Wednesday, April 17, 2013

5 Words You Might Want To Look Up On Wikipedia Before You Come to Mac

Spend a year or two taking humanities classes at Macalester College and you'll begin to notice a pattern. Major theoretical currents run through multiple disciplines and some concepts can permeate departments as diverse as English and Economics (think homo economicus and Robinson Crusoe). Because of this fraternization of the fields there are a few concepts which most Mac students are familiar with, each possessing a few key terms that we often refer to as Mac "buzz words". President Rosenberg's much-loved President's Day video features one of these words, when he drops the "hegemony" line on a table of Mac students, sending them instantly abuzz with discussion. In order to brush up on your esoteric academician's vocabulary, here's a quick breakdown of a few key concepts you're likely to encounter in a Macalester classroom.

1) Hegemony || n. \ˈhe-jə-ˌmō-nē\ 
Classes where you're likely to encounter this term: Sociology, Political Science, Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies, American Studies, Latin American Studies, African Studies, International Relation, History

Hegemony is all about dominance and the pervasive--typically coercive--spread of influence. Traditionally a descriptor of geopolitical arrangements (as in "the USA and USSR each sought regional hegemony during the Cold War"), hegemony can also be appropriated more inventively to describe cultural phenomena (such as "the hegemony of American pop music").

Fun Fact: Macalester's humor magazine, The Hegemonocle pays homage to this frequently-touted term.

2) Heteronormative || adj. \,hĕt'ə-rō'nôr'mə-tĭv\
Classes where you're likely to encounter this term: Sociology, Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies, American Studies, Anthropology, Psychology

Heteronormative is an adjective encompassing any behavior or phenomena that renders same-sex couples and/or queer communities invisible. Heteronormativity interprets sex and sexuality into fixed, stable and distinct categories popularly interpreted in the culture as the "traditional" viewpoint (e.g. "traditional marriage" = 1 ♂ + 1 ♀).

Fun Fact: Apparently heteronormativity has its own Pinterest page.

3) the "Other" || n. \ˈə-thər\
Classes where you're likely to encounter this term: Sociology, Anthropology, African Studies, Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies, American Studies, Psychology, English, Philosophy, History

More or less coined by Edward Said in his canonical postcolonial text, Orientalism (1978), the Other describes any external or minority group that is either oppressed or fetishized by another dominant cultural group. The Other group is essentialized, that is, its identity is pared down into one cohesive monolith that denies the potential for variation, individuality and subjectivity within that group.

Hint: It's bad.

4) Postmodern || adj. \ˌpōs(t)-ˈmä-dərn,\
Classes where you're likely to encounter this term: Philosophy, English, Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies, Political Science, Linguistics, American Studies, Art and Art History, Music

This is a biggie: postmodernism is a philosophical movement that is skeptical of apparent realities, particularly social realities which are highly contingent on time and place. It emphasizes the role of language and power dynamics in constructing society and its systems, and is concerned with attacking concrete classifications such as straight/gay, male/female, white/black, imperial/colonial. Postmodernism is a reaction to the modernist thought that preceded it, which championed scientific objectivity.

 5) Problematize || v.  \ˈprä-blə-mə-ˌtīz\
Classes where you're likely to encounter this term: Political Science, American Studies, Anthropology, English, Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies, Philosophy, International Relations
The process of calling critical attention to a topic, issue, notion, behavior or some other phenomena, probably because it's racist, sexist or shores up disparities of clout in some unequal power dynamic.

Use it in a sentence: We might problematize the hegemonic heteronomativity that casts queer identities as "Other" as an attitude inconsistent with the tenets of postmodern thought.

So there you have 5 hot terms you'd be much obliged to brush up on before you make your campus debut. Try them on for size, test them out in your everyday vocabulary. You'll impress your parents and dazzle your friends! Learn how to deploy the terms ironically and you'll be even more ahead of the game ;)