A Nation of Meddlers

A Nation of Meddlers

A Nation of Meddlers

A Nation of Meddlers

Synopsis

Analysing the growing US social phenomenon of meddling in the lives of others, this book provides an account of how it came about, why it is so appealing, and how it is packaged and marketed.

Excerpt

This book is a continuation of themes we began analyzing in the mid- 1980s. During that period we were observing the rapid and, in some respects, curious changes that were taking place in the way Americans related to one another around the ubiquitous and problematic notion of "health." These observations were assisted by the fact that we both taught medical topics at the university level--Brissett in the medical school at the University of Minnesota in Duluth (UMD), and Edgley in the sociology department at Oklahoma State University. In 1990, we published a piece titled Health Nazis and the Cult of the Perfect Body in the journal Symbolic Interaction. That article focused on the increasing incidence of what seemed to us nothing short of political fascism in the name of health--an ethic of shape-up-or-else. Later, after our examination of this emerging social phenomenon had been completed, it occurred to us that what we were calling health fascism was in fact merely a subtype of a broader social and cultural phenomenon--meddling. Thus the idea for this book was born.

Having written books and articles together before, we proceeded in our usual fashion, sending ideas and sources back and forth, meeting when we could, and tying up the phone lines between Minnesota and Oklahoma. This strategy was routinely interrupted by our respective professorial duties--which we had learned over a lifetime of collaboration to live with--but little did we know that tragic and fateful events would intervene to alter forever the nature of this project.

In February 1996, Dennis Brissett was diagnosed with multiple-site carcinoma. This gentle and honorable man, gifted thinker, influential teacher, and keen observer of everyday life was dying. Yet in spite of operations, chemotherapy, and days and weeks of pain, alleviated only partially by a pharmacopoeia that more often than not made him only sicker, his one wish, other than his hope for courage and acceptance in the face of the inevitable, was to work on this project as much as possible until the end. We did just that.

What we wanted to accomplish was to steer a subtle course between the politicized rhetoric of the right and the left--between what James Slaughter calls the "forces of order" and the "forces of liberty"--in order . . .

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