, cultural politics, and critical studies of science, technology, and psychiatry. She received her M.A. in sociology from Boston College in 1990, and her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in 1999. Her book, Panic Diaries: A Genealogy of Panic Disorder (Duke University Press, 2006), looks at the entanglements of bombs, bodies, computers, pills, cybernetics, mass media, and (social) science in the management and control of panic.
October 10, 2006
Recent Social Security Reforms In China
By the year 2025, one quarter of the world's population over age 60 will be living in China, a nation in the process of partially privatizing its social security system. Professor Williamson presented a brief history of social security policy in China, described the current scheme, presented an analysis of the pros and cons of this scheme, and asked why China is currently on the road to adopting policy changes that are so strongly influenced by the neo-liberal social security model being advanced by the World Bank. Social security policy in China is being driven largely by demographic considerations, but it is also being influenced by factors linked to globalization. Williamson asked who stands to gain and who is being put at risk by current plans to privatize the Chinese social security system. He argued that the current trend will put at risk many vulnerable categories of the population, particularly women, low-wage workers, those in the informal sector, and recent immigrants from rural areas.
September 26, 2006
The Banks and the Beltway: Three Decades of Washington Politics and Multilateral Development Institutions
The World Bank and other multilateral development banks have a large influence on dominant ideas about "what is to be done" in developing countries. These ideas change over time: for example, the "Washington Consensus" of the late 1980s has become obsolete. But where do these ideas come from? Babb argues that they come partly out of the accumulation of expert knowledge, and partly out of economic circumstances. However, they also respond to American politics.
September 22, 2006
Colloquium on David Karp's latest book
Is It Me or My Meds?: Living with Antidepressents
By the millennium Americans were spending more than 12 billion dollars yearly on antidepressant medications. Currently, millions of people in the U.S. routinely use these pills. Are these miracle drugs, quickly curing depression? Or is their popularity a sign that we now inappropriately redefine normal life problems as diseases? Are they prescribed too often or too seldom? How do they affect self-images?
David Karp approaches these questions from the inside, having suffered from clinical depression for most of his adult life. In this book he explores the relationship between pills and personhood by listening to a group of experts who rarely get the chance to speak on the matter—those who are taking the medications. Their voices, extracted from interviews Karp conducted, color the pages with their experiences and reactions—humor, gratitude, frustration, hope, and puzzlement. Here, the patients themselves articulate their impressions of what drugs do to them and for them. They reflect on difficult issues, such as the process of becoming committed to medication, quandaries about personal authenticity, and relations with family and friends.
The stories are honest and vivid, from a distraught teenager who shuns antidepressants while regularly using street drugs to a woman who still yearns for a spiritual solution to depression even after telling intimates "I'm on Prozac and it's saving me." The book provides unflinching portraits of people attempting to make sense of a process far more complex and mysterious than doctors or pharmaceutical companies generally admit.