[Paleopsych] CHE: Buzzwords and Their Evolving Meanings

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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
    Press, 2005):

    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
    Press, 2005):

    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
    -- literally.

    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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