Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Amy J. Binder and Kate Wood's "Becoming Right"

Amy J. Binder is associate professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego. She is the author of Contentious Curricula: Afrocentrism and Creationism in American Public Schools. Kate Wood is a doctoral candidate in the department of sociology at the University of California, San Diego.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Becoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives, and reported the following:
Page 99 in our book lands squarely in the middle of chapter 3, which is an analysis of the national conservative organizations that mobilize right-leaning college students in various ways. Offering fellowships, internships, ready-made posters for use on campus, national databases of students, conferences, and other events and materials to encourage collegians to get active on their campuses, organizations such as the Young America’s Foundation and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute have a considerable influence on conservative students’ ideas and practices at their universities. On page 99 we discuss some of the resources given to students by an organization called the Leadership Institute.

While the content of this page showcases an important piece of the puzzle (national organizations’ influence on conservative students), it is far from the whole story. The bulk of our book focuses on how college campuses—due to the particular cultural understandings of what it means to be a student at this university, and the specific organizational features present there (admissions selectivity, faculty-to-student ratios, percent of students who live on campus, registration policies...) actually create different kinds of conservatism. Where students feel more anonymous and atomized on a large state school campus, they are more suspicious of their peers and professors’ political motives and they develop more of an “anything goes” attitude about their political events. It is on these campuses where you are likely to see the infamous Affirmative Action Bake Sales and Catch an Illegal Alien Days, where the idea is to provoke liberals. On the other hand, where students feel more part of a special community bubble, where they feel welcomed into an elite band of professors and classmates, where they anticipate having long careers in leadership positions interacting with alums of their university, such provocative actions don’t appeal, and students tend toward what we call a civilized discourse style. This style is aimed at talking deliberatively with liberals and moderates, convincing them that conservatives are not “whackos” (to quote one of our interviewees), potentially even recruiting them to conservative ideology.

Although there is of course much more to say about all of this, such campus-centered analyses are the real crux of Becoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives. That provocation and confrontation are currently the dominant forms of conservative politics these days—leaving civilized discourse in the dust—lends our findings added value.
Learn more about Becoming Right at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue