institutions

Radical Catholic Activists?

Here in the Diocese of Syracuse, for the last 5 or 6 years, a fairly well organized movement of lay Catholics has emerged to express dissent from the local bishop and the wider Church. Today, this movement is mostly visible in the activities of Faithful Catholics Concerned (FCC), a group I wrote about just under a year ago. FCC’s goals include opposing the local bishop and the USCCB when they become involved in ‘partisan politics’ and are shared by Catholics across the U.S.  A few weeks ago FCC hosted a day long workshop with a keynote address by Fr. Jon Sivalon, who some Catholics certainly identify as radical. At the workshop, Fr. Sivalon quoted Thomas Merton to call for a lay-centered, ‘Vatican II’ Church.  Local activists promote what could be called a theology of community, meaning that they understand God to be active whenever ‘two or more are gathered,’ and hence they see the institutional church as secondary to the substance of being Catholic. Does this attitude about the institutional Catholic Church make them radical? (more…)

Professor to Professor on Twitter

Yesterday at Le Moyne we had a discussion about uses of Twitter in academic work. We focused primarily on how it might be used for teaching, but talked a little bit about how it might allow professors and students to be part of a larger research and professional community, beyond the college. I’d say our conversation was skeptically received by most of those in attendance, but then again they were in the room on what was by far the most beautiful Friday afternoon of the semester.

My colleague Lara Deruisseau, a bio prof here at Le Moyne, made a very interesting point about Twitter and community. I had commented about how Twitter might help us overcome the tyranny of small departments at liberal arts colleges by connecting to professionals all over the planet. Lara, however, drew our attention to the fact that, over the last year, several of us have come to know our Le Moyne colleagues from various departments and offices on campus much better because of our Twitter interaction. These web networks have enhanced our local community in important and powerful ways. Our increased collaboration will certainly have (postive) effects on our curricula and pedagogies.

This strikes me as excellent confirmation of claims about the place of computer networks in daily life. I’m reminded specifically of work by Barry Wellman like this essay about computer networks as social networks (notice the date – he was on this early!) or this one about person-to-person communities. In particular, something that is exciting is that networks like Twitter make it possible for communication at the college level to be professor-to-professor rather than department to department, or, more cynically, professor-to-department-chair-dean-chair-department-to-professor. Especially in the context of increased administrative and procedural layers, Twitter might be seen as a place where faculty collaboration/inspiration can happen person to person.

Immigration is the Easiest Problem

I know David Brooks’ job is to reach a word count, but when I read the headline of today’s column about immigration, “The Easy Problem,” I thought maybe he’d really give us the easy answer. The easiest of all answers comes from recognizing that borders are inhumane, and then doing the humanistic thing. I can think of no other threat to human emancipation, and simple well-being, that is so obviously socially constructed as a border. If somebody wants to walk across a border, they should walk across the border. Or better yet, get rid of the borders, and you’ve solved the immigration ‘problem.’ If you have to justify all of your beliefs with ‘free market’ ideals, then go ahead and read Brooks’ column. If you just like being a decent person, well, this is my significantly shorter suggestion.

Starting from here

A number of scholars influence my approach to thinking about rituals of community and exclusion, domination and liberation, of power generally.  That sentence certainly gives clues to those who’ve done some reading about these issues.  For a few reasons, it’s worth my time to write briefly about the writers who have influenced my thinking thus far, and what I take away from their social commentaries.  First, I hope that it helps me identify useful ways to synthesize these ideas and to note informative points of contention.  Second, I hope it helps me see holes in my approach to this work I’m doing.  For example, the voices I comment on below are clearly gendered, raced, and otherwise privileged.  To ignore that as I start to think about rituals of power would be irresponsible.  I must also be sure to actually do something about it.  I also note that I regularly wonder how much of my inspiration is a result of misunderstanding.

First, I’m reading a lot of C. Wright Mills (or maybe I’m reading certain selections, a lot).  This is probably no surprise as Mills has made some of the most well known statements, within sociology, about power and individual freedom.  Mills forces me to think about what it means to be free given the intersection of biography with history and fate.  More specifically, we live and act within the rules of institutions that we defend intentionally or implicitly.  It seems clear to me that we frequently are blind to the inhumanity of our actions because we default, as part of the drift, to bureaucratic rationality.  So often one’s defense of an institution takes the form of legitimacy claims that seem meant to malign (imagined) radicals, but also silence those who might otherwise simply wish to engage in constructive conversation with no intention to dismantle said institution. (more…)