Thursday, July 27, 2006

zoo

When the "Animals and Society" section of the American Sociological Association was first formed, I will admit to having been intellectually skeptical. It is plain I was wrong. Here are some of the (yes, actual) titles of A&S presentations given slots at the prestigious annual meetings next month:
"Deconstructing Playing With Katie"

"Rethinking the Interaction Order: Sociability Among Pigeons and People"

"The Political Economy of Beef: Oppression of Cows and Other Devalued Groups in Latin America"

"The Demographics of Change in Human-Horse Relationships"
As for the first title, from time to time there has been a commenter on this blog who has signed her remarks "Katie." I don't know if she is related to the play-object who the first paper will deconstruct as an enthralled audience looks on (I get the liver!). As the famous cartoon caption says, "On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog."

I think I might start using "Deconstructing Playing with Katie" as my general answer to questions about the state or future of sociology. Like, yesterday, someone sent me a casual e-mail asking where I thought sociology was heading. I had to tell them that, regrettably, I was a little busy to type back an essay outlining my thoughts on the direction of the discipline. But now I think I'll just say: "Deconstructing Playing with Katie." And so on, especially for any questions about the credibility of sociology or its public perception: "Deconstructing Playing with Katie."

Update, 4PM: In response to requests from those who may not be as familiar with navigating the ASA website, the (yes, actual) abstracts of two of the abovementioned papers are below. Which abstract corresponds to which paper is left as an exercise to readers.
The focus of this paper is the effects of raising cows for “beef,” and the accompanying increase in the production of feed crops, in Latin America. It is suggested that the practice of “beef”-eating, a practice primarily of the elite and of the masses in affluent nations, has been promoted in the last century by large transnational corporations and protected by Latin American governments, with the support of the United States government and its military apparatus. Countless other animals and humans have been killed, and many others displaced, impoverished and exploited, as the profitable but devastating “hamburger culture” expands in the 21st century.

This paper presents written and visual data about play with the author’s companion dog. The research is an in-depth single case study employing the methods of ethnography, autoethnography and videography. The attempt is to display the intricacies and nuances of a common, mundane practice—playing with one’s dog. Data are reported about the routine of play, the structures (or motifs) of play, the inner states of players, the playing field(s), the contingencies of play and the use of language and vocalization during play. An ethnomethodological approach is used to explicate play as practices. The data are part of a larger study to be published later this year in book form.

42 comments:

carly said...

My personal favorite is: "Oppression of Cows and Other Devalued Groups in Latin America"

Four legs good, Two legs bad!

Rhymes With Scrabble said...

Yeah, I liked that one, too.

Lars said...

It is possible that this is just the grad student in me, but:

I remember at ASA 2004 (SF), I heard a person declare: "people who experience hunger are more likely to feel stress than those who do not."

After that, I stopped paying attention.

Anonymous said...

"...yesterday, someone sent me a casual e-mail asking where I thought sociology was heading."

I hope to goodness no one ever sends me an email like that. It would be hard to clean the vomit off my keyboard.
JJ

Rhymes With Scrabble said...

Keyboards are fairly inexpensive, unless you use some fancy-schmancy ergonomic one. I'd just buy a new one.

In the vast social psych prelim notes available within the department, there's a description of a study that found that context determines appropriate behavior, making it more appropriate to drink and smoke pot at a party than in your office. Someone had appended, "They had to do a study to figure this out?"

jeremy said...

JJ: Before vomiting, be sure to say "Deconstructing Playing with Katie."

I don't want my fixation on DPwK to make it sound like I don't also find the cow oppression paper title special as well.

Anonymous said...

The abstract for the DPwK paper has a line I think you'll enjoy: "The data are part of a larger study to be published later this year in book form."

jeremy said...

Abstracts are online? Where? I want to read the oppressed cows abstract.

I wonder if the phrase "humancentric hegemony" is used anywhere.

Sarahliz said...

Where's the beef abstract?

Anonymous said...

go to preliminary program and search by paper title. then click on title for author, abstract, etc...

Anonymous said...

Well, this is the logical conclusion of all the identity politics in sociology. And to be fair, until pretty recently, housework wasn't considered a topic worthy of sociological inquiry. You can imagine all of the jokes that could be (and probably were) made about studying how many hours people spend washing dishes, etc.

jeremy said...

Anon 5:53: I appreciate the point, but, let's get this absolutely straight: this does not even begin to approach the logical conclusion of identity politics in sociology. I have no idea what the logical conclusion is, and suspect it won't resemble anything I presently recognize as logic, but I think even being able to glimpse said conclusion is several years off.

For the record, given my past as an interaction analyst, I can actually imagine interesting, insightful things being said from the detailed observation of people and their pets. (I can't imagine them being of any real larger relevance, but I'm not hung up that like other people.) Even so, DPwK strikes me as just such an unfortunate and self-trivializing choice of title. It's the kind of title that would work equally well in a parody of certain quarters of sociology.

Tonya said...

For a change, I am feeling really good about having gone to law school.

Absolut said...

WHOA! The most disturbing part of all this: "to be published later this year in book form".

I want to see the Plants and Society section of the ASA rise and protect the poor trees on that one!

jeremy said...

Oh, my God. That would be awesome to write a "What about Plants?" parody submission to the A&S for ASA 2007. Or "Bringing Plants Back In."

RachelsTavern said...

I think we need more plants rights. LOL!! Far too many plants are killed, who would kill a living thing. LOL!!!

islander said...

I was intrigued when I learned that there was an "Animals and Society" section. There is plenty of interesting work that could be done on the use of pets as "kin" in the absence of extended family networks, really interesting stuff when it comes to luxury consumption and the development of high end pet foods, medical insurance for pets, etc.

I guess we can now see why I am not a member of the Animals and Society section.

Anonymous said...

And here I thought no one was watching when I was playing....

-Katie

chris said...

i'm tempted to argue that you're just peeling the first layer of the onion here, but i guess no good can come from a section-by-section evisceration of the meetings. that said, the titles remind me of the preface to donald cressey's other people's money. as a farm kid from fergus falls, minnesota, he writes that he was terrified of attending his first ASA meeting. after hearing a paper on the social life of chickens, however, the entire discipline was demystified and he knew he could make it in this business. so, maybe such talks have some nice latent functions.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that this has to be as patently asinine as people are making it out to be. At the micro level, I think pets have been considered important as companions for the elderly and in helping improve the social and emotional skills of prisoners. At the macro level, no one seems to mock the sociology of technology, and animals can at least be considered in that area -- so much of human progress has been dependent on them.

That's not to say any of this will happen; Deconstructing Katie certainly isn't helping, and I'm sure this section will just be one more moron magnet in sociology.

Anonymous said...

It used to be obvious to most white people that they were superior to black people, and the idea that black people could have a social life worthy of study was absurd. All of *our* current assumptions are correct, however -- don't worry about that.

Absolut said...

Anon 11:23 - Some Nobel Prize winning work was initially rejected from journals. That does not mean that every paper that's rejected from journals is Nobel Prize material. I realize some would like to think so, but puhlease.

Rhymes With Scrabble said...

Gee, and I thought the housework comparison was unwarranted.

Anonymous said...

Why is the housework comment unwarranted?

Anonymous said...

Absolut: I agree, but doesn't it leave open the possibility that something we take for granted now might later be considered repugnant?

Anonymous said...

Just as a bit of a reality check here, there are whole areas of biology devoted to the study of the social life of animals, so it probably doesn't need to be conducted in sociology as well. It is slightly concerning that sociologists here seem unwilling to even acknowledge a generally uncontested fact from another discipline, that animals do have demonstrable social lives -- but I suppose it's consistent with the typical head-in-the-sand perspective of sociologists.

jeremy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jeremy said...

Chris: Actually, some of that stuff on chickens was interesting. In any case, what's with Fergus Falls, Minnesota? It's supposed to be this really small town, but it seems like every third person I hear of from a small town in Minnesota is from Fergus Falls.

Anonymous said...

How is the analogy messed up historically and metaphorically?

jeremy said...

(Unconscionably rude comment from the proprietor of this weblog posted and then, with embarrassment, deleted. Apologies.)

Anonymous said...

Oh, come now Jeremy! This reads like one of the "funny" stock news paper articles that run when ever the ASA, MLA, etc. are in town.

Yes, out of fifty bejillion abstracts, you'll find a few howlers. And? I'm all for making ASA presentations more competitive, but as long as the current "inclusive" rule applies, you will always find a few gems like DPwK.

jeremy said...

What's exactly the "inclusive" rule? ASA submissions require papers (not abstracts) and are selected by organizers. Sessions are only inclusive as they are because organizers request extra sessions on the grounds that they have more good papers that deserving a hearing than what they have slots for. ASA is also made more selective by the rules about how many times one can be on the program.

jeremy said...

Plus, it's not like I went searching for weird abstracts. The titles in the post comprise HALF of those being presented in Animals and Society sessions this year. So instead of choosing 4 out of a "zillion", I chose 4 out of 8.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone is saying that animals don't have social lives or that the study of their interactions with humans are uninteresting. The study of non-human primates is well-accepted in anthropology and I think everyone reading this blog probably knows that (if I may be so presumptuous). What seems silly is trying to pass of playing with your dog as sociology. Now, I haven't seen the paper, so it may be a work of pure genious, and I may be proved wrong. But comparing this to the study of housework and (good grief) black people is totally off base. If someone had a paper that was titled "Deconstructing my laundry: a comparison of lights and darks," I would think that was silly too.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy asks (with feigned innocence? or is it genuine 100% adorable Iowa innocence?):

What's exactly the "inclusive" rule?

It is the rule that ANYTHING will be accepted for presentation at ASAs.

Jeremy sez:

Plus, it's not like I went searching for weird abstracts. The titles in the post comprise HALF of those being presented in Animals and Society sessions this year. So instead of choosing 4 out of a "zillion", I chose 4 out of 8

ANIMALS AND SOCIETY. Nuff said?

Anonymous said...

Why is the word "beef" in scare quotes in that abstract?

jeremy said...

Anon 12:54pm: I don't know if you are a sociologist and if you are what level of experience you have. The first two papers I submitted to ASA, both first authored by me and co-authored with a faculty member, were rejected by ASA session organizers (both papers rejected for both my first and second session choices). These papers were complete drafts--indeed, maybe even under review--of papers subsequently published in ASR and AJS. Additionally, I have organized ASA sessions on three different occasions and certainly did not accept all submissions. I would say my acceptance rate was a little under 2/3.

ASA Roundtables, on the other hand, are a different story. I have never personally participated in a roundtable, either as speaker or attendee.

Anonymous said...

there's a lot of self-indulgent and wacky presentations like that at the AAA (American Anthropological Association) meetings too. those pseudo-intellectual and "scholarship lite" kinds of presentations don't bother me much - it being a free country and all that - except when they are made by tenured professors. it then seems cosmically unfair that somebody is, in essence, being subsidized (usually by a public university) to conduct laughably irrelevant research. i worry that it makes all the rest of us social scientists look bad - by contamination - in the eyes of the public. and it makes me feel very sad when i think of all the hard-working and brilliant sociologists and anthropologists who have had their careers fall by the wayside (due to their inability to get jobs as university professor) so that some flaky imbecile could delve deeply into the hidden meanings of how they play with their dog. the job market is especially brutal for primatologists - many carrying out vital ethological research on endangered species of nonhuman primates. all i can say is that the program that hired that sociologist should be plagued forever by a profound sense of shame.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy sez: "I would say my acceptance rate was a little under 2/3."

So it was in fact "genuine 100% adorable Iowa innocence!" A tip to other Iowans out there (especially grad students): If you strike out at your first two selections, simply ask the organizer to forward your paper on to a roundtable. Let me revise my claim: ANYTHING will be accepted for presentation at ASAs if the author takes initiative.

My understanding is that the ASA has at points toyed with the idea of making the process more selective. This always provoked howls of protest from the membership and, as a "service" to dues-paying members, ASA has always gone back to an "inclusive" format.

Why so testy with my posts, Jeremy? I love you, I really do. I just found the DPwK bit, while very funny, a bit below par for you. We'll no doubt read the same thing in the Montreal paper, in the Chronicle, Inside Higher Ed, etc. There's goofy stuff at all academic conferences but, I would argue, proportionally less silliness at ASAs than there is at many other social science and humanities conferences.

jeremy said...

Anon 10:57: I do not have any problem with the inclusiveness of ASA roundtables. I draw a large distinction between ASA sessions and ASA roundtables. With the two papers I had rejected by ASA sessions, it's not like I was ignorant of the existence of roundatables, but rather I was explicitly advised not to pass them along to roundtables. I think this was correct advice. I mean, if you think you have a paper that is both solid and well-developed enough that you are submitting it to a top journal, why are you eager to present it in an explicitly junior varsity forum? As they say in Iowa, keep your horses in the barn if they aren't going to be used right.

Anonymous said...

"we gotta get these motherfucking snakes off this motherfucking plane": race stereotypes in humano-animalian conflict

Anonymous said...

Session 335:

"Feels like Flying: Contemporary Flesh Hook Suspension Narratives"

See y'all there?