Humanism, Feminism, and Cultural Relativity: Contradictions and Ambiguities

Posted on: August 14, 2021 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

Coming full circle I wrote this essay nearly 40 years ago and now, though I might change some wordings, the essential message I sought to convey then is the same I am advocating now with Critical Hydra Theory. I have indeed come full circle.   Humanism, Feminism, and Cultural Relativity: Contradictions and Ambiguities By Thomas E. Arcaro The Columbus College of Art and Design1 [Note: First published in The Humanist Sociologist, newsletter for the Association of Humanist Sociology, fall 1980] This essay is an open question to my humanist colleagues. I will outline below what I feel are basic theoretical contradictions in the acceptance of humanistic, feminist, and culturally relativistic ideologies and the application of these ideas to my everyday life and my teaching of undergraduates. I am not certain that I want my colleagues to respond with answers, and thus somehow reconcile the contradictions that are outlined. For, like…

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Retroactive application of critical Hydra theory

Posted on: August 12, 2021 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

  [updated 14 August 2021] Retroactive application of critical Hydra theory More on what my learners are teaching me As I approached the task of talking explicitly and in detail about the Hydra with the learners in Bangladesh, I found myself going back to my ‘greatest hits’, ideas that had stead me well over the decades teaching sociology to mostly privileged US undergraduates. I realize now, more deeply than I’d like to admit, I was part of a culture that taught about power and privileging in a very traditional way, that is to say ignorant to the history of how deeply and thoroughly asymmetrical and toxically marginalizing power had been embedded itself into every fiber of all world cultures. I knew the world was not fair but had not demanded of myself an examination of my own blinders and preconceptions. Knowing something in the abstract is very different from experiencing it…

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Taming the Hydra during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Posted on: August 5, 2021 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

Taming the Hydra during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics [Research help for this post was provided by Elon students Amelia Arcaro-Burbridge and Trevor Molin] Shining the light on positive examples My last several blog posts [chapters] have illustrated the nature of the Hydra and have painted a dismal picture of oppressive privileging forces imposing their will on many types of marginalized groups all across the globe and back through time. Through the millennia there has been a constant tug of war between those who are driven by hate, greed, and gluttony and those who act motivated by love, compassion, and humility. The ‘moral arc of the universe’ may indeed bend toward justice, but for every positive movement there are negative counter actions, the former barely winning the battle over the long term. Recognizing positive actions -making them part of the news cycle- is a necessary step we need to support first…

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Advanced Hydra Theory: Understanding power and social forces

Posted on: July 31, 2021 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

Advanced Hydra Theory: Understanding power and social forces [Updated 6 August] Thank you to my learners for asking amazingly insightful questions I am covering the chapter on social stratification with my Rohingya and Bangladeshi learners just now, and I want to thank them as a group and especially our translator/teaching assistant Azizul Hoque from the  Centre for Peace and Justice, Brac University for continuously inspiring my teaching and for providing excellent questions. This discussion of stratification cuts to the heart of Hydra theory and its emphasis on privileging forces, and by probing deeply we can advance our understanding. For decades in my intro to sociology classes I have  summarized my longer and more technical definition of social stratification into just three words: structured social inequality. As I grappled with how to explain the phenomena of social stratification I was forced to get to the fundamental nature of social inequality, that is,…

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Critical Hydra Theory

Posted on: July 17, 2021 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

Critical Hydra Theory Deepening our understanding of ‘toxic othering’ Teaching an introduction to sociology class to Rohingya and Bangladeshi learners is an amazing experience. This class has tested my abilities as an educator, and for that I am thankful. Explaining topics like ethnocentrism and othering most definitely have stretched the limits of my pedagogical skills. In a recent post I described how our class has gone thus far, and ended with a discussion of ‘critical Hydra theory’. I argued, “Critical Hydra theory involves looking at how toxic and marginalizing othering is represented by all the heads of the Hydra and is evidenced in long standing norms, policies, and laws which have normalized and justified various forms of discrimination, exclusion, marginalization, and even genocide; toxic othering.” In our WhatsApp chat one of my students asked, “How to move or overcome from toxic othering to non-toxic othering?” Student questions have always driven…

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Evolution of the Hydra in images

Posted on: July 14, 2021 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

Evolution of the Hydra in images The Hydra metaphor almost demands a visual representation, and as soon as I was invited to be part of the ALNAP session I asked artist Dr. Ahmed Fadaam, my friend and colleague, to create an image for me. Over the nearly two years that I haver been working on the Hydra model Ahmed has added words and features dutifully. He is now working on a 3-d model that can morph showing the Hydra being tamed and ‘toxic’ othering changing into ‘normal’ othering. The ‘othering’ process is something I have used for years in my sociology classes, and just as the Hydra changed over the last two years so has the graphic I have used to present the idea of othering. Throughout this blog (book) you have seen the development of both images; here they are in chronological order. See below how these ideas has morphed and…

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Teaching an online course in Bangladesh

Posted on: July 11, 2021 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

Teaching an online sociology course in Bangladesh Introducing ‘critical Hydra theory’   Midterm update from Elon/Cox’s Bazar/Bangladesh My teaching assistants and I are over just halfway through our experimental 10 week short course ‘introduction to sociology.’ Our class is comprised of 20 learners, 14 of them are from Myanmar, Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazaar, and the other six are Bangladeshi nationals. The class also has a mix of males and females, though not unpredictably so males dominate in terms of numbers. Our class meets synchronously via GoogleMeets or Zoom for approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours each week. There are the usual technical difficulties on both ends, but in the refugee camp especially Wi-Fi connectivity is iffy in the best times, and during hard rains, etc. the connections are sometimes poor or lost all together. As if on cue, the call to prayers comes through someone’s microphone at least once each…

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Bringing the Hydra to class

Posted on: July 5, 2021 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

“Part of the reason we have not seen the Hydra defeated is that we attack the heads one at a time instead of learning from history that they are all connected.”   -Grant Mitchell SOC 131 student Bringing the Hydra to class Student reactions to the Hydra I have been using my Hydra posts as a teaching tooling since the Fall of 2019.  Every semester I’ll explain the idea in class and then have my students read about the Hydra, using it in some manner to help deepen their understanding of core course concepts like colonialism, racism, classism, and sexism. To the present I have used this model in over a dozen classes, and each time my students push me to expand my thinking and to reconsider and deepen aspects of the Hydra’s impact. I owe a massive debt to all my students these last several semesters. This summer I taught…

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Coming soon: Understanding and Taming the Hydra

Posted on: June 30, 2021 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

Coming soon I am putting into book form all of the Hydra posts from the last couple years. Watch this space for more details.                          Understanding and Taming the Hydra Tom ArcaroTom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University. He has been researching and studying the humanitarian aid and development ecosystem for nearly two decades and in 2016 published ‘Aid Worker Voices’. He recently published his second and third books related to the humanitarians sector with ‘Confronting Toxic Othering’ published in 2021 and ‘Dispatches from the Margins of the Humanitarian Sector’ in 2022.More Posts – Website Follow Me:

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Hydra Theory 101

Posted on: April 3, 2021 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: General posts on the humanitarian aid industry, Hydra "privileging forces"

Significantly updated 4-26-21   “My intent has been, is, and will continue to be, that those who read my works shall think and meditate upon fundamental problems, and has never been to hand them completed thoughts. I have always sought to agitate and, even better, to stimulate, rather than to instruct. Neither do I sell bread, nor is it bread, but yeast or ferment.” —Miguel de Unamuno More thoughts on the Hydra: Hydra Theory 101 Preface Humanitarians in all contexts need to be mindful of how privileging forces come in to play in virtually every interaction, person to person or organization to organization; within one’s organization or between the home organization and the affected populations. Awareness of cultural context is paramount, and understanding the Hydra is a useful tool. Standard training for any humanitarian includes defining and identifying examples of ethnocentrism. ‘Ethno’ means group and thus ethnocentrism is seeing everything…

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