Deep Play and the Kenosha pool scene

I can’t think of a better topic to apply Geertz’s concept of deep play to than billiards, considering my love for the game and inundation into the local “pool scene” if you will. Oddly enough I had never really considered this local group as such a dynamic community filled with alliances, status and prestige, and varying sub-groups.

Although there is still a level of gambling and competition that’s present at the local pool halls, from the stories I’ve heard it is nothing compared to what it was 15 years ago. Instead today the true competition manifests itself through a local bar pool league in which all the best, and many of the worst, pool players in the area participate. Each week for 28 weeks two 5 person teams compete in a competition and the league culminates in, as it is colloquially referred, the “City Tournament”.

Every team that participates is putting much more than a trophy on the line. Because of the surprising level of billiard talent present in the city of Kenosha, there is a considerable amount of pride and prestige on the line in the course of the 28 week league and particularly during the City Tournament.

There is an unwritten rule of etiquette among members, the violation of which often results in being ostracized and these individuals tend to lose a significant amount of respect among the rest of the group. As well there is a significant subdivision between the members of the overall group, the seasons veterans with whom the talented younger players cannot ever truly become peers with, although a level of mutual respect, friendship, and acceptable can be gained. There are the poorly skilled players who cannot gain real acceptance among the highly skilled players until their talents have been appropriately improved.You then have further subgroups of those who have previously won the tournament, those who have won other prestigious tournaments (such as the National BCA league tournaments in Las Vegas), and those individuals who may play on a less talented team but whose individual skills are on the higher level.

At the end of the tournament it becomes very interesting. Teams undergo a significant level of conflict in the face of adversity and either break under the pressure and lose, consequently breaking up and looking to form new teams, and as I see it alliances, with members of their similar skillset who underwent a similar situation. As such you have the teams who go deep in the tournament who perform very well. It is members of these teams that most of the time will stay together, but as their level of respect among primarily the highly skilled players have increased, there will be often multiple groups approaching single individuals attempting to form allegiances with them in hopes of getting them to join the team.

A good example of this alliance forming can be seen with my team. It was made up of three individuals who have only been playing for a short period, I was one of them, of less than three years and who were relatively unknown to the overall group. The other members were well established and highly regarded players in the group who have been playing for over ten years each. After taking third place in the tournament two of the three less experienced individuals wanted to stay together, however their performance was poor and thus the rest of the team was not inclined to stay together. Two of the three more experienced players wanted to stay together and immediately received numerous offers to join other talented teams. I personally was approached by a variety individuals who were curious as to who I was playing with next year. The people by whom I was approached were those who previously did not have a great amount of respect for my game, but through my performance in the tournament against teams of considerable talent I gained a previously unreached level of prestige within the group.




Power dynamics within the retail sector

As most students learn during the course of high school and college there are a very limited number of jobs available, and most of them encompass the world of retail and the service industry. Unfortunately I have been in the retail/customer service field for the past 7 years between high school and college and I have noticed a distinct rift between management and the entry level employees in regards to maintaining the power relationships inherent in these institutions.

Often the management at these types of jobs consist of individuals who are either freshly out of college with little management experience or have little formal higher level education and have been in a management position for a number of years and were not able to advance any higher within the company whether it was due to a lack of education or a lack of performance. The entry level employees can range anywhere from 15/16 year olds with little life experience to graduate level students who likely are more educated than their supervisors. Both ends of this spectrum can produce instability within the distribution of power due to a clash between the entry level employees and their bosses.

For the younger, inexperienced employees they are used to the power relationships with their parents and teachers and expect that everything should be on the level and mostly fair. However it is in my experience that, particularly in retail settings, members of management tend to enjoy being in a position of power and tend to enjoy flexing their managerial power. By this display of institutional power over lower level employees they can ensure a constant level of obedience and often squanders potential defiance to their authority.

However in my most recent experiences it is the attitude of some retail management towards more educated non-management employees that can be far more malicious in its intent. This is particularly evident  in the instances in which older aged management who have been stuck in the same position for a long period of time are in charge of employees with higher levels of education. I have witnessed numerous incidents of management taking unfair action against college student employees because of conflicts with school requirements when there are possible solutions that do not require unnecessary disciplinary action. I have seen that much of this comes from jealousy towards the employee, feeling that their job security may be threatened because of a lower level employee is more qualified, or a feeling of inadequacy in a leadership role that leads to vengeful action towards the lower level employee.

Interestingly enough all of this, which is similar to the ethnographic accounts of  Bourgois, also has ties to Mary Douglas’s theory of boundary maintenance. It is through the use of this managerial power against lower level employees, warranted or not, that allows the management to maintain the boundaries between themselves and the “regular” employees.



Season 3 and Season 4 of Castle are complete reversals of each other.

Castle is about a famous mystery novelist, Richard Castle, who has come to a dead end with his book series.  Castle is brought into questioning by the NYPD because there was copycat murder from one of his novels.  Now interested in crime and murder Castle gets new ideas for his book series.  Using his connection through the mayor he is able to follow Detective Kate Beckett.  Castle then models his new character in his book series, Nikki Heat, after Beckett.  Beckett initially disproves of Castle’s presence when working on cases, but she then sees him as a useful resource.

In season three of Castle, Beckett has a new boyfriend Josh Davidson.  Castle is speechless when Josh dropped off Beckett at the precinct because she did not tell anyone she was dating.  Throughout season 3 Castle struggles to understand his feelings for Beckett.  Since the relationship between Beckett and Josh is getting serious Castle realizes that he must tell Beckett his true feeling for her.  Before he can do so Beckett is severely shot and he holds her while paramedics are called.  Afraid that she might not make it, Castle confesses his love for Beckett before she passes out. 

In season 4, Beckett survives and tells Castle she does not remember anything from after she was shot.  She then breaks up with Josh during her recovery.  Castle is surprised by this information, but does not want to pressure Beckett into a relationship while she is recovering.  A little later Castle overhears Beckett while interrogating a suspect that she remembers everything that happened the day she was shot.  Feeling betrayed Castle starts pursuing other women.  Now Beckett struggles with her feeling for Castle while he starts seeing other women.

Season 3 and season 4 are reversals because the person in a relationship change and the person struggling with their feelings switch.  It first starts with Beckett in a relationship, then changes to Castle.  Castle struggles with his feelings first in season 3 and Beckett then struggles with hers in season 4.


Imaginaire and Cinco De Mayo

During the course of the day yesterday, May 5th, I found it really interesting how many texts I got asking what I was doing for Cinco De Mayo. I am of a Mexican background, but I do not find it necessary celebrate the victory of the Mexican army over the French at the Battle of Puebla. Also amusing is the thought of most people, including those of Mexican heritage that the day is the celebration of Mexico’s independence. In past years it became a celebration of Mexican pride and heritage. In the past few years it has become like St. Patrick’s day is in the United States, of which most people are oblivious as to why it is celebrated, and is an excuse for bars to have special tequila prices and for people of any ethnic background who enjoy partying to become drunken fools. Don’t get me wrong, I went out drinking as well, but that had more to do with the fact that it was daylight, a Saturday, and I had money in my pocket than it was about my pride as a Mexican. This brought me to think about the ever growing recurrence of strong association with a particular “country of origin” with which individuals associate themselves with and form social groups around.

One of the best pieces of evidence for this arises from the supposed Italians on “Jersey Shore” and their permeating influence on “Italian pride” among the younger demographic who watches their show. Similarly those of even questionable levels of heritage to Irish, Greek, German, etc. backgrounds seem to strongly voice their personal association with these countries. I feel that much of this can be related to Appadurai’s work on globalization and his use of the idea of the “imaginaire” and the associated formulation with social groups. These social groups do not depend on constant interaction among group members nor is there strict requirements for entrance into the group. It merely requires the imagined, if you will, quality that makes up the group, such as one’s Italian background. This membership is voiced by displaying symbols of that country, often the flag, as well as the use of speech patterns that, in the individual’s area, is reflective of individuals of that cultural background. This is indicative of the recognition of group values and that other members of the group will be cognizant of their representation of their group membership which will thus determine how the individuals ability to maintain membership.


The workplace can feel a lot like high school

“The message is about different degrees of hierarchy, inclusion and exclusion, boundaries and transactions across the boundaries.”

    The above comes from a work by Mary Douglas entitled “Deciphering a Meal”, a paper in which she studies the socially constructed boundaries associated with food and meals.  Of course, these type of boundaries can be found in all aspects of society.  One place where almost everyone deals with them on a daily basis is the workplace.
    Whether you work at an academic institution, in retail or foodservice, on a production line within a factory or in an office setting, all of us are faced with various dos and donts regarding social interactions at work.  Some of these are attributed to the official rules of the workplace, but often times they develop through the understood, unspoken rules of that particular job.  You can often find lines drawn between various groups within a business.  Front-of-house and back-of-house in a restaurant,  sales floor and stockroom in retail, production floor and administration in factories.   
    Whenever you enter a new social situation, you begin to pick up on the expected rules of behavior.  The same thing happens when you start a job.  Perhaps your position as a frame welder on an automobile assembly line means that you are not supposed to interact with the workers in the paint booth.   You may not even understand the restriction and have no personal ill-will toward the other group, but it’s still a distance you maintain in order to be accepted by the group you work most closely with – the welders.   As you put in more time at the job, these boundaries can shift and different levels of inclusion and exclusion become more noticeable.  
    And even when we are on the other side, as customers to these same types of establishments, there’s an understanding of where we are allowed and who we are allowed or expected to interact with.  Even without an ‘employees only’ or ‘private’ sign we know not to walk back into the kitchen when going out to eat or not to stroll through the stockroom at a store.  
    Boundaries exist within every aspect of our lives.  Certain interactions are considered off limits at certain times, and these instances of inclusion and exclusion can even be useful tools in maintaining our social positions and our places within the hierarchy.


Body as symbol, Body is symbol



Mary Douglas viewed the human body as a symbol of society, my example may be taking that idea to the extreme as it is the discussion of human body being used as symbols. She presented the idea of matter out of place. Some item that is outside of the context to which we are accustomed is unsettling demarking a boundary and highlighting differing categories in which symbolic ideas are acceptable.


The  article I link to above is a visual representation of both of these ideas. Females on the covers of romance novels are often depicted in impossible positions and subordinate to any males in the images.  To a lesser extent these depictions are exaggerated and impossible for males shown as well. 


What is the author – and to be more fair the publisher – saying about male and females and about their interactions with these covers?  It is an image we can support, is it a reality within our culture or a reinforcement of division and the possibilities that with enough work we could all attain this ideal type?  What happens when we fail?  When the man or woman we choose a the romantic lead in our lives fails to live up to these iconic standards?  More disillusionment and a lack of social cohesion, rampant neuroses, disharmony both mentally and in our relationships, and divorce.


The book sells though.  Often the descriptions of the men and women in the story have no bearing on the cover at all. 


Facebook, meet Bourdieu.

I was in the middle of writing a blog post about boundary maintenance within the retail workforce while watching the show Criminal Minds. All of the sudden I picked up on some dialogue that made me instantly think of Bourdieu. The line, which I had to look up for accurate citation, was:

Rossi: “Can somebody explain to me the appeal of these sites? ‘Eating sushi tonight, yummmm. Boss is keeping me late at work, grrrrr.’ Whose life is so important that we’d be interested in that kind of detail?”

Morgan: “I dunno, I guess that’s the running joke, right? I mean, nobody is. But we’d all like to believe there’s actually an audience out that wants to follow our every move.”

The thing that really triggered a response to this show that was really just serving as a background noise was Morgan’s use of the word audience. Typically, when one is posting pictures, statuses, “poking” someone etc. via facebook there is not an inherent focus on how it will be received by their “audience”. Rather, it is viewed as individual interactions between the user and the individual with whom they are interacting. For some reason this connection never struck me, and it may well be that I’m just late to the party.

Facebook is an interesting piece of technology in that it allows for the user to search for friends using a variety of different network criteria: name, school, city etc. However as the technology has continued to develop we now have those annoying little boxes showing the “people you may know”, and sometimes a variety of different subjects that your other friends have “liked” As well profiles of people you do not know show their likes and interests. By using these fields, from Bourdieu’s sense, one can expand their social network. Into this plays his concept of habitus. In his work he states “the paradigm of all the ‘choices’ through which the habitus tends to favour experiences likely to reinforce it (or the empirically confirmed fact that people tend to talk about politics with those who have the same opinions)” (Anthro Theory p. 502) which I found particularly applicable to the situation. In my mind the entire concept of facebook, whether it was the intention of the creator or not, seems to play directly into the concept of fields and habitus and the ways in which they relate.

Similarly the application of this technology by the user plays into Bourdieu’s concept of habitus as well. The way in which I find this most applicable is the use of the “status” function. Everything that is said has its meaning which can be taken at a literal face value. However the underlying directive of “updating a status” is to gain the attention of the audience by applying to a variety of fields with which members of the audience receptive to. This is a “modus operandi which is not consciously mastered” (498) and thus is not the immediate intention of the user, however it is an action whose “discourse contains an ‘objective intention…which outruns the conscious intentions of its apparent author” (498).

It is through this dichotomous interaction of conscious literal reflection of thought and emotion and the subconscious use of literary devices through which the user applies one or more Bourdieuian fields within this reflection that users are able to reach their largest and most ideal audience.