[csaa-forum] Toby Miller Lecture - Transforming Cultures

Jonathan Marshall Jonathan.Marshall at uts.edu.au
Mon Jul 9 11:31:45 CST 2007

Professor Toby Miller

(College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, University of California, Riverside, USA)

will deliver the next Trans/forming Cultures Annual Public Lecture:

"Madeover Nation: The United States of Reinvention?"

Date: at 6:30 for 7:00pm on Wednesday, 11th July
Venue: Lecture Theatre CB02.04.13,
University of Technology, Sydney (enter via the UTS Tower Building).

RSVP: Transforming.Cultures at uts.edu.au

Madeover Nation: The United States of Reinvention?

The grand promise of the United States is that what its people were born as need not define them ever more.

James Truslow Adams coined the term 'American Dream' in 1931 as the core to his wide-ranging overview of national history, The Epic of America. Adams argued that since the 17th century, voluntary immigrants had been driven not only by '[t]he economic motive,' but also 'the hope of a better and freer life, a life in which a man might think as he would and develop as he willed.' It was 'a dream of being able to grow to fullest development as man and woman,' defying class barriers. That grand meritocratic promise still has the power to fascinate.

It is expressed and achieved through the ultimate Yanqui desire: self-invention via commodities. Commodities appeal because they provide a way to dodge that old Hegelian dilemma: what to do about an absense of ethical substance.

It encourages an ongoing personal self-criticism that relies on faith and consumerism as means of surviving and thriving. One alternately loving and severe world of superstition (AKA religion) is matched by a second alternately loving and severe world of superstition (AKA consumption). In times of economic dynamism and uncertainty, they merge with old myths about meritocracy and religion to inform the way we think about the nation and manufacture citizens.

Foundational myths of the 'American Dream' permeate this society. And dreams reference and distort reality. They attract and please even as they horrify and disappoint. So I look at the power of various forms of knowledge about people and their emotions applied to the US population. If we are to understand an absurdly wealthy and wasteful country, we must question the pleasures of reinvention as well as embracing them, teasing out as we do so the mystification of moral panics, and the reality of risk society.

For further details and the full abstract on the lecture, please see the Transforming Cultures website:


(Please distribute to your colleagues. Apologies for cross-posting)

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