The Library of Affecting Social Science
Alison Gerber and Matthias Revers
We know good social science when we read it. But there are books we love, articles we cherish. We haunt the stacks of a dark-paneled library of affecting social science. This work captivates and enchants. It helps us remember why we cared, and why we still care. We push these articles and books into the hands of colleagues and students; we save them for our children. They are our desert island monographs:
In Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Part I (Vintage 1995) the idea of biopower - the ways entire populations of people are controlled - is developed through an analysis of discourses of sexuality. Foucault shows, in ways that are painfully physical and concrete, how power is written onto and into bodies.
Analyzing interviews and archival data documenting those who went south - and those who wanted to, but didn’t - Doug McAdam’s Freedom Summer (Oxford 1988) explores how the 1964 campaign of voter registration drives and community outreach and education changed those who participated in it. The appendices are amazing, and the epilogue is a killer.
Sabrina Zirkel and her coauthors report on a simple field trip to a successful urban school that spins out into formal complaints and a public conversation about “other kids” and how best to serve them. ““Isn’t That What ‘Those Kids’ Need?” Urban Schools and the Master Narrative of the ‘Tough, Urban Principal’” (Race Ethnicity and Education 2011) opened our eyes wide.
In Richard Michael Fischl’s “A Woman’s World”, the author asks: “What if Care Work Were Socialized and Police & Fire Protection Left to Individual Families?” The men, in his scenario, are left unpaid, armed with knives and a bucket brigade. Their civil rights struggle is outlined, the world flips on its head and, in the last pages, the dagger twists (Buffalo Law Review 1994).
A story of three brothers of Puerto Rican descent who are torn between street life, imprisonment, and the promises of decency draws upon an 18-year-ethnographic study in the Northeastern United States. Timothy Black’s When A Heart Turns Rock Solid (Vintage, 2010) connects the personal to something greater without sacrificing specificity. Your heart turns liquid, reminded of all the chances and lucky breaks you’ve gotten, and the ones that others haven’t received.
Arlie Hochschild’s classic study follows flight attendants and bill collectors in order to understand the commoditization of feeling and the management of emotion. The Managed Heart (University of California, 2003, second edition) seems painfully obvious once you’ve read it, but no one else has ever explained your own working life to you with such bleak precision.
Zygmunt Bauman’s “A Century of Camps?” in Life in Fragments: Essays in Postmodern Morality, discusses industrialized genocide as an “accomplishment of our modern civilization,” founded upon moral distancing and the striving for rational order. Modernity never felt so cruel, and the layers between ourselves and others so intractable (Oxford, 1995).
A version of this text was published as Gerber, Alison, and Matthias Revers. 2012. “The Library of Affecting Social Science.” Contexts, 76–77.