John Summers, 2022
Photo by Auri Akerele
Welcome. Most of the writings and conversations hosted by this archive originally appeared in newspapers, literary magazines, and academic journals. How they hang together may need a word of explanation.
I received an M.A. in American social history from George Mason University and a Ph.D. in American intellectual history from the University of Rochester. But my interests have always crossed academic boundaries. I taught European social thought for seven years at Harvard University. I spent three more years as a visiting scholar at Boston College’s Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life. I also taught American Studies at Columbia University and Social Science at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.
A personal sensibility, rather than professional speciality, has selected the subjects of my writing..
Anomalies and paradoxes have sparked my curiosity. In an early paper, I investigated strange oscillations in the disclosure of sex scandals over two centuries of U.S. national politics, More recently, I traced the concept of the “care economy” in social policy to its origins in the Industrial Revolution.
Ironies and reversals in higher education have been a recurring source of fascination. As the first in my family to go to college, I can attest that exposure to advanced learning still peels away provincial youth from their communities. But it no longer offers a reliable means of economic mobility. Graduate school widens the gap between cultural risk and financial reward. Doctoral programs in the humanities and social sciences yoke their self-consciously superfluous graduates to debt.
Certain schemes for improvement have drawn my protest. The National Park Service’s “rehabilitation” of the battlefield at Gettysburg (my native home town) was a dangerous folly. The “innovation economy” in Cambridge, Massachusetts (my adopted home town), sabotages social diversity. The continuing use of electric shocks on autistic children to correct and improve their behavior points to broader patterns of coercion in mainstream social relations.
Alongside exploration, inquiry, and protest is a different mode—remembrance and appreciation. Some of the twentieth-century’s leading intellectuals have reached out of the mottled pages of their forgotten books and tapped me on the shoulder. I edited new titles by James Agee, C. Wright Mills, and Dwight Macdonald, reintroducing them to the public.
I’ve sought to share the excitement of thinking in several more ways.
Roy Rosenzweig, my mentor at George Mason University, included me in some of the early projects of his Center for History and New Media. Later, when offered the chance to re-found The Baffler magazine, I created a nonprofit foundation for the task and edited thirteen issues organized around technology, war, health, fashion, friendship, and other themes in contemporary culture.
Currently I am President of Lingua Franca Media, Inc., a nonprofit research institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Through the institute, my colleagues and I are pursuing deep-context investigation of the human sciences surrounding autism and related neuro-developmental disorders.
I’m glad to hear from you. Please get in touch.