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Category: teaching

Weeknote 2

Another Sunday, another Weeknote. And already I’m feeling a bit stressed because I didn’t finish what I meant to. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t do anything, just other things.

Work

The paper is closer to being off my desk but not yet off my desk. I cracked something that had been eluding me for a couple of weeks, though, so that was progress. Now it’s a matter of getting it down on paper. I should have the bulk of it to my coauthor by Tuesday and then it will take another day or two to polish off the rest of what I need to do, while he’s working on the part I’ve given him.

I had multiple meetings about administrative stuff with colleagues this week. Of course I’m not supposed to but that’s the price you pay when you go to the office. And when things need to get done or they’ll be bigger and much worse when it is the proper time to work on them. But I think we solved a couple of issues that I couldn’t have addressed by myself, and I should be able to move stuff on to the next round this week. If I tie myself to a chair, since writing memos is not in the top 100 things I enjoy doing. Bullet points! Problem-solution format!

One more letter of recommendation and some emails. A doddle.

I was about to type: and then maybe I can get back to other writing I’ve been wanting to do. Which is exactly the wrong way to think about it. It has to be incorporated into all this other stuff I’m doing. One of the mistakes academics who devote a lot of time and attention to teaching make is to think you can do the other work, the non-outward-facing work, in down times like weekends, non-teaching-related days, summers. But that’s not how it works. It has to be part of your regular practice.

Reading

I’m in the midst of a couple of books this week. I took a break from the Man Booker International list and started Country by Michael Hughes, which I’ve had out via ILL for the last two months but haven’t managed to read. It goes back this weekend so it’s now or never. So far it’s really good. Hughes relocates the characters and storyline of The Iliad to 1990s Northern Ireland. We have characters named Achill, Pat, and Nellie. The writing is musical and recalls Homer while still being entirely modern and Irish. Cathy of 746Books has an excellent review here. It doesn’t come out in the US until October, but I hope it gets a good promotional push. And for you audiobook fans, look for it in that version.

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Weeknote 1

This is the first in what I hope is a regular Sunday series. I got the idea from Baldur Bjarnason, who got the idea from Amy Hupe and other people. A Weeknote is pretty much what it sounds like: a weekly report that is similar to journaling but more public. I don’t journal, and while I’m good at making to-do lists I’m very bad at doing the week-in-review or week-to-come lists which are also cornerstones of many productivity systems. I’ll use my weeknotes to talk about work, reading, and miscellaneous stuff.

Work

I have been working on revisions to a paper that needs to be sent out sooner rather than later. It’s our third round because every time you submit to a journal you need to tweak it for that particular audience. It’s been rejected twice, which is not unusual in my discipline, especially when the paper appeals across several audiences but isn’t necessarily core to any of them. This is the biggest tweak we’ve done since our initial post-conference-presentation revisions, and my part has taken me a while. But I was finally able to get myself into the headspace I needed (changing disciplinary audiences is harder than moving to a different audience within the same discipline), and I’m almost done. Which is good because I’m thoroughly sick of this paper and need it to go away.

I also had some teaching and tutorial work to do this week despite not being in residence. Recommendation letter, grad students, and recruitment do not go away just because I want to.

Reading

I finished a couple of books this week, both library reads that were about to expire. Both were excellent. I read Claudia Rankine’s The White Card, which is the script of a play she wrote that was produced last year in Boston. I have a review of it scheduled for tomorrow. I also finished Juan Gabrial Vasquez’s The Shape of the Ruins, which I read as part of the Man Booker International longlist. I’ve only read two plus parts of three others, but it is going to be hard to beat. Review to come.

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Booker longlist reading: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Just under the wire, I finished one of my most eagerly awaited longlist nominees. Shamsie’s novel has received rave reviews all over the place and is the bookie’s favorite to make the shortlist. It’s a topic that I’ve studied and written on and one that matters a lot to me: the way in which the post 9/11 (and in this case, 7/7) attacks have reshaped the way Muslims are perceived and treated in western Europe and North America. Shamsie’s novel is set in the UK and focuses on the particular issues there, but the larger themes apply across many settings.

Liz, Rosario, Theresa, and other Booker Longlist readers have described the plot so I won’t rehash that here (you should definitely go read their reviews and the comments to them). Shamsie models her story on the plot of Sophocles’ Antigone, with a few modifications in the cast and family relationships. In her telling there are two central families, one comprising Isma, Aneeka, and Pervaiz Pasha, the children of a British-Pakistani man who died fighting with Islamist terrorists; and the other headed by Karamat Lone, rising front-bench politician and current Home Secretary whose marriage to a wealthy, successful American businesswoman has propelled his career. Karamat and Terry have two children in their 20s: Emily, an investment banker in NY, and Eamonn, a somewhat aimless but charming and handsome 24-year-old.

Isma is the older mother-substitute, who finally has the chance to pursue her own intellectual ambitions when twins Aneeka and Pervaiz reach adulthood. But her decision to pursue a Ph.D. in the United States sets a number of actions in motion, actions that will have devastating consequences for all of them. And Karamat Lone is drawn back into the Muslim community that has both raised and rejected him, with his political ambitions tied to events he can only imperfectly control.

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Race, Identity and Identification

The discovery that the head of the Spokane, WA chapter of the NAACP, Rachel Dolezal, has been claiming an African-American identity for the past decade despite having white parents and being raised as a European-American white female has been dominating online news and social media for the last couple of days. In the process, race, ethnicity, and identity have been mashed together in ways that make sociologists and other social scientists who study the topics cringe. Repeatedly.

I’m not much interested in contributing to the many, many thinkpieces on the person, her motivations, and What It All Really Means. But I research, teach, and write about ethnicity and race, I’ve been contributing to this literature since graduate school, and I’ve spent a lot of time parsing the differences between various social categories and constructs. So I’m going to write about that.

Let’s get one obvious issue out of the way. Race and ethnicity are both socially constructed. But they aren’t constructed the same way, or according to the same criteria. And they don’t operate the same way in social practice. Although race is subjective in terms of how categories are constructed and in terms of the assignment of those “racial” categories to individuals and groups, it is measured objectively. Whether or not you are of a given race is entirely dependent on whether it is found in your genetic makeup (though a direct ancestor; DNA attribution is much more recent).

Ethnicity, on the other hand, is a combination of genetic makeup (your ancestry) and social practice. A black person raised by white people in an all-white setting will be identified as black by most Americans (they won’t necessarily be considered “culturally” black, but that’s a separate issue). A person born to Italian-American parents but raised by Swedish-American parents in northern Minnesota will be accepted as having Italian ancestry, but she will almost certainly be treated as culturally Swedish-American by most people.

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What I’ve been teaching: Privacy

This spring I’ve been teaching a course on the politics of privacy. I first taught it as a summer school course two years ago, when I had half a dozen students and ran it as a seminar. It was a lot of fun, and I got to try out unfamiliar readings and unusual assignments. The following spring TheHusband taught it as a lecture course, and now this year it was my turn again (we plan to alternate).

It’s a pretty interdisciplinary syllabus. We start with sociological readings from the 1960s on the social construction of the self and the self in public, because you can’t understand the private sphere without thinking about the public sphere. The reading list includes everything from law articles and legal cases (including Romanceland’s own Carolyn Jewel) to economics articles to current EU, Canadian, and US statutes on privacy. And also Gawker and Reddit (yes, your tuition dollars are being spent on teachers who send their students off to read stories on Reddit. I’m sorry). We finish up by watching a couple of recent documentaries, 2014’s The Internet’s Own Boy (about Aaron Swartz) and CitizenFour (the 2015 Oscar winner about Eric Snowden, now on HBO, GO WATCH IT EVERYBODY).

I tell the students at the beginning of the class that teaching this class is in many ways a selfish act on my part. Those of you who followed my VM blog know that I’m very interested in the digital divide and uneven access to technology. My more than two decades online, especially the last decade and the explosion of social media, has made me think a lot about the intersection of technology and privacy. But as a certified member of The Olds, my take on these issues is very different from that of my students. Policies and laws are passed and implemented by people who are closer to my age than theirs, but they are the ones who have grown up in a connected world and will never have the option to leave it.

One of the truisms I see a lot in online discussions is that millenials “don’t worry about privacy.” That is not my experience at all. Some of them are blasé but many are not. Granted, I have a self-selected sample of millenials who are more likely to care about these issues. But even within this group, while attitudes vary about how much privacy they want or expect, they’re not ignorant about the benefits and drawbacks.

That said, they’re not always fully aware of how many ways privacy is not in their control, and one of the things I try to get across to them is an understanding of what kind of data are out there. They do an assignment they call “internet self-stalking,” in which they go to computers that they don’t usually use and surf via a variety of browsers to see how much information there is about them online, and where that information might have come from. Some of what they discover is expected, but other results are not. The students are often surprised by how much information is put online by other people. If they have commonplace names or share names with more famous people then they are safer, because their results will be lost among the rest. But if they have even slightly unusual names, they’ll show up.

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