Cloth $32.50 ISBN: 9780226561950 Published May 2018
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How Places Make People Believe

Thomas F. Gieryn


Thomas F. Gieryn

208 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2018
Cloth $32.50 ISBN: 9780226561950 Published May 2018
E-book $10.00 to $32.50 About E-books ISBN: 9780226562001 Published May 2018
We may not realize it, but truth and place are inextricably linked. For ancient Greeks, temples and statues clustered on the side of Mount Parnassus affirmed their belief that predictions from the oracle at Delphi were accurate. The trust we have in Thoreau’s wisdom depends in part on how skillfully he made Walden Pond into a perfect place for discerning timeless truths about the universe. Courthouses and laboratories are designed and built to exacting specifications so that their architectural conditions legitimate the rendering of justice and discovery of natural fact. The on-site commemoration of the struggle for civil rights—Seneca, Selma, and Stonewall—reminds people of slow but significant political progress and of unfinished business. What do all these places have in common? Thomas F. Gieryn calls these locations “truth-spots,” places that lend credibility to beliefs and claims about natural and social reality, about the past and future, and about identity and the transcendent.

In Truth-Spots, Gieryn gives readers an elegant, rigorous rendering of the provenance of ideas, uncovering the geographic location where they are found or made, a spot built up with material stuff and endowed with cultural meaning and value. These kinds of places—including botanical gardens, naturalists’ field-sites, Henry Ford’s open-air historical museum, and churches and chapels along the pilgrimage way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain—would seem at first to have little in common. But each is a truth-spot, a place that makes people believe. Truth may well be the daughter of time, Gieryn argues, but it is also the son of place.
1              Oracular Tourism
2              Ground-Truthing at Walden Pond
3              Linnaeus’s Credibilizing Transit
4              Ford’s Potemkin Villages
5              Trapdoor to the Transcendent
6              The Whole Truth and Nothing But
7              Obama’s Three Birthplaces
8              Ultra Clean Lab

Review Quotes
Symbolic Interaction
“Gieryn’s greatest contribution is encouraging social scientists to reconsider how their own environments, or those they visit for research, are instrumental to procedures of “truth” creation. There are no simple answers in Truth-Spots—readers will not come away with a set of instructions on how to create “truthful” spaces. Rather, if Gieryn is successful, readers will look about themselves and consider what aspects of their environment play into “truthing” procedures.”
Steven Epstein, Northwestern University
“In this elegant volume, Gieryn demonstrates the wildly divergent ways by which specific places give rise to interpretive frames for making sense of experience. Along the way, Gieryn serves as a masterly tour guide—the sort of guide who offers insight rather than patter, open-endedness in place of simplistic closure, and just enough of his own personality to keep us interested but never so much that we grow weary of him. Gieryn completely convinces us not just that place matters, but that different places matter differently. This is a charming, thoughtful, and clever book by a gifted writer.”
Robert Kohler, University of Pennsylvania
“In a globalizing world of digitized everything and virtual reality, have particular places become as unreal and irrelevant as some claim? Gieryn’s answer to this question is a firm no. These truth-spots include places of prophecy or individual enlightenment, pilgrim roads and sites where science is made, courthouses where justice or injustice is served, and the commemorative birthplaces of social movements. Gieryn develops his exemplary cases not as a sociological treatise but as a kind of travelogue. The result is one of the most engaging and readable books that I’ve read in some time, as entertaining as it is enlightening.”
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