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phalangingle in theoryishotcrew

Can I just substitute an interpretive dance in place of a list?

Although I am generally of the opinion that I would never be a member of a club that would have someone like me as a member, I decided to give this a try.

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  1. "Foucault" in "Dictionnaire des philosophes" 1984, - Maurice Florence


  1. Distinction - Bourdieu


  1. El Laberinto de la Soledad - Paz


  1. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life - Goffman


  1. Borderlands/La Frontera - Anzaldua


  1. The Interpretation of Cultures  - Geertz


  1. Aberrations in Black - Ferguson


  1. Ain't I a Woman  - bell hooks


  1. Giving an Account of Oneself - Butler


  1. Selections from the Prison Notebooks - Gramsci

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Pssst...your LJ-cut didn't work.

Edited at 2010-08-19 09:46 pm (UTC)


Is there a specific essay from Interpretation of Cultures that you like more than the others? If so, what is it and why?

Re: Softball

Yes. There are two that I particularly like. "Thick Description" and "Ideology as a Cultural System" are the two essays I would like to discuss.

Geertz opens his collection of essays with "Thick Description" and makes the case for a semiotic approach to culture. Geertz focuses the study of culture on the publically available symbols that serve as vehicles for meaning. Geertz casts culture as patterns of signs and symbols, as systems of signification. The essay tackles many difficult epistemological, theoretical, and methodological issues involved in conducting ethnographic research and developing cultural analysis.

How can you tell the difference between a blink and a wink? This seemingly trivial question is offered by Geertz as a question of signification. Behaviorists cannot differentiate between a blink and a wink, the same physical action occurs in both. A wink, and further play offs of the wink (practicing a wink in the mirror, burlesquing a wink to another, etc) is a form of symbolic action. Symbolic action puts into practice patterns of signification which can distinguish identical actions; symbolic action distinguishes the blink from the wink, unintended bodily reflex from significant action. Once the structure of signification becomes a focus of analysis, questions of the "import" of symbolic action must be addressed.

The essay introduces a notion of culture and an orientation for studying it. Interpretation is required to develop an analysis of the "import" of symbolic action. The process of interpretation in ethnographic research involves attempts at gaining familiarity to the imaginative universes from which symbols are invoked and put into practice (through narrative, declaration, commemorative art, etc).

I chose this essay because it not only offers a compelling semiotic of culture, but just as important, he does not set aside social and psychological dimensions of ethnographic research. In "Ideology as Cultural System" Geertz assess two dominant perspectives on the study of ideology. The first is the interest approach that presents ideology as a weapon or mask used to gain advantage in a social struggle.

The second is the strain theory that casts ideology as a result of strain within and/or between the social and psychological systems. Geertzs argues that strain theory fails to develop an adequate account of cultural strain. If culture is conceptualized as symbolic vehicles and a system of signification, then ideology as a cultural system can either outlast a social or psychological change, or it can cause one. A literal approach to ideology (as tool or mask of interest; symptom or remedy strain) is unable to give an account for the figurative dimensions and power of ideology. Stylistic, Syntactical, Literary, and Prosodic devices constitute the symbolic forms of ideology.

These two essays offer a semiotic approach to culture that requires interpretive analysis of symbolic action. Geertz's characterization of "interest theory" is meant to include Marxism and Freudian psychoanalytic theory, while "strain theory" is largely directed at Talcott Parsons. I think these two essays offer an approach to the study of culture and a more compelling account of culture than competing theories at the time.

General opener

Please define "theory." In your definition, please refer to Anzaldua, hooks, and Florence.

Re: General opener

No! We simply must stop asking this. Especially of avowedly Marxist candidates like this.
It depends on your interests and what kind of a book you are looking for.

What texts by Judith Butler have you read?

GAO is a good companion read to The Psychic Life of Power. In both texts she attempts to give an account of the subject that draws on psychoanalysis and Foucault. GAO raises ethical questions that emerge from a consideration of social recognition and power. What kind of ethics are possible if the subject is opaque to itself? If accountability cannot be linked to the transparency of the subject (a subject that knows itself completely, can employ reason to evaluate self, others, and the world), is the only other option nihilism? Butler argues that subjects are opaque for multiple reasons,

1) The subject is formed from primary relations
2) The subject emerged from a set of conditions that it cannot give a first person account of (it occurred before the subject per se can be said to exist)
3) The life of the subject is narrated by a discourse that is not bound to the life of the subject, but follows a temporal trajectory separate of that of life. (Discourses shift over time, circulate, and are differentially reiterated. )
4) The unconscious

Rather than locate ethical responsibility in the ability of a subject to give an account of the self - full accountability -, the ethical project becomes one of failure of recognition (of self, others, world), but not an impossibility of recognition.

So if you are interested in Judith Butler and interested in what she has to say about ethics it is a book to bring. If you want to see how Butler brings psychoanalysis, Adorno, Foucault, Hegel, and feminist philosophers into a discussion of ethics, bring it.

Ooooh, I haven't read that Goffman. Talk me through some of its highlights, and why you chose this one over his others
Goffman’s Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life aims to elaborate the dramaturgical dimension of social establishments. Performance is defined as “all the activity of an individual which occurs during a period marked by his continuous presence before a particular set of observers and which has some influence on the observers” (22). Observes do not have unmediated access to expressions of the individual self. Instead, observers only perceive the expressive equipment (body language, linguistic signs, etc) through which “expressions” of the subject are “expressed”. In Goffman’s terms this is the distinction between impressions given and those given off.

Social systems can be analyzed according to their technical, political, structural, and cultural components (240). All four of these components, however, require a performative enactment. For example, culture, conceived as norms and values, must be performed or dramatically realized in social interaction. Norms and values do not stand as free floating substances manipulating individuals.

Goffman’s insistence on the centrality of performance to social life, a central tenet of dramaturgical theory, leads him to elaborate the problematic assumptions underpinning the distinction between the “real” and the performative. Dramaturgy eschews the metaphysics of being in which an individual is said to be a certain social category. Rather than theorizing social categories as substances possessed by individuals, Goffman argues “To be a given kind of person, then, is not merely to possess the required attributes, but also to sustain the standards of conduct and appearance that one's social grouping attaches thereto” (75). Social categories and relationships are constituted only as a doing, not a static being¸ and thus the “real” is the impression realized in and through performance.

These are some of Goffman's approaches to analysis that are useful. This work, more so than his others, is also very entertaining. The book is filled with examples. The sailor who has just returned home from being away that asks his mother to "pass the fucking butter" is one that stands out. The sailor's role as a soldier and his performance of self is different from that expected from his mother.

In my brief discussion of PoS I offered mainly the more formal arguments Goffman makes. What I like about this text, and why I chose it, is that it makes arguments through offering a wide array of examples so that the concepts of "role" "social script" "unobserved observer" and the other theatrical metaphors Goffman uses become concrete and dynamic. Performance, more so than role enactment, is the focus of PoS.
The inconsistencies in your font type, size and use of italics make me want to stab you.

Let's refrain from violence until we see if it puts the lotion in the basket.


I would like you to talk to me about The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life as it relates to Disability Studies. Specifically, are disabilities performed / performative or not? If they are, how and why?

Let's start there and see what happens.

Edited at 2010-08-19 10:44 pm (UTC)
I have answered most of the original questions. I still need to reply to the Goffman, performance, and disability question. I also have Knut's Foucault question to reply to. I will try to do this tonight, but internet connection and other obligations may get in the way.
Your pace is fine.
Ooo, I like a lot of the things on your list. And unlike our last, I don't know, 3000 candidates, I have read the bulk of the works on it, which excites me to no end.

I want to address the Bourdieu. Conceptually, I like Distinction a lot; in practice, though, I think Bordieu's reliance on contemporary French popular figures to help deliniate taste families and the social classes that go along with them end up making big chunks of the book hopelessly hidebound and tricky to cross-apply. Most of the discussions I've had around the Bourdieu have ended up in these dumb vortexes of "OK, would someone who liked Maurice Chevalier in France in the 60s be more like someone who liked Tom Cruise in the 80s or like someone who liked Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut?" and I think that stops being productive very quickly. I've noticed the same problem in popular books that attempt a similar project, the most notable being Paul Fussell's Class which was written in the 80s and seems to take Topsiders and crocheted toilet paper roll covers as its major significant cultural touchstones.

So I've got two questions about this:
1) Outside of obvious things about the intersections of cultural tastes and social class, do you think that the kind of work Bourdieu is attempting in Distinction must necessarily be tied to a narrow time and place to be useful? Or, more succinctly, can Distinction really tell us anything about the world we live in now, or can it only be useful in thinking about 1960s French people?

2) When you're using Bourdieu in your own work, how do you circumnavigate this problem?
I agree with you on the characterization of dumb vortexes that tend to pop up around Bourdieu. The question should not be "would someone who like Maurice Chevalier in France in the 60s be more like someone who like Tom Cruise in the 80s or like someone who liked Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut?" , I think the questions would have to be: would someone who liked Tom Cruise in the 80s also like Steven Segal, would they drink beer, soda, juice, or water while watching films. Is this person from the middle class, if so born in the working, middle, or upper class? If this person is from the middle class and then becomes working class will they like Vanilla Sky years later? What position does Tom Cruise occupy in the film industry: what types of films has he been in, high budget, indie, etc? What is the relation between the film industry and other media industries within the field of cultural production (film industry compared to the press, television, internet)?

That is only the beginning set of questions. It does not make sense to ask what are the equivalent positions of someone in 1960s France and 1980s America in terms of the tastes for popular culture. They occupy different fields! Boourdieu is not a theorist that is highly amenable to hypothesis testing because the notion of a field (of forces, of strategies, of resources) requires that the positions within the field be mapped out, the position of the field to other fields detailed, and the relation of the particular field to the overall field of power must be taken into account.

In the English preface to Distinction, Bourdieu notes the particularity of the French case. The promise of a case for the comparative method, Bourdieu states, is that it demonstrates a "particular case of the possible." Bourdieu notes that France is different from America because of the traces of aristocratic society and the notion of an 'art of living.' What Distinction offers is an outstanding analysis of habitus and a theory of culture and social stratification. Just like in Rules Of Art, where Bourdieu develops the concept of 'field' through a rigorous analysis of the emergence of the literary field in France, Bourdieu's work offers theoretical concepts, but more important, demonstrates how one can use them through concrete empirical studies. The use of empirical studies does not warrant dismissing Bourdieu as parochial to the French situation (positions of intellectual and struggles within and between French universities, figures of popular culture), because the value of the concept of field is that it must be reconstructed with every study.

In my work I take the concept of field and symbolic power, but I do not relate community development (a project I am currently working on) to either the literary field in 19th century France, or the popular tastes of various French social groups in the 1960s. But the procedures and theoretical links that Bourdieu makes between taste, class, social fragment, habitus are useful in constructing my own project because the concepts are formed in dialogue with theoretical antimonies (structure/agency, subject/object/, social reproduction/change) and in direct connection with empirical studies.

Ooh! Finally I get to get in a question!

What part of the Prison Notebooks do you think is the most important, and why?
Where have you been?

a follow up, once you've responded to zentiger

What would you write about in your notebook, if you were in prison?

Edited at 2010-08-20 05:30 pm (UTC)

Re: a follow up, once you've responded to zentiger

I will be prefacing a lot of my responses with this: sorry for the delay.

I was actually thinking about this before you even posed the question, although not in relation to Gramsci. I recently read a story about a man who was in prison for twenty some odd years and was released based on new DNA evidence. The story got me thinking about what I would do in prison for twenty years. I would probably work on an appeal and familiarize myself with the law. Aside from that I would probably read and write about street art from a cross cultural perspective focusing on case studies from around the world (a side interest of mine).

In a Gramsci like case, in which my writings would be scrutinized and I would be forced to censor them, I would probably work on some grand allegory. What form this allegory would take I don't know.
Are you familiar with Lamont's critique of Distinction?
Yes. It has been awhile since I read Money, Morals, and Manners, but I recently read through most of her articles while I was reviewing the symbolic boundary literature.

The points of her critique that I can recall:

1) Distinction is particular to French society. In America the upper-middle class familiarity is not prominent, instead they share similar criteria of evaluation and worth.
2) Bourdieu casts human action as driven by a quest for power and improving position within a field does not account for pleasure, search for community, and recognition.
3) There is a cross cultural variability in the permeability of class boundaries and there are degrees of consensus and stability on legitimate culture.

While I think Lamont's research is valuable, and I do think her work has been agenda setting in its focus on symbolic boundaries, I don't think these are points that Bourdieu's work fails to account for.

Are you interested in a particular criticism or have missed part of the critique/?
I can't say I've read anything on this list. So let me ask a totally different sort of question. One of the things that is valued in this group (at least by me) is a willingness to engage with perspectives completely outside one's own disciplinary training, perhaps even those potentially hostile to it.

With that in mind, let me mention that I have friends - mostly in the sciences, but not exclusively - who regard "cultural studies" and similar fields as passing intellectual fads, lacking intellectual heft and unlikely to still exist in a few decades. Anthropology, of course, will stick around, but not the many flowerings of separate Latino Studies or African American studies, and so forth.

I am guessing from your list that you would not agree with this view. How would you respond to those who hold it?
I am reading a whole book right now by people who take this view! So exciting!
There's a lot of standard marxist and post-marxist, fairly standard social constructionism on your list. I'm meh about all of that, not from a biological or naturalist perspective, which isn't one I agree with, but rather from a pro-anthropomorphic one-- I'm interested intensely in the vibrancy, agency, and vitality in objects.

Constructionism obviously makes political sense; that's clear. But what political and theoretical opportunities do you think it might occlude? What investment do you think there should be, if any, in maintaining or moving beyond our standard definitions of subjectivity and its social construction?

I'm asking you to think playfully about critiquing your own list here.

I would leave to see an answer to this question. A yes vote my be contingent on it.
Sorry for the delay. I have been doing this application on a visit to the town where I grew up and various things are pulling my attention in other directions.

If possible I would like to take a break for the week and then return to reply to unanswered questions (mainly the ones concerning theory and performance, Goffman and Gramsci, Foucault and Geertz, My "Prison Notebooks", Butler advocacy, and a critique of my list in relation to social constructionism).

If this is not possible then I will have to respectfully take my hat out of the ring.
I am sure you can take a break. I will mention that we put up a voting post but most people are waiting for you to answer various questions before they decide. So, let's just say that we'll hold for a week and then we'll expect you to pick up the various threads for a day or two more. Ok?