Readings For May 18th

Posted: May 16, 2017 in Readings

I’ve updated all the files, as I said I would. If they’re still not working for you, please trying refreshing your browser, or try another search engine. These operations have helped students in the past. Good luck, and have a good weekend!

Marcel Mauss
(1872 – 1950)
A General Theory of Magic (1902)

Henry Petroski
To Engineer Is Human (1992)
Success Through Failure (2006)


Daniel Boorstin
U.S. Librarian of Congress
“The Invisible World”

Mario Biagioli
Law and Science and Technology Studies
“Discoveries and Etiquette” (1993)

  1. Marko says:

    I felt that the Henry Petroski readings communicated the same idea with different examples. My question is, how does he have so many books on understanding failure? Do publishers not care that he is repeating the same idea in multiple books?

    • Publishers, in almost every instance, are only in it for the money. If they feel customers will buy it, the publishers will issue it. This was not always so blatantly the case. And thank goodness there remain a few presses who maintain their integrity and publish only materials they continue insightful and relevant. I try to build my course out of materials, primary and secondary, which are vetted and accredited — in almost every instance. The rare exception would be when I assign mediocre materials deliberately to point out what mediocre materials look like.

  2. Valeria says:

    I was thinking about our class discussion on Thursday about magic and I could not help but to think about the ways it related to my political science major and current politics. I was thinking about the current administration and president to make sense of magicians and the overall idea of magic. I feel like today’s politics in part are practical like magic is. Magicians continue to perform because they think that people want or need them to do so. Our current president continues to say that the people support everything he is doing and thus continues to spew his rhetoric–legitimizing his “magic.” While it may be the case for some people, other people may disapprove of magicians and their acts because they do not believe in anything he is saying or doing. Just thought I would share some of my thoughts.

    • I would largely agree with what you say. I tried to suggest as much, however briefly, in class the other day. The President, by has own admission in a recent television interview, expressed his own surprise at winning the election. He said, quite plainly, that the Democrats ought to have won. Which is tantamount to admitting he never believed he could win and never even planned to do so. But Trump, in educing and performing all the symbols and ritual gestures a large portion of the population considered powerful and wanted to see, was able to exert a profound influence, indeed create a movement. So powerful in fact was the effect, that Trump eventually came to believe his own mumbo-jumbo – our so Mauss’s writings lead us to consider.

      Now, no matter how many disastrous messes the President creates for himself, his loyalists consider each new failure only to confirm their faith in their leader. This entails the regular hatching of ever more outrageous conspiracy theories, each explaining how Trump’s seeming ineptitude is really a sign of his genius, and all this setbacks the result of nefarious liberal plots against him.

      Simultaneously, however, Mauss also asserts that at times at it takes is one incidental piece of contrary evidence to bring down the whole edifice. Mauss’s point is that social (and political) changes would appear to take place not gradually but rather in sudden, often violent shifts. We will need to stand poised to see how long the current administration can hold out against the growing body of evidence.

      Finally, what is true of social institutions, such as magic, may also be true of modern scientific theories. This is an idea put forth in a celebrated book by Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I plan to discuss it in class very soon.

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