I have the fantastic luck of being married to someone as brilliant of mind as she is great of heart. On top of that, Jill Budny is most certainly the best teacher I have ever known. Beloit College, where she is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor, recognized this when it bestowed on her the Underkofler Teaching Award this past Spring, an honor apparently never before awarded to someone with a visiting appointment (perhaps she had been nominated so many times they felt moved to make an exception).
Most people probably don’t know that the last was a difficult year for Beloit College. Racist acts on campus led to some collective soul-searching that, to my eyes, somehow became deeper and more genuine than such institutional responses often manage, and that’s a good thing. So when Jill was asked, as the Underkofler Awardees are each year, to give the address for the Convocation ceremonies at the start of the academic year, she may have felt a little daunted (she certainly told me so), but I knew that this created an even more powerful opportunity for her to share her insights not only on those events, but on the nature of higher education and its role in the creation of community and the fostering of human flourishing. What she created blew all of us away. It is the most eloquent reminder I could imagine of what higher education is supposed to achieve. (Full text of the speech after the jump.)
This is a dusty space by now, but after some tumultuous times that got me out of the habit of putting my working papers up on ssrn and pointing to them here and at Terra Nova, I do have a piece that I wanted to share (I’ll be cross-posting to TN, as I do with all game-related stuff).
Last year I had the opportunity to give the keynote address in February at the Ray Browne Conference on Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University, as well as to participate in a symposium in April convened by the Potomac Center for the Study of Modernity on Modernity and Chance. Both venues seemed apt arenas for developing some ideas about game as a cultural form, one that we could place alongside ritual and bureaucracy in our understanding of institutions and the techniques for control at their disposal. The core question I’m asking is: What might we learn by examining the increasing use of games by modern institutions in the digital age through seeing it as analogous to their longstanding and effective use of rituals and bureaucracy?
We are in the midst of a fascinating moment, when much seems up for grabs for one of the United States’ political parties. As the GOP looks to right its ship after the disastrous adventures of the Bush administration, a number of conservative writers have understandably begun to re-examine what conservatism is. Meanwhile, the success of Obama has raised the stock of the word “pragmatic,” even if for the most part the word is tossed about in a pretty vague fashion, as Ta-Nehisi Coates has noted.
So it should not be a surprise to those like me who admit to some schadenfruede at the right’s current predicament to see that one move currently gaining ground is an attempt to claim that conservatism was pragmatic all along. Thus is conservatism to be kept well clear of the rising toxicity levels of the word “ideology.” Of course, to make this move to higher ground stick, one must aim to make a pragmatist of the granddaddy of all conservative thinkers, Edmund Burke. And while Sam Tanenhaus, Andrew Sullivan, and most recently David Brooks have all jumped on board to re-chart this territory, there is only one problem: what Burke actually wrote.
There is no shortage of opinion, much of it from folks more knowledgeable than I, about how we might make sense of the recent financial catastrophe. Still, I continue to be struck by the way in which a recollection of Adam Smith is apt. By this I mean Adam Smith in his actual writings, not in his mythicized persona – Smith seems to share with Charles Darwin the indignity of massive and sustained misunderstandings of his core ideas. This makes it all the more remarkable that, for us today, Smith’s vision of the market 230 years ago was so clear that he can help us understand even its recent, science fiction-like, turn.
I’ve just posted a piece to SSRN about play. In the past I have focused on games as a culturally-shaped activity (what we anthropologists would call a “cultural form”), and in the course of that I have made explicit efforts to decouple games from the concept of play (see here, for example). I argued that it is not very useful to see play as an activity, with games as a subset of it, and suggested that play more usefully denotes a disposition, a way of approaching the world.
Here I post additional resources for my books and other publications, such as never-published images, excerpts, and freely distributable .pdfs.
I also write about any of a number of things, but mostly about that weird meeting point of games, technology, and institutions. From time to time I dive into the deep waters of philosophy and social theory.
upcoming public lectures
"Making Virtual Worlds: Games and the Human for a Digital Age," Tuesday Sept. 15th, 11:00 am, at the IDEA Conference 2009, Toronto.