Olympic-sized Imaginations

gold medal of 2018 Winter Olympics

The modern Olympic Games have always had an internal tension between uniting the peoples of the world in one global competition and promoting national pride. The ideal of the Olympics can be seen in the shift between the opening ceremony’s parade of nations, with athletes entering according to the country they represent, to the closing ceremony, during which athletes enter as a single, united body. The local media emphasis, though, continually highlights the medal count by nation and the success of athletes on the nation’s team. The formation of the national team, though, raises questions about who counts as part of the nation and demonstrates the ways the national identification is something constructed, not just a natural occurrence.

In the 2018 Winter Olympics, the challenge to the nation-state is apparent in the joint Korean team, both in the opening ceremony and in the women’s hockey team. Despite significant geo-political tensions between the two Koreas (and perhaps because of those tensions), the leaders decided to emphasize a different notion of Korean nationality that ignores the two states on the peninsula and thus highlights the arbitrary, constructed nature of the contemporary nation-state. Yet, the contradictions extend further. The Korean women’s hockey team scored the first hockey goal ever by Korea in the Winter Olympics last Wednesday, but the woman who scored it is an American citizen. Randi Griffin grew up in North Carolina, attended Harvard (where she also played hockey), and has pursued a Ph.D. at Duke University. Because her mom emigrated from South Korea to the United States, the South Korean team invited her to play for South Korea, which then became the united Korean team. Perhaps this represents the Olympic spirit, but it also illustrates the complexity of maintaining a national identity despite the diversity and complicated associations of the citizens of any nation. Continue reading “Olympic-sized Imaginations”

Answer this question to experience sense of agency

For the past few months, as I make the fifteen-minute walk between my residence and my office in Edinburgh, I have interacted with a particular pedestrian crossing. You know the kind with a button which we are supposed to dutifully press and then wait until the signal (here in the form of a somewhat generic, slim, green, male stick figure) gives us permission to cross the road? Some enterprising individual has taken this ubiquitous element of the Edinburgh cityscape and added their social commentary, in the form of a sticker reading ‘press the button to experience sense of agency.’ And this got me thinking…

Many of the buttons that we are routinely invited to press as we go about our lives — from door close buttons in elevators to office thermostats — don’t actually work, but are artifices serving only to provide that experience of a sense of agency. Indeed, according to the BBC, ‘Edinburgh has roughly 300 traffic junctions of which about 50–60 are junctions where the green man comes on automatically.’ And this is the case in many other cities across the world. These buttons sometimes work, sometimes don’t, never work, work at varying intervals at different times, and so on. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the buttons aren’t ‘working’, but that they are doing a different sort of ‘work’ than what we might first expect. They provide a sense of agency. This is not unlike the ‘work’ done by social surveys. Continue reading “Answer this question to experience sense of agency”

It’s the End of the World As We Know It…

On the eve of the Women’s March in Washington last year (the first one, for those counting), I found myself in the very conundrum that the picture below depicts. As a knitter, I just assumed that I could go to my local yarn shop a couple of days in advance of my city’s march and pick up some pink yarn to make my pussy hat. This didn’t seem like an unrealistic expectation, since, after all, there’s usually plenty of pink yarn sitting around when I’m there buying the more neutral shades that usually populate my closet. But on this particular weekend, it seemed that many others in the city had the same idea — there was virtually no pink yarn in sight.

Indeed, from all appearances, the Women’s March was an important kickoff moment in a renewed wave of advocacy in the United States addressing many issues, gender bias among them, and it was motivated by the concerns of large groups of American women who have grown increasingly fearful about their social and legal standing in a Trump presidency. As we know, the march was followed by a series of other activist moments; most recently, the #metoo phenomenon has led to the widespread toppling of many powerful American men whose power and success was at least partially built on misogyny (presidents notwithstanding).  Continue reading “It’s the End of the World As We Know It…”

On Kings and Trump Cards

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

During the Super Bowl, RAM Trucks debuted a controversial truck commercial splicing images of Americana with a sermon excerpt from slain Civil Rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

After outrage gave way to discourse, cultural critics were quick to point to the irony of Dodge’s signification. In the originating sermon, “The Drum Major’s Instinct,” King critiques self-interested pursuits that hinder people’s ability to see the value in others. He literally calls out Americans who ride in expensive “Chrysler” vehicles for the ego trip. NB: FiatChrysler Automobiles is the parent company of RAM.

To make the point,  the left-leaning magazine Current Affairs re-edited the commercial with an audio excerpt from the same sermon that they believe to be more indicative of King’s message. Continue reading “On Kings and Trump Cards”

Going Public

I recently came across this 2015 piece criticizing academic writing for often being “riddled with professional jargon and needlessly complex syntax.”

It occurred to me, though, that the author could have said technical terms instead of jargon and structure instead of syntax. Continue reading “Going Public”

A Matter of Taste

Two Filipino cooks making tamales

I was listening to the radio today — you know, the place where we used to hear what we now call podcasts, as long as they come over our computer’s or smartphone’s speakers…? — and heard an interesting episode of the cooking show The Splendid Table, devoted to Filipino food.

Give it a listen. Continue reading “A Matter of Taste”

I Saw the Sign, or Did I?

A Map of Elizabethtown College, particularly the northern corner of campus at the intersection of East College Avenue and Campus Road
A Google Maps Image of the northern corner of Elizabethtown College at the Intersection of E College Ave and Campus Rd

The northern end of Elizabethtown College sits at the meeting of East College Ave and Campus Rd. The vertex is more of a bend than an actual edge, justifying the placement of a conditional stop sign. Drivers can do the otherwise illegal so long as they are rounding the curve, but those moving away from the school must heed the sign conventionally.

Maybe you have similar intersections where you live, but signs like these appear to be rare in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. If anything, we make a habit of yielding the right of way to pedestrians, other automobiles, and yes, Amish buggies. Thus the rare conditional stop sign becomes a license to throw caution to the wind. Continue reading “I Saw the Sign, or Did I?”

Worst Year Ever?

Have you noticed how it seems that almost no one is lamenting all the celebrity deaths in 2017, like they did back in 2016?

In case you forgot, there were plenty of assessments of 2016 as the worst year ever. Continue reading “Worst Year Ever?”

Looking for a Thesis Topic?

Did you catch the NY Times piece on who owns poutine?

Those who know something about the founding of Canada as a colonial possession, by both France and Britain, might also know something of the long history that has led to some in one of Canada’s provinces, Quebec, having a strong sense of themselves as being so distinct from the rest of the country as to justify their political autonomy (there’s been a few province-wide referendums on whether to separate). Continue reading “Looking for a Thesis Topic?”

Authority & Objectivism in The Things We Study

(Photo: The North American Association for the Study of Religion)

Some of us here at Culture on the Edge are prepping for The North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR) annual meeting that kicks off tomorrow. Part of the meeting is dedicated to “The Things We Study When We Study Religion.” Three sets of panels address what counts as data and how that data is handled — specifically tackling the objects, subjects, and the role scholars in our scholarship (find more info on the NAASR site). At the same time, here on the blog we’ve been reading Rogers Brubaker’s trans: Gender and Race in an Age of Unsettled Identities. In light of the topics being addressed at NAASR, there’s a quote from Brubaker that I find to be relevant and worth mulling over:

“Yet recourse to objectivist language is not simply strategic; it also reflects the deep appeal of essentialist understandings of identity outside the academy. Objectivism is further nourished by the cultural authority of biomedical science.”

While Brubaker goes on to discuss biological research in the study of transgender identity, the above quote is rather apt and quite useful in the broader scope of identity studies as well. Though, there may also be a need to address the essentialist notions of identity that are taken for granted within the academy itself and how authority itself is constituted. In recognizing how authority is constructed it can help remind us to be cognizant of the power that resides in making identity claims to begin with, essentialist claims that nourish objectivism, often taking on a life of their own adding to a broader objectivist language, both inside and outside the academy.