the love of money

in may, a lecture in our lecture series „jenseits der geschlechtergrenzen/beyond gender boundaries“ featured a talk about governmentality, discipline, and the subjectifying effects of hartz IV (unemployment ‚benefit‘ in germany coming with a lot of disciplinary sanctions while operating with a neoliberal rhetoric). of course, the lecturer also talked about the economization of social spheres, mentioning the work of gary s. becker on human capital and the economic life of/in the family.
in the following discussion somebody came up with the question who could ‚better‘ raise children: a single mother on hartz IV with much free time and love for her kids or a very busy manager who would only give them money and presents.
Some thoughts on that (beyond the very obvious problem of figuring the female as unemployed and the male as successful in his career):

what I find more interesting is the discursive distribution of time, love, and money.
time equals love (what is love here, anyway?) while money figures as opposite of time and thus love. hegemonically, love qualifies as by far most important factor in raising children – not only as ground but as educational feature. mothers (!) who do not love, the narration says, are bad ones, producing antisocial weirdos (at best) or/and criminals [since the 1950s, fathers, too, are increasingly called up to love their offspring, but up to now nothing could challenge the powerful notion of ‚a mother’s love‘]. [footnote: This idea of natural, motherly love is quite new, BTW. You can trace it’s genealogical roots not much further back than into the 1940s; Then, people began to see children more as individuals than as passive beings and Benjamin Spock (and others) taught mothers they would know by intuition how to raise their kids; among other things, these factors contributed to the now sedimented notion of motherly love that would come naturally – and if not, something would definitely be wrong; so mothers, be careful! – for a very interesting history of such educational thinking see miriam gebhardt: die angst vor dem kindlichen tyrannen. münchen 2009]

now, this time-thingy worked and still works to keep ‚loving mothers‘ out of the labor market [not out of economic relations, of course].
but this arrangement required the male breadwinner because an equally important discursive strain denies poor parents the capability of loving their children, respectively of raising their children appropriately. western history is full of narrations of ‚deficient‘ parents who are characterized as poor and *thus* (here is the interesting connection) as neglectful drunkards, cholerics, and uneducated folks with a negative attitude towards schooling. because the required educational and social skills are so closely connected with middle class, underclass homes seem to lack the capability of adequately raising their children, which is hegemonically represented by the empty signifier ‚love‘.
well – money and love seem to have quite a comlicated relationship but it seems opportune to construct motherly love as female, middle class, heterosexual nuclear family-monopoly.
let’s deconstruct!

Not manly enough = not mature enough?

Last week I talked to a friend’s mother who commented on her daughter’s new boyfriend. She was uneasy about him because – and that’s what she first said – he would‘t be masculine enough. Not masculine enough? I – as you can imagine – was indignant about that and asked her what she would understand as masculine. She thought about that for a while and eventually reasoned: „I guess I should be more precise; he’s not mature enough“.
Her comments are a perfect example for the connection of masculinity and adolescence that my colleague Felix Krämer and I are working on and that we presented on the conference „States of Emergency – Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Dynamics of Crisis“ in Berlin in mid-June.

Gender and sexuality are expressed through age and vice versa. When contemporaries (and later historians, too) diagnosed a ‚crisis‘ of masculinity in the late 1900s in the USA, a new concept of youth, namely adolescence, emerged as a solution of this crisis. One of the most prominent symptoms of the crisis was neurasthenia, a sickness that would effect white middle class men when they had permanently overworked their ‚nerve forces‘. This was perceived as a cultural problem since the very men who were affected by neurasthenia were supposed to be the cultural carriers of civilization. And especially volatile: as triggers of the disease were seen exactly those characteristics that were attributed as essential to modern, civilized manhood – self-restraint, the inhibition of drives and feelings.
So men had to be saved. yeah. And the analysis of their cultural weaknesses required new sources for the presumed superiority of white middle class males. Fortunately, a new figure entered the stage at that time: adolescence. adolescence was invented as a distinct stadium in people’s lives when they were by definition in trouble and driven by animalistic instincts and forces. Scientists constituted an analogy between phylogeny and ontogenesis.

This so called recapitulation theory was extended on the psychobiological development of every individual. In other words: every individual would repeat every evolutionary stadium in his/her life.

The contemporary suggestion was then, that adolescents who would act out this drives could gain strength for their demanding adult lives, thus avoiding the neurasthenic damage to their nerves. To quote the (brilliant!) historian Gail Bederman: “[A]s adults they could be safely civilized, refined, and cultured, but only if they had fully lived and outgrown a temporary case of savagery as small boys.” (Gail Bederman: Manliness and Civilization. A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917. Chicago/London 1995).

This is when the close connection between masculinity and youth has been established as a natural, seemingly unavoidable one – and as we can see the discursive/cultural heritage of this notion still plays an important role. Besides, adolescence was invented and simultaneously naturalized as an important developmental stage in life.

In mid-August (publishing date 8/13/10) you can dig deeper into our thoughts on that. then, Felix and mine article on the subject (including a journey into hegemonic theory) will be published in an anthology on discursive change: Achim Landwehr (ed.): Diskursiver Wandel. Wiesbaden 2010. see here.

„…as serious as an invasion of the enemy in war time”

something on my own account (as if the other posts wouldn’t be:)
last december I gave a talk in a lecture series in jena with the title: „…as serious as an invasion of the enemy in war time”. juvenile delinquency and the production of ‘normal’ families in the usa of the 1950.
you can find an audio recording here (in german).

I talk about the 1950s fear of a juvenile crime wave, about processes of subjectivation theoretically and empirically using the example of parents in the fifties – after an excursus in the ‘invention’ of adolescence around 1900 and the enduring biopolitical functions of this concept. I discuss cold war discourses of conformism, domestication, and rebellion and look critically at jim’s story in ‘rebel without a cause’.

JD findings in the web, pt. 1

awesome. visited this ‚rich’ site on juvenile delinquency (subtitle: “what every parent needs to know” – splendid!) and already the site’s introduction was a treasure chest for all these nice hegemonic assumptions on what is considered as deviant youthful behavior. would you like a summary?

1) juveniles are rebellious by nature. that’s good. normal. natural. important.
2) some are not nice to authorities. some remain to rebel even when they should behave. those are the bad guys.
3) bad kids (‘true’ delinquents) are a danger to families, communities, and – this is important: the nation. uh-oh.
4) we have to distinguish the good from the bad ones and identify who is really rocking orderliness.
5) because youth are ‘our’ greatest resource and (heterosexual, white, middle-class families) are our most important social unit “[t]he most logical starting place for prevention efforts is the family”.
6) prevention is the most important thing (and enables access and control not only to kids’ but to parents’, social workers’, anybody’s bodies, psyches, lives, … – but of course they don’t write that!). we all have to pull together.

to determine if ‘your’ child is at-risk and needs help you can take a quiz, the “juvenile delinquent assessment test”. very interesting because it tells us what they think might lead to JD and what they think JD is. the very first question asks if “your child display[s] open hostility to authority figures”. Check.
then they ask if the child has any problems at school (associated with intelligence and concentration). and then (at last:) they bring up the question of familial crises. waited for it – not too long. one of my most favorite questions is this one: “Is your child refusing to disclose the source of a mysterious income, or new belongings that are beyond their financial capabilities?”
when the respondent reaches a certain score (below 60 %) the website clearly recommends to seek expert help. without that they expect “more serious problems or eventual confrontation with law enforcement”. interestingly enough, there is no possibility to reach a score of 100 %. might be a clue that all juveniles are close to head for the gutter.

and that’s quite important for the sponsor/founder of this “educational” website, the CRC health group.
being “the nation’s leading provider of treatment and educational programs for adults and youth who are struggling with behavioral issues” it is obvious that they can signifiantly benefit by constantly problematizing youth’s and parents’ behavior. the company offers – and this is also a loooong historic/discursive tradition – ‘wilderness therapy’ for troubled teenagers where they can develop “free from modern distractions” and discover their very own identity. funky, how this connected notions of ‘nature’, ‘authenticity’, ‘simplicity’, and whateverelse work – and they’ll always manage to blame modern society.
it’s back to square one. pass go. collect 200 $ (at least).

so much for now. guess I’ll repeatedly return to that site. find more stuff on contemporary JD-theories and practices. I’ll keep you in the loop.

shoplifters of the world – unite and take over

setting a new topic for this blog that is considerably more fun than the last one: the possible failure of disciplining youth.
and this is today’s example:

this american life’s (markedly amusing) episode “returned to the scene of the crime” featured the story of a special treatment for youthful shoplifters in putnam county, FL. there, kids who get caught stealing from a store are sentenced to promenade in front of the store, carrying a sign that says “I stole from this store”.
twelve years ago judge pete miller (after reading about a “yankee judge […] using his head”:) came up with this corrective measure that has since found adherents in other parts of the US (as this picture from attalla, AL demonstrates).

al shoplifter

in 2008, putnam county’s court made about 120 people to do that for one day. judge miller thinks of it as a preventitive measure. when this american life-host ira glass pointed to the “biblical” character of the procedure, miller replied: “nothing’s wrong with a little bit of religion.” he hopes the sentence to be an impressive experience for the young offenders: “I hope what’s going through their heads is: lord, have mercy! I’m being shamed. I don’t like this. And I’m not doing this anymore.” – heavy hint!
but there is more about this: inscribing himself into a discursive tradition that tries to get hold not only of the ‘actual’ but also on every other ‘potential criminal’, miller clarifies that he wants to adress the public through the kids: “same time the public, too, out there looks and says: mhm, I don’t wanna be doing that! not in front of all these people!”

the idea seemed to be quite inspiring and was enthusiastically revisited by several blogs [e.g. here]. the radio feature presents some interviewed passersby who are bubbling over with ideas on how to translate this practice on other fields of violations, for example speeding on a highway. a man from delaware proclaims: “paying a fine is too easy!” he suggests that traffic violators should walk at the roadside with a similar sign saying “I endangered your life!”

so far, so problematic.
but beside the resemblances to other forced public displays of ‘crimes’ (ahem!) the story from florida turned out to be quite some fun – regarding the way convicted teenies deal with their sentence. this american life portrays a young women, who was caught stealing candy bars, coke, and milk. although she tells the reporters that standing in front of the store with such a sign would be quite embarassing for her, she is able to partly rewrite the story, chatting “cheerfully” with people, waving to a guy passing by and telling everybody that she needed the stolen milk for her baby. after being asked what she had learned from her experience she replies with a brisk: “nothing! […] I’ll steal again.” loved it.

what I loved even more was the second story of a guy who stole from a liquor store. he managed to turn his punishment into a happening by inviting his family and friends, leaving a stunned probation officer: “they were driving around the block, laughing at him, taking pictures of him and he was posing with the sign!”
one might indeed read this as an ironical disruption or performative appropriation of judge millers disciplinary techniques. coolness rather than shame.

but to be honest, unfortunately it is at best ambivalent: the probation officer also knows the end of the story because she met this very guy several years later in front of the same liquor store. and – he became a police men. ouch.

fear of a blank what?

starting this blog with a deconstruction of my favorite band seems a bit frustrating. but it is quite appealing, too. the lyrics on porcupine tree’s newer albums and especially the statements that ‘mastermind’ steven wilson proclaimed in last years interviews definitely call for interventions.

let us start with the 2007 longplayer “fear of a blank planet”.

fear of a blank planet album cover

according to wilson, the novel “lunar park” (bret easton ellis) inspired him to write this quite intense piece of music. FOABP deals with the impact of modern technology and new mass media on youth. wilson comments on the type of young person the album is about: “…this kind of terminally bored kid, anywhere between 10 and 15 years old, who spends all his daylight hours in his bedroom with the curtains closed, playing on his playstation, listening to his ipod, texting his friends on his cell phone, looking at hardcore pornography on the internet, downloading music, films, news, violence…“

well, hey, what have we got here? a quite old story of the harmful influences of modern development, sex, and endagering recreation on young people’s poor psyches, already heard several times in history and most prominent in 1950s debates about the impact of comic books and TV and ‘inadequate’ sex education on ‘the’ young generation.
but besides the ancientness of this story – you know what freaks me out? its effects.

Wilson implicitly evokes a glorious past when kids were playing outdoors, climbing trees, occupying themselves with wholesome activities (maybe communicating with tin can telephones:) and perhaps most of it all: saving their pocket money and pressing their noses against shop windows for several months to be finally able to buy one vinyl.

after all: the blank planet wilson fears isn’t blank at all. he figures a planet full of dangers and atrocities, because it is destroying the kids and therefore – in one of the most efficacious narrations – civilization’s future. what is – at least by tendency – blank is the signifier of the blank planet, embodying a range of exactly those threats and thus enabling cultural practices that work through the bodies of kids, parents, and well, actually everybody.

remember the whining about the “SMS thumb” young people are developing as a result of writing too many short messages on their mobiles? and a few weeks ago a friend of mine, teacher in an elementary school, complained that her pupils would no longer be able to sing folk songs and move properly in gym class.
if the kids’ healthy development – and the passing of society’s (and nation’s!) cultural ‘roots’ – is at stake, then what has to be done?

in this blog I’m going to explore hegemonic questions and answers on the problem of endangered kids – and what they have to do with the sometimes harsh, sometimes seemingly benign government and production of modern subjects.