Office Hours with Clayton Childress, Angèle Christin, and Iddo Tavory

Office Hours with Clayton Childress, Angèle Christin, and Iddo Tavory

By Meagan Levinson

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Greetings! This month’s Office Hours comes with an exciting announcement: We are welcoming three new editors to the Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology! Clayton Childress, Angèle Christin, and Iddo Tavory join current editors Paul DiMaggio, Michèle Lamont, and Viviana A. Zelizer. We are delighted to add their expertise to the series, which aims to publish works by the most promising and prominent scholars in cultural sociology. Get to know these new editors a bit better below as they share some terrific book recommendations and thoughtful career advice.

We hope to see you all at ASA in Philadelphiaplease do stop by the Princeton University Press booth (#409)!

Meagan Levinson, Executive Editor

What book are you reading now?

AC: Like many people, I first got into academia because I loved reading books. To keep this love going, I created a Feminist STS Book Club at Stanford with graduate students and postdocs, where we each nominate books—scholarly books as well as fiction—and discuss them together. The two books we read most recently were a blast.

The first one was Timothy Mitchell’s The Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity (University of California Press), which starts with this unforgettable sentence describing the arrival of malarial mosquitos during World War II: “In the summer of 1942 two forces invaded Egypt, and each provoked a decisive battle. Only one of the two was human, so only that one is remembered, although the casualties in the other battle were greater.” I mean… does academic writing get any better than this?

The second was Michael Kimmel’s Manhood in America: A Cultural History (Oxford University Press), a classic in gender studies. Kimmel introduces the concept of “hegemonic masculinity,” and has some pretty amazing pictures that kept us going for a long time (I won’t say more but encourage everybody to take a look). This one was particularly relevant for my research, since part of my current book project on influencers focuses on the case of “dad influencers” and how they articulate masculinity on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok.

CC: Right now I’m reading Hajar Yazdiha’s The Struggle for the People’s King (Princeton University Press), which I got a couple days before I wrote this, and which I’m loving so far. Other books I’ve recently read and admired are Derron Wallace’s The Culture Trap (Oxford University Press), Larissa Buchholz’s The Global Rules of Art (Princeton University Press), and Frank Dobbin and Alexanda Kalev’s Getting to Diversity (Harvard University Press). Next on my list is Kusha Sefat’s Revolution of Things (Princeton University Press). The two forthcoming books I’m most excited about are not sociology;  Jesse David Fox’s Comedy Book (FSG) and Kliph Nesteroff’s Outrageous (Abrams).

IT: One of the things I realized when I got a job is that, suddenly, I had to trick myself into reading books. Academic life is full of so many tasks with actual deadlines, that reading a book becomes something you have to make a real effort to get to. I trick myself into reading books by putting myself on award committees, sitting on editorial boards (!) and running a theory reading group with students and colleagues at my department.

Two books that I have been spending time with over the past weeks are Karen Cerulo and Janet Ruane’s Dreams of a Lifetime (Princeton University Press), and Annie Ernaux’s Shame (Seven Stories Press). The first is a wonderful sociological book that shows the patterns of fantasy that America Dreams follow; The second is a fiction book in which seemingly very little happens. The author spends the entire book trying to understand the background conditions that led to her experiencing a particular childhood trauma described on the first couple of pages. Both sociological books, though in different ways…

What book has had the most impact on your career?

AC: That’s a hard one. I was first trained in France, where I came of age with the holy trifecta of Pierre Bourdieu-Luc Boltanski-Bruno Latour, so it’s been hard to break away from this training, and in all honesty I should probably cite a book from each of them.

That said, if I were to choose a book that recently made me reconsider everything I thought and how I could write, I would pick Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto,” first published in 1985 as an essay in the Socialist Review, later published as part of Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (Routledge). It changed everything I thought I knew about technology, feminism, and embodiment. More personally, it transformed how I thought of myself in relation to technological and medical artefacts. It’s such an energetic, powerful, free kind of text—it’s creative in a way that encourages everyone to play with disciplinary norms.

CC: Josh Gamson’s Freaks Talk Back (Chicago University Press) is why I wanted to become a sociologist. It’s empirically rich, important but not self-important, and contrarian in a way that I think much of good sociology should be. It has a home base in culture while also integrating across subfields  (movements, sexualities) in such an exciting way. And it’s unabashedly a fun read. I love it.

IT: Perhaps the book that made the most impact on me was G. H. Mead’s Mind Self and Society (University of Chicago). I was a Master’s student in Tel Aviv University, and some friends and I started a theory “book club.” We would meet at my place to read 5–10 pages of the book, slowly working through the ideas over months, trying to think what it means for a self to emerge socially, and what it means to focus on action. A lot of my interactionist and pragmatist leanings were cemented there, in the back and forth of these conversation

What is the best career advice you ever received?

AC: My postdoc mentor danah boyd once said in passing, “you need to find out what recharges your battery.” I don’t think she was giving career advice, but this sentence has stayed with me ever since. Academic careers are long and arduous. The job is wonderful but exhausting and relentless, so after a while, for me the question became: how do you keep on going? danah’s answer was another question: what brings you joy? Is it immersing yourself in books and articles and learning about a topic you know nothing about? Is it writing first drafts and figuring out what you’re trying to say about something? Is it doing in-depth fieldwork? Is it fostering intellectual community and see how other people think about hard questions? Is it curling up on a sofa with hot tea and reading romance novels? (of course, it can be all the above). When I feel depleted and exhausted, I try to go back to what brings me joy, I seek to protect it and put clear boundaries around it. It doesn’t always work, but I like to think that I’m getting better at it!

CC: When I was a graduate student my advisor, John Mohr, warned me that he thought a lot of things could (and likely would) go wrong with my dissertation, but not to worry, because none of them would prevent me from ultimately having a dissertation. It was a warning and a reassurance at the same time, which is the package that those types of warnings should always come in. As John predicted, many things did go wrong in my dissertation. The gift of that conversation was John was giving me permission to be comfortable with my reach exceeding my grasp, and to take risks, and to try stuff out.

IT: Not quite advice, but a form of training… I was a journalist before I decided to get into academia. I used to work in the foreign desk editor at Ha’aretz, an Israeli newspaper. Every day I would come at 4pm and get my pages and some guidance from my chief editor, and every night, at around 12am, give or take, the pages I received would be full, double-checked and copyedited. There was something reassuring about knowing that, whatever happens, the pages will be filled in the 8 hours between my arrival and going home. Approaching academic work in this way has been incredibly helpful. Writing is not a matter of inspiration. Inspiration may hit in the act, but sitting and writing—filling the page—is a form of labor. I think it saved me from a lot of angst both in graduate school, and later on in my career.

Clayton Childress is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto.

Angèle Christin is assistant professor of communication and, by courtesy, of sociology at Stanford University. Website Twitter @AngeleChristin

Iddo Tavory is associate professor of sociology at New York University.