[Paleopsych] CHE: Buzzwords and Their Evolving Meanings
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Wed Jul 6 21:19:41 UTC 2005
Buzzwords and Their Evolving Meanings
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.7.8
Peter Brooks, a professor of English and law at the University of
Virginia and author of Realist Vision (Yale University Press, 2005):
"Fictions" has to my mind become a crucial term for literary studies,
perhaps for the humanities in general. By "fictions" I mean something
other than the distinction you find at Barnes & Noble between fiction
and nonfiction, though that's not irrelevant. Fictions as I want to
use the term points us toward the realm of the self-consciously
made-up (from fingere: to make, and to make-believe): works of the
imagination that know they are that. I think I first saw the term used
in this way in Frank Kermode's The Sense of an Ending (1967), one of
those books that has only become more important over time. But perhaps
the main source for the modern prominence of the word is Jorge Luis
Borges's Ficciones (1944) -- that remarkable set of short
meta-fictions, stories that comment on the very process of invention.
And one could of course trace the word and concept much farther back,
to Hans Vaihinger's philosophy of the "as-if," to Jeremy Bentham, to
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and so on.
Kermode distinguishes between myth and fiction: Myth is a kind of
degraded fiction to which individuals and cultures accord totalizing
explanatory power, such as "the master race" or "the war on terror."
In this sense, fiction is not opposed to reality but the condition for
distinguishing the real from the cultural overlays, the ideologies and
false consciousness, that mask it. As Roland Barthes taught us, that
which is presented as "nature" is often simply a cultural myth. So it
is not surprising that another term struggling to re-emerge after
decades of eclipse is "realism" -- set in opposition to distorting
Dagmar Herzog, an associate professor of history at Michigan State
University and author of Sex After Fascism: Memory and Morality in
Twentieth-Century Germany (Princeton University Press, 2005):
"Sexuality" emerged as a keyword among historians in the mid-1970s.
For the first three decades of its existence, the history of sexuality
tended to be about sexual mores and practices. Among other things we
learned that in 19th-century Europe it had been considered normal for
middle-class men to have sex with prostitutes both before and during
marriage. Infanticide had been a common strategy of family planning in
early modern Europe. And same-sex activities for both men and women
were considered unremarkable in 18th- and 19th-century America. In
sum, we learned that the most intimate realms of human behavior have
changed dramatically over time.
Increasingly historians of sexuality turned their attention to the
20th century. This was the century when sexuality became ever more
central to an individual's identity. It was also the century when sex
became a crucial marketing tool and a major engine of economic
development. In addition, laws relating to sexuality became an ever
greater focus of political and cultural conflict, from abortion to
homosexual rights, from pornography to sex education.
Until recently, in telling the history of sexuality in the 20th
century, scholars often organized their accounts as stories of
progress: Things were bad, then they were better. The early 21st
century, however, has seen this mood of optimism come undone. Scholars
of sexuality are now seeking to make sense of the bodily and emotional
dissociations resulting from psychopharmaceuticals (from Prozac to
Viagra) and cybersex. They are also struggling to understand the
popular appeal of religious and sexual conservatism within both
Christianity and Islam. In the process, the keyword "sexuality" is
losing many of its post-1960s associations with emancipatory impulses.
Corey Dolgon, an associate professor and chairman of sociology at
Worcester State College and author of The End of the Hamptons: Scenes
From the Class Struggle in America's Paradise (New York University
Historically, the suburbs originate in literature in the first
industrial aristocracy's efforts to develop what Leo Marx called a
"middle landscape, somewhere between the chaos, garbage, and
immigrant-dense metropolis" and the "uncivilized, provincial, and poor
countryside." But suburbanization quickly came to represent not the
exurban enclaves of Long Island's Gold Coast or Philadelphia's Main
Line, but the more middle-class, commuter subdivision of Levittown.
This transformation chronicles what Robert Fishman called the "rise
and fall" of bourgeois utopia.
Like cities, the suburbs have always inspired both utopian and
dystopian images. Bucolic and independent, suburbs came to embody the
American dream of homeownership, good schools, clean parks, and safe,
finely manicured neighborhoods. By now, however, most scholars agree
that neither depiction is accurate as suburbs are commercially,
demographically, and aesthetically diverse at the same time that they
also suffer from social problems once associated only with the density
and heterogeneity of urban centers.
More people who live in suburbs actually work in suburbs. More
economic growth, housing development, and retail sales now take place
outside the urban core. Increasingly, immigrants bypass cities for
suburban jobs in landscaping, construction, retail, and other
services. Even terms like "urban sprawl" have been transformed into
"suburban sprawl." Distant resort areas like Cape Cod have become
year-round residences for middle- and upper-class urban refugees who
today worry about chain stores, fast-food joints, and affordable tract
housing mucking up their farm views. In the minds of Americans, for
sure, the suburbs remain a contested cultural construction, much like
the middle class itself, where generations will continue to struggle
over how one inscribes the physical and cultural landscape with a
mass-produced and mass-consumed vision of the "good life."
Dane Kennedy, a professor of history and international affairs at
George Washington University and author of The Highly Civilized Man:
Richard Burton and the Victorian World (Harvard University Press,
"Empire," along with "imperialism," is one of those terms that
historians can't seem to do without, but can't manage to agree upon.
No sooner does one group figure they've got it contained within
definitional boundaries than another group drives it in a new
direction -- rather like empires themselves.
Two main issues are responsible for the term's instability. The first
has to do with its morality. When history developed into a modern
discipline, many of its classically educated practitioners equated
empire with Rome, and Rome with civilization and progress. By this
standard, empire was a good thing. Others, however, associated it with
the tyranny of "Oriental despots" or the military aggression of
Napoleon. For them, empire was a bad thing. This dispute about the
moral merits of empire has persisted to the present day.
The issue of instrumentality also affects the varied uses of the term.
In the estimation of some historians, empire is first and foremost a
political phenomenon, involving the rule of one people over another.
Others see it as essentially an instrument of economic forces, often
unconstrained by any need for direct governance. Still others believe
that empire's greatest significance lies in its cultural power, its
ability to get into peoples' heads. For the past decade or so,
advocates of the cultural approach have had a particularly good run.
Doing history has always involved a dialogue between the past and the
present, so it's no surprise that the U.S. invasions of Iraq and
Afghanistan have intensified interest in empire among historians, who
are contending anew about its instrumentality and its morality.
Denise Gigante, an assistant professor of English at Stanford
University and author of Taste: A Literary History (Yale University
There has been a shift recently in the connotation of the cultural
keyword "taste." This term was a virtual obsession in 18th-century
Europe as a synonym for discernment, or aesthetic connaissance. The
connoisseur was an art appreciator and a person (usually a man) of
letters. The forerunner of the 20th-century literary critic was the
Man of Taste.
But the present shift in attention, through cultural studies, from the
high arts to the low, from poetry to food and other everyday matters
not associated with the patriarchal elite, has brought to light an
important shift that took place at the turn of the 19th century in the
discursive field of taste from the sublime to the stomach, as it were.
Taste became embodied as a concept and associated more and more with
the food and wine connoisseur, who showed individual distinction
through fine dining. Eventually the display of savoir-faire among
flavors came to assume an equal footing with -- if it did not assume
cultural priority over -- what was once called a fine taste in the
Today taste is confounded with physical pleasure(s) to the degree that
we associate gastronomy -- or an aesthetic appreciation for food
-- with our popular food culture, expressing its standards and
principles through gourmet magazines and journalism (restaurant
reviews, televised food shows, and so forth). But a growing subfield
within literary studies has grown to understand the consumerist aspect
of taste as nothing other than a cultural-material expansion of the
18th-century philosophical discourse of taste.
Edward C. Rosenthal, an associate professor of management science and
operations management at the Fox School of Business and Management at
Temple University and author of The Era of Choice: The Ability to
Choose and Its Transformation of Contemporary Life (MIT Press, 2005):
Not so long ago, we thought we knew what "rationality" was. But are
we, in fact, rational beings? Try this: Would you prefer $100 right
now or $110 a month from now? Would you prefer to pay a fine of $40 or
else gamble on a coin flip in which you pay $100 on heads but pay
nothing on tails? Many of us would select the $100 in the first
scenario and gamble in the next one. Such "irrational" behavior defies
conventional economic theory, and, as we are discovering, to get to
the source of the problem, we need to get our heads examined
By the early 1970s, economists and decision theorists had seemingly
triumphed in their quest to work out mathematical models of optimal
behavior when we exchange goods with others. And since notions like
supply and demand and expected utility plausibly explained much of
human behavior, the assumption that we operate as Homo economicus was
not unreasonable. But for 25 years now evidence has been piling up
that our behavior does not always fit the models. This is not to say
that we are merely rationally challenged beings. Rather, there might
be a method to our madness. Foraging theory, for example, has shown
that even animal behavior fits rigorous economic models. For us,
perhaps risk averseness is best in certain circumstances. Perhaps
emotion, not intellect, is at times the superior guide. Perhaps hot
impulsiveness can be more adaptive than cool patience.
As we begin to unravel the complexities of rationality, it is very
exciting to track the progress being made in behavioral-decision
theory, intertemporal choice, neuroeconomics, and other fields in
which the goal is to redefine, rather than dismantle, the notion of
humans as rational actors.
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