Friday, February 13, 2009

The Unmarked

Will Barrratt

I love conceptual propinquity, when two important concepts appear near each other. I was listening to NPR this morning about Iran and the report featured Islamic fundamentalism and the hatred of "America". Those two ideas of Islam and hatred of the US presented in conjunction, in conceptual propinquity, are misleading. I am reading a wonderful article by Peter Kaufman (Middle-class social reproduction: The activation and negotiation of structural advantages) which is great. I put his article down last night as I was reading about the notion of unmarked phenomenon which Kaufman attributes to Brekhus (A sociology of the unmarked: Redirecting our focus),

Kaufman's point is that the experience of the majority class student is unmarked on campus. Listening to NPR I realized that mainstream Islam is unmarked in the media. Most of Islam is about as moderate as is most of Christianity. Most four-year college students (75%) are second generation students which makes them the majority class on most campuses. Why are the majority unmarked and therefore uninteresting? Why do we 'background' (Jane VanGalen's concept) both the minority class and the majority class student?

VanGalen rightfully argues that we need to foreground the minority class student. Yes, and we need also to foreground the majority class student.

Contrast is an excellent way to highlight something, and social class contrast is high for the minority class student on the majority class campus. Social class contrast for the majority class student on the majority class campus is just not there, perhaps because the structure of the campus and the agency of the people reproduce the majority class. Explaining water to a fish is hard, and explaining majority class to a majority class student is hard. It is important to mark all of class on a campus, as it is important to mark all forms of religion, not just the minority or extreme forms.