Category: ST132 (Page 1 of 14)

Have We Never Been Modern?

Bruno Latour presented some very interesting concepts that also may question the entire theme of the course we all are currently taking. This is an important because we should always question what we are doing and not just take things at face value. I often forget that most of the lectures we are attending are opinions (well researched ones) of different professors. In Latours book “We Have Never Been Modern” is an investigation into modern times wile concluding that modernity creates a great divide between us.

I dont believe that we question things enough in this day in age. I am personally someone that thinks that science it something set in stone and compleatly true. The years of researce into scientific laws and theries are what make me believe in what I have been taught since grade school. I would never question the laws of gravity that have been proven time and time again. My major as a geologist has

What Does it Mean to be a Revolutionary?

Listening to Marcos Perez deliver this fascinating lecture opened me up to what it means to be a revolutionary, particularly in this day and age.  Does it mean through changes in technology that all people, through their platforms of democratic social media, can be part of societal change despite not even having to leave their chair in their home? Or does true revolutionary change only come from those who still fight and protest on the ground and in the streets, arguing for what they believe to be right? By raising such questions, Professor Perez questioned the nature of revolutionaries, and when I consider such points today I would suggest that there is some validity to the idea that true revolutionaries will only find real success by putting some skin in the game and fighting for what they believe in.  Otherwise, by only tweeting about a certain issue, the only person you’re really helping feel better is yourself.

To be Revolutionary, or Not to be…

Professor Kieth Peterson’s lecture on whether we as a society have in fact ever been revolutionary was certainly one of the most thought provoking and also complex lectures I attended during this series.  It will always be seen as unorthodox to provoke such questions as these, but in doing so, Professor Peterson raised valuable points that can help us address problems we see within society to this day.  That being said, I did struggle during parts of his argument, as he at times ventured far deeper into the philosophical world than I was academically ready to understand, and at times lost his exact train of thought as a result.  Notwithstanding, I greatly enjoyed his lecture, and the valuable questions he raised throughout.

Revolutions in Monuments

Listening to Professor Jeffrey Schnapp speak about we as a society should view and appreciate the value of monuments was very fascinating, and opened me up to questions I had not previously considered on the subject.  Deciding whether people get any true benefits from constructing monuments and memorials is something seldom raised, and yet Professor Schnapp took a thoughtful and thorough approach to his analysis.   He also explained how to create monuments that not only do have relevant meaning, but also carry substantive justice for those the monument is intended to serve.  Forgoing such questions can result in a thought of inadequacy of monuments in society, and then a lesser feeling of need to have them in society.  By bringing up such ideas, Professor Schnapp opened me up to such questions that should continue to be raised in the future.

Darwin’s Adaptation

It is funny how some things just catch fire in terms of the way in which they are perceived. At the turn of the 19th century, Charles Darwin was born and though he was not the first to conceive of the ideas surrounding evolution, it certainly stuck with him as his legacy. However, the basics of the theories of evolution, that the strong survive and those best suited to survival will out-live the weak. According to social Darwinism, those with strength flourish and those without are destined for extinction. It is important to note that Darwin did not extend his theories to a social or economic level, nor are any credible evolutionists subscribing to the theories of Social Darwinism. However, according to evolutionary theory, nature is a “kill or be killed” system. Those that cannot keep up are either left behind or cut off. If evolution, through chance, is solely responsible for life as we now know it, why should that process be countered? If “survival of the fittest” or “kill or be killed” cannot apply in what we define as “decent society,” then, which is wrong, society or evolution? If neither, then how do we explain morality, charity, and compassion? These are questions we have to ask ourselves when we look to government, who represent our interests. I feel as though on some level, individuals who believe in smaller governments believe in the idea of social Darwinism. Their thought process might be along the lines of we should not bail out businesses that fail, the good ones will succeed and the bad ones will not and that should be the natural course of capitalism. However, they still could believe that there should be government services to provide safety services and emergency services for people. There then would be the next level, where individuals believe that they people should be able to fend for themselves, meaning that they do not need police officers to protect the public, nor firemen or emergency response teams to provide support in the event of a crisis. To them, individuals who cannot accomplish this will be selected out.
David Allen once said “All men are created equal, it is only men themselves who place themselves above equality.” In thinking about how we perceive each other, we have to think of how the objectively different we are. The answer is not much. Though everyone comes from different backgrounds, it is our experiences and education that sets us apart, which does not really apply to the theory of evolution. The first thousand days, as some developmental economists suspect, are the most important in determining outcomes for childhood through adulthood. If some of us were innately better than others, then this empirically proven theory would not hold true, because it would be determined prior to birth. While it is true that some people are born with certain physical attributes, and possibly greater intellectual capabilities than others, it is proven that under the right circumstances that even those born with disabilities can outperform those who have better genetics. In thinking about this, in nature, this would not be the truth, which is why it is hard to think of why social darwinism as an applicable theory.

Just What Was That

That’s the question I had after I sat in on K.P’s lecture.  It was one that I perhaps lacked the philosophical background to deal with, but it left me with the impression that it’s message was that we, as humans will the idea of revolution into being, and therefore can will it out again.

And I do think this is a valid point.  For there are periods in every individual life, and in larger social movements where we get to the end and simply have to define it-ask “What was that?”  When something appears different than it was before we call it a revolution, and therefore the idea of revolution is not definable in a moment, but as a hindsight.  And therefore it is all in our heads.

I guess this doesn’t surprise me.  “Revolution” is a noun that doesn’t fit the person, place or thing definition.  It’s an idea.  And because of that it carries a lot of ambiguity to what it means to a person.  Thus the person can define it for themselves, they can make it what they want it to be.  The idea that we have never been revolutionaries then is possible.

But yet, there must have been revolutions.  What do we as a society call those moments where we changed.  That’s why I think that we are all, in contrary to the assertion of this lecture revolutionaries.  We to a certain extent comment on how life could be better and some of us act on it.  It is in our nature to question.  To want to change.  To be revolutionary.

So where the idea of revolution might be one that is malleable it is one that exists as a part of our nature.  Therefore we have not never been revolutionaries but instead have always and still are revolutionaries.

Revolution in Retrospect: The Haitian Revolution

The most interesting aspect of Mr. Popkin’s lecture to me was that it was being presented as a revolution that the Haitian Revolution was now being studied.  Because for all of my previous studies of history in secondary school the Haitian Revolution was a part of the World History cirriculum.  It was in my textbook, and on the AP test I took.  I took it for granted.  Popkins lecture though was more about how the revolution of the small island nation came to be be viewed in the way it is today, as the major turning point where democracy went from the idealistic approach of the American and French Revolutions to a real form of revolution that aimed at much more human causes.

In Haiti this specifically was the oppressive manner in which it was governed by France.  It was a slave colony.  What the Haitian revolution arose from was the logical notion that a majority of a population having no control over their own lives was not an ideal, and just plain wrong.  It was a reaction against colonialism, the first of it’s kind, that would set the precedent for how the next two centuries of world history would end up unfolding.  This is the consensus amongst modern historians.  What Popkin’s lecture sought to point out is that this was not always the case.  That the way history is thought of is up to the same bias’ as politics or government.

For the Haitian revolution this was a consequence of it being on the opposite side of history as the historians.  For historians have primarily worked in the West in the great empires of old.  To celebrate or acknowledge a revolution that worked to destroy their very notion of how history worked would be a tough pill to swallow.  Yet it was, and the inclusion of the Haitian Revolution in modern curriculum is a sound defeat of this notion.

This is all to say that revolutions are defined as much by those that view them as the people involved in them.  That the Haitian revolution occurred is historically an interesting tale.  That this tale didn’t reach a mainstream western audience until recently is as interesting.  It’s an exploration into how we define the phenomena that have shaped human kind-of which revolution is a marker of.

“What does this data mean?” “It’s right there sir, see for yourself.”

Professor Aaron Hanlon delivered a talk on the introduction of the word “Data” into the English language in the 17th century. From here, he explored the ways in which this was used and how that has shaped the use of the word today. What began as meaning literally, “the word of God” data has now become a ubiquitous term in everyday language. Professor Hanlon showed the google n-gram viewer for the usage of words data, fact and truth. A trend can be noted that the usage of “fact” and “truth” diverged near 1850, “fact” increasing and “truth” decreasing. “Data” also began to increase rapidly in usage from throughout the 20th century and the usage of “truth” plateaued, falling well below the usage of “data” and “fact” by 2000.  What can these trends say about the meanings of these words have changed.

The general trend would tell an observer that the transition has been from a word more related to belief to more neutral and scientific words. The word “truth” implies intimacy, a type of interaction with the information where it is the truth, but it is also taken as the truth. It means the same as fact but facts imply a separation from the interpreter. Facts are simply what is presented. Data is what builds these facts and truths. The analysis of data can lead to conclusions. Today, data has instead become synonymous with evidence. Not support, but more related to facts and truths. This is problematic because data is nothing without proper context. Data can be framed and manipulated to be evidence for anything.

I’m not sure how revolutionary this idea is, but it is alarming that we are moving towards a reality where data functions alone. Instead of relying on the context, people simply look at the raw data and set aside why or how it was collected in the first place. Data should not reveal anything without some context. This is not a framing of the information, but rather an actual description. In a time with excessive information, it is important to remember this. All of this random information must be supported. And even then, the supported information relies on how and why it was collected and analyzed. This may shape the interpretation and may also lead to faults in the method of collection. There is a lot more to data than simply interpreting the magnitude of numbers compared to one another. Data is extremely important, but it must be appreciated for what it is.

What Professor Hanlon was getting at is that data has always been visual but in current times, it is becoming evidence for people’s claims. What is surrounding the specific data has been losing importance over the years. The interpretation of data cannot be generalized. Depending on a critical lens, not only can data have varying importance, but it can lead to completely different conclusions. When a person looks at data, they need to take context into account and also look at the reason for this data in the first place. Evidence, facts and truths can come from data, but it is wrong to assume that this is always true.

The Tipping Point

Inquires around the concept of a “revolution” are endless.  What constitutes a revolution?  When will we have a revolution?  When will we have the revolution?  Professor of Sociology Marcos Perez discusses why people choose to participate in revolutions, despite their limited success by asking the following question: are our current systems sustainable?  Although no system is sustainable in the way it is currently operating forever, when is a system flawed to the point where a revolution is inevitable?  The flaws necessary to spark a revolution not only have to upset people, but upset people to the point where they are willing to act, and sometimes, willing to die for change.  But if success is rarely guaranteed, why would individuals subject themselves to injury and possibly death?  Perez referenced the psychological term, the crowd mentality, suggesting that individuals, when grouped together, lose their individuality.  Individuals are not individuals anymore; they make up a large conglomerate of people fighting for the same cause.  Along with the crowd mentality, inhibitions, vulnerabilities, and even opinions are altered.  Although it seems paradoxical that one could be fighting and potentially dying for something that he or she doesn’t actually believe in, the crowd mentality erases this.  The group has opinions and objectives reflective of the movement itself, not individuals within the movement.


Although the psychology behind why people join movements has been discussed, it is imperative to consider why the movements begin in the first place.  Perez discusses two theories discussing society and revolution: Functionalists, and Rationalists.  Functionalists believe that protest was crazy: why would people subject themselves to violence?  Rationalists on the other hand believed that protest was inevitable: people were always going to be upset and if they had resources, protest would ensue.  Although neither postulate is correct on its own, bits and pieces from each theory contribute to the reason why revolutions and uprisings exist.  From the rationalist perspective, it is true that there will always be people unhappy and upset with how society hurts and detracts from them, however, rationalists are incorrect in assuming that just because injustice may exist, an uprising might occur.  In order for a massive uprising to take place, people have to be impacted to the point where they have reached their tipping point, that the injustice that exists is so great that people have nothing to lose, and thus have no other option but to rebel and protest.  The idea that groups of people have a threshold of injustice that they can endure before they take action also takes fundamental properties from the functionalist theory: people will not protest.  While people may protest, they will not take great action until they have reached their tipping point.


So the question remains: what is the tipping point and when is it reached?  If there really is an enormous revolution coming our way in America, what is it?  What will catalyze it?  As of today, the United States remains divided: a liberal revolution followed by a conservative backlash and counter revolution separates the country even further.  It is not a matter of if we will reach our tipping point, it is when.

Who wants to be a Revolutionary?

Who wants to be a Revolutionary? That’s pretty much the question that Marcos Perez was trying to answer from the perspective of a sociologist. And yes, it is an incredibly interesting question to look at, especially to know the different sociological theories and how they have evolved over the 20th century. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, prominent thinking included Durkheim’s “Collective Effervescence” and also the ideas of “crowd mentality” – how individuality is lost when you enter a crowd. I personally haven’t spent much time in large crowds since I normally try to avoid them, but I think anyone could attest to the difference in energy that a crowd can have—an energy that no single person can have on their own, or obvious hope to generate without a crowd. A random example would be seeing a movie in the theater. Sometimes it’s nice to have the whole place to yourself and a few friends and then it feels like a private showing. But when I went to see Star Wars last year and the theater was totally packed with big fans, there was an electrifying feel in the air with all the excitement emanating off the crowd. This may not be an apt analogy for something like a protest or insurgency movement, but both contexts share the heightened emotions that come with being in a crowd of people sharing a common moment. I don’t think I can answer why exactly I, or anyone else, would participate in a protest, especially since sociologists have been struggling to answer that question for hundreds of years. I can’t imagine the high costs and personal sacrifice that comes to those who lead the revolutions. Then for those who join a revolution as a revolutionary, Perez mentioned how there isn’t really an incentive for one person, who can’t make much of an additional difference. This leads to a collective action dilemma.  

In the question and answer period after the lecture, the conflict between “global” and “local” was identified as a driver in these recent movements. We could look to what some describe as revolutionary movements in the United States, with Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, then around the world with far-right movements and decisions like the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union. The shocks of globalization have improved many lives, but has also left a lot of people behind. President-elect Donald Trump saw this and used the “local card” politically, and clearly it was a popular move and sentiment that rewarded him. 2016 seems to have been a wakeup call for globalization. Another big topic in the aftermath of the US election has been fake news. How does something like the ability of any individual or organization to post any opinion or fabrication as fact shift the balance of agency vs social structure in revolution? But now I wonder how revolution happens. Perez noted that one train of thought is that the third world will play an important part as a rising actor in global revolution.



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