Is gender stifling our scientific imaginations?

This week, we showcase Conceiving Masculinity author Liberty Walther Barnes’ recent TEDx talk at Cambridge University. 

Is Gender a Liquid or a Solid?

In sociology we like to say that gender is “flexible and fluid,” because gender norms change over time and across cultures.  Men and women can choose to enact, perform, and express masculinity and femininity in a variety of ways regardless of their sex chromosomes or anatomy.  Just as liquids take the shape of their containers, we can shape our gender identities to fit us.

While personal gender identities and expressions are malleable, the gender system that structures our social world has proven able to withstand some pretty impressive seismic shifts. As sociologists Cecilia Ridgeway and Shelley Correll explain, the gender system is a large apparatus that determines who gets access to resources and opportunities. The gender system – invisible yet ubiquitous – is solidly grounded in very traditional gender beliefs, which prevent the system from being toppled. Because gender beliefs are pervasive and durable, we might say gender is a solid.

Conceiving MasculinityMost of us agree that gender stereotypes are silly. We laugh when people break the “rules” of gender in TV sit-coms and films. In our everyday lives we feel free to break the rules of gender to accommodate our personal preferences and life goals. In other words, we appreciate the fluidity of gender.

While researching male infertility for my book, Conceiving Masculinity, I discovered that gender is a more powerful social category than most of us realize. Just how solid is gender? As I explain in my TEDx talk, when gender and science come crashing together, something’s gotta give. And it’s not gender.

Gender, it turns out, is a stronger, more solid, and more powerful social category than science. Whodathunkit? Science is rigorous and robust, defined by hard facts and well researched, evidence-based truths, right? If we had to categorize science as a liquid or a solid, we would certainly call it a solid.

However, gender beliefs shape science. How we think about men and women, masculinity and femininity, channels the direction of scientific thought and shapes medical practices. Sometimes society has a hard time accepting scientific truths when they are glaring us in the face, because we cling to gender ideology. Rather than reconsider our gender beliefs, we bend science to accommodate our timeworn gender beliefs.

Day 4 of University Press Week – The Importance of Regional Publishing


It’s University Press Week! All week long university presses will be participating in the UP Week Blog Tour, where presses will be blogging each day about a different theme that relates to scholarly publishing. For the full Blog Tour schedule, click here.

November 14 – Subject Area Spotlight: The Importance of Regional Publishing

Syracuse University Press:  Regional author, Chuck D’Imperio will discuss the roots of regional writing in many of the “classics.” From oral testimonies to local guidebooks, these stories contribute to the culture and history of the region.

Fordham University Press: Fredric Nachbaur, Press Director, writes about establishing the Empires State Editions imprint to better brand and market the regional books, reflect the mission of the university, and co-publish books with local institutions.

University of North Carolina Press:  UNC Press editorial director Mark Simpson-Vos highlights the special value of regional university press publishing at a time when the scale for so much of what we do emphasizes the global.

University Press of Mississippi: UPM Marketing Manager and author of two books, Steve Yates, gives his thoughts on the scale of regional publishing and shares the sage advice of businessmen.

University of Nebraska Press: UNP’s Editor-in-Chief Derek Krissoff defines the meaning of place in University Press publishing.

University of Alabama Press: JD Wilson presents a brief overview of the economic niche regional university presses occupy between mass market trade publishing and non-scholarly regional and local publishing.

University Press of Kentucky: Regional editor, Ashley Runyon, writes on her unique editorial perspective as a born-and-bred Kentuckian as well as preserving Kentucky’s cultural heritage. We’ll also be talking about some of the fun things that make KY (and KY books) unique.

Louisiana State University Press: Discussing the challenge of capturing an authentic representation of Louisiana’s culture, especially when it is an outstider looking in, as many authors (scholars or not) are, Erin Rolfs explains how it takes more than just a well-written, thoroughly researched book to succeed in depicting the nuances of Louisiana’s food, music, and art. It also requires a relationship of respect and acceptance between subject and author. She talks about LSU Press titles that have successfully shared and deepen an understanding of a regional cultural asset through collaboration with those most closely affliliated with the subject.

Oregon State University Press: Mary Elizabeth Braun provides an overview of regional publishing with specifics from the Oregon State University Press list.

Follow the University Press Week blog tour to learn about the importance of university presses. For a complete list of University Press Week events, visit

A review of the new film PARKLAND

In this blog entry, Temple University Press publicist Gary Kramer, reviews Parkland the new film about the JFK Assassination.

Released weeks ahead of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Parkland tells several stories—based on true events—that unfolded in Dallas during the horrible days in history that were November 22-25, 1963. Writer/director Peter Landesman (adapting Vincent Bugliosi’s book Four Days in November) introduces the players and their stories efficiently. Charles “Jim” Carrico (Zac Efron) is a doctor at Parkland hospital where the president is transported after he is shot; Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) shoots the famous home movie of the president’s assassination, which Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton) asks him to hand over; Bob Oswald (James Badge Dale) learns that his brother Lee Harvey (Jeremy Strong) has been arrested for the shocking crime, and visits his brother and his mother (Jackie Weaver), who shares wild theories about her son; and James Hosty (Ron Livingston) is an FBI agent who was following Oswald at the time of the assassination.

parklandParkland uses these interlocking stories to present microcosms of grief that show how JFK’s death affected these individuals separately and collectively and, by extension, the nation as a whole. However, the parts here are greater than the sum. The urgency of the assassination is not nearly as striking as the scenes in the O.R. as Carrico works to save the president’s life. As the doctor tries to revive his patient, even as the flatline indicates death, the scene manages—albeit barely—to evoke some emotion, then goes overboard when Jackie Kennedy (Kat Steffens) arrives.

The rest of the film is equal parts hit or miss. A dispute that arises when the local medical examiner insists on keeping the body in Texas, as per law, is an interesting diversion, but it serves  mostly to illustrate that Parkland is a series of loosely connected anecdotes that never build to any great crescendo. When one character remarks, “Nothing is ever going to be the same,” the line has no impact.

Even moments that revolve around one character are uneven. The early scenes of Zapruder reacting to the shooting are played broadly, whereas Landesman achieves a more graceful moment in a scene that shows the assassination footage reflected in Zapruder’s eyeglasses. The image of the man watching the striking footage he shot effectively conveys his emotions to viewers.

Landesman nicely incorporates the archive footage of Kennedy with the Zapruder video, given the small scale and narrow focus of the film, but he also includes cringe-inducing scenes of Secret Service men trying to accommodate the president’s coffin on the plane. A sequence that cross-cuts between Oswald’s burial and Agent Hosty burning his file on Oswald is also heavy-handed.

Even the acting ranges from subtle—James Badge Dale gives a rather poignant performance in his difficult role—to over-the-top in Jackie Weaver’s case. Zac Efron is miscast as Carrico here; he just seems out of his league; Marcia Gay Harden, the head nurse, easily upstages him. Even Paul Giamatti, who is well suited to his role, fares poorly, sabotaged by the lame script.

Dangerous Knowledge 2e_smUltimately, Parkland is an earnest effort that is more leaden than solemn.  

For a more exacting analysis of the JFK Assassination in art and film, one should read Art Simon’s Dangerous Knowledge, which was recently reissued by Temple University Press. While Simon does not cover Parkland in his book, he discusses public fascination with celebrity deaths and recent assassination-related media—from documentaries to scholarly books to the scandalous video game JFK Reloaded. He shows that the assassination continues to inspire writers, artists, and filmmakers.  Dangerous Knowledge examines the seminal works of art associated with the assassination, including Andy Warhol’s silk screens, the underground films of Bruce Conner, and provocative Hollywood films like The Parallax View and JFK. Simon’s investigation places assassination art and images within a historical context—one that helps us understand what the assassination has meant to American culture.

BEA 2013: ‘PW’ Rep of the Year: Bruce Joshua Miller

This week in North Philly Notes, we reprint Publishers Weekly‘s April 26 column honoring Temple University Press sales rep Bruce Miller as PW’s Rep of the Year.

Last summer, many industry observers considered Bruce Joshua Miller to be rather quixotic, vigorously tilting at the University of Missouri’s administration by leading a letter-writing and social media campaign after the university’s May 24 announcement that the 54-year-old University of Missouri Press’s scholarly publishing program would be dismantled and its editor-in-chief, Clair Willcox, fired.

Bruce MillerSince Missouri rescinded its decision on August 28, and reinstated Willcox six weeks later, however, Miller has been lauded throughout the academic and book publishing worlds as, in the words of Johns Hopkins University Press director Greg Britton, “our David against a formidable Goliath.” And he’s PW’s Sales Rep of the Year.

PW received a record number of nominations for the 2013 award; the most impassioned, by far, were those for Miller, 58, a commission rep based in Chicago, who does business as a sole proprietor. Miller Trade Book Marketing represents 26 scholarly and independent presses to the trade in the Midwest—including, for the past 20 years, UMP, which publishes about 30 titles annually.

The words “hero” and “heroic” appear repeatedly in Midwest booksellers’ nominations, as well as those from less typical nominators for this award—university press directors and their marketing managers. UMP’s consulting director, Jane Lago, notes, “He served this press, and simultaneously all university presses, as an informed, engaged, articulate champion of what scholarly publishing does best.”

To read the rest of the article click:

Lance’s Sins, Our Forgiveness?

This week in North Philly Notes, Erich Goode, author of Justifiable Conduct, applies his knowledge about how writers neutralize their wrongdoing to the case of Lance Armstrong.

Why were we so surprised?

The steadfast denials. The defiant stares. The self-righteous attitude. The attempts to destroy his opponents and accusers. The seven Tour de France triumphs—withdrawn. The awards, the accolades, the medals—tainted, erased, invalidated. Dust in the wind. The heroic survivor of a toxic, potentially fatal case of testicular cancer? Stigmatized by scandal. The altruistic booster of charitable foundations and causes—discredited; the organizations themselves undermined, their very existence in doubt. Now facing an eight-year ban from the sport, and possibly barred from competition forever. His legacy, a pile of rubble. A proud man humbled; his supporters and endorsers aghast; an army of fans baffled; a nation bamboozled.

It was much worse than we could possibly have imagined. The USADA report, which concluded that Lance Armstrong ran “the most sophisticated, professional, and successful doping program” the sport of cycling has ever seen, is now regarded definitive, incontrovertible. Lance Armstrong did not passively allow a trainer to administer drugs to himself; he ran a doping ring. A big one. A highly organized one. He gave others dope. He pressured them into taking dope.

It takes one’s breath away.

Lance Armstrong wanted to win. Desperately. So do all of us—some of us, admittedly, more than others. And Armstrong’s doping scheme was grander, badder, more spectacular than any act of knavery most of us could have come up with.

But what happens when we get caught breaking the rules? What do we have to say for ourselves? And what did Lance Armstrong have to say for himself?

Justifiable Conduct_smWe try to explain away our cheating. We self-exculpate. We offer strategies of redemption—“acceptable utterances” that account for what we did. We neutralize the stigma of our behavior. “Lots of others did the same.” “I didn’t run the show.” “The system is unfair.” “I’ve been through some rough times.” “I apologize for my sins.”

“Hollow” efforts at redemption? Yes, we call these strategies “rationalizations,” and true, they are rhetorical devices. But I sense a measure of heartfelt emotion oozing from these contrivances. Wrongdoers typically believe that the acts they exculpate are not as bad as their detractors claim. These are not simple lies to get away with wrongdoing; they represent efforts to ingratiate themselves with audiences. They reflect an all-too-human quest for forgiveness.

Autobiographical statements brim with recitations of absolution for one’s sins and transgressions. They represent the conclusion of morality tales—its illegitimate love-child, so to speak. They bring their audience into the narration and manage to lift a sickly pallor from the narrator’s person. Apologies, justifications, denials—all constitute clay for sculpting one’s self-portrait. St. Augustine’s abasement before God for stealing a few of his neighbor’s pears and for fathering an out-of-wedlock child, and Lance Armstrong’s declaration, “I will spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologize to people,” are fraternal twins: Both of them address and seek absolution from an audience, and hence, both are rich with empathy. Their narrators use a conventional vocabulary to apologize for unconventional behavior; they acknowledge the common ground between speaker and audience, agree that the speaker has sinned, and recognize that said speaker has vowed to atone for past sins. They have entered into a kind of social contract that we can liken to a morality play, with the speaker playing both protagonist and antagonist. “I have sinned, but I have been sinned against, and I will sin no more.”

Armstrong has gotten our attention. Many of us hear his apologia—his version of an apologia—and hold damnation in abeyance. The hair shirt, the speaking engagements, the PR machine, the skillfully placed, orchestrated op-eds—they are likely to follow a well-worn path toward ultimate redemption. This is a human drama that sinners and audiences have played out multiple times throughout history. Accounts of wrongdoing subsequent to public revelation serve to reknit the damaged social fabric and reintegrate the sinner with the society at large. If Lance Armstrong has not perfectly played out his role as the ideal repentant sinner, neither is he the perfect monster we love to hate. He reminds us of our frailties and entreats us to readmit him to the flock. How can we say no?

All of us wait, with enormous anticipation, to hear and read Lance’s elaborated rhetorical shift from denial to apology; we can be sure it’ll be interesting and revealing. We can count on that full account in his inevitable, forthcoming memoir. I’ll be one of his first readers.

In Memoriam: Aristide R. Zolberg

John Torpey, editor of the Press’ Politics, History, and Social Change series, writes a tribute to Aristide Zolberg, who passed away on April 12.  The Press published Professor Zolberg’s book, How Many Exceptionalisms?: Explorations in Comparative Macroanalysisin 2008.

Ary Zolberg changed my life.  I was working on a book about the history of passports which, although addressing migration issues was not my primary purpose, forced me to learn something about migration.  I knew nothing about the topic at the time, so I cast about for some guidance in the literature.  A book called Human Migration: Patterns and Policies, and edited by the distinguished world historian William McNeill, seemed like a good place to start.  I read a few of the papers in the volume, feeling relatively unmoved, until I read the 45 pages under the name Aristide Zolberg, of whom I had then never heard.  It was a tour de force, unlike anything I had read in a long time: enormously erudite, gracefully written, immensely illuminating.  I quickly sought out other writings of his, which often were buried in edited volumes and not necessarily easy to find.  They were all like the first paper I had read – clear, insightful, powerful.  This Zolberg guy was someone I had to get to know.

ImageThen, as fate would have it, I did have the good fortune to get to know him – in a two-installment, transatlantic seminar that spread over two years in the mid-1990s.  He led the seminars with great charm and wisdom.  But then there were the parties.  Here was this, well, not young guy wearing unbelievably cool African print shirts, dancing with the girls, and telling great stories.  My favorite was this: Ary came to the United States shortly after World War II and promptly went into the army.  He was shipped off to El Paso, Texas, where he had a lot of time on his hands as a resident of the base.  So, he thought to himself, “I’m in the military.  It’s time to read War and Peace.”  So he did, carrying it around the base with him to take up in spare moments.  “But most of the guys with whom I was in the service,” he said, “had never seen any book that big that wasn’t the Bible.  So they called me ‘the Preacher’.”

That was especially funny to me because, soon after we first met, he had described himself as my “co-religionist” (I was raised Catholic).  And I’m thinking: How could this guy, who just had to be Jewish, be my fellow Catholic?  Well, that’s a longer story, about being a “hidden child” (from the Nazis, of course) in Belgium during World War II.  As part of his “cover,” he would indeed eventually be confirmed in the Catholic Church – along the way learning English by Imagereading National Geographic with the German soldier billeted in the town where he was “hiding.”  Did the German soldier know?  Ary thought he did.  Far from a hardened Nazi, the guy had been living in the United States and only conscripted as a result of an ill-fated return to Germany during the war.  Another great story, full of the strange twists and turns of history and fate.  Ary understood – from hard-won personal experience and from a lifetime of learning — that history was like that.

Indeed, given his personal history, it’s hard to see how his scholarly work and his life can really be separated.  He was personally insulted by racial discrimination and animus, but also had a more level-headed view about what to do about them than many people preoccupied with the problem.  He was always a source of wisdom, whatever the topic.  He was a humane, wise, generous scholar, the like of which we do not see much anymore.  I will miss him, but I will certainly not forget him.

How C.W. Anderson “built” Rebuilding the News

In this blog entry Rebuilding the News author C. W. Anderson explains his book’s sociological methodology by remembering the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies. 

Rebuilding the News_smRebuilding the News contains a number of local stories that (I hope) are interesting to readers in Philadelphia and elsehwere. However,  I wanted to explain my newsroom method (called “actor-network theory”) through the prism of a story that didn’t make it into the book: the story of the 2008 World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies. Or rather, through their rather odd and aborted playoff slogan: “why can’t us?” I know, I know, it’s grammatically incorrect. But, as in so many things in Philadelphia, that seems to be exactly the point.

The back story from Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Peter Mucha, in that wonderful fall of 2008:

“It began as a caller’s remark just last Thursday. In short order, a local sports blog and one of the nation’s leading sports blogs began singing its praises as a Phillies rally cry. Then, T-shirts and mugs were designed to get out the message, and hundreds of items have already been sold, raising money for charity. Then it spread to radio, Facebook, print and ESPN.

Have folks found the perfect slogan for the Fightin’ Phils?

Even if – or because – it’s ungrammatical.

Judge for yourself: It’s ‘Why Can’t Us?’”


Mucha’s story, which went on to be featured on the front page of, noted that it was quite possible that the slogan could become the official Phillies playoff slogan, and quoted local blogger Dan Levy, who hoped that the phrase would get mentioned during the game. also asked its readers to weigh in on an online poll, asking “Is ‘Why Can’t Us?’ a great Phillies rally cry?”

Now … a traditional analysis of news production processes, one steeped in several generations of academic social constructionism, would argue that the Philadelphia news media “created” the “Why Can’t Us” meme, and that if it ended up becoming the Phillies World Series slogan this would represent another case of the powerful media creating “reality” out of “nothing.” A slightly more nuanced, technologically hip version of the same argument might make the claim that while blogs play a role in creating social reality, their efforts are meaningless until their work is ratified by the conventional, “mainstream media.” A second, more old-fashioned analysis would conclude that the “Why Can’t Us” slogan wasn’t created by the Philadelphia media at all, it was created by a caller on XM Satellite radio, and anyway, if it became popular that that only showed that it was a great slogan in the first place.  We can see this argument play out, most seriously, in the periodic complaints of losing Presidential candidates who start to blame the media for their flailing campaigns, as well as the push back (usually from the winning side) claiming that the candidate who lost was “inherently flawed.”

This debate, while it might have once been useful, has grown increasingly stale over the past decade. I’ve tried to avoid it entirely by adopting a methodology known within studies of science, technology, and society as actor-network theory (ANT). I’ve tried not the let ANT dominate my fieldwork in Philadelphia, but have tried to keep it in the back of my head at all times as a form of guidance and corrective. ANT began as a way for anthropologists and sociologists to study the construction of scientific facts inside laboratories. I, and a few others, are starting to try to use ANT as a way to study the construction of news facts inside newsrooms.

Here are some of the main tenets of Actor-Network theory, adopted for use with news media production:

  • ANT places objects and subjects, things and people, on the same ontological level. In other words, it gives objects agency. These entities are called “actants.”
  • ANT refuses to draw lines between insiders and outsiders; it embraces the instability and uncertainty of group boundaries.
  • News facts ultimately amount nothing more than an assembled network of actants (subjects and objects). The longer the news network, the more powerful the news fact becomes. Additionally, it helps to have “hard” actants, ie, “objects,” on the side of your network.
  • ANT– as noted above– tries to dispense with the tired debate between social constructionists and social realists.

I admit that this is all pretty abstract. So let’s apply these insights to the Peter Mucha story “Is ‘Why Can’t Us?’ new Phils rally cry?”

  • ANT places objects and subjects, things and people, on the same ontological level.

Here’s a list of some of the things a traditional media analysis of the above story might consider:

The Philadelphia Inquirer / and maybe … Marty from Delaware.

Now here’s a list of some of the things an ANT analysis would include in its analysis:

Peter Mucha /  The Philadelphia Inquirer / / Marty from Delaware / Sports Center /XM Satellite Radio / Dan Levy / The 700 Level  / Deadspin / T-shirts/ mugs / 609Design Shop / Cafe Press / hoodies / a dog T-shirt / an infant bodysuit / a large mug / Philebrity / Facebook / The news article “Is ‘Why Can’t Us?’ new Phils rally cry?” / The website”

  • ANT embraces the instability and uncertainty of group boundaries.

Would you include blogs, Facebook, and Sports Center in your media analysis? How could you not? Rather than attempting to answer the question of “who counts as a journalist,” an ANT inspired analysis can simply turn our attention to the manner in which various journalistic actants interact, network, and define themselves in practice. And all this only starts to matter when you conclude that …

  • News facts ultimately amount nothing more than an assembled network of actants (subjects and objects).

How did “Why Can’t Us” become a powerful contender for the “official” world series slogan? After all, it’s nothing more than, as John Durham Peters might put it, “words spoken into the air.” In this case, however, the sign “why can’t us” “enrolled” XM Satellite Radio into its network, along with the blogger Dan Levy, his blog The 700 Level , the bigger blog Deadspin (and by bigger here we simply mean “an object with a bigger network”), Sports Center, and quite importantly a series of “hard” objects like mugs and dog t-shirts. The blog website CafePress, not a journalistic blog at all, then provides “instant attachment” (thanks Lucas!) to the various objects not networked into what was just a breath of air, “why can’t us.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer, then, takes a set of already solid news facts (called in ANT, “black boxes”) — the slogan, the blog posts about the slogan, the people talking about the slogan, the merchandise– and performs its own act of enrollment, adding its own interviews and sets of weblinks to the mix, and creating  a “news story” out of a series of formerly disparate objects. This story, “Is ‘Why Can’t Us?’ new Phils rally cry?” or more accurately,”

has now become its own object, and is ready to be enrolled in any number of additional networks. Furthermore, the slogan itself has gained an additional ally, the Philadelphia Inquirer.

  • Finally, ANT tries to dispense with the tired debate between social constructionists and social realists.

Looking at the work it took to assemble the news story discussed above, can anyone doubt that the story was “constructed”?? Can anyone who has witnessed the painstaking labor carried out by reporters, as they write a news story, have any doubt that reporters “construct” the news? And yet, this should not be seen as a criticism that the above story is “false,” or that it is  “only social in nature” or “nothing more than rhetoric.” The story above is, indeed, about words, ideas, and slogans …  but it is also about slogans that have become “hard,” through XM radio, and have been hardened again, through weblogs. It is a story about mugs and doggie t-shirts. And the story itself, eventually, becomes an “object,” made out of a bunch of other objects, which can then be enrolled in all manner of networks.

So there it is: a highly technical, and rather intimidating, philosophical and sociological method explained through baseball.


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