The seductive power of sensual charm survives only where the forces of denial are strongest. If asceticism once reacted against the sensuous aesthetic, asceticism has today become the sign of advanced art. All “light” and pleasant art has become illusory and false. What makes its appearance esthetically in the pleasure categories can no longer give pleasure. The musical consciousness of the masses today is “displeasure in pleasure” — the unconscious recognition of “false happiness.”
–Adorno, “On the Fetish-Character in Music and the Regression of Listening,” 1938
Jeff Guhin innocently posted to Facebook that “doing a lecture on Habermas is ridiculous.” He may well be right, for many different kinds of reasons. But in the (lengthy!) conversation that followed, two critiques were raised that I think deserve separate treatment. They are:
- That much theory, including Habermas and, all the more so, his Frankfurt predecessors, is too difficult to read to make it worthwhile; and
- Reading theorists like Habermas is really mostly about the history of social thought and has no payoff for empirical or analytical sociology.
I think both of these are wrong.
Continue reading “on the fetish character of theory and the regression of reading”
In American Democracy, I argued that there are times in American politics when culture beats structure: when the popular will—the democratic culture, as Tocqueville imagined it—is represented even though political and electoral structures seem to interfere with or prevent such representation.
This was not such a case.
Earlier, colleagues and I wrote about four cases of what we called postmodern electoral crises. These events are characterized by actors strategically deploying structural tactics designed for unusual situations in the service of normal politics. Thus tools designed to represent the demos are used to shape or distort it.
This was closer to such a case.
Continue reading “structure beats culture; culture roars back”
The below is an excerpt from my book that seemed relevant to the current moment. It’s presaged by this post from 2012.
Fact-checking during campaigns helps make sure the truth is communicated–but also teaches voters that there is a “right answer” and trains them to listen for true vs. false instead of right vs. wrong.
Continue reading “the downside of fact checking”
Timothy Carney wrote an article earlier this week decrying what he calls the “rampant abuse of data” by pollsters and the press this election season. He faults North Carolina’s hometown polling company, Public Policy Polling (PPP), among others, for asking “dumb polling questions” such as the popularity of the erstwhile Cincinnati Zoo gorilla Harambe; support for the Emancipation Proclamation; and support for bombing Agrabah, the fictional country in which the Disney film Aladdin is set.
While I agree with Carney that many of the interpretations of these questions are very problematic (and I should note that I have used PPP many times to field polls for my own research), I think he’s wrong that these are dumb questions and that the answers therefore do not constitute “data.” Quite the opposite: asking vague and difficult-to-answer questions is an important technique for assaying culture and, thereby, revealing contours of public opinion that cannot be observed using conventional polling.
Continue reading “vague questions for fragmented publics”
The following is a guest post by Charles Kurzman
America may be divided these days, but it is hardly as divided as when the United States of America were plural.
That’s the grammar used in the Declaration of Independence, which characterized “the thirteen united States of America” as “Free and Independent States.” The founders spoke of “these United States,” a phrase that sounds quaint today but was taken literally at the time.
Continue reading “making the united states plural again”
Catherine Bolzendahl, Vanessa Kauffman, Jessica Broadfoot
UC, Irvine, Department of Sociology
Olympic fever has hit! As we all marvel at the power, precision, and grace of the athletes, a more disturbing commentary has also emerged, one that diminishes women athletes’ accomplishments, defines them by the men around them, places them in tired tropes of sex objects, or infantilizes them as “girls.” Some journalists, in combination with a robust social media discussion, are calling this bad behavior out. But should we be so surprised? Continue reading “coaching and masculinity: a “natural” combination? (guest post)”
I read Aldon Morris’s much-anticipated book, The Scholar Denied, with great interest. I heard Morris talk about the book when he visited UNC last year, and have read and taught some shorter work he’s published from this project. I was not disappointed – it’s a great book, meticulously documented, passionately argued, and sure to correct many important parts of the historical record on the development of American sociology. I learned quite a bit about W. E. B. du Bois’s life and intellectual productivity. Separating the book’s argument into three related claims, I find the first two fully demonstrated. However, I remain unsure of the third, most ambitious, case the book tries to defend.
Continue reading “morris, the scholar denied”