Professor taps protégés for new book exploring national identity

The book illustrates the importance of conflicts over memory and the traces or impact they leave

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Herman Gray (Photograph by Maggie Smith/USC)
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Toward a Sociology of the Trace opens an interdisciplinary approach to culture, memory, and identity in crafting a sense of national belonging.

Eight of the 11 essays in a new book co-edited by UC Santa Cruz sociology professor Herman Gray are contributed by scholars who studied with him.

Today, the former students are professors, lecturers, or post docs at such universities as UC Berkeley, USC, Seneca College, Kyushu University, Wellesley College, NYU, and the University of Missouri.

"They all took courses with me and I served as a mentor in some capacity either on their Ph.D. exams or their dissertations," Gray said. Two others are longtime colleagues whose work directly influenced the other contributors.

Gray said their contributions bring a unique interdisciplinary UC Santa Cruz approach to the book, Toward a Sociology of the Trace (University of Minnesota Press). The collection, co-edited with Macarena Gomez-Barris, an associate professor of sociology and American studies and ethnicity at USC, opens a conversation with disciplinary sociology about interdisciplinary approaches to culture, memory, and identity in crafting a sense of national belonging.  Through a series cases, the book also illustrates the importance of conflicts over memory, the traces or impact they leave, and their representation in national narratives.

The writers cover a wide range of subject areas from prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, to survivors of nuclear explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to coal miners in Appalachia, to masculinity, and popular images of tequila and politics in Mexico. Other essays focus on gay marriage and public policy, the American west, and the aftermath of political violence in Thailand and Chile.

Gray said the genesis for the book grew out of graduate seminars in UCSC's sociology department. The authors decided to pursue the book project after a series of workshops on campus at the Center for Cultural Studies and presentations at professional conferences.

"We started out thinking about national identity, how bonds are forged or made through culture," Gray said. As the conversations continued, a sociological theme emerged. "Having a through line was important," he said.

Gray said he is proud of his former students and the interdisciplinary approach they bring to the field, calling it unique. "That's how we do it in Santa Cruz," he said.

In addition to the prologue and title essay he wrote with co-editor Gomez-Barris, Gray contributed a piece titled "Culture, Masculinity, and the Time after Race" about black masculinity in the United States.