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Hannah Arendt


By Kevin Hsu

In May 1960, a high-ranking Nazi SS officer who had escaped from US custody after the war and been in hiding with his family in Buenos Aires for ten years was found and captured by agents of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. In April the next year he was brought to trial in Jerusalem for his involvement from 1942-44 in the overseeing of the deportation of close to 500,000 Jews to ghettos and extermination camps. He was indicted on a number of charges, one of them being crimes against humanity.

At the time, a prominent professor in the Department of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research (as it was called then), and a Jewish refugee from Germany herself, offered to travel to Jerusalem, to the very ‘Beth Hamishpath’—House of Justice (though some people say it should be more accurately translated as ‘House of Judgment’)—to cover the trial for The New Yorker, claiming it would be her last opportunity to see a major Nazi ‘in the flesh.’ Her report, published in 1963 and later as a book, engendered a great deal of controversy that led to a string of personal and professional falling-outs.

This is the subject of the movie Hannah Arendt.

I remember when I was in graduate school I went to a seminar by Margarethe von Trotta, the director of the movie. I hadn’t heard of her before. The students had just seen a new movie by Volker Schlöndorff the previous night. I didn’t think too much of it, so when I learned von Trotta had been married to him, I can’t well say I didn’t harbor some prejudices already before attending the seminar.

Actually I don’t remember much from the seminar, except von Trotta herself. Even though it was August, the weather in the Swiss Alps was cold and wet. She wore a red fringed shawl over a black linen blazer, a black turtleneck sweater, black suit pants, and flats, also black. About sixty years old, she had on dangling, gold and red coral earrings, a fountain of platinum-tinted silver hair splashing onto her shoulders, framing a squarish, lined, somewhat coarse face—razor lips, scythe nose, blue-gray eyes shining, as if with the gleam of a sword just drawn. There were a red coral bangle and thin gold bracelet on her left wrist. She had a habit of pushing the sleeves of her blazer up with her hands as she talked, like she was getting ready to dig deeply into something, and every time she did so the bangle and bracelet on her wrist clanged and clacked, stringing together a beaded curtain through which her low hoary voice would pace back and forth. 

In the next three days we watched The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, The Second Awakening of Christa Klages, Marianne and Juliane, Rosa Luxemburg (the actress who played Hannah Arendt, Barbara Sukowa, was also the lead in those two movies), and Rosenstrasse, another film about the Holocaust. It was practically a crash course in New German Cinema.

Honestly I can’t say I like her movies, including Hannah Arendt. By ‘art house’ standards, they don’t stand out in terms of aesthetics or style. By Hollywood standards, there aren’t enough, if any, explosions, car chases, special effects, beautiful actors, beautiful actresses, plot twists, or product, or ‘lifestyle,’ placements. Von Trotta’s movies tend to be ‘just enough’ movies—just enough historical backdrop, just enough close-up moments, just enough plotting and intrigue, just enough presenting of different perspectives, just profound enough dialogue, just memorable enough actors, just enough music, just enough ambiguity. They cover all the bases. It’s as if she were merely ticking off a list. They are very ‘efficient’ movies. If they had a temperature, it would be 70°F—standard room temperature. In person, however, she is very likeable—affable and generous, yet straightforward and sharp. Just very genuine, real. Very 98.6°F. It’s as if her works took her warmth and coolness, poured them into the same pot and made them simply lukewarm. I like her more than her movies. Often you like somebody’s work only to be disappointed, even disgusted, when you finally see the man or woman ‘behind the candelabra’ (like Heidegger); more rarely, it seems, does who they are actually surprise you by being better, and more interesting, than what they do. If I had a choice I would definitely choose to meet and be the latter.    

Hannah Arendt in the book Eichmann in Jerusalem coined the phrase ‘the banality of evil,’ about how people can depersonalize and dehumanize other people when they simply follow the rules, or ‘follow orders.’ Then all sorts of acts and atrocities can be justified and committed against a number, a statistic, an abstract entity, or something ‘unworthy,’ in the name of whatever the rules and orders serve—often ‘the Good,’ with everything ‘the Good’ is against then coming to be seen as ‘bad,’ or even ‘evil.’ Arendt attributed Eichmann’s actions and these kinds of actions in general to the perpetrators’ ‘inability to think.’ However, a lot of people, for some reason, seem to leave off what she said immediately after that—‘namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else.’

Frankly put, what Arendt is talking about is really selfishness.

Osamu Dazai in 1948 wrote a story about a woman in dire financial straits and at the end of her rope who was desperately trying to plead with a banker for help, but the banker, a model husband and father who arrived home from work punctually every day, simply told her he had to get off of work at 5 pm and to come back the next day during normal business hours. The woman, having nowhere to go, committed suicide that evening. Osamu Dazai’s conclusion was: ‘Home is the root of all evil.’

Arendt herself observed that Eichmann was an irreproachable husband, father, brother, son, and friend. But it was exactly for those closest to him and for himself that he carried out those actions. When we put our welfare, career, ‘pursuit of happiness,’ or what we think is good, and that of the people ‘inside our circle,’ above and to the exclusion of everything and everyone ‘outside our circle,’ we shut them out. Our pound of iron becomes heavier than their pound of feathers. It’s easy then to justify actions against anything in our way, and accept, even advocate, rules and ideas that support those actions, using them as shields. And no one can blame us, because we’re ‘in the right,’ or, simply, we’re just ‘playing by the rules.’

Thinking from the standpoint of somebody else doesn’t mean agreeing with them, or even trying to find agreements with them. It doesn’t mean understanding or identifying, or even empathizing with them. It means something much simpler. It just means ‘listening.’

There is a scene in the movie, where we see Arendt’s face, pensive, with brows furled, eyes squinting; a few seconds later, sounds rush in, and we realize she is listening to a news broadcast on the trial. The expression of thinking is the expression of listening.

Only when we listen, can we allow ourselves to open up. And only when we allow ourselves to open up, can we begin to think.

Upcoming PRC Brown Bag Highlight: Javier Auyero – “Disconnected (and Ethnographic) Thoughts on Violence and its Concatenations”

Fri, Nov 1, 2013 • 12:00 PM • CLA 1.302B

Based on 30 months of collaborative fieldwork in a poor neighborhood in Buenos Aires, and emphasizing more the ethnographic showing than the telling, this presentation scrutinizes the multiple uses of violence in the area and the concatenations between private and public forms of physical aggression. Much of the violence reported here resembles that which has been dissected by students of street violence in the United States, i.e. it is the product of interpersonal retaliation and remains encapsulated in dyadic exchanges. However, upon casting a wider net to include other forms of aggression (not only public but also sexual, domestic, and intimate) that take place inside and outside the home, and that intensely shape the course of residents’ daily lives, Auyero argues that diverse forms of violence among the urban poor: a) serve more than just retaliatory purposes, b) link with one another beyond only dyadic relationships, and c) become a repertoire of action.

Dr Javier Auyero
Dr Javier Auyero

Javier Auyero –
Department of Sociology, The University of Texas at Austin

Sponsored by the Population Research Center (PRC).

Upcoming PRC Brown Bag Highlight: Jacqueline Angel – “The Policy Implications of the Extension of Morbidity”

Fri, Oct 4, 2013 • 12 PM • CLA 1.302B

This lecture examines the policy consequences of increased longevity and extended disability among Mexican-American elders. The work is informed by a study that employs growth mixture models and life table techniques to analyze patterns of decline in functional capacity measured by objective Performance Oriented Mobility Assessments (POMAs) in a cohort of 3,050 Mexican-origin elders who were initially interviewed in 1993-1994 and followed up at six points over the subsequent seventeen years. The main objectives of the study were:  (1) to characterize the functional capacity trajectories and mortality experiences of the original cohort, (2) to identify those factors accounting for differences in trajectories, and (3) to determine the proportion of life after age sixty-five in which an individual suffers from serious functional impairment.  Results reveal three general patterns of decline (1) high initial functioning followed by decline (48% of the sample); (3) moderate initial functioning followed by decline (37.5% of the sample) and (3) poor initial functioning followed by continuing poor functioning or slight improvement (14.5% of the sample).  On average, members of this cohort spent more than half of the period after sixty-five and before death or censoring with significant limitations in physical functioning.  Significant gender and nativity differences emerge.  In general, the data show that although Mexican-origin individuals live long lives much of the period after age sixty-five is characterized by serious functional impairment.  Implications of the lack of substantial compression of morbidity for the health and economic well-being of older Mexican Americans and their families, as well as for health and long-term care policy, are considered.

Angel, Jacqui
Dr Jacqueline Angel

Jacqueline Angel –
Population Research Center, Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs and Department of Sociology, The University of Texas at Austin

Sponsored by the Population Research Center (PRC).


UT’s Gender and Sexuality Center, and Tips for LGBTQ Allies in the Classroom

By Shane Michael Gordon

gscThe Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) on the UT campus provides opportunities for any UT student and any member of the Austin community to explore, organize and promote the learning of gender and sexuality issues. The GSC has in the ten years of its existence made strong efforts to provide resources for anyone willing to learn and become informed of LGBTQ and women’s issues while offering outreach, education and advocacy throughout campus.

History of the GSC is rooted primarily in two organizations, the Women’s Research Center and the GLBTA Agency, formed in 1997 and 2001 respectively through the student government and headed by student directors. As the organizations’ services overlapped an agreement was formed to establish a joint center with a permanent office and full-time director. With help from the student government the Gender and Sexuality Center officially opened its doors in August 2004.

As one of its missions is to promote the understanding of the LGBTQ community, the GSC hopes to help instructors improve the classroom setting for LGBTQ students. Here are some tips for promoting a diverse, inclusive and respectful learning environment:

  • Do not immediately assume everyone in the classroom is heterosexual or traditionally gendered, as this assumption can segue into students making anti-LGBTQ remarks just because of an alleged “absence” of LBGTQ students.
  • Do use inclusive language in your syllabi, presentations and whenever possible, such as discussing civil unions as well as marriage and using the term “parent” in lieu of mother and father.
  • Do not make negative remarks or jokes aimed toward LGBTQ people.
  • Do work to set an example of proper conduct for students, especially if you encounter a biased remark, as this can be an important opportunity to set the facts straight about the LGBTQ community, along with promoting understanding while actively dialoguing with students to create an accepting and non-judgmental classroom environment.

The GSC is currently headed by its director Ixchel Rosal ( with education coordinator Shane Whalley ( and program coordinator Liz Elsen ( As the Center prepares to celebrate its tenth anniversary it plans to continue the work it has been doing while expanding its programs throughout both the campus and the community.

Dr. Christine Williams Wins 2013 Feminist Mentor Award

Williams is given the Mentoring Award and a superhero cape at the SWS banquet at ASA, surrounded by students and colleagues.
Williams is given the Mentoring Award and a superhero cape at the SWS banquet at ASA, surrounded by students and colleagues.

Sociologists for Women in Society honors Professor Christine Williams with the 2013 Feminist Mentoring Award.

The Mentoring Award honors an SWS member who is an outstanding feminist mentor. In establishing the award, SWS recognized that feminist mentoring is an important and concrete way to encourage feminist scholarship, membership in the academy, and feminist change.

The award was presented to Dr. Williams at the SWS summer banquet during the 2013 ASA annual meeting in New York.

Kudos, Christine!

The Sociology Department Welcomes Three New Assistant Professors in Fall 2013!

Three new Assistant Professors will join the Sociology Department beginning this fall.

Daniel Fridman’s current research focuses on the intersections between culture, economic expertise, and the economy. He is working on a book manuscript about the role of best-selling financial success books in shaping economic actors, based on a two-year ethnography with groups of readers of financial self-help in New York City and Argentina. He is also working on a project about boxing cultures in Latin America with historian David Sheinin. Daniel’s articles have appeared in the journals Qualitative Sociology, Economy and Society, Left History, Latin American Essays, and Apuntes de Investigación. Daniel received his PhD in Sociology in 2010 from Columbia University, where he was a Mellon Fellow at the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP). He previously studied sociology at the University of Buenos Aires and worked for the National Statistics Institute in Argentina.

Ken-Hou Lin studies inequality, finance, organization, race, and quantitative methods, with a particular interest in unconventional data and statistical graphics. His research examines the connection between the rise of finance and growing inequality in the United States. His other research projects explore how race, gender, education, and sexual orientation jointly shape the interaction among millions of internet daters on a mainstream dating website. Lin received his BA in sociology from National Taiwan University and his PhD from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2013.

Harel Shapira is an ethnographer who writes about political identity with an emphasis on right-wing politics in the United States. His book Waiting for José: The Minutemen’s Pursuit of America (Princeton, 2013) examines the civilian volunteers who patrol the United States-Mexico border. Currently, he is conducting research on the National Rifle Association in order to better understand why people own guns. His articles and reviews have appeared in Contemporary Sociology, Public Culture, and Sociological Quarterly. Professor Shapira holds a PhD from Columbia University (2010) and for the past two years has been a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University.

“When the Bullets Aren’t Rubber: Racism and Violence in Brazil’s Protests,” by Katherine Jensen

Photo courtesy of Racism Review.
Photo courtesy of Racism Review.

Sociology PhD candidate Katherine Jensen wrote a blog post today for Racism Review on the recent street protests in São Paulo, Brazil.  Katie is currently living and doing research in Brazil.


“On June 13, Brazilian military police shot journalist Giuliana Vallone in the eye with a rubber bullet. That night police violently repressed a street protest in São Paulo, Brazil where thousands had gone to demand the reversal of a recent 7% bus fare increase. Local media and organizations like Amnesty International denounced the police’s “excessive use of force,” including its indiscriminate use of tear gas and rubber bullets. News of the police repression in São Paulo sparked indignation across the country.”

Read the post.

Dr. Jacqui Angel Wins ASA Outstanding Publication Award

Dr. Jacqui Angel. Photo courtesy of the LBJ School of Public Affairs.
Dr. Jacqui Angel. Photo courtesy of the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Dr. Jacqui Angel is a winner of the 2013 Outstanding Publication Award from the American Sociological Association section on Aging and the Life Course. This award honors an outstanding recent contribution to the field of sociology of aging and the life course. The award is honoring the book, co-authored by Dr. Angel and Dr. Rick Settersten (Oregon State University), Handbook of Sociology of Aging. Dr. Angel and Dr. Settersten will receive the award at this year’s ASA meetings in New York.

Congratulations, Jacqui! 

The Health Toll of Immigration

Dr Robert Hummer speaks to The New York Times about how life in the United States can lead to poor health for immigrants.

Esther Angeles, 41, with her daughter, Johanna Marisol Gomez, 7. Ms. Angeles has developed diabetes since coming to the United States and struggles to see that her daughter eats healthfully. Photo courtesy of The New York Times.
Esther Angeles, 41, with her daughter, Johanna Marisol Gomez, 7. Ms. Angeles has developed diabetes since coming to the United States and struggles to see that her daughter eats healthfully. Photo courtesy of The New York Times.


A growing body of mortality research on immigrants has shown that the longer they live in this country, the worse their rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. And while their American-born children may have more money, they tend to live shorter lives than the parents.

“There’s something about life in the United States that is not conducive to good health across generations,” said Robert A. Hummer, a social demographer at the University of Texas at Austin.

Click here to read the full article.