Tag Archives: Princeton University Press

Book Review: Simona L. Brickers

levineSimona L. Brickers, my colleague on the board at Not in Our Town Princeton, reviewed this book by Caroline Levine. Thank you, Simona, for drawing my attention to Forms: Whole, Rhythms, Hierarchy, Networks (192 pages, $19.95, Princeton University Press).

Levine’s book is a fascinating journey through Forms, defined as the “fluid overlap of social and cultural order, patterns, and shape that open up to the “generalizable understanding of political power” (Chapter 1).  It brings together, nicely outlined, literary work by Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Jacques Derrida, and Ralph Waldo Emerson along with many others. It weaves the literary examples into accounts of lived examples of institutionalized, systemic, freedoms and constraints that influence social collaboration and chaos.

In relating the act of punishment to rhythm, Levine highlights African music as repetitive, cyclical, polyrhythmic and dialogic and expressing pleasures that produce a participatory and embodied collective singing.  Rhythms turned out to be the repressive form used against African captives by slave masters to impose solidarity, control, and subjugations through chain gang songs (Chapter 3).

Levine’s central concern, as reflected in her title (Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network), was to present a platform to explore the phenomenon called “path dependency.”  Path dependence is learned helplessness depicted as a systematic composition that constricts diversity (race and gender) with barriers that prohibit reversal because of social and organizational cost.  The mechanism of sex is a device that produces hierarchical distinction (Chapter 4). The implicit disconnect in the various forms creates constraints and differences. Various forms overlap and intersect. They travel and influence political policies in particular historical contexts (Chapter 1). 

Nevertheless, the whole theoretical concept is misleading when it is carefully examined to reveal the social advantages that differ according to the traditional rhythms of the hierarchical color-coded network . Levine quotes Derrida’s work because the desire for bounded wholeness has grave political consequences (Chapter 2). Levine addressed the underpinning of social order, pattern, and shape by examining the dysfunction of forms. She also studied how the web translates into “literature as landmarks,” depicted as advanced transgression.  “Repetitive temporal patterns impose constraints across social life…standard repetition, durations, and arcs of development organize our experiences of everything from sleep and sex to governments and the global economy (Chapter 3).

 Levine writes brilliantly. Each word captures an essence of social order, patterns, and shapes (norms) that have become invisible, taken for granted without acknowledgement of the transhistorical or macro-environmental influences on society and the policies governing our daily routines.  The reader learns that we are not authentic — but domesticated, trained to behave, believe, and act according to a socialized outline that serves some differently than others , with no regard to how overlapping forms influence injustice.

Her masterful last chapter discusses The Wire (2002-2008),  the David Simon HBO series. This conventional cop drama exploration of the ways that social experience is structured within African American communities (Chapter 5).  The Wire rendered radically unpredictable and overlapping social forms. Levine ends the book by leading readers to contemplate the unsettled, unexpected and bewildering effects of an ideologically coherent society with power lodged in the hands of a few.  The challenge is self-reflective, aiming to push the reader to seek beyond what is controlled by a few — the societal whole, rhythms, hierarchies, and networks that influence social order, patterns, and shape individual and collective Forms.

Levine asked this question on page 18: “Which form do we wish to see governing social life, then and which forms of protect or resistance actually succeed at dismantling unjust, entrenched arrangements?”

The book is a masterpiece. It offers an opportunity to read, reread, and discuss the forms that are accepted as “unchangeable.”

Simona L. Brickers

The Privilege of Pedigrees

17WIVES-blog427.No surprise — social status can matter when it comes to getting fabulous jobs. Now a sociologist, Lauren A. Rivera, has ‘proved’ it, in a new book, PedigreeHere is an excerpt from the publisher, Princeton University Press: “Displaying the ‘right stuff’ that elite employers are looking for entails considerable amounts of economic, social, and cultural resources on the part of applicants and their parents.” 

Those of us who have benefited from a generous amount of privilege are still curious to imagine the lives of women at the very top of the heap. To read Susan (Susie) Wilson’s memoir, Still Running, is to take a crash course in the lifelong advantages of those born wealthy. Wilson candidly acknowledges the advantages she had. And — unlike the Kardashians of this world — she put her privilege to excellent use, to advocate for many good causes, including honest sexuality education in the public schools. Wilson launches the Phyllis Marchand lectures at the Princeton Public Library on Tuesday, May 26.

Today, anthropologist Wednesday Martin scorched the pages of the New York Times with Poor Little Rich Women, a formal study of the wealthy moms of the Upper West Side, a “glittering, moneyed backwater.”

I was a pretty intense mother myself, entering the full-time work force only in my ’40s. But Martin spares little sympathy as she describes the mostly 30-somethings with advanced degrees from prestigious universities and business schools. They were married to rich, powerful men. . . exhaustively enriching their children’s lives by virtually every measure, then advocating for them anxiously and sometimes ruthlessly in the linked high-stakes games of social jockeying and school admissions.

Though Martin claims to have informed these women that she was studying them, I hope she moves out of the neighborhood before her book, Primates of Park Avenue, gets published.

(New York Times illustration by Malika Favre)

Behind the Political Bubble: McCarty

“Behind every financial crisis lurks a “political bubble”–policy biases that foster market behaviors leading to financial instability”

“Just as financial bubbles are an unfortunate mix of mistaken beliefs, market imperfections, and greed, political bubbles are the product of rigid ideologies, unresponsive and ineffective government institutions, and special interests”

That’s the description of the new book, published by Princeton University Press, Political Bubbles: Financial Crises and the Failure of American Democracy, co-authored by Nolan McCarty and Howard Rosenthal (both of Princeton University) and Keith T. Poole of the University of Georgia. They “shed important light on the politics that blinds regulators to the economic weaknesses that create the conditions for economic bubbles and recommend simple, focused rules that should help avoid such crises in the future.”

Simple, focused rules? Bring ’em on!

Edgy (live) dance & film at the Garden Theatre

Something I did NOT expect: The Garden Theatre presents a LIVE dance-theater performance by DV8 Physical Theatre on Wednesday, January 14, at 7:30 p.m., repeating Sunday, January 25, 12:30 p.m. This National Theatre production is billed as for adults, read about it here.

Current films at the Garden are Selma, which I saw in company with some youthful demonstrators at another theater on Saturday . Loved the script and the acting, and (though I am squeamish about it) the onscreen violence was handled well.


Also the movie about Alan Turing.  Thanks to Princeton University Press who sent the Very Big Book that inspires the film. Spouse is plowing through it, likes it, and promises to provide a mini-review. Turing was surely a hero to my late cousin Ann.


If you perused the Darwin-and-the-finches story in the New York Times science section, you may not have noticed the story’s stars, Rosemary and Peter Grant, are from Princeton.

Their new and much-lauded book, “40 Years of Evolution: Darwin’s Finches on Daphne Major Island,” is just published by Princeton University Press.   It tells of an evolutionary process that is taking place, not from century to century, but from generation to generation.

Jonathan Weiner, a Pulitzer Prize winner and fellow researcher, wrote the NYT story published yesterday. All I could think about when reading about the Grants’ travails on this lonely island is — I’m glad it’s not me that had to crawl on the rocks and live in a cave. Especially when I realize that I am about the same age.