Points Forward: Kevin Kaufmann, “‘Rigorous Honesty’: A Cultural History of Alcoholics Anonymous, 1930-1960”

Editor’s Note: Today “Points Forward,” our recurring feature showcasing recent dissertations in alcohol and drugs history, welcomes Kevin Kaufmann, who recently completed “‘Rigorous Honesty’: A Cultural History of Alcoholics Anonymous, 1930-1960” in the History Department of Loyola University, Chicago, under the direction of Lewis Erenberg.  Dr. Kaufmann is currently a Pre-Health Advisor at Loyola University; when away from his academic life he blogs about random things and the Chicago White Sox.

1) Nothing’s more popular right now than taking potshots at over-specialized, overstuffed, jargon-y academics.  Prove the haters wrong by describing your dissertation in terms that the average man in the street could understand.
My dissertation focuses on the early roots and early history of Alcoholics Anonymous, specifically from ca. 1840-1960.  It begins with an examination of how the temperance movement of the nineteenth century and the prohibition movement of the early twentieth century informed the creation of AA, especially what themes, images and cultural touchstones were used by the group that resonated with its earliest members.

The next major component is a discussion of how 1930s Great Depression culture, when AA was founded, influenced the early design of the program and finally how Alcoholics Anonymous changed through the mid part of the century to meet the new realities of wartime and post-war America.

Creating a Demand for Coffee that AA Would Later Meet

2)      It’s the rare graduate student who heads off for a phd thinking, “I’m going to write about drugs in my dissertation!”  How would you describe the genesis of your project relative to your coursework, your advisor’s work, the state of your discipline, etc.? 
I can genuinely say that I had an eureka moment when it came to my topic for the dissertation.  I was working on folk music in Chicago with every intention of writing my dissertation on the urban folk scene from 1945-present.  I hadn’t formally done anything with it, mostly just seminar papers and the like.  I was reading for my comprehensive exams and came across the work of Warren Susman, and it had a profound effect on me.  I was taking a shower and thinking about his article on the culture of the 1930s (sad that this is the kind of thing I think about in the shower, I know) and what he was describing, at least to me, was very much a description of AA.  Basically Susman went against the conventional wisdom of the 1930s as a decade of radicalism but more a turn toward a traditional view of the United States.  He primarily focused on the renewed interest in folk art and music and the work of Norman Rockwell.  Part of this idea of traditionalism in America was the need for Americans to feel like they were not alone, that they needed to belong to something, be with others.  I particularly gravitated toward that notion with regards to AA.  I literally got out of the shower sat at the computer in a towel and wrote the first draft of my dissertation proposal. Continue reading

Points Forward: “From Addicts to Athletes: Youth Mobilities and the Politics of Digital Gaming in Urban China”

Editor’s Note: Today we welcome a new installment in our “Points Forward” series, in which recent PhDs talk about their hot-off-the-presses research.  Our last Forward Pointer was Kerwin Kaye, a recent grad of NYU’s Program in American Studies, now an Assistant Professor (tenure track!!) in the Department of Sociology at SUNY Old Westbury; his article “Rehabilitating the ‘Drugs Lifestyle’:  Criminal Justice, Social Control, and the Cultivation of Agency” is forthcoming in EthnographyStepping into Kerwin’s big shoes today is Marcella Szablewicz.  Marcy received an MA in East Asian Studies from Duke University and a PhD in Communication and Rhetoric, under the advisement of Drs. June Deery and Tamar Gordon, from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Department of Communication and Media.  She is currently a Mellon postdoctoral fellow in MIT’s department of Comparative Media Studies.  You can find more of her work online at www.feiyaowan.com.

 1)    Nothing’s more popular right now than taking potshots at over-specialized, overstuffed, jargon-y academics.  Prove the haters wrong by describing your dissertation in terms that the average man in the street could understand.

“From Addicts to Athletes” departs from a simple premise: Recent statistics have shown that over three hundred million Chinese play Internet games. But while many young people argue that games provide free space in which to achieve necessary release from the pressures of society, the government and media often depict games as a kind of “opium for the spirit” that adversely affects Chinese youth.

Smells Like Opium for the Teen Spirit

Motivated to understand the logic behind these drastically different perspectives, in my research I trace the shifting discourses and practices of digital gaming in urban China, paying particular attention to the various ways that digital games are socially shaped —both how young Chinese describe and remember the importance of games in their social lives and how gaming is portrayed in government and media discourse. Based on ethnographic fieldwork spanning six years, I explore the mechanisms by which different games come to be constructed as either “healthy” or “unhealthy” and the corresponding processes by which the gamers who play them are portrayed as either “addicts” or “athletes.”  Despite belonging to the realm of so-called “free” time, I show that digital games and those who play them do not go unencumbered by political realities.  To the contrary, I contend that such constructions are rooted in larger cultural debates about patriotism and productivity, class and the crafting of the “ideal citizen.”

This notion of the ideal citizen is set against the backdrop of the precarious economic futures faced by youth in contemporary urban China. Continue reading

Points Forward: Kerwin Kaye, “Drug Courts and the Treatment of Addiction: Therapeutic Jurisprudence & Neoliberal Governance”

Editor’s Note:  Today marks the first in a new series, “Points Forward,” where your intrepid editors interview recent PhDs in the field of alcohol and drugs history and policy.  Our goal in this is to showcase some of the newest and boldest work in the field, obviously, but we also want to take advantage of the blog’s capacity as a social networking site.  As anyone who’s been following Points for the last eleven months knows by now, our purview ranges across the disciplinary and methodological, generic and generational boundaries that, too often these days, give shape to (read: prop up) the contemporary university.  By bringing together researchers from different areas–and different points in their careers– to read and comment on one another’s work, we hope the blog will create a social as well as an intellectual space.  We’re grateful to Kerwin Kaye, recent graduate of New York University’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, Program in American Studies (Advisor: Lisa Duggan), for being willing to be the first recent PhD to “point forward” for the rest of us.

Yeah, This Guy Wants to Hear about Your Dissertation

1) Nothing’s more popular right now than taking potshots at over-specialized, overstuffed, jargon-y academics.  Prove the haters wrong by describing your dissertation in terms that the average man in the street could understand.

I was interested in the way in which the idea of addiction gets operationalized by various people and programs, and wanted to see if there was a discrepancy in the ways that various people in the criminal justice and treatment communities, as well as drug users themselves, defined and understood their drug consumption.  So I hung out at a drug courtin New York City and at one of the treatment centers where the court refers participants.

At the court, I sat in on staff meetings and court sessions, interviewed judges, administrators, prosecuting and defense attorneys, case managers who worked for the court, and participants in the program. I also visited other courts to get a sense of comparison. At the treatment center, I similarly sat in on all aspects of the treatment process, further interviewing staff and administrators, as well as nearly 70 clients (and again, I visited other treatment programs to gain a sense of comparison). My central questions were: How was the “drug” problem defined? How did the court and the treatment program know that people were getting better? And what did treatment look like as a result? Continue reading