Monday, June 25, 2018

Joshua T. McCabe's "The Fiscalization of Social Policy"

Joshua T. McCabe is an assistant professor of sociology and the assistant dean of social sciences in the school of arts and sciences at Endicott College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Fiscalization of Social Policy: How Taxpayers Trumped Children in the Fight Against Child Poverty, and reported the following:
From page 99:
They went on to recommend a “radical restructuring of the existing system of child benefits” in order to “remove children from the social assistance system entirely by using another program to meet their income needs” (Ontario Social Assistance Review Committee 1988: 115). This began a popular movement to “take children off welfare.”

Echoing the 1988 Transitions, both committees emphasized “taking children off welfare” by increasing child benefits rather than social assistance— recommending funds from the latter be directed to the former. Doing so would “remove children from the social assistance rolls” and avoid the stigma attached to being on welfare (Canada Senate 1991: 29). The House of Commons report also assumed categorical distinctions between child benefits and welfare benefits, even though they often went to the same families.

The themes that emerged from these parliamentary hearings and reports were important not only because they guided subsequent policymaking processes but also because of what they tell us about the cultural legacies of public policies. First, policymakers continued to see the erosion of family allowances as a source of economic pressure on families— applying it specifically to child poverty now. For this reason, the logic of income supplementation for families— not tax relief— dominated the policymaking rationale. As I will show, this occurred even under a conservative government. Policy legacies, not the abstract ideology of conservative actors, determined whether the goal was income supplementation or tax relief in the 1990s.

Second, and relatedly, we also see an emergent trend toward “workfare” or general concerns with work incentives in social policy reform. This trend has been extensively documented elsewhere and has been assumed to be the reason for the popularity of in- work tax credits, such as the EITC in the US and the WFTC in the UK (Bertram 2015; Steensland 2008). The argument is that these tax credits were attractive precisely because they make categorical distinctions between the working poor and the welfare poor. As I will show, categorical distinctions separating welfare benefits from other family benefits are not necessarily predicated on making categorical distinctions between the families themselves.
The Fiscalization of Social Policy is my attempt to explain why American approaches to tackling child poverty differ from Canadian and Britsh approaches when it comes to the use of tax credits for workers and children. On this page, I’m setting up the evidence for my argument about how policymakers perceive social assistance programs. Policymakers everywhere are ambivalent about “welfare”. Where they diverge is in their perception of what actually constitutes stigmatized welfare. Whereas American policymakers saw extending tax credits to the poorest families as a form of welfare, Canadian saw the same extension as a way to take children off welfare - the exact opposite.
Visit Joshua T. McCabe's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Michael North's "What Is the Present?"

Michael North is professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles. His many books include Novelty: A History of the New, Machine-Age Comedy, and Camera Works: Photography and the Twentieth-Century Word.

North applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, What Is the Present?, and reported the following:
In this book, page 99 comes toward the end of a chapter called “The Present in Pictures.” The thesis of this chapter is that our ideas about the present, and maybe even the belief that there is such a thing at all, come as much from pictures as from actual experience. Though we tend to think that all experience occurs in the present, there is really no way for us to apprehend it as time flashes past. The senses cannot verify the intellectual notion that human time is centered on some impossibly thin membrane between past and future. But we can see what passes for the present in pictures because these, unlike actual experience, are still. In fact, traditional aesthetic theory taught that pictures can only show the present. The trick of art, according to authorities on the matter, consisted in painting a moment that implied the past behind and the future before it. Painting came to be dedicated to the depiction of “fruitful” moments, instants that imply whole narratives, and when photography arrived it too attempted to portray such moments. Toward the end of the 19th century, though, when instantaneous photography became possible, the visual evidence it provided tended to contradict these assumptions about the present. For the most part, the moments captured by instantaneous photography were not fruitful. In fact, they were mostly illegible in that it was impossible to read in them evidence of some larger arc of motion. In other words, to quote from page 99, “the evidence of photography suggests that the fruitful moment is not a judicious selection from nature but an aesthetic convention.... Photography exposed the artificiality of the present stripped of the adjustments and justifications with which painting had surrounded it. Thus it tended to call into question not just the fruitful moment but also the moment itself.” These sentences offer a pretty good summation of the idea behind this book, that the present is not an experiential given but a convention. This matters because it suggests that certain normative assumptions about modern life, which is often criticized as too concentrated on the present, depend on opinion rather than fact. So, a closer look at the history of the present might make us rethink a lot of settled ideas about how we live now.
Learn more about What Is the Present? at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Novelty: A History of the New.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Gideon Yaffe's "The Age of Culpability"

Gideon Yaffe is a Professor of Law, Professor of Philosophy, and Professor of Psychology at Yale University. His research interests include the philosophy of law, particularly criminal law; the study of metaphysics including causation, free will and personal identity; and the study of intention and the theory of action.

Yaffe applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Age of Culpability: Children and the Nature of Criminal Responsibility, and reported the following:
The Age of Culpability offers a philosophical argument in support of something that no one in their right mind would deny: kids deserve a break when they commit crimes. It’s odd that even though no one denies it, the commonly voiced reasons for thinking it’s true are unpersuasive. I claim that what’s important is not, for instance, brain development, but, instead, the subordinate political position of kids: they are denied a say over the laws they break, primarily by being denied the vote. To make a case for my view, I need to connect two things that don’t initially seem linked: (1) voting rights, and (2) what criminals deserve. I try to explain how they are linked in the book. Page 99 is the argument’s midpoint. So, Ford’s statement is pretty accurate when it comes to my book.

On page 99, I say what it is to be owed something bad for doing something bad. What you’re owed is what would have made you view the bad act, before you performed it, in the same way that an ideal person would have viewed it. Say you steal a bike. If it would have taken $10,000 to make the ideal person view that as worth doing, then you’re owed the loss of something you value that much. We want you to be just as averse to stealing the bike as the ideal person. So we need to give you, in response to the theft, just what would have made you that averse.

In later pages I claim that when we are talking about crime, the ideal person is the ideal citizen. But what an ideal citizen is averse to doing is a function of what the laws that apply to him require. The ideal American citizen, contemplating stealing a bike off the street in Tacoma, gives no thought to the laws of Japan. So which laws apply to this ideal citizen? The laws over which he’s entitled to exert influence by voting and speaking. And that’s why how much say a person has over the law he breaks matters to what he’s owed for breaking it. Since kids have less say, they are owed lesser punishments. So, page 99 describes a piece of a philosophical edifice linking voting and criminal punishment. That page is a peephole into “the quality of the whole.”
Learn more about The Age of Culpability at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Philip Thai's "China's War on Smuggling"

Philip Thai is assistant professor of history at Northeastern University. His research explores the interplay between law, economy, and society in modern China, East Asia, and the world.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, China's War on Smuggling: Law, Economic Life, and the Making of the Modern State, 1842–1965, and reported the following:
China’s War on Smuggling is a legal and economic history of illicit trade on the Chinese coast from the late imperial period through the early People’s Republic. It traces how official efforts to regulate, tax, and police the flow of goods steadily widened definitions of criminality. Smuggling, the book argues, was a product of iterative encounters between states eager to assert their prerogative and control the economy on the one side, and individuals reluctant to adhere to official strictures on trade on the other.

I was amused by, but skeptical of, the Page 99 Test. Can the essence of any book be revealed by single page—and an arbitrarily selected one at that? Imagine my surprise, then, when I flipped to the page in question. Page 99 comes from chapter three, “State Interventions and Legal Transformations.” It begins with a discussion of efforts by the Nationalist government of China during the 1930s to enforce a newly-promulgated anti-smuggling law as well as widespread resistance state agents encountered on the ground. It recounts a particularly vivid episode of customs agents engaged in door-to-door search for contraband before a village mob attacked the search party “with poles and pelted [them] with tins of pineapple.” It continues with an elaboration of how anti-smuggling campaigns redefined “legal” and “illegal” modes of commerce and patterns of movement, provoking the ire of individuals and communities forced to bear more fetters on their freedom to truck, barter, and trade. Its final sentences highlight the ways militarized interdiction helped broadcast the power of the Nationalist government—especially at the expense of recalcitrant warlords who “feared that the war on smuggling was a Trojan horse that would strengthen and extend central authority into their own localities.” Good stuff all.

Ford Madox Ford’s dictum may not apply to every book, but it certainly applies to mine. In the case of China’s War on Smuggling, page 99 is situated after introductory overviews and right as the book is building momentum in making its argument. The varied descriptions of illicit operations, spectacular violence, and political intrigue—all choked with “you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up” human drama—are right here on a single page. Apparently, page 99 serves as a perfect showcase for the book’s main themes.
Learn more about China's War on Smuggling at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 18, 2018

Stephen W. Sawyer's "Demos Assembled"

Stephen W. Sawyer is professor and chair of history, cofounder of the History, Law, and Society Program, and director of the Center for Critical Democracy Studies at the American University of Paris. He is editor of the Tocqueville Review and associate editor of the Annales. History and Social Sciences.

Sawyer applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Demos Assembled: Democracy and the International Origins of the Modern State, 1840–1880, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Demos Assembled opens with a betrayal. Or so it seems.

The book claims to shed light on our contemporary democratic crisis. And yet, page 99 is the first page of chapter 4 entitled “Necessity,” which explores this concept through a figure rarely associated with anything even remotely democratic, Adolphe Thiers. Thiers, the “butcher” of the Paris Commune of 1871, has something to tell us about democracy? It is this paradox that page 99 and the book attempt to grasp.

For all the talk of democratic crisis, our knowledge of democracy’s actual history remains limited. If the notion emerged in its modern usage among western philosophers in the 17th and 18th centuries, following the American and French Revolutions it was largely discredited: Robespierre and Napoleon’s quasi-dictatorship reduced the democratic ideal to dangerous mob rule, or a government fit only for ancient Athens. This suddenly changed in the 1820s and 30s when Andrew Jackson’s “Democratic Party,” radicals in France and Britain, and Tocqueville’s trip to the US all placed democracy front and center. Then, in 1848, democracy stepped out of the crowd and took center stage. Revolutions swept across Europe, all of them entertaining some relationship with the democratic. At the end of this revolutionary wave, Napoleon’s nephew was elected President of France by universal manhood suffrage but soon declared himself emperor. His regime, though dictatorial, was considered to be a “modern democracy” because he maintained universal manhood suffrage.

Demos Assembled shows that this moment marked the birth of a critical history of democracy. When modern democracy took hold, a panoply of thinkers and statesmen began critiquing democracies that existed in the name of democracies alternatively defined. Adolphe Thiers was among them. An opponent of Napoleon III, Thiers elaborated a potent, though ultimately very dangerous, notion of legal necessity as the foundation for popular rule in the modern age. He therefore captures the paradox of democracy’s past: while he used the notion of necessity to brutally crush the Commune, he also consolidated the first lasting democratic Republic in Europe.

A betrayal? Perhaps. But Thiers provides an important – if troubling – entry point to our modern condition. As little as we may ever know about an ideal democracy, our past offers an important lesson: modern democracy was born neither of consensus nor utopia, but of our constant struggle to self-govern and the inevitable challenges of doing so.
Learn more about Demos Assembled at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Seth Perry's "Bible Culture and Authority in the Early United States"

Seth Perry is assistant professor of religion at Princeton University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Bible Culture and Authority in the Early United States, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Bible Culture and Authority in the Early United States lands in Chapter 4, which happens to be my favorite chapter (so, score one for the Page 99 Test!). The book argues that in early America the Bible was not a “source” of authority, as is often said, but rather a site of authority: a cultural space for editors, commentators, publishers, preachers, and readers to cultivate authoritative relationships. “The Bible” is best thought of not as a specific text, but as a set of relationships sustained by a universe of cultural practices and assumptions. Chapter Four – “‘Write These Things in a Book’: Scripturalization and Visionary Authority” -- shows that this extended to new scripturalized texts that participated both in the resonance of biblical content (they cited the Bible) and in the practices and assumptions of Bible reading as a cultural practice (they were treated like bibles). This part of the chapter is about The Vision of Isaac Childs, a Quaker visionary text originating in 1757 that circulated widely in both print and manuscript throughout the nineteenth century (it was last published in 1929). Childs’s vision was copied, recopied, edited, translated, annotated, and commented upon over the course of well over a century – I’ve seen eighteen manuscript versions and copies of nine printed editions. Page 99 is the beginning of a section pointing out that the significance of Childs’s vision changed through all of this activity even though the text itself mostly didn’t: the anonymous editor of an 1826 edition, for example, added footnotes explaining the vision and applying it to events in his or her own time, far distant from Childs’s own: “While the text remained more or less consistent with a manuscript tradition going back more than seventy years, the novel annotations demonstrated the flexible terms for making meaning in a scripturalized environment.” It’s this constellation of practices that constitutes scripturalization; this is what “bible culture” was all about in the early United States.
Learn more about Bible Culture and Authority in the Early United States at the Princeton University Press website.

Writers Read: Seth Perry.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 15, 2018

Margarette Lincoln's "Trading in War"

Margarette Lincoln is Research Fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Curator Emeritus at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Trading in War: London’s Maritime World in the Age of Cook and Nelson, and reported the following:
On page 99, customs official, Joseph Pierson, is bludgeoned by a smuggling gang in Deptford, London. It’s 1775, and smuggling from East Indiamen anchored in the River Thames is practically a full-time job for some people. The revenue men are the hated enemy.

“Afterwards, Pierson was taken by boat to the London Hospital. His skull was exposed and beaten in, his chest mangled, and his right arm so badly broken that it had to be laid open to the shoulder.”

Although Pierson’s wife was allowed to nurse him in hospital, he died from his injuries a month later. Members of the gang were pursued and some were brought to justice. The famous Smugglerius, flayed by the surgeon William Hunter and arranged to imitate the position of The Dying Gaul, was thought to have been prepared from the body of one gang member, hanged at Tyburn. He had the muscle formation of a river worker, developed through hard, physical labour.

It was stories like this that got me interested in the riverside life of eighteenth-century London, a topic which has been so often overlooked. These maritime communities were essential to Britain’s war effort, and they also played a key part in preparing ships for voyages of exploration. While some people along the river were undoubtedly engaged in illicit activity, most were employed in roles that were vital for the maintenance of the Royal Navy and the British economy, then heavily dependent on foreign trade. What’s more, as the book shows, women also had vital roles to play in these turbulent times.
Learn more about Trading in War at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Dominic Sachsenmaier's "Global Entanglements of a Man Who Never Traveled"

Dominic Sachsenmaier is a professor of “Modern China with a Special Emphasis on Global Historical Perspectives” at Göttingen University/Germany. In the past, he held faculty positions at Duke University and the University of California, Santa Barbara. Sachsenmaier’s main current research interests include China’s transnational and global connections. Among other works, he authored Global Perspectives on Global History: Theories and Approaches in a Connected World (2011).

Sachsenmaier applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Global Entanglements of a Man Who Never Traveled: A Seventeenth-Century Chinese Christian and His Conflicted Worlds, and reported the following:
Page 99 actually raises some questions that are important for the entire monograph. My book deals with an untraveled seventeenth-century Chinese Catholic convert who throughout his lifetime remained a committed Confucian. His name was Zhu Zongyuan, and he was actually one of the most significant Chinese Christian authors of the mid-seventeenth-century. People like Zhu believed that both Confucianism and Christianity or as they called it, the “Learning of Heaven,” were ultimately one and the same teaching. But this was hardly acceptable to many people around them – neither to most Confucian scholars nor to many circles in the Catholic Church.

Page 99 shows that combining traditions like Confucianism and Christianity could lead to huge uncertainties:
Was this really a synthesis between equal parts?... Was the Lord of Heaven (i.e. the Christian God) truly a divine being towering far above the cultural differences of this world? Or was his message, as presented to seventeenth-century China, closely wedded to concepts and contents from Europe? … This was not a theoretical question but also pointed to many practical issues.
Partly writing against his critics in China, the hero of this book, Zhu Zongyuan, spent much ink on questions of this kind. He sought to come to terms with the foreign origins of his faith. This was a formidable challenge since – for a variety of reasons – the “Learning of Heaven” put emphasis on key concepts, liturgies and symbols which were not Chinese but obviously of European origin. I deal with these challenges in one part of my book.

In another part I show that ongoing battles also characterized aspects of Zhu Zongyuan’s life in Catholic communities. He played various roles as a Christian, many of which were entangled with his life as a Confucian scholar in his local society. Yet exactly because Christian life was not – and could not possibly be – strictly separated from Chinese communal and associational life, it was characterized by many inherent contradictions. Both sides of the Chinese-Catholic encounter had to make institutional compromises, and the final product did not always make the “Learning of Heaven’s” more acceptable to a Chinese audience.
Learn more about Global Entanglements of a Man Who Never Traveled at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Alexandra Délano Alonso's "From Here and There"

Alexandra Délano Alonso is Associate Professor of Global Studies at The New School and the current holder of the Eugene M. Lang Professorship for Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring. Her work is driven by a concern with the inequalities underlying the causes of migration, the structures that lead to the marginalization of undocumented migrants in the public sphere, and the limited protection of their rights, from a transnational perspective. Her book Mexico and Its Diaspora in the United States: Policies of Emigration since 1848 was the co-winner of the William LeoGrande Prize for the best book on US-Latin America Relations.

Délano Alonso applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, From Here and There: Diaspora Policies, Integration, and Social Rights Beyond Borders, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The program is a place where participants find tools for education and work. But they also find a space for community and solidarity. The participants are learning and at the same time, they feel comfortable in the space. They establish relationships, share values and solidarity. We teach them to read but we also give them information about a job ad, we give them tools (coordinator, Plaza Comunitaria Chicago, 2009).

We are creating a space where people feel recognized, where they realize that as individuals they can do more than work. The Plaza creates a space for growth and opportunity to change their expectations in life. It gives them opportunities to live better, to have better jobs, to speak up, to feel safe, to have self-esteem, to have security. This preparation gives them tools to defend themselves, to avoid abuse, and to aspire to work in better places (coordinator, Plaza Comunitaria, Chicago, 2009).
Page 99 of the book discusses the Mexican government’s Plazas Comunitarias adult-education program, which operates through its 50 consulates in the United States, in collaboration with schools, hospitals, community organizations and prisons. This is one of various initiatives focused on education, health, financial literacy, labor rights and citizenship that Mexico –and to a lesser extent other Latin American countries— have developed in the US in the past two decades to promote access to social rights for migrants with precarious status.

The analysis of these programs is at the core of the book: I discuss the interests that underlie them; the innovative discourse of integration and shared responsibility that has developed around these initiatives--and its limitations; the collaborations between consulates, private and public institutions in the US, and migrant communities that make these programs possible; and the concrete results of these initiatives in terms of improving the material and social conditions of migrants’ lives regardless of their legal status.

Page 99 provides some examples of information from surveys, interviews and reports that demonstrate that even though the reach of the programs is limited (and quantitative analyses of their results are sparse), some of the most significant contributions that they make in supporting migrants is in offering spaces where there is a sense of trust where they are more likely to be receptive to information about and enroll in social programs given the linguistic and cultural familiarity, as well as the assurance that a person’s migratory status is not a factor in being able to participate. The Plazas Comunitarias were initially conceived as spaces where migrant populations could continue the education they could not complete in Mexico by offering literacy, elementary, middle and high school programs, textbooks in Spanish, and online testing tools through the Mexican Ministry of Education. My visits to the Plazas, interviews with participants and with educators revealed that in addition to these original goals, students in the Plazas are also learning English, and completing GEDs and skills certification programs, which have helped them access better opportunities for work, health and education in the US.

The two quotes above from page 99 capture key elements of the argument of the book, which is that these programs challenge traditional notions of integration. First, by including origin countries in a process of English language acquisition, education and understanding of the institutional context that is traditionally assumed as the sole responsibility of the country where they now live. And second, by demonstrating how these transnational spaces of community and solidarity that include a variety of government and non-government actors from the country of origin and destination contribute to integration in the sense of supporting equal access to rights and opportunities for migrant communities.
Learn more about From Here and There at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 11, 2018

Thomas F. Gieryn's "Truth-Spots"

Tom Gieryn is Rudy Professor of Sociology Emeritus at Indiana University Bloomington, where he has stayed put for 40 years--except for travels to many truth-spots.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Truth-Spots: How Places Make People Believe, and reported the following:
I feel cheated. Page 99 comes at the tail end of Chapter 5 in Truth-Spots, and only about two-thirds of it is text--the rest is blank. But if I borrow lines from page 100, the start of Chapter 6, to fill in the white space on page 99, the cobbled-together result gives a hint of what this weird little book is all about. Chapter 5 follows pilgrims struggling along The Way of St. James toward Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, drawing on their reminiscences to figure out how the experience affirms (or challenges) their beliefs about life, God, nature and everything else that matters. Chapter 6 explores the architecture of the Thomas F. Eagleton US Courthouse in St. Louis, taking note of how the arrangement of passages and rooms segregates people who play distinctive roles in the pursuit of justice (as defendant, plaintiff, attorney, jury member or judge)--a carefully choreographed sequence of contacts and separations that lends legitimacy to discovering the whole truth and nothing but.

The connection between a tenth century 482-mile pilgrimage route and a federal justice center housed in a 29-story skyscraper built in 2000 is not immediately obvious. It only gets worse when the other chapters are thrown into this promiscuous soup. The book opens at the oracle of Delphi and ends at the ultra-clean laboratory at Cal Tech that persuaded Congress to ban lead from gasoline--in between, I visit Walden Pond; Linnaeus’ botanic garden in Uppsala; Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village outdoor museum; and commemorated birthplaces of identity-based movements at Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall. This sounds like a completely undisciplined and eclectic list of random places--and it is, until you’ve got the concept of “truth-spot” to tie them all together. Each of these places makes people believe: each lends credibility and legitimacy to claims and understandings that have their provenance specifically at that geographic location, ensconced there in natural and built materialities and embedded in narratives about such places that give them meaning and value. All of this comes in a slim 177-page book with a trim size of 8-1/2 x 5-1/2 inches, just the right size for a long plane ride somewhere.
Learn more about Truth-Spots at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Nicole C. Nelson's "Model Behavior"

Nicole C. Nelson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical History and Bioethics at University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her research examines scientists’ assumptions about the natural world and how these assumptions shape scientific practice. She also does research on new technologies in oncology research and clinical care.

Nelson applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Model Behavior: Animal Experiments, Complexity, and the Genetics of Psychiatric Disorders, and reported the following:
Model Behavior is an ethnographic study of what laboratory work looks like under assumptions of complexity. Laboratories are spaces where scientists attempt to refine and control nature to get answers to questions that would be impossible to ask in messy, real-world settings, but some phenomena remain maddeningly difficult to study even in these carefully controlled places—a poorly timed fire alarm or the smell of a pet dog might be all it takes to make a mouse hide out in the dark corners of a maze rather than go exploring. Moreover, the more controlled the setting, the further away scientists found themselves from the real-world problems they cared about, such as helping people who suffer from anxiety.

Under these conditions, the scientists that I followed learned to be very cautious about the conclusions they drew from the research they conducted. Page 99 of the book finds me seated next to a scientist who was analyzing data from a mouse experiment on anxiety, eating my lunch as I watched recordings of the experiment with him:
At one point in watching the video I commented, “That guy really likes the open arms” when the mouse that we were watching at the time seemed to be spending more time there than the others. There was silence, and then Dr. Lam said, “Don’t say ‘like.’”…He said that you should never say things such as “the mouse likes the open arms” or “the mouse is less anxious,” you should say things like “the mouse spends a higher percentage of time in the open arms” or “the mouse shows less anxiety-like behavior.”
The exchange recorded on page 99 is a good example of what the ethnographic method is all about—placing yourself in situations where your ignorance will provide opportunities for others to teach you about their culture. My initial lack of understanding of why behavioral scientists used cumbersome phrases such as “anxiety-like behavior” to talk about their mice helped me better understand how they saw their work. For these scientists, the data from animal models was only a tentative first step towards understanding a complex problem, and the language they used served as a reminder that their mouse experiments were only a proxy for human anxiety. By studying with the scientists, I learned to see the nuances they saw in their own data, and to see laboratory work as something other than an activity that produces definitive answers to narrowly-defined questions.
Visit Nicole C. Nelson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Lori G. Beaman's "Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity"

Lori G. Beaman is the Canada Research Chair in Religious Diversity and Social Change, Professor in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa, and the Principal Investigator of the Religion and Diversity Project, a thirty-seven-member international research team whose focus is religion and diversity. She is the co-editor of Constructions of Self and Other in Yoga, Travel, and Tourism: A Journey to Elsewhere (with Sonia Sikka), Atheist Identities: Spaces and Social Contexts (with Steven Tomlins), and Varieties of Religious Establishment (with Winnifred Fallers Sullivan).

Beaman applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity, and reported the following:
English writer Ford Madox Ford once said if you “Open the book to page ninety-nine, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.” Taking this invitation and directive to heart, I (rather serendipitously) discover that the very first word on page 99 of Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity happens to be Respect, with a capital ‘R.’ There is perhaps no word (both as a noun and a verb), more foundational to my emergent work on deep equality than the notion of respect.

Deep Equality is my rather lengthy reaction to two things: law’s dominance of the notion of equality and the pervasiveness of ‘tolerance’ and ‘reasonable accommodation’ as responses to diversity. Drawing from a range of sources including interviews, novels and films, I argue that the key to living well together is deep equality, and the elements of this are to be found in everyday interactions between people which are characterized by a number of elements, including respect. I approach this from an interdisciplinary standpoint: I am trained in philosophy, law and sociology and I draw from numerous other fields of study, including sociobiology and game theory, to construct my arguments.

Page 99 is in large measure representative of the strategy of the book: using short vignettes I trace the elements of deep equality that are evidenced by those stories. Fortuitously, page 99 includes both a vignette and mentions caring, humour, forgiveness, and generosity as additional elements of deep equality. In the process of sorting out how to live well together the focus becomes similarity—not sameness (i.e. everyone is really the same) and universality, and not difference (insisting on the peculiarity of everyone). This is a tricky balance particularly when religion is thrown into the mix. Consider this quote from page 99: “Some people told stories of protectiveness and caring that were manifested not in a paternalistic way, but as extensions of the agonistic process that creates a shared place of relationship in the everyday”. When religious difference is at the center of a particular conflict or debate, the agonistic process requires a relinquishment ‘rightness’ in order to achieve harmony. Given that the root word agon (‘struggle’ or ‘contest’ from the classical Greek) implies an inherent respect for all actors in a negotiation, agonistic respect becomes the ground upon which difference (religious or otherwise) can be a fertile space for human interaction and flourishing.
Learn more about Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's "Sex and the City and Us"

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, where she spent most of her time putting on shows in her parents’ garage, studying TV Guide, devouring Sweet Valley High books, and memorizing every note of every George Michael song. This finally came in handy when she got a job at Entertainment Weekly, where she worked for a decade. She’s now the TV columnist for BBC Culture and also writes for several other publications, including The New York Times Book Review, Fast Company, Vulture, and Billboard. She’s the author of the New York Times bestseller Seinfeldia: The Secret World of the Show About Nothing that Changed Everything and a history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted. She now lives in Manhattan.

Armstrong applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Sex and the City and Us: How Four Single Women Changed the Way We Think, Live, and Love, and reported the following:
My page 99 is largely dedicated to male critics expressing disdain for Sex and the City’s objectification of men and its “hollow and predictable … portrait of the desperation of the over-30 single woman.” This checks out: It’s a theme throughout my book because it’s a theme that ran throughout the show’s six-year run, not to mention its afterlife. Sex and the City has always struggled for the respect it deserves, and it’s often been reduced to a caricature, but it was more than just a silly show about sex, shoes, and cosmopolitans. I couldn’t have written an entire book about it otherwise.

The early reviews of the show were hilariously melodramatic about their fear of this series celebrating sexually independent single women—and their concern over how straight men would feel, as the women, for instance, discussed a man’s unimpressive penis size. They were also very, very mean at times. (The Washington Post’s Tom Shales, in particular, loved to go after the actresses’ physical appearances, and another male critic called the character of Samantha a “slut.”) This demonstrates the power the show had. It wouldn’t be so scary if it weren’t pushing a seismic shift in perceptions of single women over 30.

Even its glitzier aspects played to this power. The shoes, the nights out, the clothes, and the other indulgences made these women’s lives look enviable. They turned single women from cat ladies into the women everyone wanted to be. They made women want to ask each other, “Are you a Carrie, a Charlotte, a Miranda, or a Samantha?”

In the end, that’s what Sex and the City and Us is about: It’s about the Sex and the City characters and stories that made fans want to live in that world, and it’s about what that meant to all of us. Many young women and men have moved to New York City looking for their own Sex and the City. The show taught us about sex, relationships, friendship, and how to express ourselves through outrageous fashion. In short, it changed lives. I should know. The first line of my introduction is, “I left my fiancé for Sex and the City.”

That’s hardly hollow, predictable, or desperate.
Visit Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's website.

My Book, The Movie: Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted.

The Page 99 Test: Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted.

The Page 99 Test: Seinfeldia.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Yiğit Akın's "When the War Came Home"

Yiğit Akın is Assistant Professor of History at Tulane University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, When the War Came Home: The Ottomans' Great War and the Devastation of an Empire, and reported the following:
When the War Came Home examines the catastrophic experience of World War I for Ottoman society. It does so by shifting the focus from the battlefront to the home front and taking the reader from governmental halls to railway stations, private homes, fields, and stables, to shed new light on Ottomans’ wartime experiences.

One of the recurrent themes of the book is the continuous interaction between soldiers and their families on the home front. The war, in many respects, expanded the horizons of the ordinary Ottoman soldier, took him, perhaps for the first time, out of his village or hometown, introduced him to new lands, people, and lifestyles, familiarizing him with new cultures, ideas, and concepts. Nevertheless, his attachment to his particular home region, his village, and his family continued to define who he was. He did everything in his capacity to maintain his ties with his family and community through channels including furloughs, letters, unauthorized visits, and friends.

In the words of a British prisoner who spent the last two years of war in captivity in Anatolia, Ottoman soldiers “were so drawn by ties of family and anxiety for the fate of their relations that they preferred the life of an outlaw near their homes to the uncertainty of awaiting news in distant Mesopotamia or Palestine.” Indeed, soldiers’ concern for their families’ well-being and security was among the most important reasons for desertion.

Page 99 is about this fundamental link between the front and home. More specifically, it discusses violence against soldiers’ families on the home front. Along with extreme privations, hard work, and loss of family members, these families also suffered from frequent assaults and encroachment on their properties. Soldiers whose families were attacked either requested leave or deserted their units in order to go back to their villages, furnish protection against assailants, or take revenge. For these soldiers, military service was at odds with the duty of protecting the family.

War, in this sense, led to the violation of the right of husbands to exclusive sexual access to their wives, hurt the honor of the family, and undermined masculine dominance. While fulfilling the duty of protecting the empire against the enemy, soldiers found themselves unable simultaneously to protect their hearths and homes.
Learn more about When the War Came Home at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Mary Stockwell's "Unlikely General"

Mary Stockwell is the former chair of the history department at Lourdes University in Ohio and the author of The Other Trail of Tears: The Removal of the Ohio Indians and other books.

Stockwell applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Unlikely General: "Mad" Anthony Wayne and the Battle for America, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Unlikely General: “Mad” Anthony Wayne and the Battle for America, a woman appears. While we cannot be certain of her name, later generations would know her as “Molly Pitcher,” a brave woman who carried water to her husband as he fought with Wayne on the brutally hot day of June 28, 1778 at the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse. When her husband collapsed, she took over his cannon and even survived a British cannon ball that ripped through her petticoats.

It is fitting for a real woman, most probably Mary Hayes, the wife of William Hayes, a soldier in Wayne’s artillery brigade, to appear on page 99 of Unlikely General during one of the most critical battles of his career because women played a crucial role in his life. He grew up surrounded by women, including his mother Elizabeth, his two sisters Hannah and Anne, and his cousin Mary. When he was twenty-one, he married Polly Penrose, with whom he had a daughter and a son. Once he joined the Continental Army, even more women came into his life, including Mary Vining, the niece of Delaware Congressman Caesar Rodney, and Catharine Littlefield, the wife of his friend General Nathanael Greene.

But it is also fitting that Wayne, on page 99 of Unlikely General, fights in the company of an imaginary woman because two such women haunted his life. The first was Madame Fortune, his name for fate, which brought him both glory and despair. The second was America whom he described as a beautiful but faithless woman. On his way to his final fight at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, when his daughter Margaretta complained that he had abandoned his family, he answered that he had been called away once again to rescue his greatest love, America.
Visit Mary Stockwell's website.

My Book, The Movie: Unlikely General.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 1, 2018

Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite's "Class, Politics, and the Decline of Deference in England, 1968-2000"

Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite did her undergraduate degree in history at St Hugh's College, Oxford, and her MPhil and PhD at St Catharine's Collage, Cambridge, supervised by Jon Lawrence. She was subsequently a Junior Research Fellow at Clare College, Cambridge before moving to University College London where she lectures in Twentieth-Century British History. She is also an interviewer for the History of Parliament Trust's oral history project, and co-editor of Renewal: a journal of social democracy.

Sutcliffe-Braithwaite applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Class, Politics, and the Decline of Deference in England, 1968-2000, and reported the following:
Page 99 turned out to be pretty representative of the overall arguments and themes of the book. It falls in the conclusion to the fourth chapter, which looks at a collection of oral history interviews gathered in the mid-1980s with several generations of people from across Britain. Many of the things these interviewees talked about exemplified broader patterns of ‘class talk’ in the late twentieth century. Ambivalence was a marked feature of their answers: what people said about class varied with context and could seem contradictory. And ‘another reason for uncertainty about “class” was the widespread perception that there had been major changes in the “class” structure across the twentieth century’ – with, especially, suburbanisation and changes in the occupational structure. These changes seemed to many interviewees to have created ‘a large “ordinary” group in society which had to work for a living but which was, nevertheless, in the “middle”: not workless but also not privileged’. Many people, both white-collar and blue-collar, were keen to stress their ordinariness and authenticity, and to reject the idea that class snobberies played an important role in their lives.

What’s missing from this page is the point that I excavate elsewhere: that though many people wanted to sign up to this less snobbish, more democratic outlook on society, in fact, there were pervasive class judgements going on in late twentieth-century Britain: they had often just gone ‘underground’. And the other thing that’s missing from this page is a link to politics: another key argument of the book relates to how vernacular discourses of class linked – or didn’t link – to political languages. When it comes to the 1980s, what I suggest is that while Thatcherite languages of class were in some ways similar to the sorts of things the interviewees in this chapter were saying, that wasn’t because Thatcher profoundly influenced what people thought. There were other roots and sources for changing popular perceptions of class, often linked to individual and family experiences of social mobility and social change.
Learn more about Class, Politics, and the Decline of Deference in England, 1968-2000 at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue