Whether it is used as an icebreaker in conversation or as the subject of serious inquiry, “the weather” is one of the few subjects that everyone talks about. And though we recognize the faces that bring us the weather on television, how government meteorologists and forecasters go about their jobs is rarely scrutinized. Given recent weather-related disasters, it’s time we find out more. In Authors of the Storm, Gary Alan Fine offers an inside look at how meteorologists and forecasters predict the weather.
Based on field observation and interviews at the Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma, the National Weather Service in Washington, D.C., and a handful of midwestern outlets, Fine finds a supremely hard-working, insular clique of professionals who often refer to themselves as a “band of brothers.” In Fine’s skilled hands, we learn their lingo, how they “read” weather conditions, how forecasts are written, and, of course, how those messages are conveyed to the public. Weather forecasts, he shows, are often shaped as much by social and cultural factors inside local offices as they are by approaching cumulus clouds. By opening up this unique world to us, Authors of the Storm offers a valuable and fascinating glimpse of a crucial profession.
We take reputations for granted. Believing in the bad and the good natures of our notorious or illustrious forebears is part of our shared national heritage. Yet we are largely ignorant of how such reputations came to be, who was instrumental in creating them, and why. Even less have we considered how villains, just as much as heroes, have helped our society define its values.
Presenting essays on America's most reviled traitor, its worst president, and its most controversial literary ingénue (Benedict Arnold, Warren G. Harding, and Lolita), among others, sociologist Gary Alan Fine analyzes negative, contested, and subcultural reputations. Difficult Reputations offers eight compelling historical case studies as well as a theoretical introduction situating the complex roles in culture and history that negative reputations play.
Arguing the need for understanding real conditions that lead to proposed interpretations, as well as how reputations are given meaning over time, this book marks an important contribution to the sociologies of culture and knowledge.
From Henry Darger's elaborate paintings of young girls caught in a vicious war to the sacred art of the Reverend Howard Finster, the work of outsider artists has achieved unique status in the art world. Celebrated for their lack of traditional training and their position on the fringes of society, outsider artists nonetheless participate in a traditional network of value, status, and money. After spending years immersed in the world of self-taught artists, Gary Alan Fine presents Everyday Genius, one of the most insightful and comprehensive examinations of this network and how it confers artistic value.
Fine considers the differences among folk art, outsider art, and self-taught art, explaining the economics of this distinctive art market and exploring the dimensions of its artistic production and distribution. Interviewing dealers, collectors, curators, and critics and venturing into the backwoods and inner-city homes of numerous self-taught artists, Fine describes how authenticity is central to the system in which artists—often poor, elderly, members of a minority group, or mentally ill—are seen as having an unfettered form of expression highly valued in the art world. Respected dealers, he shows, have a hand in burnishing biographies of the artists, and both dealers and collectors trade in identities as much as objects.
Revealing the inner workings of an elaborate and prestigious world in which money, personalities, and values affect one another, Fine speaks eloquently to both experts and general readers, and provides rare access to a world of creative invention-both by self-taught artists and by those who profit from their work.
“Indispensable for an understanding of this world and its workings. . . . Fine’s book is not an attack on the Outsider Art phenomenon. But it is masterful in its anatomization of some of its contradictions, conflicts, pressures, and absurdities.”—Eric Gibson, WashingtonTimes
Drawing on the observations of three years spent in the company of dedicated amateur mushroomers and professional mycologists, Gary Alan Fine explores the ways in which Americans attempt to give meaning to the natural world, while providing an eye-opening look inside the cultures they construct around its study and appreciation.
A landmark work of environmental sociology, Morel Tales is an engaging and instructive examination of a thriving community, one with its own language, ceremonies, jokes, narratives, rivalries, and social codes. Fine also provides a detailed discussion of the American phenomenon he calls “naturework” -- that is, culturally constructing one’s own place in the natural environment through communities with shared systems of assigned meaning.
“Naturework,” Fine observes, is something we all do on some level -- not only birders, butterfly collectors, rock hounds, hunters, hikers, campers, and outdoor enthusiasts, but all of us who construct community through narrative and nature through culture.
A chess match seems as solitary an endeavor as there is in sports: two minds, on their own, in fierce opposition. In contrast, Gary Alan Fine argues that chess is a social duet: two players in silent dialogue who always take each other into account in their play. Surrounding that one-on-one contest is a community life that can be nearly as dramatic and intense as the across-the-board confrontation. Fine has spent years immersed in the communities of amateur and professional chess players, and with Players and Pawns he takes readers deep inside them, revealing a complex, brilliant, feisty world of commitment and conflict. Within their community, chess players find both support and challenges, all amid a shared interest in and love of the long-standing traditions of the game, traditions that help chess players build a communal identity.
Full of idiosyncratic characters and dramatic gameplay, Players and Pawns is a celebration of the fascinating world of serious chess.
From 1945 to about 1960, the University of Chicago was home to a group of faculty and graduate students whose work has come to define what many call a second "Chicago School" of sociology.
Like its predecessor earlier in the century, the postwar department was again the center for qualitative social research—on everything from mapping the nuances of human behavior in small groups to seeking solutions to problems of race, crime, and poverty. Howard Becker, Joseph Gusfield, Herbert Blumer, David Riesman, Erving Goffman, and others created a large, enduring body of work.
In this book, leading sociologists critically confront this legacy. The eight original chapters survey the issues that defined the department's agenda: the focus on deviance, race and ethnic relations, urban life, and collective behavior; the renewal of participant observation as a method and the refinement of symbolic interaction as a guiding theory; and the professional and institutional factors that shaped this generation, including the leadership of Louis Wirth and Everett C. Hughes; the role of women; and the competition for national influence Chicago sociology faced from survey research at Columbia and grand theory at Harvard. The contributors also discuss the internal conflicts that call into question the very idea of a unified "school."
This classic study still provides one of the most acute descriptions available of an often misunderstood subculture: that of fantasy role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. Gary Alan Fine immerses himself in several different gaming systems, offering insightful details on the nature of the games and the patterns of interaction among players—as well as their reasons for playing.
In Talking Art, acclaimed ethnographer Gary Alan Fine gives us an eye-opening look at the contemporary university-based master’s-level art program. Through an in-depth analysis of the practice of the critique and other aspects of the curriculum, Fine reveals how MFA programs have shifted the goal of creating art away from beauty and toward theory. Contemporary visual art, Fine argues, is no longer a calling or a passion—it’s a discipline, with an academic culture that requires its practitioners to be verbally skilled in the presentation of their intentions. Talking Art offers a remarkable and disconcerting view into the crucial role that universities play in creating that culture.
If all politics is local, then so is almost everything else, argues sociologist Gary Alan Fine. We organize our lives by relying on those closest to us—family members, friends, work colleagues, team mates, and other intimates—to create meaning and order. In this thoughtful and wide-ranging book, Fine argues that the basic building blocks of society itself are forged within the boundaries of such small groups, the "tiny publics" necessary for a robust, functioning social order at all levels. Action, meaning, authority, inequality, organization, and institutions all have their roots in small groups. Yet for the past twenty-five years social scientists have tended to ignore the power of groups in favor of an emphasis on organizations, societies, or individuals. Based on over thirty-five years of Fine's own ethnographic research across an array of small groups, Tiny Publics presents a compelling new theory of the pivotal role of small groups in organizing social life. No social system can thrive without flourishing small groups. They provide havens in an impersonal world, where faceless organizations become humanized. Taking examples from such diverse worlds as Little League baseball teams, restaurant workers, high school debate teams, weather forecasters, and political volunteers, Fine demonstrates how each group has its own unique culture, or idioculture—the system of knowledge, beliefs, behavior, and customs that define and hold a group together. With their dense network of relationships, groups serve as important sources of social and cultural capital for their members. The apparently innocuous jokes, rituals, and nicknames prevalent within Little League baseball teams help establish how teams function internally and how they compete with other teams. Small groups also provide a platform for their members to engage in broader social discourse and a supportive environment to begin effecting change in larger institutions. In his studies of mushroom collectors and high school debate teams, Fine demonstrates the importance of stories that group members tell each other about their successes and frustrations in fostering a strong sense of social cohesion. And Fine shows how the personal commitment political volunteers bring to their efforts is reinforced by the close-knit nature of their work, which in turn has the power to change larger groups and institutions. In this way, the actions and debates begun in small groups can eventually radiate outward to affect every level of society. Fine convincingly demonstrates how small groups provide fertile ground for the seeds of civic engagement. Outcomes often attributed to large-scale social forces originate within such small-scale domains. Employing rich insights from both sociology and social psychology, as well as vivid examples from a revealing array of real-work groups, Tiny Publics provides a compelling examination of the importance of small groups and of the rich vitality they bring to social life. A Volume in the Russell Sage Foundation Series on Trust
What are boys like? Who is the creature inhabiting the twilight zone between the perils of the Oedipus complex and the Strum und Drang of puberty? In With the Boys, Gary Alan Fine examines the American male preadolescent by studying the world of Little League baseball. Drawings on three years of firsthand observation of five Little Leagues, Fine describes how, through organized sport and its accompanying activities, boys learn to play, work, and generally be "men."