Kjerstin Gruys and David J. Hutson
This chapter uses a comparative case method, drawing on autoethnographic accounts to explore how ethnographers perform aesthetic labor across two research sites: a women’s plus-size clothing store and a coed retail gym. The authors find that they engaged in aesthetic labor as they adapted to the aesthetic expectations of sites by either blending in or sticking out. In their studies, the successful accomplishment of aesthetic labor relied primarily on gender and body size, highlighting how the body functions as a status characteristic that influences existing power dynamics. Such insights suggest the need to conceptualize ethnographic research through the lens of labor—a lens that makes clearer how academic work is structured by the same intersectional inequalities prevalent in most occupational fields.
Jennifer A. Jordan
This chapter addresses some of the central themes in the inquiry into food, taste, and consumption. Specifically, it focuses on how researchers have investigated the causes and consequences of tastes in food, including structural position and identity, and consequences for bodies, and for social and physical landscapes. It is also essential for scholars of food and taste to take seriously the role of pleasure, as well as the effects of food consumption on broader social and physical ecologies. Tastes shape landscapes, affecting carbon production and biodiversity, groundwater and air quality. Researchers cannot study food tastes as somehow disembodied, and the best work in this area today attends to this nexus of pleasure and risk, symbolism and materiality. In addition, researchers in this arena need to be highly attuned to avoiding the centering of their own tastes as markers of good taste.
This chapter treats gossip and reputation from an anthropological perspective, starting with the evolutionary origin of gossiping behavior and extending through the social and evolutionary functions of personal reputations in small-scale societies. The chapter points to an actual case history of a bizarre murder in an anthropology department, in which Persian burial rituals were replicated, and it provides an example of the use of gossip as a tool in anthropological field work, which is based on the author’s experience among tribal Serbs in Montenegro. The inherent “leakiness” of gossip systems is modeled, and the analysis of how private information becomes public suggests that often such exposure is a function of gossip chains rather than the result of deliberate betrayal of confidences. Also treated is the persistence of gossiping and reputation-mongering in modern literate society, including gossip columns, soap operas, and tabloids.
Among the various methodological approaches to gossip, ethnography stands out as the most naturalistic and contextual. From an ethnographic perspective, gossip must be defined from the ground up, an approach that is attentive to local conceptualizations and to cross-social variability, but also one that opens a Pandora’s box of caveats regarding the possibility of arriving at a cross-cultural definition of gossip. Early debates among anthropologists pitched an understanding of gossip as a solidarity-enhancing mechanism against an approach that saw gossip as a tool for individual advancement. Other approaches have focused on its aesthetic aspects, its uses in negotiating between overlapping moral systems, and its role in variously exacerbating structures of political oppression or resisting them. The relationship between gossip and reputation, the way in which gossip articulates with larger systems of information flows, and the link between gossip and emotions remain underexplored areas in ethnographic approaches to gossip.
Jessi Streib, SaunJuhi Verma, Whitney Welsh, and Linda M. Burton
This article examines the culture of poverty thesis, focusing on its many lives, deaths, and reincarnations. It first considers the intellectual history of the culture of poverty thesis before discussing how the argument has been interspersed throughout U.S. history and applied to various groups. It then considers the argument’s scholarly reproduction, noting how it is underlain by a binary whereby segments of the poor, racial minorities, and immigrants are positioned as having a deviant, morally suspect culture that undermines their potential upward mobility, whereas white middle- and upper-class Americans are positioned as having a normal, morally upstanding culture that secures their class position. The article also describes four routine scholarly practices that engender a specter of support for the culture of poverty thesis. Finally, it argues that the culture of poverty should either be put to rest or allowed to live based on its own merits, and suggests ways to end its unintentional resurrection.
In this chapter, I argue that the Durkheimian theory of the sacred is a crucial yet not fully recognized resource for cognitive sociology. It contains not only a theory of culture (which is acknowledged in contemporary sociology), but also a vision of culture-cognition relations. Thus, Durkheimian cultural sociology allows us to understand the crucial role the sacred/profane opposition plays in structuring culture, perception and thought. Based on a number of theories, I also show how another opposition—between the pure and impure modes of the sacred, allows us to explain dynamic features of the sacred and eventually provides a basic model of social change. While explicating this vision and resultant opportunities for sociological analysis I also criticize “cognition apart from culture” approaches established within cognitive sociology. I argue, thus, that culture not only participates in cognition but is an intrinsic ingredient of the human mind. Culture is not a chaotic and fragmented set of elements, as some sociologists imply to a greater or lesser degree, but a system; and as such it is an inner environment for human thought and social action. This system, however, is governed not by formal logic, as some critics of the autonomy of culture presuppose, but by concrete configurations of emotionally-charged categories, created and re-created in social interactions.