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by Peter Moskos

January 30, 2011

A Sociologist's Response To Anthropology

I have a short article in the journal PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review. "Policing: A Sociologist's Response to an Anthropological Account." You can read the PDF here.

I love reading other people's summary of my work. This is from the issue's introduction:
In his commentary on Karpiak’s article, sociologist and criminologist Peter Moskos praises Karpiak for presenting an (in his view) unusually lucid example of anthropological writing. Moskos takes particular aim at the pressure in some sociological writing to conform to natural science models for research method and writing, which he feels take the enterprise off course. Instead, he advocates an interdisciplinary and combined-method approach in which qualitative and quantitative approaches can be brought together, in an effort to check the admittedly partial character of the knowledge produced by each method.
Is that what I'm saying?

My favorite part (and what will undoubtedly bring me into the glamorous party circuit of the high-rolling world of international poetry) is my haiku version of "Casey at the Bat." It goes like this:
mighty casey swings
oh two two on down by two
no joy in Mudville
All kidding aside (not that I was kidding), I do believe that almost everything can (and should) be summarized in 17 syllables. Talk about cutting to the chase; it's a useful skill. Recently, for my next book, I took my hand at Foucault. I was going to omit Foucault from the book on principle. But then I realized I couldn't figure out what that principle was (except for me not liking Foucault's writing). I also didn't want people to think I didn't read Foucault. Oh, no. I read Foucault. I thought about him long and hard. I just don't like Foucault. And every time I read, "As Foucault said," I reach for my gun. So to help make my point about the Frenchman's needless verbosity, I attempted to summarize Discipline & Punish in 17 syllables.

I couldn't do it.

It turns out that Foulcault's classic treatise needs two haikus:
society's norms
more like prisons every day
resistance is futile

from body to mind
a new system of control
the Panopticon
Speaking of my next book, here's my 17-syllable summary of In Defense of Flogging:
punish with the lash
it's much better than prison
why not give the choice?
That's all you really need to know, but read the book anyway.


Richard P. said...

Wow, what a title! Can't wait to read it.

PCM said...

Methinks I sense sarcasm.

stevenm said...

Great article Peter!

Corey said...

I like your use of the term "sociobabble". Do you come up with this or borrow it from somewhere else?

PCM said...

I don't *think* I borrowed it from anybody, but you never really know. So I'll take tentative credit until I stand corrected.

Hmmm, A google search shows I'm not the first to use the term, but I think I coined the word independently.

Richard P. said...

No sarcasm. Maybe you should go for gold and title it, "In defense of the Guillotine".

Either way, I would love to see how it adds to the discussion started by Glenn Loury's "Race, Incarceration and American Values."

PCM said...

Oh, the title of *my book*. Yeah, I hope that is a good title.

I thought you were referring to the title of the article, which is a bit dry (I don't title 'em, I just write 'em).

Certain I'm hoping that people will pick up and look at a book called In Defense of Flogging. And that's half the battle.

I like Loury's short little book. And it's currently ranked #153,086 on Amazon.com. Part of the point I try and make is the prison reformers have no audience. And if they do, they get dismissed as soft on criminals. I hope that In Defense of Flogging starts a discussion about prisons. Honestly, I don't expect to see flogging brought back any time soon. And I'd prefer not to live in country that whipped people. But I'd also prefer not to live in country that locks up more people than any other country ever. We have more prisons than China. And they have a billion more people. We lock up a greater percentage of our people than do Russia and Cuba.

And personally, I'd take a few lashes over prison any day. Who wouldn't? That is the opening gambit of my book.

PCM said...

For what it's worth, if I were going to be executed, I'd definitely pick the guillotine over what we know use. Maybe "In Defense of the Guillotine" can be my sequel.

tim said...

I have had the same feeling about stripping complexities down into haiku for a long time! I have a nice green Japanese journal just for such things.

Also nice to see someone with a similar opinion of Foucault -- though as critical theorists we really can't avoid him.

PCM said...

I've never heard anybody else ever say anything bad about Foucault, that's what it makes it scary to slag him off.