Tuesday, December 10, 2013

[republic of outsiders, by alissa quart]

Republic of Outsiders book cover. Alissa Quart
"Republic of Outsiders is about the growing number of Americans who disrupt the status quo: outsiders who seek to redefine a wide variety of fields, from film and mental health to diplomacy and music, from how we see gender to what we eat. They include professional and amateur filmmakers crowd-sourcing their work, transgender and autistic activists, and Occupy Wall Street’s “alternative bankers.” These people create and package new identities in a practice cultural critic Alissa Quart dubs “identity innovation”: they push the boundaries of who they can be and what they can do, even turning the forces of co-optation to their benefit.

In a brilliant and far-reaching account, Quart introduces us to individuals who have created new structures to keep themselves sane, fulfilled, and, on occasion, paid. This deeply reported book shows how and why these groups now gather, organize, and create new communities and economies. Without a middleman, freed of established media, and highly mobile, unusual ideas and cultures are able to spread more quickly and find audiences and allies. Republic of Outsiders is a critical examination of those for whom being rebellious, marginal, or amateur is a source of strength rather than weakness."  (source)
I learned a lot from this book. Not life-changing stuff, but about the people who live in this world, some of whom have ideas that have never crossed my mind and who make choices for their lives that I didn't know people were making. I also learned new terms which are not yet in common usage. Take, for example, "counterpublics:"
[Michael] Warner's term can be used to describe both the neurodiverse and many of the other renegades in this book who frequently turn to writing as a tool for expression and resistance. He sees these groups as creating their own fictions to counter the supreme fiction of the majority group, which is never the true monolith so may imagine it to be. According to his theory, what we usually call the public sphere is based on exclusion, and excluded groups are assigned lesser status. "Counterpublics" attempt to correct this, Warner says. The notion of a "public" is a social fiction, the "normal," and it becomes the frame for our lives. Counterpublics, such as the Mad Priders and all the others in this book, carve out separate spaces through writing in particular, through a strong message that people in the broader public may not have heard before and that could potentially change and shape minds.
(p. 21)
While it was an interesting read, I probably won't read it again -- so I'm glad I got it from the public library.

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