Five Days in August — remembering the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

On August 6 and 9, 1945, 70 years ago this week, the terrifying images of mushroom clouds rising over devastated cities were seared into the public consciousness. Atomic bombs, the result of an unprecedented collaboration between some of the greatest scientific minds of their generation, had decimated the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed instantly, and in the days and months that followed, thousands more would suffer and die from radiation sickness and burns. The shocking display of military power and the vast human toll was unlike anything the world had seen. Whatever “nuclear” meant prior to August 6, it entered the lexicon that day as a term synonymous with uncontrolled destruction.

Five Days in AugustMost Americans believe that the Second World War ended because the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan forced it to surrender. But according to Michael Gordin’s  Five Days in August, (now available in e-book), the allied military did not clearly understand the atomic bomb’s revolutionary strategic potential. In fact, they were unsure whether the bombs would explode at all. But in the wake of the blasts and unparalleled ruin that did in fact occur, in the minds of many, physics became the science of war.

An interesting Princeton University Press historical note from Nature.com:

On the evening of 11 August 1945, just two days after the bombing of Nagasaki, the US government released Smyth’s 200-page document under the ponderous title, ‘A General Account of Methods of Using Atomic Energy for Military Purposes under the Auspices of the United States Government, 1940–1945′. Quickly dubbed ‘the Smyth report’, copies flew off the shelves. The original Government Printing Office edition ran out so quickly that Princeton University Press published its own edition late in 1945, under the more manageable title, Atomic Energy for Military Purposes, which sold more than 100,000 copies in a year.

The information contained in the Smyth report was heavily restricted for security reasons. But in a post-war and early cold war climate, atomic secrets were a hot commodity. Even today without the apocalyptic dread of The Day After, nuclear power remains a political and military preoccupation, as nations face the threat of terrorism, the problem of waste, and the danger of meltdown.

Gordin writes in Five Days in August, “Each generation has grappled intensely and repeatedly with understanding the implications of nuclearism for its future, but the struggle has always been caught  in terms fixed, as if in amber, with the speed and suddenness with which World War II ended.” For more on the moral questions left in the wake of these five days, and a look at the confused final months of World War II, sample Chapter 1, titled Endings, here.

William Helmreich is back on the streets of NYC with The New Yorker

Bill Helmreich walks every street in New York City

Bill Helmreich walks every street in New York City

How well do many seasoned New Yorkers really know New York City? Chances are, few can claim the knowledge of all 6,000 miles quite like Professor of Sociology William Helmreich can. Inspired by childhood explorations with his father, Helmreich walked every block of New York City’s five boroughs, a mission that resulted in The New York Nobody Knows. This week, The New Yorker ran a fun video featuring Bill Helmreich and his walks. His unconventional portrait of New York City is due out in paperback this Fall.

From Joshua Rothman’s New Yorker piece accompanying the video:

Many New Yorkers daydream about exploring the areas of the city they don’t know. But actually doing it is incredibly difficult. Ten years ago, Ben McGrath wrote a Talk of the Town story about a man who walked all of Manhattan; that’s an impressive achievement, but even the dreariest Manhattan blocks are more interesting than the service road alongside the B.Q.E. Moreover, to walk all of New York within a reasonable time frame, you have to do it all year round; most likely, as Helmreich did, you’d also have to walk after dark. Helmreich wasn’t just game, in other words. He was dedicated. He allowed neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night to stop him from his appointed rounds.

Read the rest here, and the earlier New Yorker feature where Joshua Rothman walked the Bronx with Helmreich.

You can sample chapter one of The New York Nobody Knows here.

William B. Helmreich is professor of sociology at the City University Graduate Center (CUNY) and the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at the City College of New York.

An interview with Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, author of BEYOND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Beyond Religious FreedomWhat’s at stake when governments set the standards for religious practice? Policymakers in North America and Europe regularly advocate abroad for religious freedom, interfaith dialogue, religious tolerance, and protections for religious minorities. But what is the real outcome of such intervention? In her new book, Beyond Religious Freedom, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd makes the case that such policies actually create more social tensions and divisions than they resolve. Recently she took some time to talk with us about her book, and why international relations got religion wrong.

What prompted you to write this book? Is it part of a wider conversation or series of conversations?

EH: Beyond Religious Freedom is an attempt to think differently about religion in relation to law and governance on a global scale. In the field of religion and international affairs there’s been a gold-rush mentality lately as scholars scurry to ‘get religion right’ – but I find many of these efforts to be confused and even troubling. The problem, as I noted in a recent piece for The Monkey Cage, is that international relations got religion but got it wrong. Beyond Religious Freedom develops an alternative that neither celebrates religion for its allegedly peaceful potential nor condemns it for its allegedly violent tendencies. It proposes a new framework for the study of religion, law, and governance.

The book brings together conversations from a range of sources, including on the politics of international human rights and the European Court’s jurisprudence; the study of contemporary religion; law and the legalization of religious difference; Turkish and Alevi studies; and debates over religion and religious freedom, and the politics of religious outreach and toleration programming in US and European foreign policy. These are topics that haven’t been brought together before in this way, and I think together they contribute in important ways to an effort to better understand the intersection of religion and global politics today.

How would you describe the challenges facing scholars of religion and global politics?

EH: Today there’s a disjuncture between how religion is lived in the world around us and the way many scholars are writing about it. A wave of scholars has been working overtime trying to identify precisely the contribution of religion to world affairs and to control religion for certain political ends. That is a world apart from the way religion is lived by people, the myriad and complex ways in which religion is interwoven and entangled with how they live their lives and get through the day, individually and collectively. There’s a deep disconnect between these two, and the scholars are missing the reality of lived religion as they construct their theories and models.

To sort this out, I distinguish in the book between expert religion, lived religion, and governed religion. This framework provides the backbone of my argument. Expert religion is religion as construed by those who generate what is understood to be policy-relevant knowledge about religion, including scholars and other experts. Lived religion is religion as practiced by ordinary individuals and groups as they interact with a variety of religious authorities, rituals, texts, and institutions and seek to navigate and make sense of their lives, connections with others, and place in the world. Official or governed religion is religion as construed by those in positions of political and religious power. This includes states, often through the law, but also supranational courts, governing entities such as the European Union, a range of international and nongovernmental organizations, and also churches and other religious organizations.

Can religion be treated as it if were a coherent and stable variable?

EH: It can’t. We cannot ignore religion by collapsing it into other domains of social life or reducing it to allegedly more fundamental social, economic, or political variables. Nor can we rely on a singular, trans-historical, and transcultural notion of religion as a freestanding descriptive and analytical category. That is, religion cannot be treated as if it were a differentiable quantity that can influence society and politics without being merged into it and shaped by it. We need other ways between and beyond these two extremes. The challenge, then, is to devise new ways to ‘normalize’ religion, neither absorbing it fully into the political nor allowing it to stand apart from history.

International relations theory and practice has a way to go on this front. I’ve been struck by the strangely persistent, almost ritualistic alternation in this field between the naïve celebration of religion as the source of morality, community, and freedom, and the simultaneous denigration of religion as the root of all global instability. Robert Orsi has described this as the ‘agenda of reassurance’ and the ‘agenda of surveillance.’ These agendas have real world consequences: in the first case, governmental support for and deference to religious “authorities,” self-identified and/or created by religious experts; in the second, the dangerous politics of national and international religious surveillance, discipline, and reform. My book criticizes these practices and trends.

What would you like readers to take away from your book?

EH: You never know what readers will find in a book. I’d like to see a shift in how scholars and pundits talk and write about global situations and problems that are described as essentially ‘religious’ in nature. This doesn’t make sense given that religion does not stand apart from history. Instead of asking, “why are Burmese Buddhists persecuting religious minorities such as the Rohingya?” we should ask, what factors—economic, political, social, religious, geographical, and so on—are enabling the comprehensive exclusion of the Rohingya from Burmese society? What’s the role of the state and other interests, including powerful monks’ organizations such as 969, in these processes? Who benefits from framing this as a matter of religious difference, and as a problem of religious freedom, and what do we lose sight of in that framing? The book urges readers to adopt a critical sensibility when they see terms like religious conflict, religious minority, religious violence, religious freedom, or even religious diversity and religious pluralism. The idea is to take a step back and think about what it means to describe a conflict or a situation as ‘religious,’ and whether it might be advisable to broaden the lens to see a bigger picture in which religion is entangled in a host of economic, social, ethnic, political, and legal formations. Religion is a deeply intersected category.

Were you influenced by the media and scholarly frenzy surrounding religion?

EH: I tried to distance myself from that, and the sense of urgency to locate a solution and prescribe the right policy. I’ve come to believe that what’s needed right now is something rather different. I hope this comes across to readers. What if we lower the volume of these conversations? Is there a register in which one can speak, teach, and write about religion and politics that neither prescribes nor proscribes? Is it possible to work toward understanding lived political-religious realities while resisting the urge to normative closure? Can we remain open to epistemologies and ontologies that may cast doubt on modern certainties such as the supremacy of secular law, the indispensability of international human rights and freedoms, and the primacy of the so-called free market? I’m drawn to new work that embodies this sensibility and hope in my future work to convey its significance for global politics and public life.

One of the main points of the book, starting with the prologue, is that narratives of Christian persecution need to be reconsidered. What about Christians in the Middle East today who are suffering as a result of their religious identity? Don’t you leave them in the lurch?

EH: Religious freedom and religious rights are often presented as the default solution to the challenges of living together in a diverse and globalizing world – as a device for stopping conflict and ending oppression. But the reality is far more complex.

In Birds Without Wings, a novel set in rural Anatolia during WWI, there is a dialogue between two childhood friends, Mehmetçik, who is Muslim, and Karatavuk, who is Christian. That distinction has only recently come to make a difference in their lives. On the eve of Mehmetçik’s departure to join Atatürk’s forces, the two boys discuss their predicament: “Ah, my friend, my friend,” [Karatavuk] said, drawing back and thumping his chest, “I have a heavy feeling in here. I feel as if I have a stone in my heart. I wonder what’ll become of us all.” “I think we’ll be divided,” said Mehmetçik sadly. “Suddenly it matters that I am a Christian, where it mattered only a little before.”

Beyond Religious Freedom is, among other things, an attempt to understand some of the modern legal and political processes that contribute to situations where it matters—often in a life and death sense—that one is a Christian, a Hindu, a Jew, or an atheist. These situations do not just fall out of the sky. They are created in history. They involve intertwined socio-legal, religious, and political processes in which particular identities, often construed by the state and others in positions of power, shape subjectivities and collectivities, forms of sociality, and public and political relations and institutions. It is important to study each of these varied histories in their own right.

The politics of religious freedom are often at play in such histories. Modes of governance that rely on stabilizing ‘religion’ as an object of law and governance draw and naturalize the boundaries between religions, and between religion and non-religion, exacerbating the very social tensions they are intended to mitigate. When governments take up religious freedom, it requires that they discriminate: which “religions” are protected and how, and which individuals and communities have which religious rights enshrined in law. This places states and the religious freedom advocates who seek to mobilize them in the position of determining what counts as a legitimate religious practice, right, or community, granting the latter special status above the others. It thus gives governments more tools for disempowering those whom it dislikes, disagrees with, or refuses to recognize, creating political and legal spaces and institutions in which state-sponsored religious distinctions are not only inevitable but also publicly and politically salient.

What are your thoughts on those who make legal claims relying on the language of international religious freedom?

EH: I don’t pass judgment. As I emphasize throughout the book, there are strong legal incentives today that make claims to religious freedom efficacious. Individuals and groups can and should use all means at their disposal to make the best of difficult circumstances. My point is different. It is that in the long run we need to think about the kind of world we create when we legalize religious difference—in part through the promotion and legalization of religious freedom—and naturalize those distinctions. I argue that these efforts generate social tensions by making religious difference a matter of law, enacting a divide between the religion of those in power and the religion of those without it. This leads to a politics defined by religious difference, favors forms of religion authorized by those in power, and excludes other ways of being and belonging.

Therefore, the issue is not of being pro- or anti-religious freedom. Instead, my book asks, what are the effects of constructing a legal regime around ‘religious freedom’ and a discursive world around that. Does this advance or impede efforts to live together across deep lines of difference? Advocates of religious freedom presume that the answer is self-evident and affirmative. Along with a number of others, I see it as much more complex, and the outcome as much less utopian.

What would you have been if not a political scientist?

EH: Definitely a caterer. When I was in college I worked for a caterer in Boston, and we had a booth at Chowderfest and catered several weddings. I loved it. I would specialize in pies, cakes, and tarts. The minute I finished this book and had a moment to catch my breath this summer, I started making tarts. I’ve thought about making an offer: if you buy both books that just came out, I’ll come over to your house and bake you a cake.

Read chapter 1 here.

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd is associate professor of political science at Northwestern University. She is the author of The Politics of Secularism in International Relations (Princeton) and the coeditor of Comparative Secularisms in a Global Age and Politics of Religious Freedom.

An interview with Daniel Schlozman, author of WHEN MOVEMENTS ANCHOR PARTIES

When Movements Anchor PartiesWhy is it that some social movements, such as organized labor and the Christian Right, have forged powerful alliances with political parties, while others, such as the antiwar movement, have not? When Movements Anchor Parties answers this question by looking at five prominent movements and their relationships with political parties, offering a new interpretation of electoral history. Recently, Daniel Schlozman took the time to answer some questions about his new book:

Tell me a bit about the book.

DS: When Movements Anchor Parties is about five social movements across American history that confronted American political parties. Two movements forged long-running alliances with parties: organized labor with the Democrats starting in the New Deal years and the Christian Right with the Republicans starting in the late 1970s. Two movements couldn’t make alliance work, and basically collapsed: the Populists in the 1880s and 1890s and the antiwar movement in the 1960s. And finally the abolitionist movement got inside the Republican Party but, as Reconstruction fell apart, couldn’t stay inside the party.

What’s your argument?

DS: The book does three things at once. First, it narrates the stories of these alliances and would-be alliances. And those stories go a long way to getting us our polarized politics. So much of what we’re arguing about today, about race, about wealth, about work, about war, about values, and so much of what’s politically possible or not, goes back to these confrontations between parties and movements.

Second, and more analytically, the book offers a framework to make sense of why movements do – or do not – get inside parties. Basically parties accept movements inside their coalitions if they prefer them to other paths to majority. Movements need to convince pragmatists inside parties that they’ll be a good electoral bet, and that they won’t upset the apple cart and disrupt the rest of party coalition too much. So movements have got to offer resources to parties that they can’t get elsewhere – votes, and the money, time, and networks needed to get votes. In return, parties will deliver policy for their group allies. That’s the exchange that makes alliance work. But it’s a tall order.

And finally, it’s a new way to understand big moments in American political history – what a prior generation called realignments. At all these major turning points – 1860, 1896, 1936, 1968, 1980 – came a major social movement making once-radical demands. As the parties responded, coalitions shifted, and possibilities opened and closed.

Why did you decide to examine cases across time rather than place?

DS: Comparisons of parties and movements across countries – and I draw on a long, rich tradition of them – almost invariably end up in the same place: that the United States is more or less exceptional given our history and our unique political system. So I flipped the question around. The book deliberately compares across American history and all the way across the ideological spectrum. I wanted to show similarities in apparently dissimilar cases. In different guises and with different results depending on the circumstances, movements with radically divergent priorities have faced common challenges in the American political system. For activists, or scholars of a particular movement or period, who read the book, I hope that’s eye-opening – and maybe even a little uncomfortable.

What advice would you offer to movements as they think about how to win influence inside the party system?

DS: Let’s be clear: When Movements Anchor Parties is not a how-to, but I think there are lessons. Above all, build movement organization. Without a sustained movement that can register its supporters and bring them to the polls, and then do the same for their friends and neighbors and coworkers and fellow congregants, parties will ignore movements’ demands, and mobilize directly. And the key movement-building is face-to-face contact, stitched together with leaders who understand national politics. Now, there’s a question about new technology here. We know that social media can mobilize, but how can they help build organization to last? We’ll see, but I’m skeptical that the hashtag can replace the basement meeting hall with folding chairs.

Another lesson, one that movements won’t want to hear: the most radical activists are a double-edged sword. They’re the most dedicated, tireless organizers, the ones who really expand the boundaries of the possible, but they’re sometimes beyond the pale for parties that want to win national majorities. So the price of alliance, the price of shifting possibilities in the political system as a whole, is often jettisoning those radicals. That’s not a normative statement; it’s just a repeated historical fact that comes through, especially for movements on the left. If you want to read the book as an argument for moderation over maximalism, I certainly won’t stop you.

The movement that gets this best – it’s not in the book, but, again, the lessons are clear – is for immigrants’ rights. They’ve organized hard in communities across the country, using a variety of tactics, and they’ve coalesced behind a clear set of ideas that they’ve made politically palatable. The Democratic Party looks at this bloc of voters and future voters, and sees majorities long down the line, but gets that it won’t win them without appealing to immigrants on their issues. Look at what Obama finally did on DACA, and what Hillary Clinton, who was much quieter on the issue in 2008, has proposed to do beyond that.

You were a local party activist yourself in Massachusetts for awhile. How did that experience influence the book?

DS: American parties are coalitions of really disparate groups trying to win elections and wield power together, and I saw that up close. I’d go to the Mass. Democratic conventions in Lowell or Worcester, and watch all these different tribes. It was my lefty-wonky crowd from Cambridge; the Irish backslappers; unions – the building trades, the SEIU in purple t-shirts, the teachers; the earnest suburban liberals straight from Lily Geismer’s book, with their resolutions about recycling; business types, who’d sponsor receptions. And the book is all about how movements do or do not get, in a quite literal sense, to take their seats at party conventions.

Also, procedure is the lifeblood of party politics, and I got pretty good with Robert’s Rules. That was really helpful as I did my research.

Tell me about the cover.

DS: As something of a busman’s holiday, I collect political buttons. They’re wonderful ways to tell the story – the stories, really – of American political history, and I was delighted to take four of my buttons out of their Riker mounts and photograph them for the cover. Somebody wrote a novel recently entirely in emojis. Maybe someday I’ll write a long complicated book about American political development with no words – only buttons.

Read the introduction here.

Daniel Schlozman is assistant professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University.

Ellen McLarney talks about SOFT FORCE on ISLAMiCommentary

In the years preceding Arab Spring, when Mubarak’s authoritarian regime fell from power, Muslim women took a leading role in developing an Islamist presence in Egypt’s public sphere. Their success in opposing secular dictatorship hinged on their use of something called “soft force”, a women’s jihad characterized by nonviolent protest.

ISLAMiCommentary, a web forum for public scholarship based at the Duke Islamic Studies Center, recently interviewed Princeton University Press author Ellen McLarney about her new book, Soft Force: Women in Egypt’s Islamic Awakening.

From the book’s introduction:

Soft Force jacketOne of the most visible public faces of the 2011 revolution in Egypt was Asmaʾ Mahfouz, a young woman who posted a video blog on Facebook calling for the January 25 protest in Tahrir Square “so that maybe we the country can become free, can become a country with justice, a country with dignity, a country in which a human can be truly human, not living like an animal.” She describes a stark imbalance of power: a lone girl standing against the security apparatus of the state. When she initially went out to demonstrate, only three other people came to join her. They were met with vans full of security forces, “tens of thugs” (balṭagiyyīn) that menaced the small band of protesters. Talking about her fear (ruʿb), she epitomizes the voice of righteous indignation against the Goliath of an abusive military regime. “I am a girl,” she says, “and I went down.” The skinny, small, pale girl bundled up in her winter scarf and sweater speaks clearly and forcefully, despite a slight speech impediment, rallying a political community to action against tyrannical rule. Mahfouz’s vlog is not necessarily famous for actually sparking the revolution, as some have claimed in the revolution’s aftermath. Rather, she visually embodies and vocally advocates what the Islamic activist Heba Raouf Ezzat calls “softforce,”al-­quwwa­al-n­āʿima.

You can watch the interview here:

Read the full article here.

Ellen McLarney is assistant professor of Arabic literature and culture at Duke University.

An interview with Robert Wuthnow on his forthcoming book, IN THE BLOOD

Is your closest contact with the farming community your latest Instagram of a picturesque barn, or an occasional haul from the local CSA? If so, you’re not alone. Our day to day existence relies heavily on farming, but from Americans’ increasingly urban vantage point, the lives of farmers themselves can seem remote. In his forthcoming book, In the Blood, Princeton University sociologist of culture Robert Wuthnow offers a moving portrait of the changing lives of farm families. Recently Robert took the time to talk with us about what prompted him to write the book, the misconceptions he discovered, and how his new research spoke to his extensive body of work in the sociology of religion.

Robert Wuthnow, author of IN THE BLOOD

Robert Wuthnow, Princeton sociologist and author of IN THE BLOOD

You teach at Princeton University and live in a largely urban state. What prompted you to write a book about farming?

RW: I grew up on a farm in Kansas, spent most of my spare time until I graduated from college farming, and figured I would follow in the footsteps of many generations in my family who farmed. Things didn’t turn out that way. But I still have friends and family who farm and I’m intrigued, shall we say, by the path I didn’t take. I wrote about the changing history of agriculture in the Midwest in Remaking the Heartland and about rural communities in Small-Town America. After working on those projects I began reading the literature on farming. I discovered that most of it is written by agricultural economists and historians. As I sociologist, I wanted to hear from farmers themselves. I wanted to know what farming day-to-day is like, what it means to them, how it influences their values, and why they stay with it from generation to generation.

Why do you think people who don’t know much about farming might find this book interesting?

RW: Everybody – whether we live in a city, suburb, or small town – depends on farms for the food we eat. We know about problems with fast food, slaughterhouses, pollution, and the like. We also hear discussions every few years about farm policies. But for the most part, farming is out of sight and out of mind. In part, I wanted to give farmers a voice. I wanted people who know very little about farming to at least have something to read if they did happen to be interested.

In the Blood jacketApart from questions about food and farm policies, the reason to be interested in farmers is that our nation’s culture is still the product of our agrarian past. Correctly or incorrectly, we imagine that today’s farmers represent that heritage. In one view, they represent conservative family traditions, hard work, living simply, and preserving the land. In that view, it is easy to romanticize farming. A different view holds that farmers are country bumpkins who couldn’t do anything better than continue to farm. In both these views, farmers are actually serving as a mirror for us. I wanted to hold that mirror up to see what it showed – about the rest of us as much as about farmers.

You say farmers think the public doesn’t understand them. What misperceptions need to be corrected?

RW: One of the most serious misperceptions is that farmers are out there mindlessly ruining the land. That certainly was not how they saw it. Of the two hundred farmers that form the basis of the book, nearly all of them described the reasons why they do everything they can to preserve the land. I was especially impressed with the extent to which science is helping them do this. Farmers today have a much better understanding of soil chemistry, microbes, and ways to minimize water use and pollution than farmers did a generation ago.

Another misperception is that farmers are the problem when it comes to questions about tax dollars spent on farm subsidies. My research included farmers with large holdings as well as small farmers and it dealt with wheat belt, corn belt, and cotton belt farming as well as truck and dairy farming. Farmers spoke candidly and many of them were candidly critical of farm subsidies. They did benefit from crop insurance and appreciated the fact that it was subsidized. But they were doubtful that government bureaucrats understood farming and they were pretty sure farm policies were being driven by corporate agribusiness rather than farm families.

Much of your work has been about religion. What did you learn about religion from farmers?

RW: I wondered if farmers whose livelihoods are so dependent on forces of nature over which they have no control would somehow attribute those influences to God or be superstitious about them. Would they consider it helpful to pray for rain, for example? What I found is that hardly any of them thought that way. Some were devout; others were not religious at all. The most common understanding was that God somehow existed, was ultimately in control, but was also beyond human comprehension. Those who were the most devout prayed, figuring that whether it rained or not, God was real.

Churches are still the mainstay of farming communities, but vast changes are taking place in these churches, just as in cities and suburbs. Small churches in declining communities are dying. The ones that remain struggle to attract members and employ pastors. Increasingly, farm families drive twenty or thirty miles to attend churches in large towns and cities. That is also where they go to shop and where their children go to school.

You argue that farmers are deeply loyal to their families but are also ruggedly independent. How so?

RW: What I found about family loyalty and rugged independence is that both are changing. The basic values are unchanged but their meanings are being redefined. For instance, farmers say that farms are good places to raise children. But they rarely mean that children drive tractors and milk cows. They mean that children gain an appreciation of living in the country. Farm families continue to be examples of family-operated businesses. But gender roles are changing and informal relationships are being replaced by formal contracts. Being independent means making your own decisions, not having someone looking over your shoulder, and not having your daily schedule dictated to you. But all of that is constrained by government regulations and by having to depend on markets over which one has no control.

What did you identify as the main challenges facing farmers today?

RW: Farmers face a challenge that has always been part of their lives and is becoming less predictable. That challenge is the weather. Climate change is bringing extremes in temperature, storms, and rainfall unlike anything farmers have known. In addition, farmers with small to medium acreage are being forced to expand or quit. Whether large-scale farming adds efficiency is still debated, but farmers worry that if they do not expand they will be left behind. And competition to expand necessarily influences relations among farmers. As many of the farmers we spoke to explained, they enjoy seeing their neighbors but they also view their neighbors as sharks in the water.

Of all the topics you explored in your interviews with farmers, what surprised you the most?

RW: Technology. Spending my days, as I do, tethered to a computer and the Internet, I suppose I should not have been surprised to learn the extent to which farming has also changed as part of the digital revolution. But I was. My research assistants and I conducted interviews by cell phone with farmers on their tractors while a GPS guidance system drove the tractor through the field within a margin of three inches, an on-board computer monitored the soil and adjusted seed-to-fertilizer ratios accordingly, and the farmer in turn kept track of fluctuations in commodities markets. Technology of that sort is hugely expensive. Farmers acknowledge that it is not only labor saving but also enjoyable. But the digital revolution is influencing everything about farming – from who operates the machinery to how often farmers see their children and from what they depend on for information to what they have to do to qualify for financing.

The farmers we spoke to were deeply committed to family farming as a lifestyle. They hoped it would continue and that some of their children would be farmers. But many of them expressed doubts. They worried about the corporate takeover of farming. And they were preparing their children to pursue careers other than farming.

Read the introduction here.

Robert Wuthnow is the Gerhard R. Andlinger ’52 Professor of Social Sciences and director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University. He is the author of many books, including Rough Country, Small-Town America, Red State Religion, and Remaking the Heartland (all Princeton).

Book Fact Friday – The Few vs. The Many

From chapter 1 of The Birth of Politics:

The elites in ancient Greece called themselves hoi aristoi, or the best men. It is from this term that we get the word ‘aristocracy.’ They also called themselves hoi oligoi, or the few, as opposed to hoi polloi, the many. The assumption was that there would only be a few rich families and the rest of the people would be poor, an idea that we can see playing out today.

The Birth of Politics: Eight Greek and Roman Political Ideas and Why They Matter
Melissa Lane
Introduction

k10422In The Birth of Politics, Melissa Lane introduces the reader to the foundations of Western political thought, from the Greeks, who invented democracy, to the Romans, who created a republic and then transformed it into an empire. Tracing the origins of our political concepts from Socrates to Plutarch to Cicero, Lane reminds us that the birth of politics was a story as much of individuals as ideas. Scouring the speeches of lawyers alongside the speculations of philosophers, and the reflections of ex-slaves next to the popular comedies and tragedies of the Greek and Roman stages, this book brings ancient ideas to life in unexpected ways.

Lane shows how the Greeks and Romans defined politics with distinctive concepts, vocabulary, and practices—all of which continue to influence politics and political aspirations around the world today. She focuses on eight political ideas from the Greco-Roman world that are especially influential today: justice, virtue, constitution, democracy, citizenship, cosmopolitanism, republic, and sovereignty. Lane also describes how the ancient formulations of these ideas often challenge widely held modern assumptions—for example, that it is possible to have political equality despite great economic inequality, or that political regimes can be indifferent to the moral character of their citizens.

What does the Ancient Greek economy have to say about the current debt crisis? Josiah Ober shares his thoughts

Ober jacketJosiah Ober, author of The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece, has conducted groundbreaking research into the ancient Greek economy, showing that contrary to popular opinion, democracy and economic growth went hand in hand. But are today’s Greeks the “trained and knowledgeable democratic citizens” who built and supported the institutions that served as the foundation for Greek civilization? Ober says now is the time to stop pointing fingers and to think very seriously about the link between democracy and long-term economic stability. He recently discussed Ancient Greece’s answer to the financial crisis in The Daily Beast:

Ancient Greece’s Answer to the Financial Crisis

Greece’s real deficit? Knowledgeable citizens and accountable institutions.

The Greek debt crisis is playing out as if, as Henry Ford said, history is bunk. But if we look to history, we immediately see that the stakes are much higher and the problems are much deeper than either the current Greek leadership or the current EU leadership is willing to admit.

Just before the Greek people went to the polls to decide their future by voting in a miserably mismanaged referendum, George Katrougalos, Greece’s deputy minister for administrative reforms, announced that “The whole question has moved now from the field of economics to the field of democracy.” Meanwhile, the EU leaders, who apparently regard the Union as little more than an accounting device, seem incapable of thinking about the geo-strategic long term. But, like the United States of America, the EU is more than an accounting device. A democratic federation is an attempted solution to the problem of conjoining democracy, prosperity, and security in a dangerous, mutable world. America’s Founders knew that. Europe’s technocrats seem not to.

Read the rest here.

An excerpt from the book ran on PBS’s Making $ense blog yesterday, and Stanford ran a terrific feature on Ober’s research. His work has been cited in recent days by in Washington Post, Quartz, and New York Times articles that look to the Greek past to understand the current debt crisis.

Recently, Ober took the time to talk with us about his book and the reasons for Greece’s flourishing. You can read that interview here.

An interview with Justin Farrell, author of THE BATTLE FOR YELLOWSTONE

Farrell jacketYellowstone, the world’s first national park and a spectacular geothermal hot spot, has long been a popular summer vacation destination, with its unparalleled scenery, hiking and wildlife. But it also sits at the center of endless political struggles and environmental conflicts. What can Yellowstone teach us about the worsening environmental conflicts worldwide? And what can the persistent clashes about Yellowstone itself teach us about cultural upheaval in the US? Justin Farrell recently sat down to answer these questions and give us some background on the writing of his new book, The Battle for Yellowstone, which was recently called “The most original political book of early 2015″ by The Economist.

Why Yellowstone?

JF: Yellowstone National Park is the first national park in the world, and is a natural and cultural treasure of the United States. The history about how this happened is somewhat complicated, difficult, and imperialistic (as I describe in Chapter 1), but it remains a modern treasure nonetheless.

In recent years it has become a site for some of the most intractable environmental struggles in the world. As a prototype for conservation, these struggles have great impact beyond the bounds of the United States. This is why the issues I write about in the book draw so much attention from U.S. Presidents, Congress, environmental groups, local ranchers and farmers, national media, and millions of members of the public from outside of the Yellowstone region. Each year more and more money is poured into finding solutions, yet the toxic polarization rolls on.

What does morality have to do with anything?

JF: In and around Yellowstone there is a massive amount of energy put into solving these conflicts, and just about all of this energy is put into ascertaining more facts and technical knowledge about biology, ecology, economics, or law. While this is good, and we always need more of this, it has clouded what the conflict is really about, and hindered progress in a number of ways. Underneath this sort of reasoning is the notion that once people “have the facts,” they will make rational decisions based on those facts. Of course, we know this is not true.

Through several years of research on Yellowstone conflict, I ask more fundamental questions that reveal the sources of pre-scientific cultural, moral, and spiritual commitments that in many ways drive Yellowstone conflict. In the book I unpack this argument in much more detail, and describe empirically how environmental conflict in this area has intense cultural and moral dimensions that are often ignored, muted, or misunderstood by the participants in the conflict.

You’ve blended computational social science with traditional qualitative fieldwork. Can you explain why this methodological approach is important?

JF: Mixed-methods can open windows of insight that are often missed by a single methodological approach. I really enjoy computational methods, such as machine learning, text analysis, and network science. I wanted to blend them with the qualitative fieldwork in a way that worked together in a complementary way, rather than side by side. So my interview guides and choices for participant observation were many times informed by the computational social science. And vice-versa, the difficult interpretive work required by qualitative data was informed by what I found in the computational analyses. On a much broader note, I really believe that there are so many benefits to blending these types of research, and that qualitative researchers in particular should try to make use of computational social science because—as I try to show in the book (and in a class I teach here at Yale)—that there are a lot of similarities, and a lot of tools at our disposal that can help us better understand human culture.

What are the main theoretical contributions of the book?

JF: While the main contribution concerns morality and environmental conflict, there are four general contributions that fit more neatly into subfield boxes. I won’t go into too much detail here, but they are (1) a contribution to the (re)emerging field of sociology of morality; (2) bringing questions central to sociology of culture into the field of environmental sociology; (3) examining religion and spirituality in ostensibly non-religious or “secular” settings; (4) a methodological model and call for scholars to blend computational social science with qualitative fieldwork.

Environmental issues have become especially important in the 21st century, and will continue to do so. How might this book help solve the growing number of environmental conflicts around the world?

JF: The model and argument I develop in the book has broad application to any environmental issue where cultural factors weigh strong. My bias is that there are cultural factors weighing strong in almost any environmental issue, and are driven by larger conceptions and cultural commitments about what the “good” life looks like, and how we should go about living it in relationship to each other and to the natural world.

Justin Farrell is assistant professor of sociology in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University.

Read the introduction here.

Book Fact Friday – Environmental Conflict

From chapter 3 of The Battle for Yellowstone:

It is estimated that 30 million buffalo once inhabited the United States. In a matter of decades this number was reduced to 23 single animals. There were two main causes of this: first, they were the focus of mass hunting and second, the U.S. government ordered them slaughtered in order to starve the Native Americans as a military strategy. The 23 surviving buffalo made their home in Yellowstone and eventually swelled their numbers to about 4,000—today they make up the “Yellowstone herd.”

The Battle for Yellowstone: Morality and the Sacred Roots of Environmental Conflict
Justin Farrell
Introduction

k10517Yellowstone holds a special place in America’s heart. As the world’s first national park, it is globally recognized as the crown jewel of modern environmental preservation. But the park and its surrounding regions have recently become a lightning rod for environmental conflict, plagued by intense and intractable political struggles among the federal government, National Park Service, environmentalists, industry, local residents, and elected officials. The Battle for Yellowstone asks why it is that, with the flood of expert scientific, economic, and legal efforts to resolve disagreements over Yellowstone, there is no improvement? Why do even seemingly minor issues erupt into impassioned disputes? What can Yellowstone teach us about the worsening environmental conflicts worldwide?

Justin Farrell argues that the battle for Yellowstone has deep moral, cultural, and spiritual roots that until now have been obscured by the supposedly rational and technical nature of the conflict. Tracing in unprecedented detail the moral causes and consequences of large-scale social change in the American West, he describes how a “new-west” social order has emerged that has devalued traditional American beliefs about manifest destiny and rugged individualism, and how morality and spirituality have influenced the most polarizing and techno-centric conflicts in Yellowstone’s history.

This groundbreaking book shows how the unprecedented conflict over Yellowstone is not all about science, law, or economic interests, but more surprisingly, is about cultural upheaval and the construction of new moral and spiritual boundaries in the American West.

A Q&A with Madeline Hsu, author of THE GOOD IMMIGRANTS

Hsu jacketWhat lead to the radical shift in public perception of Asians from dangerous “yellow peril” to celebrated model immigrants and overachievers? Madeline Hsu, author of The Good Immigrants argues that the short answer is the American government, and the CIA in particular. Recently she took the time to tell us a bit more about the book, its intended audience, and her reasons for writing this fascinating ethnic history. Check out chapter one here.

What inspired you to get into your field?

MH: As an undergraduate at Pomona College, I benefited from excellent teaching and mentorship. History seemed to come very naturally to me and the emphasis on explaining through telling stories is for me a very instinctive way to understand the world.

What are you reading right now?

MH: I have just finished reading Rise of a Japanese Chinatown: Yokohama, 1894-1972 by Eric Han (Harvard University Press, 2014) which provides an illuminating comparison of how Chinese fared in monoracial Japan as it was evolving into a world power as compared to racial dynamics in the United States. Han is particularly effective in linking the changing fortunes of Chinese Japanese to the relationship between Japan and China, particularly with the decline and rise of the latter’s international standing. I am also reading Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin and The Usagi Yojimbo Saga, Bk. 2, a long-running graphic novel series by Stan Sakai featuring a rabbit ronin protagonist.

Describe your writing process. How long did it take you to finish your book? Where do you write?

MH: I had been thinking about and researching this project for about 7 or 8 years. It had begun with my observation that at a time of highly restrictive immigration laws before 1965, international students from Taiwan and other Asian countries were nonetheless able to resettle permanently in the United States. From there, my research took me many places such as refugee programs, the establishing of international education programs in the United States, US missionary activities in China, and the earliest of Chinese students to come to the US.  After about 6 or 7 years, I was able to gain a sabbatical that gave me time to decide the parameters of the book and divide it into chapters. After that, it took me about a couple of years of hard writing to adapt and expand my various conference papers into the current manuscript. The key was figuring out my main arguments and chronology. I usually write at my desk at home, which looks out a window with a view of my neighbor’s beautifully kept front yard with agave and pecan trees.

Do you have advice for other authors?

MH: Rather than starting out with a fixed idea of what the book would argue, I had a question to which I sought answers. The subsequent research and the journey it has taken me on has revealed stories that have been unknown to myself and most others, but also help to make sense of major shifts in the positioning of Asians in the United States.

What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life?

MH: I am a single parent and struggle constantly with juggling responsibilities to my household and maintaining a certain level of writing and research.

Who do you see as the audience for this book?

MH: At a basic level, I hope it is accessible to informed and interested general readers who want to learn more about immigration policy, U.S. multiculturalism, and 20th century Chinese society with particular regard for migrations overseas.  My goal is to explain complicated intersections between laws, popular attitudes, and government projects and how they shape the behaviors and choices of migrants in ways that highlight their humanity and shared values.

How did you come up with the title or jacket?

MH: The main title was suggested by the editorial board. I came up with the subtitle, which addresses a key problem in Asian American/immigration/ethnic history which has been how quickly Asians have transformed from being such dangerous and racially different “yellow peril” threats that they justified the earliest immigration restrictions and within a generation became celebrated model immigrants and overachieving Americans. The short answer is that the U.S. government, and in my book the CIA in particular, were pulling strings in the background. There were many unintended consequences, nonetheless, but Asians selected for their employment traits emerged as welcome immigrants.

Madeline Y. Hsu is associate professor of history and past director of the Center for Asian American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her books include Dreaming of Gold, Dreaming of Home and the coedited anthology Chinese Americans and the Politics of Race and Culture.

Book Fact Friday – Incarceration Rates

From chapter 2 of Caught:

The race to incarcerate began in the 1970s. It persisted over the next four decades despite significant fluctuations in the country’s economic health and crime rates. Since then, there have been several points where different groups of people have suggested reforms because it was becoming too expensive to incarcerate as the same level, including an advisory board appointed by Ronald Reagan and fiscally conservative Republicans who had previously been penal hard-liners. Still, the rate of incarceration has not decreased, and the current model is not economically sustainable.

Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics
Marie Gottschalk
Introduction

k10330

The huge prison buildup of the past four decades has few defenders today, yet reforms to reduce the number of people in U.S. jails and prisons have been remarkably modest. Meanwhile, a carceral state has sprouted in the shadows of mass imprisonment, extending its reach far beyond the prison gate. It includes not only the country’s vast archipelago of jails and prisons but also the growing range of penal punishments and controls that lie in the never-never land between prison and full citizenship, from probation and parole to immigrant detention, felon disenfranchisement, and extensive lifetime restrictions on sex offenders. As it sunders families and communities and reworks conceptions of democracy, rights, and citizenship, this ever-widening carceral state poses a formidable political and social challenge.

In this book, Marie Gottschalk examines why the carceral state, with its growing number of outcasts, remains so tenacious in the United States. She analyzes the shortcomings of the two dominant penal reform strategies—one focused on addressing racial disparities, the other on seeking bipartisan, race-neutral solutions centered on reentry, justice reinvestment, and reducing recidivism.

In this bracing appraisal of the politics of penal reform, Gottschalk exposes the broader pathologies in American politics that are preventing the country from solving its most pressing problems, including the stranglehold that neoliberalism exerts on public policy. She concludes by sketching out a promising alternative path to begin dismantling the carceral state.