Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Road to Prelims | Introduction and Invitation

In a few months I will be taking my preliminary exams to qualify to attempt to qualify to write my dissertation to hopefully qualify for a cap, a gown, and a diploma declaring I have earned a Doctorate of Philosophy in Sociology.

The problem is that passing this exam means mastering approximately 65 texts, 90% of those being large books with small fonts and ZERO pictures. I know what you are thinking… why in the world would one choose to submit himself to this sort of voluntary torture? We don't have time to answer this question right but maybe we will over the course of this summer.

With that much to read, it is difficult to organize the writings into a coherent fashion and the rest of the WUW? Office is sick of hearing me think out loud – so, I have been ordered to blog my way through it.

The hope is that by working through these works by writing, and writing toward you - the audience, I will learn more effectively and maybe the rest of you can join me in this journey.

So I am formally inviting you to join me on this journey.

Let’s Start From the Beginning

In October, I will sit in a room for 8 hours, 2 days in a row, with 1 computer, and 0 notes. During this time, I will answer 4 questions written by my 4 committee members and organized by the chair of my committee. A week later, I will sit in a room with the same four and they will interrogate me until they deem me worthy to move forward in the program or decide that I have wasted the last 3 years and $40,000 (let’s hope for the first case).

What are the texts I will be reading and writing about? You can click here to see the list.

If you are feeling a little ambitious and think you may want to engage in a little dialogue with me along the way, I will suggest a couple of books that will help in the process:

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. 2000. Empire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Somers, Margaret. 2008. Genealogies of Citizenship: Markets, Statelessness, and the Right to Have Rights. New York: Cambridge.

Hartnett, Stephen J., and Laura Ann Stengrim. 2006. Globalization and Empire: The US Invasion of Iraq, Free Markets, and the Twilight of Democracy. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.

Agger, Ben. 2004. Speeding Up Fast Capitalism. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.

Polanyi, K. [1944] 1957. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. Boston. MA: Beacon.

These are difficult books, Polanyi being the most difficult and Agger probably the easiest, but they are well worth the mental investment. I would say that these 5 books most encapsulate what I am attempting to think about

OK… So What I am Attempting to Think About?

What I am concerned with is how neoliberal ideology, globalization, and war affect the possibilities of citizen action. To push a bit deeper, how do we conceptualize democracy and citizenship in our contemporary era of globalization where multinational corporations, NGOs, and the IMF, World Bank, and United Nations operate on a supranational level. What does it mean to be a citizen when the state does not occupy the central role of authority? What are the possibilities of enacting citizenship in an era that may have moved beyond the model of the nation-state? How does globalization affect war and in turn how does war affect democracy and citizenship?

The four sections of my reading list are designed to structure these questions.

Section 1:
General Section

These readings connect the three main sections together. Generally, all of these works are highly theoretical, historical, and concerned with the ideas of economics, democracy, citizenship, war, and globalization. Each reading approaches these subjects from a unique perspective and when read together help paint a more full picture of our contemporary scenario.

Section 2:
Globalization, Democracy, and the Persistence of Citizenship

This section is primarily concerned with how democratic citizenship may be conceptualized as we becoming fully immersed in this new epoch of globalization. A key concept of this section is that of the public sphere. Jurgen Habermas is probably the most important theorist and although she is not included, Hannah Arrendt is right there with Habermas. 

Section 3:
Markets and Citizenship

This is the section I am most interested in and most relevant our present day political discourse. How does free market ideology affect citizenship. Specifically, we are interrogating neoliberal ideology globally and domestically. Think about it this way, if “the market” is presumed to be something that is natural and not conditioned by culture, then all of culture is subordinated and organized by market principles. Family, religion, social structures, poverty, wealth, etc, are explained within free market principles – meaning economics first and people second. Thought of in another way, as Noam Chomsky adequately puts it, what does it mean when people are subordinated to profits? 

Section 4:
War and State Formation

How war affects state formation is an interesting way to think about globalization, democracy, and citizenship. As we look over the history of democratic formation, we gain greater understanding of the variations by looking at how citizens respond to being called on to sacrifice in times of war by demanding greater rights. But more important for our purposes here, how does the nature of contemporary war – an all volunteer armed force, independent military contractors accounting for approximately half of our forces in the war in Iraq, and faceless fighting such as the use of drones – affect the expectations of citizens and the government in a democracy? How do stateless or supranational actors such as the UN, NGOs, and terrorist organizations affect the way war is waged? 

Moving Forward

Our task here is to synthesize these questions, theories, and contemporary scenarios in a way to better understand the world we live in. This is not simply an intellectual exercise rather these question may help us to unpack the political rhetoric that has polarized the political community in the United States. Sound bites and talk shows do more to complicate our conception of the world than they do to help us better understand it. As citizens, I firmly believe it is our duty to look beneath the surface of political sound bites, look at our world through a historical perspective, and disaggregate the rhetoric of empty words that divide instead of educate.

I am excited that y’all will be joining me in this journey and I hope that we can learn something together!

Blogging toward prelims,

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