Appreciating Philadelphia’s Mural Arts @ 30

In this blog entry, David Updike, co-editor of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts @ 30, offers his thoughts on the book and what he learned about Mural Arts along the way.

I think it’s safe to say that over the last thirty years, Philadelphia has become a city of murals. As you crisscross the city, you find them in just about every neighborhood, often where you’d least expect them. They’ve become a part of our landscape, and something that people here and elsewhere associate with Philadelphia. A lot of the credit for that goes to Jane Golden, because it wouldn’t have happened without her energy and her vision, but it also wouldn’t have been possible if the city itself hadn’t embraced the idea that public art matters. And it matters, not just because it improves our aesthetic environment, but more importantly, because it has a lasting impact on the people who participate in the process.

The Mural Arts offices are a buzzing hive of activity. In the hallways you pass a steady stream of people coming and going, to and from mural sites, or classes, or canvassing neighborhoods. And these are people who, to borrow an old phrase from Bill Clinton, look like Philadelphia. They’re young and old, they’re black, white, Asian, Hispanic. And they all carry themselves with a sense of purpose. In the gallery downstairs you’ll see exhibitions of art—some of it quite remarkable—made by everyone from elementary school students to inmates serving life sentences at Graterford. And then there’s the room upstairs with the very skylight under which Thomas Eakins painted The Gross Clinic. And I suspect that our city’s greatest painter, were he alive today, would approve of this populist endeavor, which seeks to embrace the city he loved in all of its aspects.

I’m very fortunate to work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of our city’s other great cultural institutions. And it occurred to me as I started working on this book that, in a way, the Art Museum and the Mural Arts Program have opposite but entirely complementary missions. At the Museum we work very hard to get people to come to us and experience great art. But Mural Arts brings art to the people in the places where they live and work. And what Mural Arts brings to these communities is not a particular product or aesthetic. Rather, it’s a process of engagement and dialogue and co-creation that takes place over months and years, and whose effects remain long after the paint on the walls has dried.

Phila Mural Arts 30_smThis book seeks, above all else, to document what takes place off the walls. And really, this gets to the heart and soul of what Mural Arts does. Yes, it’s about transforming places, but mostly it’s about transforming people. We wanted to look at that process and its effects through many lenses, so we brought together a diverse group of authors from different disciplines—social sciences, public health, art education, restorative justice—to paint as broad a picture as possible of what a socially engaged art practice looks like, and what it can do, especially when it works in tandem with other organizations to address big issues like homelessness, youth violence, or urban blight.

In the book, Jeremy Nowack aptly refers to what happens in the course of creating a mural as a kind of “social contract” that arises between all of the stakeholders involved in a project—neighbors, business owners, community leaders, schools, artists. And the key word here is “stakeholders.” People feel a sense of investment and ownership in the murals. They take pride in them. They show them off to visitors. New stories and rituals grow up around them. People now ride the Market-Frankford El in West Philly just to see Steve Powers’ 50 Love Letters unfold. Inspired by the murals, couples have gotten engaged and even married on that 20-block stretch along Market Street.

Other stories around the murals are more painful, more challenging, but also rewarding in ways that aren’t necessarily visible to someone looking only at the end result. A particularly poignant example is James Burns’s Finding the Light Within, which took on the issue of youth suicide, not just with a very powerful and personal mural, but also with community meetings, writing workshops, collage workshops, and a participatory blog, all of which provided safe, supportive spaces in which survivors could share their stories. More than 800 people participated in those activities, and hopefully found some measure of healing in the process.

Elizabeth Thomas begins her essay with a provocative question: “Who makes culture?” In other words, Who decides what messages we see and read and hear? Whose stories count? Every day we’re bombarded by images and messages that tell us what we should wear, eat, drink, watch, listen to. But how often do we see our own struggles and achievements reflected in our environment, or our own stories projected into the public discourse? Socially engaged art practice has begun to address this problem of who gets represented—and who does the representing—in public culture. It’s happening in different ways in different cities around the country, but in Philadelphia its most visible proponent is the Mural Arts Program.

Much of the work that Mural Arts has done in recent years has sought to expand the definition of what a mural is and what it can do. For the mural project called Peace Is a Haiku Song, the poet Sonia Sanchez initiated what became, in essence, a citywide collaborative poem cycle. She began with a mental image of haiku by children hanging like cherry blossoms from the trees in Philadelphia. This evolved into an invitation to people of all ages to contribute poems in a series of community workshops and through a dedicated website. The poems didn’t end up hanging from the trees, but many of them ended up on posters around the city that were created by youth working with graphic designer Tony Smyrski.

The experience of seeing your own words and your own images projected into the world is an empowering one, especially for young people. As Cynthia Weiss points out, kids participating in mural projects often gain practical, real-world skills, like photography and graphic design. But they also gain a sense of agency that may be hard to come by elsewhere in their lives. And that type of experience can have a lasting impact on a person’s life in ways that we’re really only beginning to understand.

This is the essence of what Mural Arts does. It’s about creating situations in which people are drawn out of their everyday selves and both challenged and empowered to reach for something more. So while this book marks a milestone in the history of the Mural Arts Program, our hope is that it also points the way forward for others who want to use the power of art to change things for the better.

To listen to a podcast of David Updike and Jane Golden’s presentation at the Free Library of Philadelphia from March 26, click here: http://libwww.freelibrary.org/authorevents/podcast.cfm?podcastID=1216

Josh feels needed—like a hot cup of cocoa on a cold day

This week in North Philly Notes, Yasemin Besen-Cassino, author of Consuming Work, writes about youth labor, an important element of our modern economy.

On this bitterly cold day, Josh, like many other teenagers, traveled many miles to get to work. Despite experiencing car troubles, nearly having a car accident, and spending hours in heavy traffic, he arrived at the coffee shop where he works part-time only—to do a double shift, carry heavy loads of garbage in the cold, and deal with a hectic day of selling hot beverages to shivering customers.

Even though his school was in session, he chose to come to work instead of going to class at the local college, where he is getting his degree in theater and humanities. When I asked him why he chose his work over his studies, he told me they need him here: “Nobody notices when I am not [in class].” Unlike at school, they notice him at work. He feels needed—like a hot cup of cocoa on a cold day.

Consuming Work_smJosh, like many other teenagers, works “part-time” while still in school, but do not be fooled by what he calls “part-time” work. “Part-time” sounds like a few hours of work scattered throughout the week, but he was at the coffee shop every day of the past week. Even on the days when he was not scheduled to work, he stopped by to hang out with his friends. He did not just stand idly by; he also helped the friends who were working. He is one of many young people who fold sweaters in clothing stores, pour our morning coffees, wait on us in restaurants, and serve us in many service and retail sector jobs. Yet Josh differs greatly from our traditional conceptions of young workers. For most of us, the terms “child labor” or “youth labor” evoke images of unventilated sweatshops in the developing world or the chimney sweeps of Dickens novels. Yet contrary to popular belief, not only is youth labor widespread in the United States; it is an important element of our modern economy.

With his spiky blond hair, fashionable clothes, and brand-new cell phone, Josh looks nothing like the chimney sweeps of Dickens novels, nor does he fit the conventional definition of a service or retail worker in our contemporary economy. Typical service and retail sector jobs in which young people are employed are “bad jobs”: routine jobs with low wages, part-time hours, few or no benefits, no autonomy, and limited opportunities for advancement. Normally, we would assume the teenagers, who take these bad jobs are the poor teenagers, who desperately need these jobs for survival—to put themselves through school or perhaps help their families. What is really surprising is, only in America teenagers, who work tend to be more affluent.

Affluent teenagers say they work to meet new people in the suburbs and hang out with their friends without the supervision of adults. They also work because they want to be associated with cooler brands. Even if the pay is better and the working conditions are nicer many teens don’t want to work for mom and pop places, they want to work for cooler brands—especially ones where they are avid consumers of. “If I shop there, I’ll work there” is a motto for many young people.

Many companies actively seek out these young and affluent workers. These young, attractive workers, who are already devoted fans of their products “look good and sound right.” They become ideal faces of the products they are selling. Besides, they do not care about the low wages, limited hours and the odd schedule.

As affluent young people want to work for social reasons or for the brand prestige, the ones who really need these part-time jobs are often shut out of the system. As “looking good and sounding right” become important components of service sector jobs, many young people from the inner cities have trouble finding jobs, or settle for fast-food positions.

Temple University Press staff selects the Books of the Year to give, get, and read

As we wish everyone Happy Holidays and happy reading, the staff at Temple University Press selects the memorable titles of 2013.

Micah Kleit, Executive Editor

The Press published a bounty of riches this year, from Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer’s Envisioning Emancipation to Dean Bartoli Smith’s Never Easy, Never Pretty, an exciting account of the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl win. But the book I’d most like to give as a gift is Philipp H. Lepenies’ Art, Politics, and Development: How Linear Perspective Shaped Policies in the Western World. It’s the kind of work that represents, to me at least, the best of what university presses do in advancing scholarship.Art, Politics, and Development_sm

I’d love it if someone bought me a copy of Boris Kachka’s Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.  It’s just the kind of inside-publishing book that reminds me of why I love what I do!

The book I’m planning to read over the holiday — in preparation for the “sequel” that’s due early this Spring –  is Robert Coover’s The Origin of the Brunists.  It’s one of his earliest novels, and I’m excited that he’s returning to this story and continuing it, since it speaks (like so much of his work) powerfully to the ideas of what makes up the American character.

2013 was a great year for big novels from emerging and established writers, and the very best I read this year had to be Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, a book that was at once really economical in style but epic in scope: about 70s radicals, motorcycles, Italy and America.  I don’t think I’m the only one who thought of Don DeLillo when reading Kushner’s wonderful novel.

Sara Cohen, Rights and Contracts Manager

G-000865-20111017.jpgThe best TUP book to give?   My loved one are going to have to wait until Presidents’ Day to receive their Christmas gifts so that I can give them Thomas Foster’s Sex and the Founding Fathers.

The book I most want to receive for the holidays? The first book of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. A friend sent me Zadie Smith’s New York Review of Books piece “Man vs. Corpse,” which cites My Struggle, and I’ve been looking forward to reading it ever since.  I also hope to receive a vegan cookbook (maybe Veganomicon)  so that I can start the new year off with good dietary intentions.

The book I plan to read over the break?  I’m supposed to be reading A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn with my husband and one of our friends.  I’m going to spend the break trying to catch up to the two of them.

Aaron Javsicas, Senior Editor

MoreMuralsEarlier this year I read and very much enjoyed Red Plenty, by Francis Spufford. It’s engrossing historical fiction about what it might have been like to live in the Khrushchev-era Soviet Union, and to feel real optimism about the country’s future even while beginning to see cracks that would spread and destroy it.
I look forward to reading and giving Temple University Press’s Philadelphia murals books Philadelphia Murals and the Stories they Tell, and  More Philadelphia Murals the the Stories They Tell, as a new volume, Philadelphia Mural Arts @ 30,  is forthcoming in 2014. I’m from Philadelphia but only recently moved back, after thirteen years in New York, to come on board at the Press. The terrific Mural Arts Program expanded a great deal while I was gone, and I’m excited to catch up with it through these beautiful books.

Charles Ault, Production Director

This year I read A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki, which is now on my all-time favorites list. Ruth Ozeki is a 40-ish Buddhist priest who lives with her husband on an island near Vancouver, Canada. Her book features a writer named Ruth who lives with her husband on an island near Vancouver. She discovers the diary of a 16-year-old Japanese girl in a waterproofed bundle that washes up on the shore. The girl is contemplating suicide and has decided to write down the story of her grandmother, a Buddhist nun, as her last act. We (the reader) read pieces of the diary as Ruth does and then we read Ruth’s reaction to the same thing we just read (and reacted to). But I haven’t mentioned the Zen philosophy and ritual that pervades the story. Or the discussion of quantum mechanics. Or contemporary Japanese pornography….

Joan Vidal, Production Manager

Justifiable Conduct_smThe best TUP book to give: If you have a group of friends who like to read and discuss books, I recommend Erich Goode’s Justifiable Conduct . Filled with examples from the memoirs of public figures who seek absolution for their transgressions, this book is sure to spark conversation.

The book I most want to receive for the holidays: I would like to have The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss, by Theodor Geisel.

The book I plan to read over the break: Next on my list is Waiting for Snow in Havana, by Carlos Eire.

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

Don't Call Me_smThe best book I read this year?  The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. This year’s National Book Award fiction winner is the wild story about John Brown and his raid, narrated by a freed slave boy masquerading as a girl.  It’s hilarious.

The best TUP book to give? Don’t Call Me Inspirational, Harilyn Rousso’s compelling memoir.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry.

The book I plan to read over the break: I will finish Edwidge Dandicat’s
Claire of the Sea Light and begin Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck.

Brian Murray, Marketing Assistant

How We DIe Now_smThe best TUP book to give this season is Never Easy, Never Pretty by Dean Bartoli Smith. My father has been a Ravens fan his whole life and reminisces about going to games with his father when he was growing up. This book is perfect for him and perfect for any other Ravens’ fan or football fan in general.
The book I plan to read over break is Karla Erickson’s  How We Die Now. What better way to celebrate the holidays with my immediate family and older relatives than to evaluate my own mortality and the cost of living longer? Also a perfect gift for my great Aunt Lenora who will be celebrating her 82nd birthday this January.

Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

WHAT I WILL GIVE: Music, Style, and Aging by Andy Bennett. Because holidays should be filled with sex, drugs, rock and roll and reading, right? Music Style Aging_sm

WHAT I WILL READ: Ink, by Sabrina Vourvoulias (one of the co-authors of 200 Years of Latino History in Philadelphia by the staff of Al Día). Ink looks at immigration issues through multiple lenses and I really admire Vourvoulias’ work.

THE BEST BOOK I READ IN 2013: Night Film, by Marisha Pessl, is not so much a book you read as a story you investigate. It involves a disgraced journalist and a cult filmmaker, whose daughter has died—or possibly been murdered. What’s intriguing is not just the mystery, but the format of the book: an impressive collection of photographs, website downloads, dossiers, missing persons reports, institution assessments, and created articles. It’s a fascinating interactive experience.

WHAT I WANT TO READ: I’m almost ashamed to admit that I really want to read James Franco’s Actors Anonymous.  I’m an unabashed  Francofile and a completist. I’ll also likely see his film adaptation of As I Lay Dying over the break as well.

(Un)Balancing Family and Work

Joanna Dreby, co-editor (with Tamara Mose Brown) of Family and Work in Everyday Ethnographyabout negotiating the challenges of parenthood and fieldworkexplains how her family life sometimes gets in the way of her work.

I was supposed to write this post last week. But then the pediatrician diagnosed my 11-year-old Temo’s persistent cough as possible pertussis, keeping him home for five days followed by his 7-year-old brother Dylan who began with the cough a few days later. Temo’s antibiotic treatment started first, leaving one extremely bored, rambunctious, 2nd grader home the entire work week.  I juggled Dylan around my class lectures, stack of papers, the conclusion to my book manuscript I keep putting off, and this blog post to write. The laundry didn’t get the memo and do itself either.

Although frustrating, this surely sounds familiar to other working mothers.  It is especially not aberrant a week in the life of the academic parent. I trade stories like these frequently with colleagues, who know this shuffle all too well.  A single parent, others may comment, “I don’t know how you do it.” I do not know the answer.  My children, of course, notice, and at times critique my coping techniques.  At morning drop off when Dylan blows a kiss and yells goodbye saying, “I love you, don’t stress today,” I know he understands. We may smile knowingly at these personal struggles, social scientists so often keep these discussions in the backstage, talked about informally at lunches or events only when we dare to pull back from our professional personas.

These are professional problems, yet those of us who formally analyze social problems, and the links between the private and public spheres, rarely turn the scope of analysis on ourselves.  The black hole seems especially apparent in qualitative field research. Ethnography as a social science research method embraces full involvement in research; ethnographers delve into the days of others to fully understand the rhythms of these lives that may, on the outside, seem so foreign.  Strangely, ethnographers so often remain silent on their own struggles to manage family and work. Until now there have been too few outlets that look squarely—and with an academic gaze—at the problems and successes of the academic parenting.

Family and Work_smMy new book, Family and Work in Everyday Ethnography, which I co-edited with Tamara Brown, brings together essays considering the intersections between parenting and the practice of ethnography.  Leah Schmalzbauer writes of becoming pregnant, and raising two children, amid interviews with immigrant populations, and how becoming a mother altered her own analytical frame, as well as relationships with participants. Chris Bobel faces the tragedy that wracked her personal life and its impact on her professional identity.  Randol Contreras comes to terms with the ways his research on drug robbers in the South Bronx competes with his son’s need for fatherly affection. These and the other essays in this book show how researchers who are also parents meet work and family commitments.  Some reflect on their efforts to keep work separate from their families, while others accept their connections and intersections.  Throughout, the authors grapple with these difficult struggles both with integrity and honesty.  I cannot imagine a challenge more worth the struggle.

Decent Care

In this blog entry, Karla Erickson, author of How We Die Nowwrites about the big step toward decent care taken last month when home health care aides were granted federal protection.

In the late 1990s, a McJob—a low paid job with few future prospects like a fast-food job– was the most common way to earn a living in the United States. Quietly and quickly, the fastest growing job category has shifted to a form of work that is far less visible and, until now, far more precarious: home health aide.

For many of us, the mention of home health aide may bring to mind a bouncy 18-year-old girl in a candy striper uniform, but we would be wrong. Home health aides are overwhelmingly female, overwhelmingly women of color, and are women, not girls, often with families of their own. Up until now they have worked in the shadow economy: a barely regulated space lacking all of the protections of even a McJob. No insurance, no minimum wage, and no overtime protection.

Up until September 17, 2013, this work has been treated as not work, or at least not work that rises to the level of receiving federal protections for workers. This shadowy, off-the- record approach to home health work has had several costs. First, it linked home health aides’ labor to a long history of underpaid, indentured and enslaved labor in the home. Second, it reduced the complex work of caring for dependent adults to something that women—and particularly women of color–are naturally good at doing. Why pay well for work that is intrinsically rewarding? And finally, it was indecent. Failing to offer even the most minimal support and defenses to the people who work to care for the most frail among us is a sorry statement on our society. It devalues care, the home, and frail people in one fell swoop.

How We DIe Now_smSo thanks to a suit brought by Evelyn Coke, home health workers will now have federal rights. Coke worked for most of her life in other people’s houses to make sure their bodies were clean, clothed, safe, and fed, but she never had the protection of the Fair Labor Standards Act. This moves her and her compatriots one step away from servants, and elevates them to the status of a McJob.

This major victory is one more step toward decency. Labor rights activists often work toward dignity, and I’m not sure we are there yet, but decency, yes. Home health aides link back to a tradition of capitalizing on the caring labor of racial minority women in homes by paying poorly or not paying at all for their service and sometimes-loving care. Racial minority women and particularly recent immigrant women have often been employed in informal labor arrangements that included extraordinarily long days, working over holidays, wages well below the minimum wage, and absolutely no access to recourse if they were treated unfairly. This act is one step away from that history.

The work that home health aides do is intimate, but working in the shadow economy has routinely put them in danger of exploitation, injury, and abuse. We talk about decent service, decent care, but until the passage of this law, we have not had the decency as a society to protect or even recognize the emotional, spiritual, psychological, and physical labor of the people who work in our homes and aide us in being people. Home health aides are the quiet assistants who ready us for living if we are recovering from an injury or need help with the activities of daily living and the management of disease. They ride buses, and drive their own cars to the homes of mainly elderly, but any person who needs some help to get through their day. They spend hours bent over, raising and turning bodies, cleaning sheets, changing clothes, ministering to others. Today they did not get their due. But they did move a giant step closer to being treated decently, which after all, is what we expect and ask from them everyday.

Last month’s decision will be remembered for years to come. It is a huge victory. Here’s hoping we use this moment of decency to honor, and begin to offer support for, the people who care for us during our most vulnerable stages of life.

Live to Work or Work to Live?

In this blog entry, Benjamin Hunnicutt, author of Free Time, ponders the mysteries of living to work and the frantic pace of our lives.

July 4, 2013 looms. Fond vacation dreams return—for some of us at least. For an increasing number in the USA, however, vacations are shrinking. Expedia’s 2012 Vacation Deprivation Study, done by Harris Interactive Inc., found that Americans have far fewer vacations days that most people in the industrial world. If that were not bad enough, the study found that on average, we now fail to take about 20% of the vacation days we have earned. [1]

Widespread complaints (Google “overworked” for the past 24 hours!) about the frantic pace of our lives multiply.[2] Everyone seems to be progressively anxious, overworked, overbooked, and overstressed. Few expect relief, even when vacation season begins. “Live to work” seems to have become the unavoidable human condition.

On its face, this seems a strange state of affairs in this, the richest of nations. Set in relief against the backdrop of American history, it is incredible.

For nearly forty years I have been struggling to solve what I am convinced is one of the great mysteries of our time. Beginning early in the nineteenth century and continuing for over a hundred years, working hours in America were gradually reduced, cut in half according to most accounts.

No one predicted that this was going to end, much less that would be complaining about the frantic pace of our lives. On the contrary, prominent figures such as John Maynard Keynes and George Bernard Shaw regularly predicted that a “Golden Age of Leisure” would arrive well before the twentieth century ended when no one would have to work more than two hours a day. As late as the 1960s and 70s, the likes of Times Magazine’s Henry Luce, CBS’s Eric Sevareid, and John Fitzgerald Kennedy were sure that leisure would soon overtake work as the center of life.

However the century-long shorter work hour process stopped after the Great Depression. Since then we have had little or no decrease in our work – indeed, the work year has expanded over the last few decades. We work about five weeks longer now than we did when John Kennedy was president. Most of us would think a return to a forty hour week would be heaven-sent. Unlike previous generations, we no longer worry about leisure’s challenge.

What happened!?

Over the years, I have spent untold effort, overworking myself trying to solve these mysteries, exploring various social, economic, and historical developments. At last, I have come to the conclusion that the most important reason for the end of shorter hours, the frantic pace of life, and the unquestioning acceptance of “live to work” is something like a nation-wide amnesia.

We have forgotten what used to be the other, better half of the American dream. In our rushing about for more, we have lost sight of the better part of Freedom—of what Walt Whitman, with so many others throughout American history, called “higher progress.”

Hunnicut_approved_081412_smIn, Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream, I attempted to re-present the traditional American dream of steadily increasing freedom from work. As we began to “solve” what John Maynard Keynes called the “economic problem,” a host of Americans, from colonial days to the mid twentieth century, assumed that our time would become more valuable to us than new goods and services we had never needed, or even seen before. Then we would welcome the opportunity to live more of our lives outside the marketplace.

Then we could begin to make some real progress, developing our potential to live together peacefully and agreeably, spending more of our time and energy forming healthy families, neighborhoods, and cities, increasing our knowledge and appreciation of nature, history, and other peoples, freely investigating and delighting in the mysteries of the human spirit, exploring our beliefs and values together, finding common grounds for agreement and conviviality, practicing our faiths, expanding our awareness of God, wondering in Creation—a more complete (but far from exhaustive) catalogue of such free activities envisioned over the course of our nation’s history is one of the burdens of  my new book.

Claiming a vantage point as democracy’s poet that opened to him “Democratic Vistas,” Whitman recorded scenes of an American future in which all would be free to celebrate and sing. Monsignor John Ryan envisioned “higher progress” as increasing opportunities beyond necessary work and the marketplace to “know the best that is to be known, and to love the best that is to be loved.” Struggling to save the Jewish Sabbath in America, Abba Hillel Silver wrote that the Sabbath was “much more than mere relaxation from labor. It is a sign and symbol of man’s higher destiny.” The Sabbath provided a model for “higher progress” because it represented the importance of time for tradition, family, spiritual exercise and for developing our free, humane interests.

New voices joined in during the twentieth century, swelling in a magnificent chorus, singing the praises and possibilities of “higher progress.” Bubbling up from the ranks of workers and their organizations, the chorus was taken up by educators such as Dorothy Canfield Fisher, best selling-author and president of the Adult Education Association, and Robert Hutchins, legendary president of the University of Chicago, who urged teachers and administrators to retool their schools to teach people “the worthy use of leisure.” Conservative business people such as the celebrated cereal maker W. K. Kellogg took the initiative, instituting a six-hour workday in their factories in the 1920s and 1930s. Walter Gifford, president of AT&T from 1925 to 1948, reported that “industry . . . has gained a new and astonishing vision.” The final, best achievement of business and the free market need not be perpetual economic growth, eternal creation new work to do, and everlasting consumerism, but “a new type of civilization,” in which “how to make a living becomes less important than how to live.”

Radicals and socialists such as Helen and Scott Nearing, Norman O. Brown, and Herbert Marcuse saw increasing leisure as a form of bloodless, democratic revolution, and progressively shorter hours as the practical way for Americans to free themselves from the tyranny of corporations. They predicted that with abundant leisure and public education, ordinary citizens would begin to understand that perpetual work and everlasting scarcity were the creatures of capitalism and corporations rather than laws of nature. Increasing free time might translate into the political power necessary to counterbalance the building tyranny of concentrated wealth.

Naturalists and environmentalists such as Aldo Leopold and Sigurd Olson argued that an economy that produced more leisure instead of ever more consumption was the last, best hope for the preservation of the natural world. Parks, wilderness preserves, and national forests held open the possibility that humans could learn and nurture an alternative, leisure-relationship with nature, based on wonder and celebration rather than exploitation and development.

Poets such as Vachel Lindsay; playwrights and theater builders such as Percy MacKaye, Paul Green, and E. C. Mabie; painters such as Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton; architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Flagg; musicians such as Shin’ichi Suzuki; chefs such as Julia Child; and craftsmen such as Elbert Hubbard envisioned a world in which citizens wrote their own poetry, staged their own local dramas, performed pageants, played and sang their own music together as naturally as they spoke their mother tongue, cooked gourmet meals for each other, and helped design, build, and decorate their own homes in their free time.

Understanding our lives as the subjects of our own community-based literature, drama, sports, fine arts, and quotidian discourse, we moderns had the potential to transfigure the commonplace, elevating everydayness with the do-it-yourself creations of democratic artist and artisan. “Higher progress’s” free, creative endeavors would join people in vigorous, free civic engagement, creating communities held together by tolerance, conviviality, and perhaps even affection.

By the middle of the last century, the original American dream seemed to be coming to life. The days were arriving when Americans children devoted more and more of their lives to what John Ryan foresaw as opportunities to “know the best that is to be known, and to love the best that is to be loved.” The day of democratic community and culture was dawning. Real progress was just beginning.

I have long argued that this strange turn of events might be best explained by a new, primarily twentieth century view of work, what might be called, pace Max Weber, “the spirit of capitalism.” This novel belief elevated work, for the first time in history, as an end in itself rather than the means to other, better things— as the main arena in which to  realize the full potential of human beings. Two historical corollaries followed the advent of this belief: the perpetual need to regenerate work continually lost to technology; and perpetual economic growth necessary to support eternal work creation. This new American dream and its corollaries, together resembling, more and more, a new modern faith/religion (what Robert Hutchins called “salvation by work”) eclipsed both the “forgotten American dream” and the shorter working hours process that supported it for so long. As shorthand, I have called this new, thriving faith “Full-Time, Full Employment,” tracing its origins to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first two administrations and outlining its continuing, pervasive political, economic, and cultural ramifications, summed up in the politician’s mantra, “jobs, jobs, jobs”  and the corporate apologist’s  job-creation based justifications of obscene corporate salaries and practices.

But “Full-Time, Full Employment,” is not sustainable. The belief/expectation, “good jobs” for all, is a failing faith: a hopelessly utopian dream. The perpetual economic growth necessary is unsustainable on several levels. The environment: As so many have pointed out, sooner or later, the environment will be depleted— nature  is showing more and more signs of her exhaustion. Politically: governments’ efforts to sustain “Full-Time, Full Employment” have passed the point of diminishing returns as progressively slower economic recoveries and mounting debt complicate governments’ attempt to stimulate their economies. Economically: as governments’ efforts fail, chronic unemployment and more frequent and severe cycles result as job killing machines continue to outpace the job-creating abilities of modern economies (economic growth will have to advance at record high levels for decades in order for most of the modern industrial nations to grow themselves out of chronic unemployment). Globalization and the Internet compound the problem of chronic unemployment. Ideologically: what Robert Hutchins called “salvation by work” is progressively unable to fulfill its promise of good jobs for all, creating new generations that feel betrayed by their jobs.

Economic growth has become cancerous, destroying healthy culture and civility, destabilizing the vital functioning of society and undermining the essential foundations of trust. “Full-Time, Full Employment” has produced what Herbert Marcuse called  “one-dimensional man,” nearly incapable of imagining anything better than work for more work, or of recognizing when he has enough, pilling up evermore wealth, security, reputation, and consumer goods with no destination in sight.

Economists since John Stuart Mill have repeatedly suggested shorter working hours as one of the few solutions to the problems caused by capitalism’s cancerous growths. In order to encourage the renewal of the shorter hour process, we must recover the forgotten American dream. We need to hear again the words of Jonathan Edwards: “Labour to get thoroughly convinced that there is something else needs caring for more.” We need to listen again to Walt Whitman, passionately calling us to the “Open Road,” urging us to live out our humanity to its fullest—to search out and experience “the thing for itself” and to realize “only the soul is of itself . . . all else has reference to what ensues.” We need to hear again the voices of industrial feminists such as Fannia Cohn urging us to cultivate “deep community” in a shared “spirit of intimacy,” making progress in both aspects of our lives, “Bread and Roses.”

We are prevented from realizing the forgotten American dream by no inexorable political or economic reality. Shorter working hours remains the portal to the “realm of freedom,” offering an eminently more practical and sustainable future than the pursuit of eternal economic growth and everlasting job creation. What only is lacking is belief and commitment.

With the revival of the forgotten American dream the will to change might reemerge, either by government regulation of work hours or, much better still, at the level of individual firms such as Kellogg’s and through individual choices in the marketplace. Higher Progress will be possible once again when more of us choose freely to liberate more of our lives from the economy, making the most basic of consumer choices to forgo new spending and luxuries, as well as modern illusions about the everlasting need for more wealth and work, in favor of spending our lives beyond work and outside the marketplace.

Quoted passages are from Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream


[1] The 2012 study was conducted online by Harris Interactive among 8,687 employed adults in September and October 2012 on behalf of Expedia.com in North America, Europe, Asia, South America and Australia. Go to http://www.expedia.com/p/info-other/vacation_deprivation.htm

[2] see Tim Kreider’s “The ‘Busy’ Trap,” New York Times, Opinionator Blog, June 30, 2012

Wayne Brady, Bill Maher, and Black Men Who Remain Invisible

In this blog entry, Adia Harvey Wingfield discusses the themes and examples about black masculinity that form the basis for her book No More Invisible Man.

Several news headlines recently highlighted the relatively long-running tension between political comedian Bill Maher and actor/singer Wayne Brady. Maher, known among other things for questioning whether mogul Donald Trump is descended from monkeys and for using explicit epithets to describe politician Sarah Palin, has made several comments suggesting that Brady’s clean-cut, easygoing persona makes him antithetical to “real” black masculinity (a point Brady mocked in 2004 on an unforgettable episode of The Chappelle Show). Brady has responded by critiquing the racialized and gendered assumptions behind this statement, but also by suggesting that if Maher wants to continue this line of discussion, he would be willing to embody these stereotypes and “beat [Maher] in public.”

WingfieldFinal.inddThe dialogue between Maher and Brady reflects two of the images of black masculinity that I try to counter in my recent book No More Invisible Man: Race and Gender in Men’s Work. I argue that in cultural imagination and even in much sociological research, black men are often cast as either tough, dangerous, and threatening, or as high-level elites who must be easygoing and appear completely assimilated. Yet these depictions represent two polar opposites, leaving the experiences, lives, and realities of middle class, professional black men understudied and ignored. No More Invisible Man attempts to correct this by drawing attention to these men who are invisible in sociological research, media, and much of America and highlighting the challenges, obstacles, and opportunities they face in professional, white male-dominated occupations.

In my book, I build on Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s classic theory of tokenism to understand black professional men’s work lives. Kanter argues that those in the numerical minority encounter certain perceptual tendencies that affect their interactions with members of the dominant group. These include increased pressures related to their performance, dominant group members’ efforts to emphasize their differences from those in the minority, and challenges subordinate groups face assimilating into the majority. In my study, however, I found that intersections of race, gender, and class, coupled with the gendered characteristics of the male-dominated occupations in which these men worked, meant that black professional men imperfectly fit the tokenization paradigm that Kanter describes. Instead, I argue that they experience a phenomenon I describe as partial tokenization, which impacts their interactions with women of all races, with other men, their performances of masculinity, their emotional performance, and their general challenges within the work environment.

This matters because we know so little about the occupational experiences of black professional men. As the United States becomes an increasingly multiracial society, it is important to be aware of the persistent challenges that remain for racial minorities in various sectors, and to be mindful of the ways that structural processes like partial tokenization may perpetuate inequalities. Having a clear sense of the ways black men experience the professional workplace can help to address ongoing patterns that make their occupational ascension more (or less) challenging than comparably situated others.

In writing No More Invisible Man, I hope to do several things. One is to add to the literature that explores the experiences black men face in the United States and to document the sociological realities of those who are not part of the urban underclass that generates the most attention. Another goal is to highlight that even though black professional men enjoy material and occupational success relative to working-class and poor blacks, they still undergo very particularized difficulties in the workplace. Finally, I hope to demonstrate that black men’s experiences at work and in society at large reflect not just race but the ways that race is shaped by gender and class, and that understanding the ways these categories overlap is essential for making sense of issues of power and inequality that persist in America today.

Why do we reflexively include a woman in an artistic rendering of a kitchen?

In this blog entry, Krista Jenkins, author of  Mothers, Daughters, and Political Socialization: Two Generations at an American Women’s College addresses how women’s roles have changed–or not–over the decades.

I’m endlessly interested in the state of gender relations in the 21st century. The women’s movement remains with us, but its revolutionary panache has dissipated as gender equality sounds more passé than novel. Women are encouraged to live lives unconstrained by traditional gender roles, and yet when it comes to who does the lion’s share of domestic work even in households with working moms, it’s the women who remain the go to sex for cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, school volunteering, and the like. Look at the statistics. A recent Pew Research and American Time Use Survey found that within dual income households, working women spend almost twice as many hours engaged in housework and child care than their spouses or partners.

Not a big believer in stats? Ok, then consider the following: Back in April of 2010, Time Magazine included an article entitled “The Hazards Lurking at Home.” The story was about environmental toxins found in everyday household items, and was accompanied by a drawing of a home. Each room had items to identify its purpose, such as a crib in a baby’s room and television in the family room. The kitchen had the obvious items – refrigerator and sink, for example, but it also had a woman. The takeaway from this? Kitchens are unthinkable without a woman firmly ensconced in its environs.

So, what gives? If we’re almost four decades since the heyday of the modern women’s movement and women can be found in areas of life that were virtually unthinkable a generation ago, why does  a glass ceiling persist? Why are women disproportionately absent from certain high paying and high powered professions? Why do women with ambitious career goals choose to walk away once children arrive?  Why does dinosaur-ish behavior in the form of discrimination and harassment remain a part of the workplace for so many? And why do we reflexively include a woman in an artistic rendering of a kitchen?

To answer these questions, I did what social scientists often don’t do. That is, look at the forces in an individual’s life that are operative at the micro level. “Large N” surveys are the tool that’s most often used to examine the how and why behind a variety of political and social phenomenon. Although an invaluable tool, all too often we overlook what goes on at the micro level which, in the case of my book, means the influence of a mother on her daughter’s political development. Or, more specifically, what I consider in my book Mothers, Daughters and Political Socialization: Two Generations at an American Women’s College is the extent to which a mother influences whether her daughter accepts or rejects traditional gender roles.Mothers_Daughters_sm

My research is based on 23 paired interviews with mothers and daughters, both of whom attended the same women’s college a generation apart. They were selected because 1) their experiences at a women’s college should have made them especially receptive to the tenets of the women’s movement and 2) the mothers came from a cohort who were interviewed 25 years earlier while they were college undergraduates and experiencing the women’s movement during the peak of its heyday.

Ultimately, what I find is that mothers play an important role in how their daughters approach their understanding of gender roles. So, for example, I find a good amount of consistency between how a mother approached questions of professional and maternal responsibilities and how her daughter envisions her own life unfolding. If, despite her early career ambitions, a mother decided that caregiving was preferable for a variety of reasons to pursuing her professional goals, it was likely that her daughter would echo similar sentiments in her long term planning. This is just one of the interesting insights that I discovered through speaking with these smart, engaged, and verbose women.

Also considered is the role of coming of age during different political climates which, for the mothers, was an environment steeped in a revolutionary ethos while, for the daughters, post-feminism reigns. However, a central takeaway from my book is simply this: When it comes to the acceptance or rejection of traditional gender norms in one’s life, the apple doesn’t fall from the tree.

Mourning the loss of a pioneer of women’s history

Temple University Press is saddened to learn of the passing of women’s historian Gerda Lerner. In honor of Dr. Lerner, we are re-posting this interview from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Political Engagement as Therapy for the Intellect

By Danny Postel for The Chronicle of Higher Education, 3 May 2002

The writing of one’s life can offer an “explanatory myth” at worst and an “entertaining tale” at best, says Gerda Lerner, a professor emerita of history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Fireweed PBIn Fireweed: A Political Autobiography (Temple University Press), she recounts the prehistory of her career in what she calls the “intellectual revolution” of women’s history, a field on which she left a pioneering mark with such works as The Woman in American History (1971), The Creation of Patriarchy (1986), and The Creation of Feminist Consciousness (1993).

Q: You grew up in Austria in the 1920s and ’30s. How did that experience influence the development of your political consciousness?
A: From an early age, I experienced revolution, counterrevolution, military occupation, and fascism. I was imprisoned, I was a hostage—I lived in great danger. I was essentially struggling for my life. Living through this makes you very much aware of politics as a force in life and of the need to struggle for human rights.

Q: After the war, in America, you were active in the Communist Party for a time and then left. You write that it took you some years “to think [your] way out, not of one political movement only, but out of Marxism, the theory.”
A: There was a period when, though I was disillusioned with the Communist Party, I was still a Marxist. Then, after 1958, when I began to study academically, I began to have serious problems with the doctrine in regard to women. It was my feminism that made me realize that Marxism was wrong.

Q: You went many decades without publicly discussing this chapter in your life, the Communist years. Why now?
A: Well, I’m 81 years old—when am I going to do it if not now? I felt uneasy about evading the issue based on fear. I felt that I owed it to myself and to the people who have learned from me and respect me to tell them the whole story. And I feel that there is something to be learned from my story.

Q: What, exactly, would you say that is?
A: That active political engagement is good for thinking. If you are engaged in the world, you have a way of testing your thinking. I tested Marxist thought. It didn’t work.

Q: At the very end of the book, you say that for many years you felt that you had nothing to apologize for, but you go on to say that you feel differently about this now. Why the change?
A: We learned things that we did not know at the time. I defended the Hitler-Stalin pact [over which thousands of Communists left the party] at the time, and I’m sorry I did. The decisions I made in my life seemed to have a good logic then, even if 60 years later, that logic may not stand up.

 

No Magic Bullet When It Comes to Water

In this blog entry, Stephanie Kane, author of Where Rivers Meet the Sea, provides her thoughts about the world’s water crisis.

Muhtar Kent, President and CEO of Coca-Cola, and Dean Kamen founder of DEKA Research & Development Corp, televised their plan for sorting out the world’s water crisis on Charlie Rose’s program September 27, 2012. They were followed by Gary White and Matt Damon of water.org who are also working to extend access to potable water. Impressive as all this may seem, I’ve got to spin out an alternative scenario. For a moment, put aside the video image of Africans laughing with pure joy as they fill their containers. Imagine instead, yourself, living in a coastal village in the year 2015, after the Coca-Cola-DEKA plan has been rolled out. All the rivers, wells, wetlands, and seashore have been poisoned by toxic industrial waste and sewage. But no matter! Bring your bucket to the red and white repurposed shipping container emblazoned with corporate logos in the new town square.

Never mind sophisticated energy technologies (solar panels, biofuel converters, batteries) that run the water distillery. All you need to know about are the two hoses: You can take one hose and stick into the chemical waste pond from the local industry that pollutes with impunity and then take the second hose and put your  plastic container under it to collect clean water. It doesn’t matter how poisoned the source is because the new technology is as good as nature, just like water from clouds. And since there is no point fishing anymore (no fish) or farming (rice poisoned by arsenic), you can hang out at the container, watch TV, and recharge your cell phone: a one stop technology center brought to you by corporate beneficence and facilitated by your government and international NGO’s.

Like the proverbial magic bullet, this “slingshot” technology, named after David’s mythically effective use of a simple technology to bring down Goliath, soothes concerns about the aquatic environment. Who cares? We can go on living without guilt because innovation and corporate goodwill have produced a vision of reality that does not require the extension of municipal infrastructure to treat and deliver potable water through pipes into home or to collect and treat sewage. Nor in this vision do we need to sustain healthy ecologies. Water is essential for life and so is the Coca-Cola corporation.

The basic problem is not about the usefulness of this technology. I’m sure it can be useful in many circumstances. Indeed, using corporate distribution networks for the public good is not in itself problematic. (Is it?) The basic problem is the definition of the global water crisis: it is not simply about expanding access to potable water through technology and infrastructure. The crisis, if we want to organize ourselves by this metaphor, is part of the larger, more complex environmental question: how do we transform our ways of life to protect and preserve water habitats, the very water habitats out of which we will draw our drinking water? Are you OK with sticking a hose into a disgusting toxic pit to get drinking water? I’m not. I don’t want an “ecosystem for life” that comes from Coca-Cola. Do you? I want to be a living being surrounded by an ecosystem (wherever I happen to be located on the planet), not a consumer of ecosystem products.

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