Why is the term “openly gay” so widely used but “openly straight” is not? What are the unspoken assumptions behind terms like “male nurse,” “working mom,” and “white trash”? Offering a revealing and provocative look at the word choices we make every day without even realizing it, Taken for Granted exposes the subtly encoded ways we talk about race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, social status, and more.
In this engaging and insightful book, Eviatar Zerubavel describes how the words we use—such as when we mark “the best female basketball player” but leave her male counterpart unmarked—provide telling clues about the things many of us take for granted. By marking “women’s history” or “Black History Month,” we are also reinforcing the apparent normality of the history of white men. When we mark something as being special or somehow noticeable, that which goes unmarked—such as maleness, whiteness, straightness, and able-bodiedness—is assumed to be ordinary by default. Zerubavel shows how this tacit normalizing of certain identities, practices, and ideas helps to maintain their cultural dominance—including the power to dictate what others take for granted.
A little book about a very big idea, Taken for Granted draws our attention to what we implicitly assume to be normal—and in the process unsettles the very notion of normality.
Awards and Recognition
- Winner of the Charles Horton Cooley Award, Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction
- Winner of the Susanne K. Langer Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Symbolic Form, Media Ecology Association
"The book . . . is rich in insight and has the power to shift a reader’s worldview. . . . As broad questions of racial, gendered, and religious intolerance are raised nationally by the exclusionary words and actions of the current administration as well as by the revelations of the ongoing Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements, the nation is searching for common ground. But a national conversation cannot take place until we have the tools for that dialogue, and this remarkable book shows us how to make the language we need."—Dan Friedman, Los Angeles Review of Books
"[Taken for Granted is] a forceful work, requiring us to acknowledge our biases and how they are articulated — whether we realize the implications of what we’re saying, or not."—Grace Parazzoli, Sante Fe New Mexican
"Taken for Granted is an interesting, thought-provoking, easy read, and the bibliography presents a wealth of impressively cross-disciplinary influences, each worth investigating. The book is most poignant, though, in revealing how quickly use of 'marked' language, and underlying cultural norms, can shift."—Andrea Macrae, Times Higher Education
"I dare Americans to read this revelatory book, and hope they will. For Eviatar Zerubavel shows us how we think and speak. We consider some things simply unremarkable, comfortably normal. But others are remarkable, uncomfortably abnormal. Often dangerously, we act on these assumptions. Lucidly, without any guilt-tripping, this leading thinker enables us to live together—with greater justice and understanding."—Catharine R. Stimpson, New York University
"One of Eviatar Zerubavel’s remarkable gifts is his ability to see things about the way we human beings behave and think that we are for the most part unaware of. Another of his remarkable gifts is the ability to convey what he can see with that finely tuned vision of his in a way that becomes instantly clear to us. That is a rare combination, and it is in full force throughout this new gift to us. His mind turns with a special grace and skill to things left out even though obvious to the core, things unseen even though there in plain sight, things that dominate the scene without being noticed, and, in this case, words and phrases that organize our arrangements of reality without our knowing so. What we humans learn of the shape of the world is not simply a product of what our sensory organs tell us but what the screens we peer through from the social order allow us to experience. A special mind is at work in these pages."—Kai Erikson, professor emeritus of sociology and American studies, Yale University
"An interesting and remarkable read. Zerubavel offers a prism through which to see our world differently, and a theoretical provocation that calls for further debate."—Iddo Tavory, author of Summoned: Identification and Religious Life in a Jewish Neighborhood
"Original, engaging, and very readable. Taken for Granted links semiotics, social theory, and contemporary issues with great facility, yielding wonderful insights."—Ari Adut, author of Reign of Appearances: The Misery and Splendor of the Public Sphere