In his research into the impact of Pragmatism on American society at the turn of the last century, historian and NeoAmericanist editorial board member Professor Andrew Johnston invariably came across the path-breaking work of German sociologist Hans Joas. Although a preeminent social theorist of his own, and indeed perhaps one of the leading public intellectuals of his generation in contemporary Germany, Joas surprisingly began his career with an intellectual biography of the American philosopher and sociologist George Herbert Mead, one of the founders of Pragmatism. Mead’s early 20th century work on the social origins of the self, which depended on a complex theory of social interaction through the use of what he called “signifi cant symbols,” also made him a towering infl uence in 20th century American sociology despite having never published a major statement of his own theoretical premises. According to Johnston, the most notable aspect of Joas’s work was his determination to revive Mead’s reputation and, in particular, explore how Pragmatism and the sociology of the self might help infuse certain German schools of social theory with a healthy democratic bias. Wanting to know how he had come to Mead in particular, and just what he thought his own recent efforts at rehabilitating a trans-Atlantic dialogue of social theory might mean for both Germany and the United States, Johnston met with Joas in August 2006, while he was fi nishing a year as a Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg (Institute for Advanced Study) in Berlin. The following are exerts of their larger conversation on pragmatism, the transatlantic flow of ideas and American foreign policy/relations.
One of the serious boundaries and dilemmas for a journal that wishes to reach an international audience is the matter of language. Working from Canada, most of NeoAm’sexecutive have grownup or been well-exposed to a bilingual environment and immersed in the “language” of multiculturalism. But, this is not to say that Canadians, like our American counterparts to the south and in nations around the world, are not actively engaged in discussions about “accommodation” or “compromise over the cultural makeup of the nation-state”. Recently we decided that the journal would attempt to launch a series of posters and advertisements in multiple languages, despite the organization’s (current) inability to actually accept papers in the posted languages. In other words, the posters would be used for the exclusive purpose of increasing general awareness among a wider global audience, as NeoAm would not be able to alter its practice of requesting written works in English only. This decision to launch the posters has produced a fair amount of debate, even amongst our small executive. Some have argued that the journal would be misrepresented by advertisements in languages other than English, while others argue that so much of the work done in American Studies assumes a monolingual readership. Needless to say, this debate may never be solved—certainly not within the scope of our small publication—but it points to the crucial and problematic role that language plays in the constitution of identity, subjectivization and the cultural apparatuses that sustain any collective identity.
In the aftermath of the 1755 New England earthquake, preacher Thomas Prince and professor John Winthrop engaged in a four-month public dispute about the causes of earthquakes and the effectiveness of lightening rods. Historians have traditionally characterized their disagreement as battle between science and religion, but this paper traces the conflict instead to a fundamental difference in the two men’s personal theologies. Prince’s conception of a wrathful god and Winthrop’s belief in a more benevolent deity generated the contrasting visions for public welfare evident in their sermons, lectures, and newspaper submissions.
For the vast majority, the specter of the racialized and homophobic violence documented at Abu Ghraib was an inexplicably unsettling sight. In this article Cait Keegan attempts to explain this discomfort by examining what these abuses and the public perception of them implied and revealed about the desire for an impermeable and purified American national body. Keegan reads the creation and implementation of the figure of the terrorist as a signifier for national incoherence and as a tool for the symbolic control and oppression of other socially undesirable groups, particularly queer people. The homosexual humiliation at Abu Ghraib, employing the terrorist body as a floating signifier, is interpreted to signal a new level of innovation in the use of homophobic terror as a technology of nationalistic militarization and expanding empire. Ultimately, Keegan argues that popular interpretations of Abu Ghraib disclose American society’s inability to recognize and defuse its own heterosexist practices.
In this paper John Gronbeck-Tedesco evaluates the role of the Federal Music Project in promoting Depression-era nationalism during the New Deal’s program of recovery and relief. Drawing upon arguments by Eric Hobsbawm and Benedict Anderson regarding the nature of nationalism, this discussion posits that the U.S. government’s state-sponsored music project was infused with a nationalist discourse that promoted the creation of American folk and American classical music and was tied to notions of democracy, economic prosperity, and multiracial solidarity. Thus, while scholars often distance the U.S. government from the field of American cultural production, Gronbeck-Tedesco argues that the Federal Music Project offers one instance when engineering of the state was directly involved in America’s cultural industries.
An excerpt from her longer thesis on the cultural meaning of home in the interwar United States, this paper explores the degree to which popular images of the American home were instrumental elements of the sociopolitical construction of the homeownership ideal from 1920 to 1935. Through examining articles written in the Delineator—a popular women’s magazine in the 1920s—and its well known “Better Homes in America Campaign,” the author deconstructs the language of social norms and problematizes their use. Tracking President Hoover’s interest in the project, the Delineator is revealed to have been a vehicle not only for maintaining a gendered and polarized social order, but also for disseminating government ideological concerns of race and consumerism. Moreover, these early attempt at broadening government influence through managing media representations and codifying American identities ultimately set the stage for the American federal government’s large-scale interventions in the postwar housing market.
Based on an examination of official and unofficial document, editorial cartoons, and various media sources, Mahoney argues that competing definitions of masculinity influenced George H.W. Bush’s foreign Policy in the invasion of Panama City in 1989, this article participates in a revisionist historiography that considers gender as a significant category of analysis to understand American international relations. The author shows that, at the outset of his presidency, Bush adopted a cautious approach to foreign policy, which emphasized cooperation and peace through diplomacy. But soon Bush’s legitimacy as President was called into question, notably by some elements of the media and a fringe of the public who associated political power with a forceful and aggressive ideal of masculinity. By invading Panama, Bush finally shed his image as a flimsy and meek politician and thus confirmed his legitimacy as President to jingoist elements of American society.