Epistemological Impossibilities

Against Punitive Approaches to Safer Streets

Yesterday, on Halloween, a driver killed three people and injured four on a sidewalk in The Bronx. This morning, across New York City many streets were free of automobiles. Public space usually reserved solely for cars and trucks became dedicated to runners in the Marathon, spectators, and anyone who wanted to enjoy a bit of the fleeting car-free utopia on foot, bicycle, skateboard, or whatever. The contrast is stark. Not only are NYC streets given over to private vehicles almost all of the time, when a driver rampages onto a sidewalk, on the day when children are most likely to be frolicking on sidewalks and streets, the city seems to give a collective shrug—despite waking up to the pacific, friendly experience of today’s utterly different streetscape.

Advocates for safe streets rightly insist that deaths like yesterday’s are preventable, not inevitable. (So too can we fix the very dangerous situations of aggressive and irresponsible driving witnessed daily on city streets that don’t lead to death or injury.) Advocates also recognize that such deaths signal or portend the failure of the efforts on the part of the Mayor’s office and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to make streets safer, whether as “Vision Zero” or in the more diffuse and myriad forms that have proliferated since Janette Sadik-Khan began her six years heading the DOT in 2007. For many advocates of safe streets, however, this failure also signals a need for a punitive, police-led effort in preventing such vehicular violence. Here is where I part ways with (some of) my fellow advocates for safe streets. The carceral state is no answer.

Ralph Henry Gabriel Prize, American Studies Association

At the 2015 American Studies Association Annual Meeting in Toronto last weekend, I was honored to receive Finalist mention (second place) for the Ralph Henry Gabriel Dissertation Prize, awarded annually by the Association. I am grateful to the prize committee, Professors Alyosha Goldstein, Lisa Hajjar, and Karen Shimakawa, for their recognition of my dissertation, "American Streets, Foreign Territory: How Counterinsurgent Police Waged War on Crime." As the ASA says, "The Ralph Henry Gabriel Dissertation Prize, established in 1974, has been awarded annually since 1987 by the Association for the best dissertation in American Studies."

New Writing

I finished my dissertation this spring, with the defense at the beginning of May. To finish was a big relief but in many ways it was anticlimactic. There were too many intermediate steps at which I was almost done. I never felt like I was actually done, even when I graduated. On the bright side, at each almost-done step, I celebrated. Here's a snapshot of what I did in the ensuing couple months.

I have mostly left the dissertation aside in the weeks since I finished, trying to estrange myself from it so that when I return to it to begin revisions it will not be so familiar. The other day I glanced at a page while looking for a citation. I read a sentence or two. Though extremely familiar, they did not sound exactly as I thought they sounded the first hundred times I re-read them. That is a good thing. A little while longer, and I will be ready to begin rethinking.

In the meantime, I've been doing a lot of other writing.

Gene Wise - Warren Susman Prize, American Studies Association

I presented a paper on a wonderful panel at the 2014 American Studies Association annual meeting in Los Angeles. This year's annual meeting was a special one for me personally because the president of the American Studies Association is Lisa Duggan, professor in my department and one of the primary influences for me to join American Studies. The panel was entitled "What Comes of Fury? Responses to California’s 1960s and 1970s Urban Crisis," and it was organized by Nic Ramos and also featured Aaron Bae and Ryan Fukumori. We all analyzed various aspects of state and emergent public-private responses to, and definition of, "urban crisis" in California, from policing to education to healthcare. The panel was well-received, organically cohesive, and, to my mind, fascinating. Professor Daryl Maeda chaired, and Professor Josh Sides commented.

Another highlight of the annual meeting was that I won an award from the American Studies Association for the best paper presented at the meeting by a graduate student, the Gene Wise - Warren Susman Prize.

Advice for Graduate Students: How to Win External Fellowships

This is the third and final in a series of posts on applying to and winning external grants and fellowships in the humanities and (humanistic) social sciences. In the first post, I covered why you should apply. In the second post, I covered to what and when you should apply. In this third post, I am covering the most difficult question: how to create a successful application.

Advice for Graduate Students: To What Fellowships and When Should You Apply?

This is the second in a series of new posts on professionalization for PhD students in the humanities and social sciences. In the previous post, I offered five key reasons to apply for (and win) external grants and fellowships. So that was the “why” post. This post focuses on two other important points that often fall into the category of “no one tells you because you’re supposed to know already”: what and when. What kinds of fellowships are out there and when should you apply for them?

Advice for Graduate Students: Why You Need External Fellowships

This is the first in what should be a series of new posts on professionalization for PhD students in the humanities and social sciences, based on my own experience and advice I have collected along the way. (A prior post in this vein concerned how to embark on archival research.) The meaning of professionalization can be somewhat unclear until you're actually doing it. Moreover, the reasons to do it are also often opaque: there may be no direct reward for success other than good vibes, nor a direct penalty for failure other than feeling glum. We know, in general, that successful graduate students become successful academics by adhering to certain norms and expectations, though we don't always know what they are. My focus here is one domain, however, in which there is a clear reward for successfully following the guidelines: winning external fellowships and grants.

Critically Rethinking Cold War Social Science

The historian Audra J. Wolfe has a very good article on the ongoing historiographic controversy around the terms Cold War science or Cold War social science. The controversy is over whether Cold War social science is a useful historical category. She concludes that it is. Wolfe says that political leaders “granted” science and social science “nearly superhuman” powers during the Cold War, which differentiates this intellectual agglomeration from earlier (or later) ones like, say, Renaissance science. Other historians, however, have argued that for a variety of reasons it is not a useful term. I believe Cold War social science is a useful term but for different reasons.

Dirty Wars, Nasty Reviews (post 2 of 2)

In the previous post, I discussed the film Dirty Wars and a response to it in the context of my own dissertation research on counterinsurgency and police assistance. In the mailbox when I got home from seeing that film was the new issue (June 2013) of the American Historical Review, which contains a review of the recent book Modernizing Repression by Jeremy Kuzmarov.

Dirty Wars, Nasty Reviews (post 1 of 2)

The other night two things happened. I’ll save part two [updated] for the next blog post. First, I saw Dirty Wars, the documentary that follows Jeremy Scahill’s investigative reporting into the once highly secret Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The film was actually much better than I had expected, and I would highly recommend it.


© 2015 Stuart Schrader