Faggotry, and how to boil it down

I have — I think? — mentioned “C.J. Pascoe”:http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~cjpascoe/ on this blog before. A sociology Ph.D. from Berkeley and post doc at the unstoppable “Digital Youth Project”:http://digitalyouth.ischool.berkeley.edu/, Pascoe’s work looks really interesting. Her research focuses on gender and discourse in highschool — hence the title of her book “Dude You’re A Fag”:http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/10671.html. I’m always on the lookout for high school ethnography (it is the only thing you can teach in intro courses that everyone has in common) and the title alone looks like it should hook students — it certainly hooked me.

I bring up Pascoe’s work here for another reason — it’s an excellent example of how we academics boil our work down when necessary. Pascoe’s writing on masculinity in high school can be found in her “dissertation”:http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?index=0&did=1216752651&SrchMode=1&sid=1&Fmt=2&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1183048200&clientId=13392&cfc=1 (a slim 232 pages!), or her “book”:http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/10671.html (only 8 pages longer). But you could also just read “the article”:http://sexualities.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/8/3/329 and then there is even the one-page “op-ed/ad that appeared on Inside Higher Ed this morning”:http://insidehighered.com/views/2007/06/28/pascoe.

I suppose some people would argue that this sort of repacking constitutes some sort of morally suspect double-dipping on publications, and I am sure that there is a sense in which this is sometimes true. But on the whole I think it is a good idea that academics learn how to scope their writing for different degrees of specificity. It is always good to have the full monograph to fall back on, but for non-specialists like me, the article may be all I need — and I may need to glance over the brief write-up to decide whether or not I read the article.

Scoping is important not just for readers doing literature searches, but for authors as well. One of the skills I try to teach my graduate students is the art of cooking their projects down to a sentence (‘I study mining and indigenous people in Papua New Guinea’) or up to a dissertation. They often feel — rightly — that a sentence can never capture the richness of their project. But one of the most valuable things about learning to boil things down is that shifting the form around often helps you get clear on the content. This process of inflation and deflation is thus, I think, one of the keys to getting clear on what specifically you are expending so much lung power on. And clearly Pascoe’s tagline is a great example how even a single sentence can signal to the reader what you study, and why they ought to find it fascinating.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org

4 thoughts on “Faggotry, and how to boil it down

  1. that looks incredible. A genius title. I will read it while I listen to Yo La Tengo’s “I am not afraid of you and I will beat your ass”…

  2. I know. It has to be one of the best book titles… I love it. On the other hand, part of me wonders about the publisher’s take on ‘fag’ as epithet and about homophobic jokes as acceptable or marketable forms of discourse. For example, would other (say, racially disparaging) epithets be emblazoned on a book cover like that?

    In principal I have no problem with ‘double dipping’ or ‘repurposing’ or whatever. Of course, this is probably a more viable thing to do if your subject matter is easily marketable (as studies of US high school culture certainly are) versus if you study something more obscure or less obviously interesting to a wide audience.

    But yeah, that is the tough thing: in one sentence, what is your work about?

  3. For example, would other (say, racially disparaging) epithets be emblazoned on a book cover like that?

    Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word by Randall Kennedy

    Nigger : An Autobiography by Dick Gregory and Robert Lipsyte

    Spanish People in Control by S.p.i.c.

    Hey Spic! by Barney Hidalgo

    Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation by Leora Tanenbaum

    The Unofficial Lazy Slut Cookbook by Rhoda Carroll Fairman

    “Kike!” A documentary history of anti-Semitism in America, (Ethnic prejudice in America series) by Michael Selzer

    Heeb Magazine

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