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18 October 2017

Technology Wresting Ritual from Tithing

Here is a research question that I probably won't ever have the chance to pursue:
As more places of worship are offering automated options for electronic financial contribution (i.e. tithing), what, if any, are the negative, unintended consequences?
"Passing the plate" is a ritual common to many religions and is a formalized ritual within the liturgy of many denominations and congregations, particularly in Christianity. As with any ritual, passing the plate reminds people of a shared belief (i.e. everyone is expected to contribute financially to the work of the church); it also then generates solidarity for the group. But what happens when technological advance intrudes on the ritual? Here are a few secondary questions:

  • How does it feel not to put anything in the plate? Does electronic giving diminish ritual participation for individuals?
  • How does it feel to watch others not put anything in the plate? Does the potential electronic giving of others affect how an individual gives? Does it affect how an individual feels about her fellow congregants?
  • Could this increase freeriding behavior? As giving becomes invisible, is it easier to not give?
  • Could there be an unintended consequence whereby congregations actually bring in less money by removing the ritual aspect of giving? While I assume electronic giving locks in contributions and makes them more predictable, is it possible that people are more generous within the ritual than they are when being rational?
I'm guessing there's already research in this area. If not, it's ripe.

11 October 2017

Teaching Gender with Sport

When I teach gender, there is one exercise that I've developed that I really, really enjoy. I ask the students to help me make two lists, one of the most stereotypically masculine sports and one of the most feminine. It's remarkable how consistent these lists are between sections and over semesters. For masculine, the students almost always include football, baseball, rugby, wrestling, and hockey. For feminine, it's almost always cheerleading, volleyball, dance/ballet, softball, and ice/figure skating. I ask the students if they can identify some commonalities within each category. They usually notice that the masculine sports are aggressive, involve contact, and are team oriented and that the feminine sports are more about performance, display, and are more individually oriented. One thing I typically have to draw their attention to is that the masculine sports have relatively objective measures for victory (instant replay aside); in other words, men win by getting the ball or person to some line or place more times than their opponents. Feminine sports, on the other hand, generally involve much more subjective measures for victory; in other words, women win by allowing others to judge them (albeit within a fairly well-defined set of criteria). This parallels very nicely with a discussion of objectification from a previous class, where we've noted that women tend to be stripped of their agency and valued based on how others (i.e. straight men) appreciate them for meeting shared definitions of physical attractiveness and sexual desirability; women aren't so much doing things as they are expected to allow men to do things to them, even if just gaze.

At this point, I can circle back to volleyball as a good example of how this extends even to traditionally feminine sports that have objective rules. I pull up a web browser and do an image search for "men's volleyball":


I point out that most of the images are action shots, either of competition or celebration within competition. Then, I do a search for "women's volleyball":


I ask the students what differences jump out at them. Without fail, they notice that fewer of the images are action shots and that most are posed and, of course, that the women are wearing far less clothing and the clothing they are wearing is quite tight and revealing. I ask them why this would be since the men and women are playing the same sport with the same rules on the same courts. It's not as if having more or less clothing is somehow offering a competitive advantage. If that were the case, it would be universally adopted. Instead, we see a prime example of gendered expectations; even in an objectively defined sport, we insist that women perform gender in a way that allows them to be objectified

06 October 2017

Producers and Consistency in Music

I wanted to follow up to my post from the other day based on a comment from a good friend/colleague. Brent wrote:
I'm surprised you didn't mention producers, who seemed to have a big influence on the cohesiveness of an album's sound (ex: Nevermind vs. In Utero). The fact that modern pop albums are produced by a wide range of people rather than a single person might also contribute to the decline of the album as a thing.
I replied that, in part, that is what I was trying to convey writing that "persisting collaboratives produce more complex bodies of work not translatable as singles." His point is well received, though, and I have been thinking on it. I think it's a bit bigger than just the producer. The role of the producer is actually a bit spurious to the effect of the traditional recording session.

Many pop albums are essentially collections of several singles driven by disparate producers, albeit usually mastered as a group. (Hence my reply to Brent that this is actually just further evidence that the album has already been in decline.) This fact can make pop albums sound disjointed compared to rock albums. I think the unifying element for rock albums, though, is more the session instead of the producer.

As a guy who has spent a decent amount of time in the studio and who has informally played the role of producer many times, I can attest that there are a number of choices in the recording and mixing process that, like the mic placement process I noted originally, are sunk costs, things that are done once and set for the sake of efficiency. Drum submixes are a good example, as are mixing board and effects settings in general. An album producer has the luxury of coming in, setting up, and grinding out several songs at once. A producer of a single, on the other hand, is constrained by having to set up for just one song. If an album producer had to start from scratch for each song on the album, the body of output would certainly be less cohesive.

Photoshop the Audio

I've been watching a cool PBS documentary, Soundbreaking, recently. There's a segment in which Sir George Martin compares the traditional, pre-Beatles recording process to the process that they developed as being analogous to taking a snapshot versus making a painting. In other words, recording at one time was about capturing a performance, while it became more about building a performance.

It occurred to me, however, that this analogy no longer really holds. It's gone further. My mother-in-law, who is a pretty good photog, has told me that no one really takes photographs anymore; they are constructed. By this, she essentially meant that photos are Photoshopped and not just developed. Today, recording is more like CGI than it is either taking a snapshot or painting.

To be accurate, really, both are going on to some extent. It's not either/or but, instead, both/and. It's just that the pendulum has swung much further toward the both/and side.

02 October 2017

Podcast Roll, 2017

A couple years ago, I posted a list of the podcasts I follow. Here's an update on that.

  • 30 for 30
    • cool mini versions of the ESPN documentary films
  • FiveThirtyEight Elections
    • good, data-driven insight into all things political
  • Fresh Air
    • Terry Gross is a national treasure!
  • Hello Internet
    • It's just two YouTube dudes, Brady and Grey, talking, but I love it.
  • Hidden Brain
    • This show does a good job of taking both sociology and psychology seriously. Best of all, it knows the difference and has featured a lot of sociology recently.
  • Nancy
    • all things queer that you were afraid to ask
  • TED Radio Hour
    • sometimes hit or miss, but generally thought-provoking
  • Invisibilia
    • I am so ambivalent about this show. They ask sociological questions but tend to give psychological answers. Even when they are sociological, it's very armchair. I should probably unsubscribe.
  • On the Media
    • so, so good; so, so necessary
  • More Perfect
    • Learn more about SCotUS.
  • Reasonably Sound
    • philosophy via audio
  • Research on Religion
    • I have a lot of issues with this podcast. There is some good stuff here, but more often than not, the guests are Christianists and/or not sufficiently academic. The host is disappointingly uncritical. I should probably unsubscribe.
  • Song Exploder
    • a window into the songwriter's process
  • This American Life
    • This is a generally engaging show, but this year, in particular, they have been right on top of the pressing issues, most notably race.
  • Writer's Almanac
    • I start every day with poetry. Garrison Keillor is a national treasure!
  • WTF
    • Marc is an interesting guy. Not all of his guests interest me, but he has some gets.

  • The Annex
    • I just stumbled on this new sociological podcast on Twitter recently. I have yet to listen to an episode, but it looks promising so I thought I'd include it here at the end.