Christopher Bail on anti-Muslim sentiment

In this clip from the documentary aftertheshooting.com, sociologist and author Christopher Bail discusses whether the sea change in American public opinion about Islam over the past few years may have contributed to the recent murder of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. His recent book, Terrified, employs computer analytics techniques to show how anti-Muslim organizations have gained visibility in the public sphere. In this clip, Bail speaks with a close friend of one of the victims. You can watch the entire documentary here.

Last month, Bail spoke with Paul Rosenberg at Salon about his innovative new methodology for studying how fear is fostered in the broader cultural landscape. He was interviewed about the aftermath of the Chapel Hill shootings in the Guardian earlier this year.

Madness in Civilization

Madness in Civilization is a stunningly illustrated new cultural history of mental disturbance from antiquity to the present time.  Written by Andrew Scull, professor of sociology at University of California, San Diego and preeminent historian of psychiatry, the book’s mesmerizing subject matter ranges from exorcisms to Victorian asylums, from pharmacology to the introduction of psychiatry into popular culture. The Telegraph called it “ambitious and gruesome”, and the book has received wonderful write-ups in The Literary Review and The Financial Times. Scull has been blogging for Psychology Today as well, where he shares insights on his fascinating and frightening work. Check out chapter 1 here, and a slide show of some of the book’s most compelling images:

Types of Insanity
The Tranquilizer, 1811
Maniac in a strait-jacket, in a French asylum.
Battle Creek Sanitarium
Battle Creek Sanitarium
The first stage of General Faradization
The second stage of General Faradization
The third stage of General Faradization
Attitudes passionelles: extase (1878)
Advert for the psychiatric drug Thorazine
Depression Advertisement
Murder of Thomas Becket
Franz Joseph Gall examining the head of a pretty young girl
Hieronymus Bosch's The Cure of the Folly
Nebuchadnezzar as a wild animal
No Sex Please! (We're on antidepressants)

'Types of Insanity,' the frontispiece to John Charles Bucknill and Daniel Hack Tucke's A Manual of Psychological Medicine (1858), one of the first widely used textbooks on the diagnosis and treatment of insanity. Wellcome Library, London.

The Tranquilizer, 1811. Its inventor Benjamin Rush boasted that: "Its effects have been truly delightful to me." His patients' reactions are not recorded. Courtesy of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, Maryland

The French alienist J.-E.D. Equirol included many drawings of insane patients in the throes of their madness, such as this one, in his treatise Des Maladies mentales, published in 1938. Wellcome Library, London.

Photography at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, one of many therapies on offer there. 271

A postcard of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, for affluent and nervous patients. By 1933 it had been forced into receivership, a causality of the Great Depression. The Tichnor Brothers Collection, Boston Public Library.

Treatment with an electrical vibrator (1900); a nurse applies faradic current to a female patient. Wellcome Library, London.

Treatment with an electrical vibrator (1900); a nurse applies faradic current to a female patient. Wellcome Library, London.

Treatment with an electrical vibrator (1900); a nurse applies faradic current to a female patient. Wellcome Library, London.

The erotic overtones of Charcot’s pictures of his hysterical patients at the Salpêtrière are nowhere more obvious than here. Harvey Cushing/John Jay Whitney Medical Library, Yale University, New Haven.

An early advertisement for the virtues of Thorazine, touting its value in curbing the agitated husband's inclination to beat his wife. Wellcome Library, London.

Depressed? We have the solution! An advertisement for 'mother's little helper' - a pill for the housewife trapped in a prison of domesticity. Harvey Cushing/John Jay Whitney Medical Library, Yale University, New Haven.

A vivid portrayal of the murder of Thomas Becket, from a mid-thirteenth century codex. The saint's blood was thought to cure insanity, blindness, leprosy, and deafness, not to mention a host of other aliments. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

Franz Joseph Gall examines the head of an attractive young woman, while three gentlemen wait their turns to have their own characters read, in a satirical image published in 1825. Wellcome Library, London.

Hieronymus Bosch’s The Cure of the Folly: The Extraction of the Stone of Madness (c. 1494). A doctor, possibly a quack, uses a scalpel to remove the supposed cause of madness from the head of the patient. Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Nebuchadnezzar as a wild animal, his hair grown long and his nails like claws. This striking image of the biblical story of the Babylonian king’s madness is a detail from a manuscript painted by an unknown artist in Regensburg, Germany. Paul J. Getty Museum, Los Angeles (Ms. 33, fol. 215v)

Types of Insanity thumbnail
The Tranquilizer, 1811 thumbnail
Maniac in a strait-jacket, in a French asylum. thumbnail
Battle Creek Sanitarium thumbnail
Battle Creek Sanitarium thumbnail
The first stage of General Faradization thumbnail
The second stage of General Faradization thumbnail
The third stage of General Faradization thumbnail
Attitudes passionelles: extase (1878) thumbnail
Advert for the psychiatric drug Thorazine thumbnail
Depression Advertisement thumbnail
Murder of Thomas Becket thumbnail
Franz Joseph Gall examining the head of a pretty young girl thumbnail
Hieronymus Bosch's The Cure of the Folly thumbnail
Nebuchadnezzar as a wild animal thumbnail
No Sex Please! (We're on antidepressants) thumbnail

Mark Zuckerberg chooses Michael Chwe’s RATIONAL RITUAL for Facebook Books!

Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge by Michael Chwe has been selected by none other than Mark Zuckerberg as the latest pick in his “Year of Books.” Analyzing rituals across histories and cultures, Rational Ritual shows how a single and simple concept, common knowledge, holds the key to the coordination of any number of actions, from those used in advertising to those used to fuel revolutions.

From Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook post:

The book is about the concept of “common knowledge” and how people process the world not only based on what we personally know, but what we know other people know and our shared knowledge as well.

This is an important idea for designing social media, as we often face tradeoffs between creating personalized experiences for each individual and crafting universal experiences for everyone. I’m looking forward to exploring this further.

Zuckerberg isn’t the first to take note of Michael Chwe’s talent for making unusual and intriguing connections. As Virginia Postrel wrote in the New York Times, “[His] work, like his own academic career, bridges several social sciences.” Not long ago his book, Jane Austen, Game Theorist created a stir on social media, triggering debates and garnering a hugely popular feature by Jennifer Schuessler.

A Q&A with Chwe will be coming out on Facebook Books in the coming weeks. In the meantime, head over to Facebook to comment on Rational Ritual, or follow the discussion.  Congratulations, Michael Chwe!

Zimmerman talks sex education at the American Enterprise Institute

Zimmerman jacket

Too Hot to Handle by Jonathan Zimmerman

Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education is shaping up to be one hot book for spring. A long format conversation with author Jonathan Zimmerman recently appeared in Globe and Mail, and he was interviewed (live and available to stream) for WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show. Zimmerman published “Can Sex Ed be Universal?” in Foreign Affairs, the book was excerpted on PopMatters.com, and was the subject of a feature on Vox.com as well.

This past Thursday, the American Enterprise Institute hosted a conversation with Zimmerman. Taking a look at the differences in sex education between countries and throughout history, he explains how, as countries become more democratic, sex education has become more contentious.

Check out Zimmerman’s American Enterprise Institute talk here.

 

Christopher Bail talks to Salon about “Terrified”

Christopher Bail, author of Terrified: How Anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream, recently spoke with Paul Rosenberg for a feature in Salon on how anti-Muslim sentiment is fostered by the broader cultural landscape, and the innovative new methodology he has used to study that process. Paul Rosenberg at Salon writes:

It may be hard to fathom or remember, but in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 the American public responded with an increased level of acceptance and support for Muslims. President Bush—who had successfully courted the Muslim vote in 2000—went out of his way to praise American Muslims on numerous occasions in 2001 and 2002. However, the seeds were already being planted that would change that drastically over time.  Within a few short years, a small handful of fringe anti-Muslim organizations—almost entirely devoid of any real knowledge or expertise, some drawing on age-old ethno-religious conflicts—managed to hijack the public discourse about Islam, first by stoking fears, grabbing attention with their emotional messaging, then by consolidating their newfound social capital, forging ties with established elite organizations, and ultimately building their own organizational and media infrastructure.

How this all happened is the subject of a fascinating new book, “Terrified: How Anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream,” by sociologist Christopher Bail, of the University of North Carolina.  The book not only lays bare the behind-the-scenes story of a momentous shift in public opinion, it employs cutting-edge computer analysis techniques applied to large archives of data to develop a new theoretical outlook, capable of making sense of the whole field of competing organizations struggling to shape public opinion, not just studying one or two the most successful ones. The result is not only a detailed account of a specific, significant, and also very pernicious example of cultural evolution, but also a case study in how to more rigorously study cultural evolution more generally in the future. In the process, it sheds considerable light on the struggles involved, and the difficulties faced by those trying to fight back against this rising tide of misdirected fear, anger and hatred.


Read the full interview with Christopher Bail that follows here.

Terrified, by Christopher Bail

Final stop on the Gayborhood tour- Seattle, Washington

Ghaziani _ Elliott Bay_image

Amin Ghaziani will make his sixth and final stop of his There Goes the Gayborhood tour at Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle, Washington at 7PM on December 12th. All of Amin’s previous events have been standing-room-only, people-spilling-out-of-the-doors types of events, so arrive early to grab a seat.

More information can be found on Elliot Bay Book Company’s website as December 12th gets closer.

If you’re in the area, be sure to catch this event!

Philip J. Cook and Chris Hayes of msnbc discuss American drinking spectrum

Philip J. Cook, author of Paying the Tab: The Costs and Benefits of Alcohol Control recently sat down with Chris Hayes of msnbc to talk about who in America drinks and how much they’re drinking. The conversation was kicked off by this graphic from his book which appeared on Wonkblog in late September.

drinks

Some of the numbers might come as a surprise. Nearly two-thirds of the population drinks less than one alcoholic beverage per week, but on the other end of the spectrum, ten percent of Americans claim to consume almost 75 drinks a week. You can check out the entire segment below.


bookjacket

Paying the Tab:
The Costs and Benefits of Alcohol Control
Philip J. Cook

 

Religon News Service interviews Robert Wuthnow, author of Rough Country

RoughCountryRobert Wuthnow’s book Rough Country: How Texas Became America’s Most Powerful Bible-Belt State explains how Texas’ religion has played, and will continue to play an important role in the shaping of our lives. Religion News Service recently sat down to chat with Wuthnow about the importance of the Lone Star state and its influence in politics, understanding the religious right, and balancing American fundamentalism.

Religion News Service: Give me one good reason that the Texas’ religion should matter to me or the rest of the country?

Wuthnow:The first reason is politics. Rick Perry, Texas’s longest-serving governor, is gearing up for another run at becoming President. Ted Cruz has made more news than any junior senator from his party in recent history. Former Congressman Dick Armey’s Freedom Works significantly contributed to the Tea Party’s national success. These leaders credit religion with guiding their policies and furthering their careers.

Second, understanding the Religious Right requires understanding Texas religion. The story that features Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson misses a lot. Texas reveals a longer and more complicated trajectory. The Texas story includes prominent conservative preachers favoring Barry Goldwater in 1964, mobilizing opposition to abortion before Roe v. Wade in 1973, supporting Gerald Ford in 1976, giving Ronald Reagan a platform in 1980, and organizing the “bubba vote” for George H.W. Bush in 1988.

Third, the history of American fundamentalism is lopsided without Texas. The standard narrative focuses on northern developments with a few offshoots in the Deep South and Southern California. The Texas story brings the Scofield Bible, dispensational theology, the political activism of fundamentalist J. Frank Norris, and conflicts within the powerful Southern Baptist Convention into clearer focus. Twice as many evangelicals and fundamentalists live in Texas than in any other state.

For the of rest Wuthnow’s interview, click here.

 

The first reason is politics. Rick Perry, Texas’s longest-serving governor, is gearing up for another run at becoming President. Ted Cruz has made more news than any junior senator from his party in recent history. Former Congressman Dick Armey’s Freedom Works significantly contributed to the Tea Party’s national success. These leaders credit religion with guiding their policies and furthering their careers. – See more at: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/10/07/3-ways-texas-religion-affects-us/#sthash.TensmCfU.dpuf
Give me three good reasons that the Texas’ religion should matter to me or the rest of the country. – See more at: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/10/07/3-ways-texas-religion-affects-us/#sthash.TensmCfU.dpuf
RNS: Give me three good reasons that the Texas’ religion should matter to me or the rest of the country. – See more at: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/10/07/3-ways-texas-religion-affects-us/#sthash.TensmCfU.dpuf
RNS: Give me three good reasons that the Texas’ religion should matter to me or the rest of the country. – See more at: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/10/07/3-ways-texas-religion-affects-us/#sthash.TensmCfU.dpuf
The first reason is politics. Rick Perry, Texas’s longest-serving governor, is gearing up for another run at becoming President. Ted Cruz has made more news than any junior senator from his party in recent history. Former Congressman Dick Armey’s Freedom Works significantly contributed to the Tea Party’s national success. These leaders credit religion with guiding their policies and furthering their careers. – See more at: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/10/07/3-ways-texas-religion-affects-us/#sthash.TensmCfU.dpuf

Richard Ocejo on what bars tell us about gentrification in downtown Manhattan

The idea of bars as windows for understanding how cities change over time is an important claim in my new book, Upscaling Downtown: From Bowery Saloons to Cocktail Bars in New York City. I studied the growth and impacts of nightlife scenes in the downtown Manhattan areas of the East Village, Lower East Side, and Bowery for four years, and in that time came to know a lot of bars quite well. I cover a lot of history in the book, and show how intertwined bars and nightlife have been with key changes and events in these neighborhoods.

Each of the following bars represents a different era in the history of downtown Manhattan, covering the mid-nineteenth century to today. I refer to each directly or indirectly in the book. Anyone interested in learning more about where these neighborhoods have been and what they are like now could use this list to guide them.

1) McSorley’s Old Ale House, 15 East 7th Street, New York, NY

Having opened in 1McSorley854 (or so they claim), the oldest bar in continuous operation in New York City (or so they claim) was immortalized by Joseph Mitchell in The New Yorker for staunchly adhering to tradition—in 1940. The praise is no different today in tourists’ guidebooks: sawdust floors, assorted tsotchkes with inch-thick dust, stoic servers, and only two drink choices (ale, light or dark) make McSorley’s an “authentic” example of old New York. It opened at a time when working-class Irish immigrants lived in what is now the East Village. It became a simple neighborhood bar, and today McSorley’s lends downtown a historic authenticity from the distant past with a mix of regulars and visitors from around the world.

2) Milano’s Bar, 51 East Houston Street, New York, NY

The last of the “Bowery bars,” I heavily feature Milano’s, where I began my research, in a chapter on the history of the notorious Bowery, New York City’s former Skid Row. The bar opened in 1924, at a time when Little Italy was a vibrant ethnic enclave, and not the Italian-themed tourist attraction it is today. Over the decades homeless men from the nearby Bowery and its flophouses populated the bar. It was one of many dozens of such establishments downtown, until reinvestment in the area starting in the 1980s led to their decline. By the time I started studying it, in 2004, Milano’s had a mix of homeless men, regulars in their 30s-50s who moved to the area when it started gentrifying, and young newcomers in their 20s interested in checking out an authentic New York “dive bar.” Grittier than McSorley’s, Milano’s survives because of this balanced clientele, and because of a preservationist owner who did not want to see it changed or closed.

3) Blue and Gold Tavern, 79 East 7th Street, New York, NY

Another downtowBlue and Goldn “dive bar,” Blue and Gold has a different history from Milano’s. It opened in the 1960s for the neighborhood’s incoming Ukrainian population (the name refers to the national flag). When I spoke with owners who opened bars at the start of gentrification, they said the only bars open at the time were Ukrainian or Puerto Rican, and their owners mostly kept to themselves and their own communities. These and a few other post-war groups (such as Chinese) represent the last wave of immigrants to move to downtown neighborhoods. As the Ukrainian population has faded, Blue and Gold remains a neighborhood bar for some, and a remarkably cheap throwback for visiting revelers.

4) 2A, 25 Avenue A, New York, NY

While not very creatively-named (it is located at the corner of 2nd Street and Avenue A), 2A signified downtown’s gentrification in the 1980s. Bars like 2A were new places that accommodated the area’s new residents, such as artists, musicians, and students, as both patrons and bartenders. Taking advantage of low rents and inexpensive startup costs, these bars drew in these newcomers who were in need of local hangouts, and tried to exclude the neighborhood’s seedier elements, such as drug addicts and the homeless. The bars that succeeded, like 2A, remain in business today. With two floors and large windows overlooking a highly changed street, 2A still accommodates creative pursuits with regular DJs, film nights, and comedy shows.

5) Continental, 25 3rd Avenue, New York, NY

Among the many arts scenes and activities that thrived in downtown Manhattan, punk rock left one of the largest impressions in popular culture. Most famously, the club CBGB spawned such world-famous acts as the Ramones, the Talking Heads, and Blondie. Many of these artists lived, worked, and performed downtown. Continental opened in 1991 as another small venue that catered to alternative music genres. It became best known for housing hardcore rock bands. By 2006, with advanced gentrification in effect, neither small clubs for up-and-coming talent in non-mainstream genres nor young musicians honing their sound could afford to exist in downtown Manhattan. The owner changed formats from rock club to a dive-themed bar, with fake wood paneling and ridiculously low-priced drink deals ($10 for 5 shots of any liquor). Continental is now a destination for visiting revelers and college students looking for a cheap start to their night, a cheap end to their night, or simply a cheap night out.

6) Death & Co., 433 East 6th Street, New York, NY

Finally, we comeDeath & Co to an example of the latest wave of bars that have opened in downtown Manhattan and helped make it a new upscale destination. Unlike the owners of 2A and Continental, people who wanted to open a bar downtown in the 2000s must deal with high rents, more intense competition, and a need stand out among the rest. These owners, however, are less likely to live in the neighborhood, more likely to have access to investment capital, and more likely to have grand ideas and concepts for their bars. Opened in 2007, Death & Co. is a specialized cocktail bar and part of a renaissance of classic cocktails that have swept through downtown and across the city. The backbar is well-curated, the drinks are well-crafted (and pricey), and the experience is designed to be uniquely separate from the history of the neighborhood. They succeed in attracting downtown’s latest wave of hip, young, and increasingly wealthy residents and visitors in search of stylish consumption.


This is a guest post by Richard Ocejo, assistant professor of sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY.

bookjacket

Upscaling Downtown
From Bowery Saloons to Cocktail Bars in New York City
Richard E. Ocejo

Book trailer for Atlas of Cities edited by Paul Knox


Princeton University Press senior designer Jason Alejandro created this book trailer for Atlas of Cities edited by Paul Knox. (The catchy song in the background is the aptly named “Weekend in the City” by Silent Partner.)

8-7 Atlas of Cities Atlas of Cities
Edited by Paul Knox

 

Quick Questions for Nigel Dodd, author of The Social Life of Money

Nigel Dodd  is a professor in the Sociology Department at the London School of Economics (LSE). Dodd’s  interest in the sociology of money has led him to author The Sociology of Money: Economics, reason, and contemporary society (1994) and Social Theory and Modernity (1999), but it is his new book, The Social Life of Money, that we will discuss today. Besides teaching courses in Classical, Modern, and Contemporary Social Thought at the LSE, Dodd is also editor-in-chief of the British Journal of Sociology, and he has made several appearances on BBC World Service to discuss “various aspects of the 2007-9 financial crisis.”

Referring often to George Simmel’s Philosophy of Money (1907), The Social Life of Money is Dodd’s attempt to better understand and define the rapid and ever changing field of “money.” By reexamining the nature of money in the aftermath of the global economic crisis and by including thinkers such as Nietzsche, Benjamin, Bataille, Deleuze and Guattari, Baudrillard, Derrida, and Hardt and Negri—all of whom  fall outside the field of monetary theory—Dodd lays down the framework for understanding money in a different way.

Now, on to the questions!

Why did you write The Social Life of Money?

In the first instance, I wrote the book because although I could see what a varied and energetic field ‘money’ had become outside of economics, there were too many scholars who were simply not engaging with each other, but limiting their engagements to their own niche within the field. I even found that there were disagreements about terminology – for example, what some scholars claimed was ‘money’, others said was merely ‘currency’, and sorting out a way through this conceptual thicket wasn’t easy. So I wanted to write a book that brought this field together into a more coherent shape – not by synthesizing everything into one basic approach, but by providing a framework in which different approaches can speak to each other, and their relative insights brought to bear on important questions. I would describe myself as a ‘monetary pluralist’ – not wedded to a single theory of money but convinced that different theories work well according to context. So I wanted to write a book that gave expression to this, which was in a way a ‘celebration’ of intellectual multiplicity in monetary scholarship. Then, as I started to write the book as the financial crisis unfolded, I began to see this pluralism in a more practical way – these were not just different ways of theorizing money, but different ways of organizing it too that could make a serious contribution to debates about how our monetary systems could (or should) be changed in response to the crisis. I found that whereas money was being ‘blamed’ for the crisis by many mainstream commentators, it is in fact an important opportunity, a focal point for rethinking its role in society. However, while most debates about this are concerned with finding a single set of solutions, I sense that the best way forward is pluralism – we need not one ‘improved’ monetary system, but rather a range of different monetary forms that can address the many different problems (about financial exclusion, the dominance of big banks, monetary freedom, debt etc.) that the financial crisis exposed. So what started out as conceptual pluralism took on an increasingly practical character.


“I would describe myself as a ‘monetary pluralist’ – not wedded to a single theory of money but convinced that different theories work well according to context.”


What was the most interesting thing you learned from writing this book?

I learned three key things. First, I learned about an extraordinary range of brilliant work that has been undertaken by scholars from right across the social sciences into the nature of money. Since I first worked in this field in the early 1990s, there has been a tremendous explosion of interest in money as a social, political and cultural – not just an economic – phenomenon. There are some fantastic scholars working on money, and I hope that my book reflects the energy of an ever-changing field. Second, I learned that perhaps the greatest shift in our perception of money has been that it is increasingly being regarded by scholars as a force for positive social transformation. Whereas classical scholars tended to see money as something negative that was likely to disturb societies and communities, contemporary scholars are keen to view money as something that can be organized in such a way as to make a positive contribution to social change. This intellectually challenging as well as empowering. Third, I encountered hugely interesting writing about money in some very unexpected places, which I have tried to bring to the book as much as I can. So while the book covers the ‘usual suspects’ in the monetary field, it also looks to less common sources for its ideas, such as Nietzsche, Benjamin, Derrida and Bataille. None of these is a ‘monetary theorist’, but if anything this makes what they say about money even more interesting and worth hearing.

What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?

The book examines a very wide range of theories about the nature and purpose of money, and therefore presents readers with a tremendous variety of ideas about how money can be used and organized. This is hugely important today because the era in which ‘money’ was mainly what was defined and organized by the state is coming to an end. Alternative currencies – from electronic currencies such as Bitcoin to local currencies such as the Bristol and Brixton pound to forms of social lending – are growing at an astonishing rate today, and we need a greater range of conceptual tools in order to understand them. We also need to understand – and the book argues very strongly for this – that there are myriad ways of organizing our money, not just one ‘correct’ way. Money can be organized differently – by small groups and communities, nations or groups of nations, private organizations, and so on – according to what it is needed for. Some forms of money are designed to counter forms of social (and, specifically, financial) exclusion, while others are designed to bring communities together – or, in the case of Bitcoin, to bypass the constraints associated with major institutions such as banks and the states. There isn’t one ‘money’ that can do all of these things. In the future, we will become more and more used to interacting with a variety of different monies.

What is your next project?

I am excited by the idea that money can be used to transform society in a positive way, so I am embarking on a project that looks into the links between money and utopian thought and practice. This builds on the final chapter of The Social Life of Money. Once you start examining different theories of money, it becomes clear that almost all of them have a utopian strain. What I mean by this is that money gets associated with idealized forms of social and economic existence. The Euro was a recent – albeit flawed – example of this, because it was conceived as a means of uniting Europe socially, politically and culturally. There are lots of problems with this, of course: the idea that something like money might be used to bring people closer together, to forge a common identity, is quite problematic. But there is nothing new about this, there is a fascinating history of ways in which money has been used to achieve – or at least try to achieve – political and social ideals. Even Bitcoin could be described as utopian, because it is premised on the ideal of a currency that does not need to be regulated, does not need a sovereign authority in order to be valued, and is not controlled by large banks. The image of society behind Bitcoin, which is broadly libertarian, is troubling for some, inspiring for others. But again, here is an instance where money is being allied to broader ideals about freedom, identity and justice. So that will be my next project, to understand these links between money and utopianism in more depth.

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

There were two main challenges. The first challenge was controlling the material, I had a huge amount of literature to go through and it kept on growing. I tried a number of different ways of organizing the chapters, and as a result, the book’s structure took a very long time to stabilize, indeed it didn’t really take its final shape until the last few months of writing. This made the writing process exhausting and stressful, because I was never really sure about how much progress I was making. I’m sure this isn’t unique; many colleagues seem to have had similar experiences. But there were periods when I felt the project would never come together. As it stands, I really like the group of chapters, and the order of chapters, that I came up with. Having a strong theme for each chapter – such as ‘guilt’ and ‘waste’, for example – provides a great focus. The second main challenge was in dealing with a fast-moving world. I started the book just as the financial crisis was in full swing, and this had an effect on the writing process that was both exhilarating and unsettling. I was very easily distracted at first, and found myself framing the book too closely in accordance with themes that were emerging from discussion of the crisis. There was also a vast amount being written about various aspects of the monetary and financial system, so I had to keep up with that literature as I was writing. Finally, there were prevailing uncertainties to deal with: once the Euro crisis was in full swing, I was writing about a currency that many commentators were saying could collapse any time soon. So, money was very much a moving target. I coped with this challenge by taking the arguments back to their theoretical core as much as possible.

What is the most influential book you’ve read?

In the money field it would have to be Georg Simmel’s Philosophy of Money (1907), which is a vast text that is packed with ideas. I first read it in 1988, and have been consulting it regularly ever since and finding new things to think about every time that I do. Simmel’s book plays quite a big role in The Social Life of Money. This is partly because I use his description of money as a ‘claim upon society’ to organize a number of the key arguments of the book. Once we realize that Simmel did not mean ‘society’ in the sense of a nation-state society, but rather had more fluid and flexible understanding of social life in mind – he uses the term ‘sociation’ to describe this – then one starts to see how his arguments can be used to frame the idea that money gains its value not from states and big banks, but rather from the multi-faceted practices of its users. In this sense, Simmel’s book is very much of ‘our’ time, because it resonates with arguments about wresting control of money away from large unwieldy institutions and restoring it to the ‘ownership’ of the people who use it. This explains why I was keen in the book to portray Simmel in a different way. We have become used to thinking of him as a critic of money, as someone who portrayed money as largely damaging to society, because of its cold and anonymous qualities. While such ideas are undoubtedly present in Simmel’s book, there are plenty of other ideas too, where he portrays money as culturally rich. Simmel was also something of a utopian, as I argue in the book’s final chapter. So one of the things I hope people gain from reading The Social Life of Money is a whole new perspective on a book they may have thought they could categorize in just one way.


 

bookjacket

The Social Life of Money
Nigel Dodd

A tale of three cities…or the There Goes the Neighborhood? book tour so far

As anyone who works in publishing or who has authored a book can tell you–book tours are hit or miss. Fortunately, for one recently published author–Amin Ghaziani, author of There Goes the Gayborhood?–his book tour has landed firmly at the hit end of the spectrum. Here are some photos from the road and a list of forthcoming tour stops.

San Francisco! Where it all began with a standing-room only event at The Green Arcade.

san francisco

Chicago! Much of the research for There Goes the Gayborhood? was conducted in Chicago, so it was fitting for Amin to have an event at Unabridged Bookstore. The homecoming feel of this event was cemented by the appearance of a special guest of honor for the evening–Amin’s mother!

ghaziani 1

Vancouver! University of British Columbia and the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies launched the Ideas Lunch & Wine Bar with a tip-toe standing-room only event for Amin.

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Amin has several more events planned in the coming months, so make sure you get these dates in your calendar:

  • October 2: New York (Special Event at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies). [Update, here is a photo from Amin’s event last week. CLAGS hosted a conversation between Amin and Christina Hanhardt, Lammy award winner for her book Safe Space.  There was a full house and the audience was deeply engaged with insightful observations and meaningful questions.]

Ghaziani CLAGS

  • October 23: Vancouver (Little Sisters bookstore, Vancouver)
  • December 12: Seattle (Eliott Bay Book Company, Seattle)

 


bookjacket

There Goes the Gayborhood?
Amin Ghaziani