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Books of Note

Timothy J. Dowd, Emory University

A flurry of books appeared following the last installment of this column. Unfortunately, there were far more than I can address given limited space and time. In fact, I have saved some of these books for my next installment of Books of Note—including a collections of book on media production (e.g., Hesmondhalgh and Baker’s Creative Labour: Media Work in Three Cultural Industries) and a group of books examining music (e.g., Roy’s Reds, Whites, and Blues: Social Movements, Folk Music, and Race in the United States). Until then, here are but a few of the recent books that you may find of interest. Apologies to those authors of new books not listed below.

Two on Food:

Douglas Harper and Patrizia Faccioli. 2009. The Italian Way: Food and Social Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

This book will likely make you hungry. Not only offering detailed discussion of cooking and eating in Bologna, the authors’ commitment to visual sociology means that there are numerous photographs of dishes and dining. This book is a joy to read. The authors draw upon a rich array of material—including careful consideration of meals with Bolognese families—so as to tell us about Italy. Some of this telling involves grand themes—such as national identity or gender roles amidst a changing labor market. Other telling involves intimate themes—such as how food matters for family and friends. All of it is appetizing.

Josée Johnston and Shyon Baumann. 2009. Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape. New York: Routledge.

One irony regarding the burgeoning scholarship on “cultural omnivores”—which has often addressed musical tastes—has been the relative lack of attention given to tastes regarding food. This book thus offers an admirable corrective. Johnston and Baumann forcefully make the case that those with wide-ranging culinary tastes do not simply eat everything (as the label of “omnivore” suggests). Indeed, among these “foodies,” sharp symbolic boundaries are drawn between good and bad food—with the former often evaluated in terms of “authenticity” and “exoticism.” Sensitive to historical shifts in gourmet food culture, as well as in the broader food industry, Baumann and Johnston rely on careful analysis of food journalism and on interviews with foodies to reveal how tastes regarding food can both span and uphold social boundaries.

Three on the Arts:

Patricia Ann Banks. 2010. Represent: Art and Identity among the Black Upper-Middle Class. New York: Routledge.

This book nicely brings together scholarship on identity construction among the black middle class (e.g., Karyn Lacy’s Blue-Chip Black) with that addressing the reception and consumption of the arts (e.g., David Halle’s Inside Culture). Drawing on fieldwork in both Atlanta and New York City, as well as more than 100 interviews, Banks examines how individuals actively use art to engage in what she calls “black cultivated consumption.” Moreover, she points to the interplay between this consumption and the construction of identity, which includes such things as notions of black history and black pride.

Diane Grams. 2010. Producing Local Color: Art Networks in Ethnic Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Some inspect artistic production by focusing on high profile artists and agents who reach elite audiences by way of well-known institutions in city centers (e.g., galleries or museums. Grams reveals the vitality and diversity in alternative art worlds located in areas beyond such city centers. Focusing on three Chicago neighborhoods that were historically segregated as “black” or “ethnic”—but now face a blurring of such racial and ethnic categories—she examine their respective “local art production networks” that can address such things as aesthetic concerns as well as issues of gentrification. By way of historical analysis and extensive fieldwork, as well as numerous interviews, Grams makes clear how an array of individuals (e.g., artists, residents, business owners) come together to forge an art world of their own and, in the process, shape their local place and culture.

Dustin Kidd. 2010. Legislating Creativity: The Intersection of Art and Politics. New York: Routledge.

Influenced by theorizing of William Sewell, Kidd examines the give and take between the social structures of art and politics. He is able to make such an ambitious endeavor manageable by focusing on the National Endowment of the Arts—particularly three cases that generated considerable controversy for the NEA (e.g., the Cincinnati trial addressing the art of Robert Mapplethorpe). These controversies are revealing because they spurred politicians, among other things, to make explicit pronouncements about art while also prompting artists and administrators to do the same regarding policy and funding. In pursuing these case studies, Kidd also shows that the intersection between art and politics are complicated by such things as sex, religion, and feminism. Furthermore, he makes the theoretical point for treating culture as constitutive of these broader structures, while also giving a fresh take on the notion of culture wars.

Three on Connections:

Karen S. Cook, Chris Snijders, Vincent Buskens, and Coye Cheshire, Editors. 2009. eTrust: Forming Relationships in the Online World. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Are you nervous about making that purchase on eBay or Craigslist? Then this is the book for you. It brings together scholars from various disciplines—some who are well known for their work on trust in the “offline” world. In this volume, the contributors turn their attention to online transactions—such as examining how various reputation systems (e.g., feedback ratings) can facilitate brief connections between faceless, if not anonymous, parties. One section of the book investigates such eTrust via experimental studies in the lab, while another does so via field studies in the virtual world. The final section deals broadly with the creation and maintenance of trust and reputation online. All the sections share an approach that is theoretically and methodologically rigorous. Thus, this book is for more than those who are simply nervous about the “buy it now” option on eBay.

Sonia Livingstone. 2009. Children and the Internet: Great Expectations, Changing Realities. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Navigating between two opposite poles regarding the impact of the internet on children—the positive opportunities it offers them vs. the negative challenges it poses—this book theoretically and empirically deals with the actual situation that falls between those poles. Attuned to historical changes in both childhood and digital capabilities in the UK (and elsewhere), Livingstone examines how British children actually incorporate the internet in their everyday lives, considering what this communication technology affords them. Based upon years of research—including individual and focus-group interviews, in-depth study of families, observation, and a national survey—Livingstone documents the various ways that kids use the internet at home and school for such things as constructing identity, forming relationships, and engaging politically.

Christena Nippert-Eng. 2010. Islands of Privacy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

It’s good to be connected to others, but it’s also good to have some space—some “breathing room”—between them and you. This thought has often flitted through my mind, but Nippert-Eng shows that it is something that merits our sociological attention. Indeed, she provides us with a wonderful exploration of the boundary between the public and the private. Through interviews with a sample of Chicagoans and observation of public interactions, she insightfully reveals how individuals “do” privacy—marking some things off-limits while also allowing some access to other things. Of course, what counts for “good” privacy can vary considerably across people—thereby complicating this boundary work. Pick up this book and read about the successes and struggles of people seeking to keep secrets, to manage the deluge of messages and requests arriving via cell-phones and email, and to negotiate the front-porch and sidewalks around their homes. In the process, you’ll learn about how desires for individual privacy are an important part of our connection to other social groups

Three on Morality / Religion

Courtney Bender and Pamela E. Klassen, Editors. 2010. After Pluralism: Reimagining Religious Engagement. New York: Columbia University Press.

If religious difference can lead to conflict, then pluralism purportedly offers a prescription for avoiding such conflict, as it is based upon understanding and appreciating such difference in a way that reaches across what divides. Given that models of pluralism are now commonplace, this volume mostly grapples with the broad question of what comes in their wake. It does so by featuring contributors that represent multiple disciplines and by offering empirical examinations of settings that are both diverse (e.g., popular culture, psychology, court cases) and that span five nations (e.g., U.S., Egypt). Taken together, the chapters address the broad question in a fashion that is instructive and that, among other things, shows how various groups negotiate a pluralistic world that can benefit some at particular times while also challenging others. Thus, the avoidance of conflict can be more complicated than the tenets of pluralism might suggest.

John H. Evans. 2010. Contested Reproduction: Genetic Technologies, Religion, and Public Debate. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Reproductive genetic technologies (RGTs) allow “parents to control the genetic characteristics of their offspring” (p. 3). How these technologies can be used ranges from addressing the normal health of their children, and in the future, to augmenting and enhancing their characteristics. Given the possibility of this enhancement, the fate of reasonable discussion is an important topic to consider. Evans tackles the future of this public debate by focusing on those who are often not well represented among scientists and mainstream bioethicists—the religiously oriented. Working inductively from numerous and extensive interviews—as well as by drawing on a nationally representative survey—he considers, among other things, how religious individuals currently speak of RGTs (noting a variety of discourses), and he examines which types of RGTs raise concerns. In doing so, Evans engages the notion of “culture wars” with nuance, while also suggesting some hopeful possibilities for this impending public debate.

Christian Smith. 2010. What is a Person? Rethinking Humanity, Social Life and the Moral Good from the Person Up. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

The question in the title, at first glance, appears to be a simple one. However, as Smith notes in the opening pages, it is a challenging one that is insufficiently considered (if at all) by sociologists and some others. He thus spends the remaining pages showing the relevance of answering this deceptively brief question. In doing so, Smith offers a theoretical tour-de-force that is perceptive and provocative. For instance, in elaborating his theory, Smith also makes the case that it helps solves what he sees as pressing problems associated with the “strong” type of social constructionism, with certain network theories, and with the standard variables approach in much of sociology—all of which, he argues, have stumbled in terms of dealing with personhood. The implications of his theory do not end there. Indeed, he lays out how it allows for a satisfactory treatment of morality. This is an impressive work that will likely generate both discussion and debate.

Three on Terror(ism):

David L. Altheide. 2009. Terror Post 9/11 and the Media. New York: Peter Lang.

Much of what we learn about the world is not experienced directly but, instead, is gleaned from the accounts and narratives of others—particularly the news media. How these narratives are constructed, Altheide argues, have important implications—especially as they have the power to define the world we know and to shape, if not legitimate, action that follows. Among other things, Altheide pushes for an examination of how 9/11 was used by news media and others. Indeed, the terrorism narrative has grown pronounced since then—with messages of fear and danger commonly applied to a range of events and responses. He demonstrates the implications of this via various cases—including the Columbine shootings and the Gaza conflict of 2008. In doing so, he also shows the utility of heeding the logic and formats currently at work in dominant media, as well as the counter-narratives of alternative media.

Gary Alan Fine and Bill Ellis. 2010. The New Global Grapevine: Why Rumors of Terrorism, Immigration and Trade Matter. New York: Oxford University Press.

Rumors may seem fleeting and inconsequential. However, Fine and Ellis show not only that certain rumors can gain some permanence but that rumors also serve important roles for the broader society—such as revealing fears and concerns or signaling a change in attitudes. The authors demonstrate these key points by investigating prominent rumors regarding immigration, terrorism, international trade, and tourism—cleverly and expertly locating what could be ephemeral by way of conversations, publications, broadcasts and, of course, the internet. Here, then, is an engaging book that shows how Americans struggle to make sense of calamity and global developments, how they deal with “others” who are unknown, and how they wade through (mis)information.

Robert Wuthnow. 2010. Be Very Afraid: The Cultural Reponses to Terror, Pandemics, Environmental Devastation, Nuclear Annihilation and Other Threats. New York: Oxford University Press.

How do we respond to threats that could wreak great havoc—including the possible annihilation of humanity? Whereas some fear that we collectively bury our heads in the sand when confronted by such threats, Wuthnow makes the case that we have collectively done much; however, the issue that remains is pursuing the right course of action for a given problem rather than, say, one that was more appropriate for previous problems. Written in a conversational tone while also historically rich, this book addresses particular threats and the action that each has prompted—including such threats as nuclear holocaust, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and global climate change. In doing so, he makes clear how problem solving in the face of these threats is also intertwined with a quest for meaning.

Four on Influential Thinkers:

Theodor W. Adorno. 2010. Guilt and Defense: On the Legacies of National Socialism in Postwar Germany. Edited, translated and introduced by Jeffrey K. Olick and Andrew J. Perrin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Friedrich Pollock and Theodor W. Adorno. 2011. Group Experiment and Other Writings: The Frankfurt School on Public Opinion in Postwar Germany. Edited and translated by Andrew J. Perrin and Jeffrey K. Olick. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Adorno’s work has long been of interest to sociologists and others studying music. In fact, there is arguably a revival of sorts occurring, as music sociologists like Tia DeNora, Michael Bull, and Robert Witkins have drawn to his work in a constructive fashion. That said, there is more to Adorno than his work on music. For instance, there is also his work on public opinion and collective memory, as shown by the two books listed above. In these volumes, Olick and Perrin offer an ambitious effort that should inspire others to re-engage with this aspect of Adorno’s work.

When Adorno (and colleagues) returned to Germany after WWII, American authorities in the now-occupied nation commissioned them to gauge the opinions and views of Germans, particularly in light of what had occurred during the war. The result of their efforts was the 1955 study, Group Experiment. Olick and Perrin have not only translated this massive study, they have also cast light on Adorno’s qualitative analysis (“Guilt and Defense”). This provides important perspective on his views regarding empirical research, which were more complicated than some might guess without reading that work. The editors have thus presented a study and related papers that are important historically, as well as works that should make us think anew the role of Adorno and others role in the development of survey research.

George Krücken and Gili S. Drori, Editors. 2009. World Society: The Writings of John W. Meyer. New York: Oxford University Press.

John Meyer’s work has proven influential in a number of domains. For instance, those seeking a culturally informed approach to organizations have benefitted from his seminal contributions to neo-institutional theory; and those seeking a cultural approach to globalization have often drawn on his contributions to world polity theory. Given the breadth of his scholarship, this volume does well to introduce and instruct readers. Not only does it offer some of the fundamental works that Meyer has penned individually and with collaborators, it also contains an overview of his work by the editors, as well as some reflections by Meyer himself. The organization of the chapters by major topics (e.g., rationalization, education, the individual) helps to integrate the chapters in a cumulative fashion.

Elizabeth Silva and Alan Warde, Editors. 2010. Cultural Analysis and Bourdieu’s Legacy. London: Routledge.

I recently attended an international conference where an outside guest wondered whether the presenters were required to invoke Bourdieu’s name during their respective talks. Their frequent mentions of Bourdieu were not surprising given the circulation of Bourdieu’s work throughout sociology and around the globe—as shown by the three part symposium edited by Marco Santoro for Sociologica: The Italian Journal of Sociology Online. Yet what are we to make of Bourdieu’s impact and legacy? This volume collectively answers that question. Its editors have compiled an all-star lineup that directly engages Bourdieu’s work—sometimes celebrating or fine-tuning it, sometimes calling for substantial corrections or alternatives. This engagement is made particularly appealing given their ready use of research that spans multiple nations. That said, a single answer regarding his legacy is not a feature of this volume.

Viviana A. Zelizer. 2011. Economic Lives: How Culture Shapes the Economy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Zelizer is a major figure in the now thriving area of economic sociology. Of course, her scholarship has broader appeal beyond that. This is because, for example, she has addressed how such processes as commodification do not crowd out and destroy meaning but, instead, can prompt and allow new types of meaning to emerge. She has demonstrated this by studying such things as the rise of the life insurance industry, the designation of children’s value by courts, and the personalized uses and meanings of currency. This volume adroitly brings together much of her work in one place while also providing new materials—including an overview of her scholarly career, a discussion of economic sociology’s trajectory, and her comments on current relations between sociology and economics.

Four Handbooks Briefly Noted:

John Hall, Laura Grindstaff, and Ming-Cheng Lo, Editors. 2010. Handbook of Cultural Sociology. London: Routledge.

Dan Hicks and Mary C. Beaudry. 2010. The Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies. New York: Oxford University Press.

David Oswell. 2010. Cultural Theory: Four-Volume Set. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Alan Warde. 2010. Consumption: Four-Volume Set. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Four Others to Note:

Claude S. Fischer. 2010. Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Richard Giulianotti and Roland Robertson. 2009. Globalization and Football. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Douglas Holt and Douglas Cameron. 2010. Cultural Strategy: Using Innovative Ideologies to Build Breakthrough Brands. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sharon Zukin. 2009. Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places. New York: Oxford University Press.