Thursday, May 15, 2014

Malcolm Gladwell's Stigma

Revised: May 17, 2014; 15:38 GMT
Revised: May 22, 2014; 22:42 GMT
Revised: Nov 09, 2015; 14:15 GMT
Revised: June 30, 2016; 18:08 GMT

Troublemakers; What pit bulls can teach us about profiling
by Malcolm Gladwell 1

On February 6, 2006, when Troublemakers appeared in The New Yorker, a firestorm of controversy erupted.2  The timing of the article could not have been more propitious (with no pun intended). The Hurricane Katrina rescue effort, launched five months earlier by HSUS, delivered pit bulls to every corner of the country and to the hearths of many homes. People who had never before thought about pit bulls were suddenly talking about them, and adopting them.

Malcolm Gladwell is a brilliant cultural observer, author, and pit bull advocate; moreover, he is blessed with an exquisite sense of timing. In Troublemakers Gladwell, like many others before and after him, claims that pit bulls are not human-aggressive. Like nearly all of his fellow advocates Gladwell fails to acknowledge that pit bulls have killed more humans than all other breeds combined, and he doesn't bother to explain the apparent discrepancy. For pit bull advocates these deaths are the secret that must not be acknowledged.

But Gladwell's primary argument is far more subtle, and far more seductive: that pit bulls are stigmatized by profiling, just as some humans apparently are. The stigma associated with pit bull ownership had been discussed earlier in the decade, but Gladwell was the right messenger and his New Yorker article brought pit bull advocacy to a receptive audience. In a city that never tires of talking about race, dogs, sex, and psychoses, Gladwell introduced a topic that merged all of these elements.

In Troublemakers Gladwell does not explain whether pit bulls themselves suffer from feeling stigmatized; how could Gladwell know this? We must assume that Gladwell means the human companions of pit bulls feel "stigmatized" by their association with their pit bulls.

Gladwell's 2006 New Yorker article reflects the cultural stresses in the first years of the millennium. Race and gender studies had entered the university curriculum in the previous decades. Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Studies were established at Yale University in 2001 (LGBT). Indiana created the first gender studies Ph.D. program in 2005. Diversity and Identity Studies was launched at Ohio State in 2006. Programs expanded to include Queer studies at Colorado (LGBTQ). Gladwell, with his finger on the pulse of the moment, was aware of these shifts in the cultural zeitgeist. These new academic disciplines became known collectively as Identity Studies, and Gladwell's Troublemakers is most accurately read as a reflection of the burgeoning influence of this emerging field of study. A review of recent dissertations included in the Cultural Bibliography reveals just how closely aligned pit bull politics are with the politics of identity studies.3, 4, 5

What is the adequate response to Gladwell's claim that pit bulls (and their owners) are stigmatized?

When an individual volunteers to become stigmatized, as pit bull owners clearly have, there are probably personal reasons for adopting a pit bull, and thereby adopting the stigma.

It may be decades before we fully understand the cultural madness of pit bull advocacy in its current form. Troublemakers has not not advanced our inquiry. Gladwell's article is over-the-top political correctness which has become advocacy gospel.

* * * * *
1 Troublemakers; What pit bulls can teach us about profiling, by Malcolm Gladwell (New Yorker, Feb 6, 2006). Gladwell is also the author of Blink, The Tipping Point, and most recently, David and Goliath. An earlier version of this post previously appeared as part of The Tipping Point, published March 22, 2014.
2 Malcolm Gladwell on why his bestseller "Blink" was a load of hooey, by Steve Sailor
3 Gladwell was also a participant in the recent Emory University course The Dividing Lines: Pit bulls, Identity, and Community. See Emory at Risk.
4 See also Harlan Weaver, the current scholar at the Animals & Society Institute. According to his personal statement, Mr Weaver's post-doctoral project ("'Dangerous' Dogs and the Fuzzy Sciences of Animal Profiling") combines animal shelter fieldwork, science and technology studies, animal studies, critical race theories, queer theories, and feminist studies.
5  SRUV is indebted to Canadian journalist Barbara Kay for this observation.

Statistics quoted on SRUV are from the nation's authoritative source for current dog attack statistics, the 32+ year, continuously updated Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada.
View or download the current PDF

Dog Bite Studies Index

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This page may also include information from Dogsbite & Fatal Pit Bull Attacks.

SRUV uses the definition of "pit bull" as found in the Omaha Municipal Code Section 6-163. As pit bulls are increasingly crossed with exotic mastiffs, Catahoula Leopard Dogs and other breeds, the vernacular definition of "pit bull" must be made even more inclusive.

Sources cited by news media sometimes refer to "Animal Advocates" or sometimes "Experts." In many cases these words are used to refer to single-purpose pit bull advocates who have never advocated for any other breeds or species of animals. Media would be more accurate to refer to these pit bull advocates as advocates of fighting breeds.

Similarly, in many cases pit bull advocates refer to themselves as "dog lovers" or "canine advocates" and media often accepts this usage. The majority of these pit bull advocates are single-purpose advocates of fighting breeds.