Unsolicited Advice for Students about Sex

Unsolicited advice is often worth about as much as you pay for it, but I was so impressed by these two videos that I felt obligated to share them.  The first is about campus ‘hookup culture,’ and without moralizing against casual sex in any way, makes clear how damaging hookup culture can be to the students who find themselves in it.  The second is about how pornography is transforming actual sex, in ways very few of us would appreciated.


TEACH: Ritual and Ecology in Southeast Asia

I’m very pleased that I have been awarded a grant from the Presidential Initiative on Curricular Renewal (PICR) here at Macalester College. The topic of this year’s PICR grants was ‘sustainability,’ and the class for which I received the grant is titled Ritual and Ecology in Southeast Asia.

Here’s the description of the class from the grant proposal (after the jump):

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khmer, teach

Khmer Transliteration System – Free Download

Dear friends, owing to a lack of easily available transliteration systems for Khmer, I have decided to make the one I prefer to use in my academic writings available as a free download.

The file contains a brief explanation of the difference between transliteration and transcription, explains why I have elected to focus on transliteration, and provides (last two pages) a nearly-complete table of conversions.

Please note that I said “nearly-complete”: I have not put much effort or time into figuring out how to deal with some of the diacritics that appear in Khmer script.

Enjoy, share, and please comment or suggest additions.

Davis Khmer Transliteration


Laryngitis=Typed Class Notes Introducing Victor Turner

I feel pretty good, but have no voice whatsoever.  So, since I have four and a half hours of class to teach today, I’ve spent the morning typing out my introduction to Victor Turner for my class on Ritual.  We’ve spent most of the first three weeks discussing Durkheim’s Elementary Forms and van Gennep’s Rites of Passage, but the students have not been given formal introductions to Marx or Weber in this class (though they’ve likely encountered them elsewhere).

The reason I’m really posting this here, though, is that I’d like to submit these notes to the collective wisdom of both of my readers.  Anything in here you’d care to quibble about?  Let me know!

RITUAL – Introducing Victor Turner
Erik W. Davis

In many ways, Turner sets the stage for contemporary interventions in the anthropological theory and study of ritual. He combines in his person and scholarship a lot of the concerns from conflicting and previously unassociated theoretical approaches: Marxism, Durkheim, and Van Gennep.

Durkheim and His Competitor Trains of Thought

Recall that Durkheim is considered one of the three major founders of Social thought (inclusive of both Anthropology and Sociology), along with Karl Marx and Max Weber. Each of these founders has a distinctive approach to key problems: the nature of the social division of labor, the relationship of economic and social organization to ideology and religion, ‘modernity,’ and the role of institutions in social life.

Each of them were confronted by an apparently radically novel social situation – capitalism – which seemed to break definitively from all previous forms of traditional society. It is difficult to overemphasize the extent to which all three of these thinkers, regardless of their differences, saw the contemporary modern period as a period of profound social flux and change. All of them also tied these changes to capitalism, the new division of labor in society into classes, and the role of religion. Summarizing any of these individual’s thought does violence to their subtlety. However, schematically, we can characterize them in the following ways:

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Reason and Law Are Not The Same

in which Erik experiences a personal lesson (not discussed), reminding him of what he teaches his students:
that law and reason are not the same.

The other day I had given my students an assignment.  In my class on Durkheim and the Anne Sociologique, I had them read the lengthy introduction by Rodney Needham to Durkheim and Mauss’ Primitive Classification. They were to write down and research all of the names mentioned by Needham in the text, paying special attention to the relationships between the names (this was essentially an exercise in intellectual genealogy).  They did a great job, for the most part, except for one thing.

None of them had looked up “Rodney Needham.”  I wasn’t irritated, but laughed a fair bit, finding it hysterical that my students would do such a good job on all the names written by Needham, without ever once wondering who this Needham guy himself was.  One of my students attempted to defend her classmates by correctly pointing out that I had not instructed them to look up Needham, but only the names “in Needham’s essay.”  I retorted that I was hoping to help educate thinkers, not lawyers. My students, being smart people with pretty decent senses of humor, laughed right along with me, which I interpreted (incorrectly, perhaps) as a sign that they, too, understood that the defense was a bit ridiculous if the presupposition of the class was that they wanted to learn something.

Reason and Law are not the same. But we confuse and get bound up in them all the time; too many of us, myself included all the freaking time (much to my constant frustration) confuse the different parts of our lives.  Some parts, like attempting to understand the world in general, learn how things work, or formulate plans for ourselves, operate according to reason, or something almost approaching ‘common sense.’ Other parts, like playing games, writing contracts, or negotiating terms of employment, operate according to completely law-based rules, which have no necessary relationship to reason.

The video above is a short (less than 1 minute) example of two different children’s ability to distinguish between concrete operations (what I’ve parsed as ‘reason,’ above) and formal operations (what I’ve parsed as ‘law,’ above).  In cases where the formal logic has a sensible or moral relationship to concrete logic, formal logic makes a great deal of sense. But what about cases, as in the second child above (beginning at 0:40)? She clearly realizes, as did my students in class, that the ‘correct’ answer to the question she was asked was also an impossible one.  This young woman clearly makes the distinction between legal logic and reasonable logic.

But not everyone does; it is frequent in everyday life for intelligent people to insist on the priority of legal logic.  This appears to be most common in people whose social position or authority is rooted in their legal relationships with others, such as employers and employees, and where invoking legal thinking over reason will give them an advantage. Imagine a person whose contract specifies a standard path for promotion, which is fulfilled by an employee, but an unusual deviance makes it possible for the legal logic to deviate from the reasonable logic.  In this situation, of course, people will choose which logic they deploy based on their opinions that one type will be more useful to them than the other. Just saying.