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Monthly Archives: January 2012


Two papers by grad student Michael Evans forthcoming

Congratulations to graduate student Michael Evans who has two papers he has written forthcoming in the Sociological Forum as well as Science Communication.

The first paper, “Who Wants a Deliberative Public Sphere?” is forthcoming in Sociological Forum. Democratic theorists and social scientists suggest that a deliberative public sphere would be good for democracy. But do ordinary Americans actually want a deliberative public sphere? Through a multidimensional evaluation exercise in individual interviews, Michael find that evaluation of public representatives tends to favor open-mindedness and ongoing debate. Further, respondents explicitly discount elected representatives who participate in public debate precisely because they are seen as violating deliberative norms through their affiliation with electoral politics. Respondents want a deliberative public sphere. But this desire reflects an understanding of the public sphere and institutional politics as disconnected arenas with incompatible rules and objectives, raising multiple questions for democratic theory and for political sociology.

The second paper, “Supporting Science: Reasons, Restrictions, and the Role of Religion,” is forthcoming in Science Communication. Religion sometimes appears to motivate objections to science and technology. But how and when does religion matter? Michael examines this question from a novel perspective. Given the opportunity to limit scientific research, and having good reasons to do so, are religious persons likely to support such limits? In individual interviews, Michael finds that the answer is generally “no.” Religious and nonreligious respondents alike deploy multiple reinforcing arguments for supporting science in order to resist any proposed limits. With rare exceptions, religious and nonreligious persons concur in their unwavering support for ongoing scientific research.


Professor Scull’s- Hysteria: The Disturbing History

Professor Andy Scull has written a new book, Hysteria: The Disturbing History published by Oxford University Press.

The nineteenth century seems to have been full of hysterical women – or so they were diagnosed. Where are they now? The very disease no longer exists. In this fascinating account, Andrew Scull tells the story of Hysteria – an illness that disappeared not through medical endeavour, but through growing understanding and cultural change. More generally, it raises the question of how diseases are framed, and how conceptions of a disease change through history.

The lurid history of hysteria makes fascinating reading. Charcot’s clinics showed off flamboyantly ‘hysterical’ patients taking on sexualized poses, and among the visiting professionals was one Sigmund Freud. Professor Scull discusses the origins of the idea of hysteria, the development of a neurological approach by John Sydenham and others, hysteria as a fashionable condition, and its growth from the 17th century. Some regarded it as a peculiarly English malady, ‘the natural concomitant of England’s greater civilization and refinement’. Women were the majority of patients, and the illness became associated with female biology, resulting in some gruesome ‘treatments’. Charcot and Freud were key practitioners defining the nature of the illness. But curiously, the illness seemed to swap gender during the First World War when male hysterics frequently suffering from shell shock were also subjected to brutal ‘treatments’. Subsequently, the ‘disease’ declined and eventually disappeared, at least in professional circles, though attenuated elements remain, reclassified for instance as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Middle Eastern Studies Association’s Albert Hourani Book Award

Professor Gershon Shafir chaired the Middle Eastern Studies Association’s Albert Hourani Award Committee which selected the recipient of the best book published on the Middle East in the past academic year. The committee actually chose two books for the award which Professor Shafir gave out at the Association’s annual conference on December 4, 2012 in Washington D.C.  The committee’s six-month reading marathon  covered the historical span from ancient Babylon to the Iraq War, the geographical expanse from North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula to Afghanistan, and the disciplinary arc from archeology, through history and cultural studies, to economic, politics, and beyond. 89 members of MESA submitted their work which provided the five committee members, according to Gershon, “with a true education.”

Though written by an anthropologist and a historian respectively, each of the winning books made a contribution to sociological thinking, the first one to the study of “collective memory” and the second by challenging Max Weber’s idea that the modern world is post-religious and consequently ‘disenchanted.’

The first Albert Hourani award went to Rochelle Davis, from Georgetown University, for Palestinian Village Histories: Geographies of the Displaced, published by Stanford University Press. The committee concluded that,  “Starting with a promising methodological innovation –namely, the study of the memory books of displaced Palestinian villagers and their descendants — this volume takes us on a remarkable journey into the study of memory. Davis examines the challenge of writing history both in the absence of sources and often by people who may never have seen or lived in the places whose history they tell.  The accounts that emerge not only counteract the villagers’ displacement from history that accompanied their displacement from land. They  also invert the hierarchies of historical and legitimizing knowledge. This eloquent and engaging treatment of the ways in which Palestinian villagers produce history is commendable for its multi-sited and interdisciplinary research, for its careful discussions of the histories of dispossession themselves, for the careful attention paid to the ethnography of both written and oral historical production, for the nuanced discussion of diverse views and debates about village histories as well as the critical role such histories play in Palestinian understandings of their presents and futures, for critical attention to omissions, elisions, and silences, and finally, for its attention to generational difference in the understanding of the importance, role, and form of those histories.”

The second Albert Hourani Award winner was Nile Green from UCLA, for his Bombay Islam: The Religious Economy of the West Indian Ocean 1840-1915, published by Cambridge University Press. The committee concluded that, “Bombay’s Islam tells a complex and extremely well documented story in accessible, lively — even humorous — language. The multilingual and trans-regional coverage of the book is impressive as is its use of a vast array of sources that includes hagiographies, etiquette manuals, poems, travelogues, prayer books and contracts. Green’s imaginative use of the concept of ‘religious economy’ as a broad framework saves the reader from the bipolar, dichotomous –and by now tedious— opposition of tradition and modernity. He carefully traces the social networks of Bombay’s diverse Muslim communities from the Gujarati hinterland to steamships plying the Indian Ocean between west Africa and the Arab world. It is this transnational perspective that brings into focus the unexpected proliferation and export of traditional religious publications as a result of industrialization.  In this ingenious enquiry, ‘re-enchantment’ becomes one social outcome of industrial modernity.”

“Madness: A Very Short Introduction”

Professor Andrew Scull has a new book published by Oxford University Press- Madness: A Very Short Introduction

Madness is something that frightens and fascinates us all. It is a word with which we are universally familiar, and a condition that haunts the human imagination. In this Very Short Introduction, Andrew Scull provides a provocative and entertaining examination of the social, cultural, medical, and artistic responses to mental disturbance across more than two millennia, concluding with some observations on the contemporary accounts of mental illness. He shows that through the centuries, in poetry and in prose, in drama and in the visual arts, madness has been on display for all to see. He also describes how a whole industry has grown up, devoted to its management and suppression. Perhaps most important, he conveys how madness profoundly disturbs our common sense assumptions; threatens the social order, both symbolically and practically; creates almost unbearable disruptions in the texture of daily living; and turns our experience and our expectations upside down. Throughout this fascinating history, many fascinating and arresting pictures illuminate the overall portrait of madness in its various contexts.