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