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Selling Hope and College, , 2017
It has long been assumed that college admission should be a simple matter of sorting students according to merit, with the best heading off to the Ivy League and highly ranked liberal arts colleges and the rest falling naturally into their rightful places. Admission to selective institutions, where extremely fine distinctions are made, is characterized by heated public debates about whether standardized exams, high school transcripts, essays, recommendation letters, or interviews best indicate which prospective students are "worthy."
And then there is college for everyone else. But what goes into less-selective college admissions in an era when everyone feels compelled to go, regardless of preparation or life goals? “Ravenwood College,” where Alex Posecznick spent a year doing ethnographic research, was a small, private, nonprofit institution dedicated to social justice and serving traditionally underprepared students from underrepresented minority groups. To survive in the higher education marketplace, the college had to operate like a business and negotiate complex categories of merit while painting a hopeful picture of the future for its applicants. Selling Hope and College is a snapshot of a particular type of institution as it goes about the business of producing itself and justifying its place in the market. Admissions staff members were burdened by low enrollments and worked tirelessly to fill empty seats, even as they held on to the institution's special spirit. Posecznick documents what it takes to keep a “mediocre” institution open and running, and the struggles, tensions, and battles that members of the community tangle with daily as they carefully walk the line between empowering marginalized students and exploiting them.
Available for purchase in print.
Ignoring Ignorance, , 2017
Theoretically, this article seeks to broaden the conceptualization of ignorance within STS by drawing on a line of theory developed in the philosophy and anthropology of education to argue that ignorance can be productively conceptualized as a state of possibility and that doing so can enable more democratic forms of citizen science. In contrast to conceptualizations of ignorance as a lack, lag, or manufactured product, ignorance is developed here as both the opening move in scientific inquiry and the common ground over which that inquiry proceeds. Empirically, the argument is developed through an ethnographic description of Scroggins' participation in a failed citizen science project at a DIYbio laboratory. Supporting the empirical case are a review of the STS literature on expertise and a critical examination of the structures of participation within two canonical citizen science projects. Though onerous, through close attention to how people transform one another during inquiry, increasingly democratic forms of citizen science, grounded in the commonness of ignorance, can be put into practice.
The meanings of production(s): showbiz and deep plays in finance and DIYbiology, , 2017
Drawing on anthropological theories of play, deep play and games, as well as sociological interaction theories of risk, this paper develops a theory of consequential games. This paper suggests that in the United States much expert or entrepreneurial activity can be seen as a competition over creating the rules of games that others must play. In turn, whatever peril lies in these consequential games is the province of the saps that have to play, and whatever reward or prize comes from the game is captured by the expert or entrepreneur. The perspective that this paper advances, in turn, renders domains of life often seen as discrete (say private equity investing and biotechnological tinkering) comparable and in fact similar types of phenomena, all caught up in the crazy apocalyptic vitality that is contemporary capitalism.
Between Mexico and New York City, , 2017
There are negative consequences for children and youth when a primary caregiver leaves to migrate. However there are unforeseen experiences related to schooling. Gabrielle Oliveira compares how Mexican maternal migration has influenced the education experiences of the children left behind in Mexico and their siblings living in the United States. These microcontexts of where and how siblings live in Mexico and in New York City present us with a somewhat surprising picture of the different education experiences.
Something new: value and change in finance, , 2017
Ethnographic and social scientific accounts of the financiers that buy and sell companies for profit often homogenize the players in these social dramas, relying on blunt, totalizing definitions of culture or overly deterministic articulations of habitus. This article, drawing on a two-year study of private equity investors, offers an alternative analytic frame for making sense of how private equity people buy and sell companies. It explores the ways in which private equity people make arguments persuading one another and the larger public that an investment is worth making.
What financiers’ jokes say about inequality, , 2017
Souleles makes use of theories of humor and play to analyze a corpus of jokes private equity investors tell about the work that they do. Private equity investors, at the time of a field project Souleles conducted from spring 2012 through summer 2014, managed about US$3.5 trillion in mostly other people’s money, to buy and sell whole companies as investments. Souleles suggests that analyzing private equity investors’ jokes and laughter allows us a way to understand what they think about the wealth and power they cultivate and the inequity they enable. He further suggests that private equity investors, in many ways, are ambivalent about the justification for their social status.
Negotiating contradictions: educación among Dominican transnational mothers in New York City, , 2016
This paper examines how a transnational orientation shapes Dominican mothers’ contradictory attitudes towards education in New York City. Through this ethnographic study, which draws on 36 interviews, community walkabouts, and participant observations in community-led adult education classes, we show how Dominican mothers struggle with conflicting values; on the one hand, they embrace the idea of schooling for individual advancement, integration in the US, and critical thinking, while on the other hand, they regret the diminution of a collective, family orientation and respect for parents. Overall, this study shows that contradictions are not a sign of confusion or denial, but rather a struggle to transform cultural practices that satisfy multiple worlds. A deeper understanding of these contradictions could help educators and educational institutions consider how these transnational tensions motivate parent engagement and their hopes for their children’s education.
The Impact of Mexican Maternal Migration, , 2016
In recent years, Mexican women have been more likely to migrate alone, leaving behind children in the care of relatives or friends. While family separation among Mexican migrant households is typical of the cross-border experience, it is now likely to be between mothers and children. These periods of separation are also more likely to be of longer duration. The hardening of the U.S.-Mexico border and the increasing risks and costs of migration hinder the abilities of migrants to regularly exit and re-enter the United States. As more women migrate, there are potential educational consequences for their children left in Mexico with substitute caregivers. This article explores the impact of rising numbers of female Mexican migrants on the educational experiences and aspirations of the children left behind. The article is informed by survey data from a study of school children in Puebla, Mexico.
Cultural Capital and Transnational Parenting: The Case of Ghanaian Migrants in the United States, , 2015
In this article, Cati Coe and Serah Shani illustrate through the case of Ghanaian immigrants to the United States that the concept of cultural capital offers many insights into immigrants' parenting strategies, but that it also needs to be refined in several ways to account for the transnational context in which migrants and their children operate.
Cati Coe and Serah Shani (2015) Cultural Capital and Transnational Parenting: The Case of Ghanaian Migrants in the United States. Harvard Educational Review: Winter 2015, Vol. 85, No. 4, pp. 562-586.
The Para-State: An Ethnography of Colombian Death Squads, , 2015
In his book "The Para-State," Aldo Civico draws on interviews with paramilitary death squads and drug lords to provide a cultural interpretation of the country’s history of violence and state control. Between 2003 and 2008, Civico gained unprecedented access to some of Colombia’s most notorious leaders of the death squads. He also conducted interviews with the victims of paramilitary, with drug kingpins, and with vocal public supporters of the paramilitary groups. Drawing on the work of Deleuze and Guattari, this riveting work demonstrates how the paramilitaries have in essence become a war machine deployed by the Colombian state to control and maintain its territory and political legitimacy.
Towards the Ideal Revolutionary Shi’i Woman: The Howzevi (Seminarian), the Requisites of Marriage and Islamic Education in Iran, , 2015
Tawasil’s ethnographic fieldwork in Iran reveals how some religious conservative howzevi (seminarian) women understand marriage and motherhood as constitutive of idealized womanhood. Tawasil argues that the howzevi’s observances of certain constraints facilitate educational, social and political mobility.
St. Patrick's Day Becomes Us in "Consuming St. Patrick's Day", , 2015
Keenan's analysis of the 2011 St. Patrick's Day parade in Belfast suggests that, in Belfast, the parade is reinvented as a carnival, less about Irishness and more about re-imagining a troubled city. The event becomes a space for testing and affirming what the city and its citizens want Belfast to become.
In the War on Poverty, Don't Forget Refugees, , 2014
Koyama's OpEd piece in the Huffington Post calls for providing refugees with English training as a prerequisite to enjoying economic mobility.
Publics and Protests: Demonstrations of Public Grief in the Wake of Tragic Events, , 2014
Katie Keenan examines demonstrations of public grief in the wake of tragic events in Northern Ireland and New York City.
Through the Looking Glass and Back Again: The Following Exercise, , 2013
Defamiliarization and an examination of the means by which students refamiliarize themselves are the goals of Buse's (Ph.D. 1999) two part experiential exercise that seeks to engage and illuminate the implicit culture-bound categories informing the classroom experience of an introductory course in anthropology.
Constructing legitimacy in a non-selective, American college: unpacking symbolic capital through ethnographic moments, , 2013
Posecznick describes the ways distinctions about symbolic capital were made and how legitimacy was constructed during his year of ethnographic research in the Office of Admission of a small urban college.
Transcending Linguistic Boundaries at Work, , 2013
Velazquez looks at the multilingual repertoires of Latino immigrants working in Koreatown in New York City, shedding light on the ways in which immigrants transform and improve their working and living conditions while using language in unexpected ways.
On the Edge of Protest in Tehran: Discontinuing, Shifting Boundaries, , 2013
Tawasil explores the boundaries between a houzevi (seminarian) woman in Tehran and herself, to illustrate what can be learned from a moment which risks certainty, reveals what does not make sense, and cannot be fixed to a single label of interpretation.