Wag the Blog

Laurie Essig writes that she’s known for “making the ‘normal’ bizarre and the ‘bizarre’ normal.”

She agrees with Marx in believing that the point isn’t just to describe the world, but to change it.

And the assistant professor of sociology makes all of these points known on the blog she started last spring on TrueSlant.com, a new politics and culture site that has gained significant momentum and readership.

Most interestingly, she says, she’s discovered a lively synergy between her opinionated blogging and her place in the classroom: teaching has made her a good blogger and blogging has made her a better teacher.

“Having to translate sociology into ‘blog’ language is not that different than trying to explain a particularly dense sociological theory to my class,” she says. “And since blogging is a major force in our culture, one that my students are extremely familiar with, I often encourage them to experiment beyond traditional research papers to translate what they learn into the genres that people are actually reading/watching at this particular historical moment—blogs, videos, zines.”

A self-described academic “who does not believe in abstract knowledge,” Essig enjoys using her field of sociology to dissect the daily news and says blogging gives her a voice outside of academe—“in the public sphere, or at least the blogosphere.” (Evidence of this? Time magazine recently excerpted a passage from one of her recent posts.)

Some of her most popular posts include “Banks want to keep students stupid and in debt,” “U.S. soldiers for hire…for sex,” “Borat of the right releases fantasy of ACORN prostitution ring,” and “Holy War against Whole Foods.”

“I think of myself as an interpreter first and foremost,” she says. “I give my students—and blog readers—an understanding of the way sociologists figure out how power operates in the social world.  I am not telling anyone what to do with these words, but I hope they go forth and use them to shape the world around them or at least understand it better.

Essig has just finished her second book, American Plastic: Boob Jobs, Credit Cards, and the Spirit of Our Time, a critique of neoliberal capitalism through cosmetic surgery. In her typical forthright style she combines mass trends with academic analyses in a way that’s accessible to a range of readers who inhabit both worlds.

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