Associated Publications

chicago studies in practices of meaning


In collaboration with the University of Chicago Press, 3CT has also established a new interdisciplinary book series, Chicago Studies in Practices of Meaning. The series has distinctive theoretical goals, as signaled by its title. Following the so-called “cultural turn” the study of culture became a major preoccupation of nearly all disciplines in the social sciences – with the major exception of economics – and has given rise to the fledgling discipline, or quasi-discipline, of cultural studies. We adopt a rigorous interdisciplinary theoretical perspective, designated by our use of the terms “practice” and “meaning” rather than “culture,” as the latter has been used so promiscuously over the past two decades in both academic and popular discourse as to proliferate a host of unacknowledged ambiguities.

Our editors, who come from four different fields of social science: Anthropology (William Mazzarella and Kaushik Sunder Rajan), Sociology (Andreas Glaeser), History (William Sewell), and Political Science (Lisa Wedeen), are interested in the widest possible range of practices of meaning – in ritual, political theory, work, urban design, religion, shopping, social movements, mu- sic, economic exchange, science, leisure, kinship – which is to say, any arena or aspect of human life in which meanings are made. 3CT solicits distinguished scholarly manuscripts that share our methodological and epistemological commitments to innovation in interpretive social science, to probing interdisciplinary contact, and to work combining rigorous theoretical reflection with empirically rich accounts of local experience.

selected publications

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Critical Historical Studies Journal


Critical Historical Studies is pleased to welcome to the editorial collective Judit Bodnaran urban sociologist at the Central European University and author of Fin de Millénaire Budapest (Minnesota). Judit will officially join as a co-editor of CHS in January 2019.


Critical Historical Studies is a new interdisciplinary journal devoted to historical reflections on politics, culture, economy, and social life, edited by William Sewell (3CT Fellows) and Andrew Sartori (New York University). CHS features research on the implications of socio-economic transformations for cultural, political, and social change. In the broad tradition of Critical Theory, CHS will explore the complex connections between cultural form and socio-economic context and promote a reflexive awareness of the researcher’s own position in the history of global capitalist society.

Critical Historical Studies publishes monographic research articles, theoretical articles, review essays, and critical reflections on current cultural, political, and scholarly issues. The journal aims to foster interdisciplinary exchange among scholars across the entire range of the social sciences and humanities, and publishes work on all historical eras and regions of the world.

volume 5 number 2 fall 2018

Elizabeth Heath, Baruch College

“Sugarcoated Slavery: Colonial Commodities and the Education of the Senses in Early Modern France”


This article offers a theorization of colonial commodities as a category of analysis and a preliminary sketch of how this theorization might present new ways to understand the role of empire and imperial labor systems in the development of capitalism in eighteenth-century France. It argues that the peculiar qualities of colonial commodities enabled early modern French men and women to develop and practice novel habits and behaviors, namely forms of obfuscation, abstraction and double consciousness. Focusing on sugar, and drawing upon natural history texts and travelogues, it shows how written text and explanatory images about sugar and sugarcane schooled readers-consumers to overlook key elements of the production process, especially skilled slave labor. It ultimately argues that the study of colonial commodities provides insight into the formation of essential structures of thought that would become second nature under mature capitalism.

Aaron Major, University at Albany – SUNY

“The New Capitalist Rich: Corporate organizational form and the political economy of U.S. income inequality”


Why, in the United States, are the rich so rich? While some argue that income inequality is driven by the growing salaries of top managers relative to the stagnating wages of main line workers, and others argue that it is driven by an even more unequal distribution of wealth, missing from this debate is a striking feature of U.S. inequality: since the mid-1980s a growing portion of very high incomes has come from pass-through businesses. These hybrid business organizations retain some features of  traditional corporations, but their income flows directly to individual owners and shareholders. This paper explores the relationship between the hybridization of the capitalist firm and market income inequality in the United States. In putting forward another piece to the larger puzzle of rising income inequality this paper connects the story of income inequality to the political economy of the legal organization of capitalist firm.

Joel Isaac, University of Chicago

“The Intensification of Social Forms: Economy and Culture in the Thought of Clifford Geertz”


It is often suggested that the career of Clifford Geertz falls into two parts: a youthful dalliance with modernization theory, followed by a turn toward questions of interpretation and symbolic action.  Attempts to reconcile these two phases of Geertz’s career usually posit a change of heart, or a drift away from the preoccupations of youth.  In this paper, I argue that Geertz’s mature engagement with hermeneutic methodology did not mark a break in his thought, but instead provided a means for him to continue his long-standing efforts to make sense of economic development in the new nations of Asia and Africa.  We see this most clearly in Geertz’s rich but overlooked writings on the suq of Sefrou, Morocco.  Seen from this perspective, Geertz’s economic anthropology offers a worthy alternative to existing approaches to the study of economic institutions.


James Vernon, University of California, Berkeley

 “The Making of the Neoliberal University in Britain.”


This article advances two claims. The first is that in Britain the making of the neoliberal university did not inevitably or immediately follow the apparent crisis of welfare capitalism that accelerated from the late 1960s, or the structural adjustment program instituted by the IMF in 1976, or the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979.  It was not really until the 1990s that the practices that slowly, and fitfully, remade the university in its current neoliberal forms were instantiated.  Secondly, the neoliberal university was not the product of any one set of ideas, class interests, or political formations. Instead, a variety of agents, discourses and practices slowly and unevenly marketized, privatized and financialized British universities. These practices sought to establish a new type of academic subject and an economized common sense about the purpose, management and experience of higher education.  That common sense has increasingly been challenged by protests around rising student debt and the degradation of faculty pensions both of which have highlighted the increasingly precarious conditions of labor for those who teach and study at British universities. 

George Steinmetz, University of Michigan

“Scientific autonomy, academic freedom, and social research in the United States”


This paper connects the sociology of science to discussions of academic freedom and scientific autonomy, asking how social science is shaped by politics and extra-scientific forces and how this understanding of the social determination of social science should inform social research and political critique. The focus is present-day American academic social science, particularly sociology. The first section reconstructs the relations between social science and political power in theoretical terms and argues that relative autonomy is a necessary condition for scientific knowledge and responsible political interventions by academic intellectuals. The second section constructs the space of scientists’ views of the proper relations between political power and social scientific work. The third section turns to the American university, focusing on actors and organizations that shape social research. The goal is to identify these major actors and organizations and to provide a framework for identifying past and present threats to scientific autonomy.

IN REPLY: “Response to Fong and Henry”

Eli Zaretsky, New School for Social Research


The 1970s encounter between feminism and psychoanalysis was a turning point in the history of the left. On the surface Freud, who until then had been increasingly drawn on for revolutionary purposes, was discredited as a proponent of male supremacy and innate aggression. Thereafter, feminism effectively replaced psychoanalysis as a “folk psychology,” i.e., an everyday ethic and popular hermeneutic. At a deeper level, however, the encounter presaged a transformation in the character of the left-- from a movement that aimed at a revolution in economic life to one that sought to transform personal life and identity. In his 2015 Political Freud Eli Zaretsky limned the outlines of this fifty-year old mutation, identifying both its costs and its benefits. In their CHS review essay,  “A Whole Climate of Critique: Psychoanalytic Politics between Vitality and Obsolescence” (Spring, 2018) Benjamin Fong and Philip Henry argued that Zaretsky had overstated the costs and undervalued the benefits. In this essay Zaretsky responds.