ASA Culture Section 2021

Summary of ASA Panels

A. Report on Panel New Perspectives in Sociology of Art and Music: BIPOC Artists and Creative Agency

Organized by Fiona Greenland (University of Virginia)and Patricia Banks (Mount Holyoke College)

Race has historically been a neglected topic in sociology of art. Studies of how art is produced, evaluated, collected, and displayed have typically had little to say on the contributions of racialized subjects. Recent scholarship is addressing the gaps created by that omission, and our panel showcased four examples of cutting-edge work. 

Rebecca Emigh and Johanna Hernandez-Perez asked how “genius” is recognized in the field of music composition. Sociologists of culture have generated robust discussions about how genius is constructed through social norms and structures. But Emigh and Hernandez-Perez brought a new approach: dialectical realism, which they develop in a close study of five early 20th century American composers, varying by race and gender. Composers’ social location, they show, as well as the type of institutional resources they can access, decisively shape the take-up and configuration of their music. Building on the theme of institutional resources, Daniel Cornfield and co-authors examined the role played by local arts agencies (LAAs) in supporting cultural equity in American communities. Drawing on a dataset of more than 500 LAAs, they identify two main types of organizational portfolio – growth and inclusion – and find that whether agencies effectively engage with local stakeholders has important effects on cultural diversity and placemaking. LAAs are active throughout the US but we know little about how they function and with what effects. Cornfield and colleagues make a powerful case for the need to improve sociological knowledge about this area.

Another key theme of the panel was invisible labor. In “Be Weary: Racialized emotional labor in creative careers,” Kim de Laat and Alanna Stuart conducted in-depth interviews with Black, Indigenous, and people of color artists and creative workers. Focusing on the emotional labor expected from their subjects in majority-white creative industries, the authors identified three coping strategies: alleviation, confrontation, and the benefit of the doubt. Racialized emotional labor takes a “psychic toll” that manifests in weariness, inequality, and, sometimes, burnout. In a similar vein, Tania Aparicio’s comparative study of the Cineteca Nacional in Mexico City and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City examined the hidden processes of diversity in film curatorship. Beginning with the point that film curatorship practices create inequality and exclusion, Aparicio highlighted the gaps between institutions’ best intentions (the macro) and individuals’ actions (the micro). Taken together, the two papers brought into the open the subjectivities of race and racism that permeate art worlds but go unnoticed in majority-white spaces.

 As the four papers showed, there is fruitful work to be done on race in sociology of art and we look forward to continuing the discussion.

B. Report on Panel Between Collapse and Utopia: Foresight, Imagination and Social Change

Organized by Ann Mische (University of Notre Dame)

With futures uncertain, how do people imagine possibilities for change? Between the two poles of dystopian collapse narratives and utopian visions of a world transformed, there is a lot of unexplored cultural space. Arguably this “in between” space of foresight and action is critical for determining personal and institutional pathways. This is the space of “emergent strategy” (to borrow a phrase from writer and activist Adrienne Maree Brown), linking actions in the present to longer term temporal horizons. In this panel, five exciting papers explored different ways in which narratives of foresight, future-making, and transformation are caught up in personal, social, and political change efforts amidst the intersecting crises of our times.

The papers explored a range of different sites for the future-oriented imagination. These included how people imagined the future after same-sex marriage (Peter Hart-Brinson), how clinicians and scientific experts envision the impact of climate change on public health (Mallory Fallin), how Black millennials reflect on the frustrating pace of change in response to the Black Lives Matter movement (Simone Nicole Durham), how young Syrian refugees in Lebanon adjust their dreams amidst shrinking opportunities (Samuel Dinger), and how young US millennials creatively re-weave hopes for the future in the face of uncertainty (Shira Zilberstein, Michèle Lamont, and Mari Sanchez).

The dialogue between these five papers was lively and impressive. Prior to the session, I asked each panelist to reserve their final 2-3 minutes to share points of connection with at least one other (pre-circulated) paper on the panel. This proved extremely generative, as the papers spoke to each other in deep and interesting ways. I posed three questions for the panelists:

  1. In what ways does crisis (i.e., heightened uncertainty) make thinking about the future easier, and in what ways does it make it harder? The papers had different responses to this question. Hart-Brinson suggested that crisis enables futures thinking, while the papers by Fallin, Durham, and Dinger suggested that crisis can make futures thinking harder. Zilbertstein and colleagues noted both tendencies in play, as young people navigate between constraint and possibility.
  2. How do people move between different “ontological” relations to the future (i.e., as inevitable, impossible, luminally possible, plausible, or attainable? The papers wrestled with variations in ontological orientation (Hart-Brinson), as well as with the ways people “toggle” between pessimism and optimism (Fallin), wrestle with the perceived inevitability or impossibility of change (Falllin, Durham), or recalibrate which futures are deemed plausible or attainable (Dinger, Zilberstein et al). 
  3. Does thinking about the long term paralyze us or enable us? When is long-term thinking useful, and when is it problematic? Some papers stressed the enabling, even liberating quality of long-term thinking in the face of present barriers (Hart-Brinson, Durham). Others noted that long term imaginaries can paralyze action, especially when disconnected from the present (Fallin) or when perceived unattainability leads people to “shrink” futures to their immediate locus of control (Dinger, Zilberstein et al).

Overall, this panel demonstrated the richness of contemporary research on futures.  While drawing on diverse strands of this burgeoning literature, these five papers highlighted the urgency and the difficulty of imagining futures in a period of uncertainty, crisis, and social change. 

C. Report on Panel Cultures of Computation in Theory and Practice

Organized by Anna K. M. Skarpelis (Harvard University) and Marshall Taylor (New Mexico State University)

Report by Anna Skarpelis

Marshall and I sought to bring together papers by theorists and critical empirical sociologists with those by software designers and other practitioners. We received several dozen submissions; in fact, the quality of submissions impressed us so much that we wished we had had the opportunity to showcase all of them over several panels. In the end, we chose four papers that reflected the breadth of the field as well as its different methodologies: Alina Arseniev-Koehler’s theoretical piece on meaning and word embeddings; Angele Christin’s ethnographic piece on algorithmic fields and vegan influencers; Maria Akchurin and Gabriel Chouhy’s ethnographic work on fairness in school choice and black boxed algorithms; and Stewart, Miner, Halley, Nelson and Linos’ (SMHNL) methodological investigation into human versus unsupervised approaches to identifying meaningful labels in text analysis. Matt Rafalow, a social scientist at Google while affiliated with Stanford, generously agreed to serve as the panel’s high-spirited and expert discussant. I’d like to highlight several issues that cut across the papers in ways relevant to the cultural sociology of computation and for computational approaches to culture: questions of transposition, historical legacies, and representation.

Substantively, all papers in some way tackle questions on movement across fields. Christin studies extreme online content from the perspective of the “bad actors” that produce it, and finds that algorithmic fields compared to others are more likely to be polarized on account of an oligopolistic structure. Put differently, were the very same people producing content in other fields, their discourse would likely be less extreme and tending towards the dramatic. Akchurin and Chouhy look at what happens when an algorithm developed for a specific, middle class and professional context – residency assignments for medical students – gets applied to Louisiana students’ school choice. While neither authors, nor their informants, have access to the black boxed algorithms, this transposition raises obvious questions of fairness and efficiency. What is interesting is that nobody can quite agree what “fairness” should look like, similar to the minefield that is “authenticity,” where transgressions disproportionately lead to the punishment of women and people of color, as Christin shows when vegan influencers are uncovered as “frauds” when found out to consume animal products. Both works showcase the value of looking at how similar processes unfold in different contexts, and their theoretical strength lies in carving out processes that undergird variation across fields. Although they are both on the face single case studies, they have significant comparative implications.

SMHNL ask what happens when we unleash qualitative human eyes versus unsupervised topic modeling on the same set of texts: do we capture “the same” meaning? Where they find that unsupervised learning is a decent enough cheap alternative for a first pass compared to more labor-intensive and expertise-necessitating qualitative work, they also show how although both machine and human efforts mostly lead to the deployment of similar labels, these frequently point to different documents. Intercoder reliability (see also Victoria Reyes and team’s article on the Living Codebook in Sociological Methods and Research) is one thing, but if we truly want to use unsupervised models as a first pass to enable meaningful analysis in a second step, the labels better point to documents in meaningful ways. Where SMHNL unleash different approaches on the same corpus, Arseniev-Koehler asks more foundational questions. By revealing the transdisciplinary evolution of word embeddings as methodology, the paper asks: What are structuralism’s legacies for sociology, and should we really just adopt computer science methods because they are “there”? What happens when a technology developed for one context and one set of purposes is made to do something else entirely – for example, the search for “meaning” in sociology? Neural embeddings, Arseniev-Koehler suggests, could provide a way out of the structuralist hangover, especially where we’d like to capture meaning over time.

Although none of the papers are explicitly historical, they all raise questions of path dependencies – in methodology, in the importance (or lack thereof) of early communities for the later structuring of a field, but also in historical harms that disproportionately accrue to minority populations. They also do not shy away from asking tough methodological questions about what is a good proxy for the thing we want to study, and complicate what moral concepts like “authenticity” and “fairness” mean not only to their respondent directly, but also how the people they study desperately try to derive these concepts from the often black boxed systems that they are exposed to, and on whose inner workings much of their economic value and life chances hinge. Individually, each paper posed provocative questions on meaning, morals and methodology, but more importantly, the talks spoke to one another in ways that were generative beyond the individual case. We hope the authors will continue to puzzle through these provocations as they move towards publication.

D. Report on Panel Culture and Morality in Times of Crisis

Organized by Aliza Luft (University of California, Los Angeles)

Report by Manning Zhang (Brandeis University)

Jacqueline Ho and Reid Ralston (Cornell University)

Coping with Corrupted Systems: Moral Negotiations in the Hinterlands of Evaluation

The starting point of this research is when college campuses shut in March of last year and there was a lot of debate and student activism around the issue of how students should be graded for the Semester. Ho and her colleagues argue that the crisis made it more visible that evaluation systems can be moral accomplishments. They try to use the controversy generated by this moment to understand how actors are problematized and the evaluation system in moral terms during the crisis, and then how the struggles are meant to be resolved. 

Ho and Ralston have conducted a natural/breaching experiment in one North American university within a time span of three weeks. They find that, on the one hand, to use narrative to illustrate unequal opportunity, and to speculate about the moral meaning of pandemic grades, are the two ways that actors (students and faculty) use to problematize the system in moral terms. On the other hand, the college’s final grading policy retains the letter grade option but changes the meaning of a “pass” while having the meaning of a letter to stay intact.

Ho concludes that, in times of crisis, actors articulate what is usually taken for granted about the evaluation system. In doing so, they affirm the system as moral, fair under “normal” circumstances. Narratives allow actors strategically to problematize the system, and the evaluation systems also produce moralizing subjects.

Till Hilmar (University of Bremen)

Moral Economy and the Social Semiotics of the Covid-19 Crisis

Hilmar uses the framework of moral economy and the meaning of shifting social associations to analyze small businesses and the self-employed in crisis and compares Covid-19 state relief in the US and Germany. Hilmar analyzed a corpus of 3936073 US-related tweets and 121260 Germany-related tweets that were authored between March 1st, 2020, and February 15, 2021, while the keywords are the official names of the payments.

In the German materials, Hilmar identifies blurred boundaries among benefit recipients while in the United States materials, he identifies racial inequality in the distribution of loans.

Ryann Manning (University of Toronto)

Proximity and moral action: diaspora communities helping from afar during the West African Ebola outbreak

Based on the context of mobilization by members of Sierra Leone’s global diaspora community to respond to the 2014-2015 Ebola crisis in West Africa, Manning asks how people trying to help from afar overcome their lack of physical proximity to a place in crisis. She uses qualitative, abductive analysis to analyze both the real-time data and the retrospective data and finds out that members of the diaspora valued physical proximity and saw physical distance as hampering their response to Ebola but faced barriers in their efforts to create physical proximity. To tackle this problem, they create two forms of proximity: narrative and moral proximity.

Then, Manning raises a further question: How did narrative and moral proximity shape the action in response to Ebola? She argues that it helped generate a sense of personal and collective efficacy and prompted members of the diaspora to follow scripts from past activism.

Taylor Paige Winfield and Janet Xu (Princeton University)

Risky behaviors and moral judgements in a politicized pandemic

Considering the literature in sociology and psychology of morality, Winfield and Xu ask two questions: How are U.S. Americans across the political spectrum defining and moralizing risky health behaviors in the COVID-19 pandemic? What do they think about morality in relation to risk? They use a pilot survey experiment to measure people’s evaluations of risk, moral judgments, and the rationales they provide for their assessments. 

Unsurprisingly, Winfield and Xu identify that people perceive riskier behaviors as more immoral. But surprisingly, they find that the negative relationship between risk and morality is similar for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. They identify similar patterns in how people across the political spectrum moralize “risk.” In contrast to Moral Foundation Theory, Winfield argues that their study shows that Democrats and Republicans moralize risky social behaviors during COVID-19 similarly. As for next steps, Winfield and Xu decide to run on a representative national sample and test if the association between “newly” risky behaviors and morality holds for more established personal and public health risks.

E. Report on Panel Studying Culture in Times of Crisis: Methods and Approaches

Organized by Nino Bariola (University of Texas at Austin) and Samantha Leonard (Brandeis University)

The Culture section’s student representatives organize a graduate professionalization panel during ASA annual meeting. In 2021, considering the multiple ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic upended academic research, we invited scholars from whom we could learn how to approach cultural processes and dynamics during periods of crisis (broadly defined) and how to practically navigate circumstances in which exogenous forces limit our ability to gather data and do research. The scholarly work of some of the participants directly examines critical junctures like wars and uprisings, whereas others creatively figured how to study the effects of crises like the pandemic on the social practices or populations they were studying before the onset of COVID-19. Here we summarize some of the theoretical, methodological, and practical lessons the scholars shared during the panel.

Aliza Luft (UCLA) studies episodes of extreme violence like the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide to shed light on how people evaluate and make sense of state-sponsored brutality—when and why do they support it or resist it, and how and why they shift their stance about it. Albeit categorically different, the pandemic also entailed disarray of multiple social norms. Building off her previous work, Luft underscored the relevance of investigating that disarray not only to grasp its impacts at the macro-level, but also how organizations and groups of organizations (i.e. the meso-level) respond to unexpected events like the pandemic, how people make decisions, valuations, and calculations under such circumstances, and how they establish (or abjure) new relationships (i.e. the micro-level). 

Jelani Ince—then PhD candidate at Indiana University and now assistant professor at the University of Washington—investigates the interplay of race and religion to understand how rigid social norms and heavily regulated social spaces relate to organizational diversity. In previous work, he examined the tactics and legacies of #BlackLivesMatter. Ince was wrapping up ethnographic fieldwork for his dissertation as the pandemic unfolded. Observing how the Protestant organizations he was studying reacted provided rich data about how participants create meanings and relationships, and how they draw social boundaries amidst chaotic circumstances. He was particularly struck by how the pandemic has deepened already existing inequalities. 

Angela García’s (University of Chicago) book examines the impacts of local immigration laws on the lives of undocumented Mexican immigrants from their own perspectives. García was leading two qualitative research teams when the pandemic started—one focused on the temporal dimensions of immigrants’ experiences and another one examining a social inclusion initiative that provided municipal IDs to undocumented immigrants in Chicago. On top of logistical complications, COVID-19 and the lockdowns added extra layers of complexity that warranted scholarly attention on their own right to García’s projects. With this experience, García confronted the practical ethics and realities of doing collaborative qualitative research, including how to support and protect the safety of student research assistants and co-investigators. 

Caitlyn Collins’s (Washington University St. Louis) research delves into another sort of emergency—the lack of work-family justice in the U.S. Considering that crises in the past provided space for policy change, Collins asked would the pandemic undo decades of gender progress at the workplace or could it shine a new light on and un-stall the recent stasis of the gender revolution? To grapple with these questions, Collins said, collaborating with other scholars proved essential. On the one hand, she co-authored a comparative analysis of policies to redress the pandemic’s effects on gender and labor inequalities in multiple countries. On the other, she collaborated with scholars with skills different than hers to examine if and how the pandemic was deepening multiple facets of gender inequality in the U.S.

Finally, Craig Rawlings (Duke University), whose research focuses on meaning-making processes and social networks, shared how a previous crisis affected his career trajectory and how he navigated such circumstances. Rawlings finished graduate school during the Great Recession and worked in a number of temporary positions for almost a decade before landing a tenure-track job. Academic research and careers, he noted, are indeed vulnerable to crises of all kinds. Rawlings mentioned that learning to deal with constant rejection was key to manage the uncertainty and ups and downs of his atypical trajectory, and to keep doing the work that the was able to do.

Summary of ASA Roundtables

A. Summaries of ASA Roundtables

1. Table 13: Cognition—Michael Rotolo (University of Notre Dame)

This year’s Cognition Roundtable brought together sociologists using a range of methods and topics to illuminate cognition’s role in shaping cultural understandings. Devin Cornell’s (Duke University) coauthored project used a novel version of “the telephone game” with word embeddings to explore the relation of public representations and nondeclarative cultural schemas, identify the role of “cultural attractors” and their influence on public representations of social problems. Michael Rotolo’s (University of Notre Dame) project analyzed the development of “Extremely Liberal” political views using longitudinal interviews, field notes, and surveys from the 10-year NSYR and developed a tripartite model of political orientation, showing how different combinations of social position, knowledge, and affect shape divergent perceptions of society and consequent political orientations. Hyunku Kwon’s (University of Chicago) project analyzed the relationship between political polarization and social trust and explained the importance of how citizens position their own political opinions in relation to subjectively perceived in/out groups. Ji Hye Kim’s (University of Pennsylvania) project used CCA to identify systems of implicit values and showed how they vary both within and between countries. And Gordon Brett’s (University of Toronto) project explained shortcomings of the automatic/deliberate cognition bifurcated model, showing how the liminal situations of improvisation theater demand actors’ use of automatic and deliberation cognition simultaneously and discussing its implications for scholarship on culture and action. It’s difficult to describe such ambitious and exciting projects in brief. However, the presentations were outstanding, and I eagerly look forward to seeing the final products in print.

2. Table 14: Organizations—Audra Dugandzic (University of Notre Dame)

The roundtable on organizations had four presentations. Andrea Cavacchini presented a paper on behalf of himself and his coauthors arguing that organizations with a culture of performance pressure are more likely to engage in misconduct, and that the organization’s level of centralization moderates this relationship. Sara Beth Kaufman presented research on her institution, Trinity University, using qualitative network analysis to show how the founding members were implicated in slaveholding and white supremacy. Qianyi Shi’s presentation explored how knowledge-sharing networks in the tech communities on meetup.com have evolved over time. Finally, Kunyuan Qiao examined the role of regional geography in corporate culture, especially in mergers and acquisitions.

3. Table 3: Embodiment, Gender and Sexuality—Melissa Cambero Scott (Florida International University)

The Embodiment Gender and Sexuality roundtable involved two compelling presentations as well as other scholars who submitted their papers but were unable to join due to scheduling issues. The first presenter was Sylvia Esther Gyan who discussed the puberty rites of passage performed by girls in traditional African societies and the ways in which these traditions are becoming less common due to the introduction of Christianity and modernity into these cultures.  Esther Gyan argues that the fading of these traditions is removing spaces from young African girls to discuss and learn about sex and sexuality. Next, Aunrika Tucker-Shabazz discuss the ways in which the study of incest, specifically incest between white adults and black children, has been considered taboo in academia. Tucker-Shabazz explains this silencing of discussion of taboo has further silenced survivors of incest as well as created new hurdles for black and brown women scholars. After these presentations, we further delved into the work of these two scholars. Specifically, we talked about the ways in which the authors discuss women’s, especially black women’s agency. In uplifting the stories, experiences and knowledge of black women, academia and future generations will have a better understanding of sex and sexuality.

4. Table 2: Intersectionality—Alexander Hoppe (University of Pennsylvania

Louise Ly of UC-Berkeley analyzed Whites’ attraction to their South Asian spouses and highlighted the significance of affiliative ethnic identity in their desire. Using an intersectional approach, they underscored the importance of gendered constructions in attraction. Cory Haines of Virginia Tech offered an analysis of video game characters, finding that women and minorities are underrepresented in screen time and narratives.

5. Table 15: Visual Methods—Rachel Keynton (University of Notre Dame)

At the culture section roundtable on visual methods, we held a lively and intimate discussion of how emergent and less-frequently used methods using visual media opens particular advantages and new possibilities for sociological research. Our small table allowed us to have a really engaging conversation and deep dive into each of the presenters’ research. The first paper, Using Video-Ethnographic Data to Study Parenting Interactions, by Joanne Golann and Richard Hall, uses video data collected in families’ homes to study everyday interactions among parents and young children. The video data, collected as part of the New Jersey Families Study, captured two weeks of interactions throughout the homes of 21 families. Their presentation focused on the challenges of, and approaches to, reduction and management of such large amounts of video data, as well as the wide range of theoretical insights that can be gained from such data. The second paper, Insert Your [Suburban] Logo Here: Using Logos to Brand Municipalities in the Chicago Region, by Brian Miller looked at how suburban communities distinguish and brand themselves through the visual medium of logos. This presentation identified how visual data reveals patterns across the logos of 160 suburbs in the greater Chicago area which are tied to differences in community identity and recruitment aims. Some logo features map onto communities that appeal to traditional suburban values and are whiter and wealthier, while other features are related to changing suburban populations.

B. Report on Roundtable 8: Meritocracy

Report by Luca Carbone (KU Leuven, Belgium)

Meritocracy is a thorny issue. Conceived by Michael Young as an ironic device to portray a dystopian society, where intelligence and merit are central tenets of a good society, its contemporary supporters seem to have misunderstood the irony. Meritocracy assumes equality of opportunities and ascribes to individuals the responsibility of their destinies. It praises successes as the outcomes of hard work and personal commitment, blaming setbacks on indolence and lack of initiative. Disregarding the unequal distribution of opportunities and the everlasting presence of systemic forms of discrimination, meritocracy has become a moral lynchpin to justify and perpetuate inequalities. How did we arrive here? How to evaluate the presence and extent of meritocratic ideals in everyday cultural products? Once realizing the perverse reach of meritocracy, what shall we do? Where shall we go?

The roundtable on Meritocracy, as part of the Sociology of Culture Session, has been a unique opportunity to reflect on these – and many other – questions. Bringing a comparative and historical perspective to the table, Victor Kogan reflected on the role of educational systems and family privileges in creating fertile soil for the future development of meritocratic ideals. His speech showed the weight of the past in guiding contemporary systems of inequalities. Luca Carbone and Alexander Kindel followed this historical account, proposing conceptual and methodological tools to measure concepts such as meritocracy, prestige, and deservingness in popular media products, such as music lyrics and TV game shows. With these presentations, past bearings were unveiled and present realizations were analyzed, but future directions were still missing. Michael Bell, Abigail Letak, and Hannah Kass proposed a framework to further develop discussions and initiatives to move out of the “madness of inequality” that is fed by meritocracy. Starting from the consideration that humans are NOT socially cruel by construction, they advanced the concept of “Sh!tocracy” to highlight the detrimental consequences of meritocracy, such as productivity anxiety, conspicuous productivity, stress, burnout, and the incessant comparison with others: never satisfied, never enough. Realizing the origins and reach of this madness is a first step to dismantle belief systems that justify and perpetuate inequalities, among which meritocracy reigns supreme.

Neoliberal madness looms large in the world: this roundtable felt as a beacon of resistance, one among many others that we will keep building and supporting.

C. Table 12: Memory and Futures

Organized by Daniel Jaster (Eureka College and Texas Tech University)

How does the sociological study of culture help us understand the relationship between memories and futures? Four scholars provided compelling points at the ASA Sociology of Culture roundtables. Elena Ayala-Hurtado’s talk, titled “When will my life begin? The purgatory of insecure college graduates in the United States and Spain”, focused on how unemployed college graduates in Spain and the US view their futures in light of the deviation from the predicted trajectories of their pasts. She framed one common theme as a sense of being stranded in purgatory: a recognition of struggle but a general faith that college grads can eventually resume their path towards prosperity if they continue to work hard. Derek Robey’s talk, titled “What’s in a name: Public naming disputes and the contested construction of racial history in the United States and Canada”, focused on different understandings of America and Canada’s pasts and how that influenced both opinions about renaming public spaces and objects, and also understandings of what these debates mean for the future of the nation. He found that respondents tended to hold one of two perspectives: nostalgic colorblindness or projective anti-racism, with each group having a different understanding of their nation’s past prejudices and thus having differing ideas for constructing future collective memories. Finally, Emma Brandt and Wendy Griswold’s talk, “Staging Inter/Nationalism: Cultural politics at the International Belgrade Book Fair”, focused on the complex (inter)national narratives present in an area with complex, fraught histories, thus displaying complex, sometimes conflicting, identities towards the future. They framed their findings as the fair projecting a sense of cosmopolitanism without cosmopolitanists: proclaimed international multiculturalism while groups largely expressed their own national identities. 

The Q&A after the presentations also highlighted just how complex and interesting the relationship between memories and futures are. More comparisons between cultural norms or different types of employment outcomes might highlight the dynamic interplay between individual experiences and broader cultural patterns which influence how empowered or threatened one is by a deviation from a plan that one repeatedly was told would lead to future prosperity. When discussing collective memory and monuments, questions arose about symbolic gestures versus real attempts at change and whether these groups see themselves as distinct; yes, they do, and both claim to speak on behalf of white communities. The final presentation elicited discussion about what the purpose of the international book fair is, given the mixed messaging. The presenters posited that it may be because there are many different people attending: messaging isn’t cynically manipulated nor haphazard but rather a product of discussions happening at different radio frequencies due to the Serbia’s complex histories and what internationalism might mean in such a context.

Ultimately, these talks were interesting and posed difficult questions about the dynamic relationship between who we think we were, are, and will be. I was struck by the nuanced answers by the presenters, which admittedly had to be flattened and simplified for this essay format. The audience posed questions which helped push the presenters into more complex territories, whose compelling responses perhaps generated more research questions for themselves. These talks showed a bright future for this theme in the sociology of culture. As a scholar of memories and futures myself, I was struck by the common cores of tensions between individual and collective pasts; which identities should be retained, amended, discarded, or built; and how to culturally express the tensions between different memories and futures, especially considering individual and collective desires. These scholars offer some promising pathways towards answer questions of the past and prompting questions for the future.