Greenblatt’s new historicism

Stephen Greenblatt is a pathbreaking literary critic. But since the 1990s I've also looked at Greenblatt as a genuinely innovative and insightful contributor to the historical social sciences as well. He poses questions that are enormously important for anyone trying to make sense of humanity in history. What is a cultural identity? How do background …

Online mobilization strategies by right-wing extremists

graphic: White supremacist podcast network (SPLC link) The surge of right-wing extremism has been evident in the United States for the past five years, including the spread of white supremacist language and activism, armed demonstrations by right-wing militia organizations, violent threats against public officials in health and education agencies, and -- of course -- the violent …

China’s food-safety governance system

Food safety is a very high-level concern for ordinary consumers. This is true because the food we eat can poison us or ruin our health, and yet consumers have little ability to evaluate the safety of the foods available in the marketplace. Therefore government regulation of food safety appears to be mandatory in any complex …

How are institutions sustained, reproduced, and changed?

Institutions are "supra-individual", in the sense that they establish a context of identity and mental-framework formation for all individuals, and they create the environment of choice for the current actions of individuals. Further, they exercise an influence that is beyond the control of any particular individual or group of individuals. But at the same time, …

Fire safety in urban China

A rapidly rising percentage of the Chinese population is living in high-rise apartment buildings in hundreds of cities around the country. There is concern, however, about the quality and effectiveness of fire-safety regulation and enforcement for these buildings (as well as factories, warehouses, ports, and other structures). This means that high-rise fires represent a growing …

Social behavior and the covid pandemic

Anyone who thinks that the social world is orderly and predictable needs to reflect carefully on the way the covid pandemic has played out in the United States and many other countries. For political scientists who are partial to rational-choice explanations of individual behavior -- you'll need to think again. No theory of rationality or …

Social change and agency

Much of the drama of history is found in processes of large social and political change, both slow and rapid. The sudden collapse of the Soviet system in 1989 and 1990, the success of the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949, the decades-long rise of the nationalist right in France and the United States, the rise …

Buffy the existentialist vampire slayer

Here is a hard question. Can the creators of television shows and other kinds of pop culture be understood sometimes to pose fundamental and important questions about human life and morality? We probably all believe that great novelists are able to confront and explore hard human moral predicaments and life contradictions -- often in ways …

Organizational evil

image: IG Farben headquarters A number of posts have confronted the historical realities of atrocities, genocide, and cruelty on a massive scale. The general question tying these discussions together has to do with individual human beings: "How could a normal human being with normal social emotions commit these atrocious acts?" And the individual question can …

Botton’s philosophy of life in the world

Image: Diogenes and his barrel I've somehow missed reading any of the numerous books of philosophical reflections authored by Alain de Botton. They have often given me an impression of being written in a clever way for a literate audience, but without the heft of a Rawls or a Ricoeur. Now, with a copy of Status Anxiety to …

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