Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Peculiarities of German History


Blackbourn, David and Geoff Eley.  The Peculiarities of German History:  Bourgeois Society and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Germany.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1984.


This book reexamines the theory of a German Sonderweg, which posits that German took a very distinct path of development in the 19th century – distinct from other Western nations, that is.  This allowed for a pre-industrial elite to maintain strong, authoritarian power over an industrial nation, which set the stage for Nazism.  The authors of the book wish to challenge this idea and probe to see if this was really the case.

Authors’ Main Arguments:

This work not only questions particular processes and historical findings of Germany in the 19th century, but also poses important historiographical questions for scholars.   The classic argument for Germany’s peculiar modernization process posits that the liberal, bourgeois revolution of 1848 failed, thus leaving pre-industrial, aristocratic elite in charge of an industrializing capitalistic nation.  Therefore, the political and economic spheres remained uniquely separated in Germany.  Blackbourn and Eley begin their study by questioning multiple assumptions that have become taken for granted (often, suggested arguments can harden into formulae, into taken-for-granted facts, they say):  1) the definition of revolution as referring to a single dramatic episode; 2) the assumption that capitalism and bourgeois democracy are intimately connected.  The authors argue that if one refines these definitions and assumptions to more accurately reflect historical reality, one will find that German history does not represent a Sonderweg, but rather a heightened version of what occurred elsewhere in Europe; in other words, Germany was much more the intensified version of the norm than the exception.

To challenge the idea of a “failed bourgeois revolution,” the authors put forward the idea of a “silent bourgeois revolution,” in which capitalism and the emerging class or “estate” of the bourgeois developed just fine in Germany – and along similar lines to that class in other European nations, though relatively later.  The German bourgeois’ relationship to politics is what makes the class particular (though not peculiar): they may have had a less public role in politics as the capitalists in other nations did, but this does not mean that they had nothing to do with politics as those supporting the Sonderweg thesis claim.  In order to understand the German bourgeois’ relationship to politics, the authors tell us that we have to question the assumption that the “normal” set of events (and thus the measuring stick for success) goes like this:  Bourgeios material achievements lead to parliamentarianism, which leads to liberalism, which leads to democracy.  The question of the “failure” of the bourgeois to achieve political dominance and the question of the “failure” of liberal democratic reform are not the same questions, the authors insist.

The bourgeois may have been united by economic factors, but they were politically diverse.  This is why, the authors argue, they actively retreated from the political sphere, where their differences (and weaknesses) were most visible to society at large.  They sought to solve their problems by less political means, including striking alliances with the old, aristocratic elite.  This is important because it grants agency to the emerging bourgeois and damages the myth that the old elite diabolically manipulated the lower classes and the political sphere to retain their wealth and power, thus single-handedly pushing Germany’s development “off course.”  Blackbourn and Eley even suggest why the bourgeois may have resisted democracy:  greater democratic powers would benefit the SPD, the largest single party, one that supported workers’ rights, which would be a threat to capitalists’ power.

Just because Germany did not experience the same level of “progressive” developments through the political sphere, that does not mean that such developments didn’t exist.  Beginning in the 1890s, developments in the public health movement, the statistical movement, housing reform, poor law, town planning, local financing, educational activity, processes of professionalization, labor legislation (accident and sickness insurance, provisions for old age, factory inspection, unemployment provisions, and so on – these were being developed “only very ambiguously with the concerns of parliamentary liberalism.  This was the authentic domain of bourgeois political achievement…that owed nothing to the existence of a liberal democratic state.  It was perfectly compatible with the latter, but certainly did not require it.”  Moreover, the alliances forged with the old elite (who still constituted much of the Kaiser’s government) also produced “progressive” developments:  unification itself consolidated national markets, called for national institutions, constitutional regulation, national economic integration, and the rule of law became the centerpiece of discussion.

This was one result of the bourgeois taking matters into their own hands (away from democracy); the other was that grievances caused by capitalism were forced onto the political realm, where the capitalists themselves were generally quiet.  This created an unstable political sphere.


For more books on modern German history, see my full list of book reviews. 

Categories: Book Review, German History | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis


Scott, Joan Wallach.  “Gender:  A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” in Gender and the Politics of History.  Revised Edition.  New York:  Columbia University Press, 1999.  Pages: 28-50.

Subject: Analyzing concepts of gender & proposing how a new understanding of gender affects our understanding of history.

Summary & Main Arguments:  Scott starts out by dispelling the notion that gender is a natural distinction of the biological sexes.  Instead, gender is a socially agreed upon system of distinctions, a way of classifying phenomena.  In other words, Scott approaches concepts such as race, gender, and class from a social constructionist standpoint, arguing that meanings are political: they are agreed upon, or disputed – they are made and do not occur naturally (even though they may seem natural).  More specifically, Scott is influenced by the post structuralist school of thought, and as such conflict rests at the center of her understanding of meanings.  “This [post structuralist] approach rests on the assumption that meaning is conveyed through implicit or explicit contrast, through internal differentiation” (7).  In other words, the meaning behind what something is, is always based on what it is not (even if this negation is absent or invisible from the actual discourse that is producing the meaning).  In this understanding, “gender history” is not simply synonymous with “women’s history,” because one cannot study women without studying men.  “Women and men [are] defined in terms of one another, and no understanding of either [can] be achieved by entirely separate study” (29).

So the first of this chapter’s contributions is to historicize gender:  Her approach “insists on the need to examine gender concretely and in context and to consider it a historical phenomenon, produced, reproduced, and transformed in different situations and over time” (6).  This can be problematic for historians (as their job is traditionally understood – or at least was at the time Scott was writing) because doing “gender history” does not mean simply going back and inserting women into the history books.  It is stopping to completely reanalyze situations, asking how society was organized around sexual difference and the resulting power inequalities.

Power is central to Scott’s analysis, for she is interested in inequality, and she argues that by studying gender relations, one can gain an understanding of (in)equality in general.  For this, she calls for us to change our understanding of power:  “We need to replace the notion that social power is unified, coherent, and centralized with something like Michel Foucault’s concept of power as dispersed constellations of unequal relationships, discursively constituted in social “fields of force.”  So, power is not something that exists outside the social organization and is then wielded by persons.  Instead, the power lies in (and through the existence of) unequal relationships and organizations.  These inequalities are created by knowledge (understandings of the world).

Scott’s definition of gender is multifaceted and is broken down as such:

  1. Gender is a constitutive element of social relationships based on perceived differences between the sexes. This involves four interrelated elements:
  2. Culturally available symbols that evoke multiple (and often contradictory) representations (Eve and Mary as symbols of woman for example)
  3. Normative concepts that set forth interpretations of the meanings of the symbols, that attempt to limit and contain their metaphoric possibilities.  These concepts are expressed in religious, educational, scientific, legal, and political doctrines and typically the the form of a fixed binary opposition, categorically and unequivocally asserting the meaning of male and female, masculine and feminine.
  4. Gender is not restricted to just the household, kinship systems, or a “separate, private” sphere.  Gender organizations affect kinship, labor markets, education, and the polity. Gender is constructed through kinship, but not exclusively; it is constructed as well in the economy and the polity, which in our society at least, now operate largely independently of kinship.
  5. Identity is subjective. Gendered identities are substantively constructed and relate their findings to a range of activities, social organizations, and historically specific cultural representations.

2.     Gender is a primary way of signifying relationships of power.  In other words, gender is a primary field within which or by means of which power is articulated. 

  1. Concepts of power, though they may build on gender, are not always literally about gender itself. 
  2. Established as an objective set of references, concepts of gender structure perception and the concrete and symbolic organization of all social life.  To the extent that these references establish distributions of power (differential control over or access to material and symbolic resources), gender becomes implicated in the conception and construction of power itself.  In this sense, gender has a legitimizing function for society’s structure and for power.
  3.  An example of this: Emergent rulers (in a variety of places) have legitimized domination, strength, central authority, and ruling power as masculine (enemies, outsiders, subversives, weakness as feminine) and made that code literal in laws (forbidding women’s political participation, outlawing abortion, prohibiting wage-earning by mothers, imposing female dress codes) that put women in their place.

But, Scott’s understanding of gender also affects the discipline of history altogether.  Her theory revolves around knowledge and meanings and truths that are made, not discovered.  Knowledge, then, “is a way of ordering the world; as such it is not prior to social organization, it is inseparable from social organization.”  In other words, knowledge is how social organization functions, and indeed, creates the organization of society (as society in turn creates knowledge).  That is why the discipline of history “produces (rather than gathers or reflects) knowledge about the past generally” (9).  “Feminist history then becomes not just an attempt to correct or supplement an incomplete record of the past but a way of critically understanding how history operates as a site of the production of gender knowledge,” and knowledge in general (10).  Moreover, she states that after historians acknowledge the multivalent & constructed nature of society and knowledge, they will be forced to abandon single-cause explanations for historical change.  “We have to conceive of processes so interconnected that they cannot be disentangled” (42).  The result would be histories that are “messier,” and perhaps “less grand” in that they do not offer a narrative that ties everything together as “the story” moves forward in time.  Too often people (including scholars) do not understand how the mechanics of power & knowledge work, so they misunderstand the products.  For example, the “normative concepts” that interpret and set the boundaries for the cultural symbols, and thus create meaning (see point 1c above):  these doctrines that often come in the form of fixed binaries, depend on the refusal or repression of alternative possibilities, resulting in conflict over meaning.  “The position that emerges as dominant is stated as the only possible one. Subsequent history is written as if these normative positions were the product of social consensus rather than conflict” (43).  It is then the job of historians to dispel this notion of coherence and reveal the conflict that created this particular meaning or understanding.  Or, as she puts it more elegantly, “The point of new historical investigation,” Scott writes,” is to disrupt the notion of fixity, to discover the nature of the debate or repression that leads to the appearance of timeless permanence” (43).   In this view, attention should not be given solely to people’s actions, but instead to the meaning that people (and their actions) acquire through social interaction.

Lastly, Scott believes (and I agree) that the sketch of the processes of constructing gender relations can also be used to discuss class, race, ethnicity, or any social process.  So, it is indeed a “useful category of historical analysis.”

For more books on the history of gender and sexuality, see my full list of book reviews, here. 

Categories: Book Review, Sexuality & Gender | 2 Comments

Homemade Hot Pockets

(Sausage & Pepper Pies) – Makes 8 Pies 


4 teaspoons of olive oil

1 lb sausage casing removed (original recipe calls for turkey sausage, but we use hot Italian sausage)

2 cubanelle peppers (or just some spicy green pepper), seeded and sliced

2 red pepper, seeded and sliced

2 (or 1.5) medium red onion, sliced

4 gloves of garlic (about 6 or 7 tsp minced garlic)

2 tubes (13.8 oz each) of refrigerated pizza crust

Shredded Italian blend cheese

Marinara sauce (optional)


  1. Heat oven to 425º.  Coat 2 large baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Heat oil in a skillet.  Add sausage and cook, breaking up, for about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the peppers and onion, and cook 6 minutes or until sausage is cooked and vegetables softened.  Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
  4. Unroll the dough onto a floured surface.  Cut the square/rectangle dough into 4 equal pieces (so, quarter the rolled out dough).  Place each piece on the cookie sheet and spoon in the sausage/veggie mix on each.  Sprinkle some cheese on top of each pile of sausage/veggie mix.
  5. Fold one corner of the dough over to meet the other, forming a triangle, with the meat, veggies, and cheese sealed in the middle.  Be careful not to rip the dough, and pinch the edges together to seal in the contents.
  6. Bake 15-18 minutes until golden.  Serve marinara sauce on the side as a dip if desired.

Note: this recipe can obviously be tweaked to include all kinds of good fillings.  Get creative! 

Categories: Recipes | Leave a comment

More Nerdiness



Don’t seem so cool now, do you, Dubai? Tallest building, my ass.  Compare the towers

Evil is relative.

Nazgul swings

I love it when Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings meet.

A wizard is never late

The way Dementors achieve their New Year’s resolution…

You will starve

Our childhood shapes us all

Arkham Daycare


My idea of a perfect Man Cave!

My Man Cave

Categories: Nerdgasm | Tags: , | 5 Comments

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