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Alan F Blum

Department of Sociology

Professor
 
Office: 561 Bloor Street West, 3nd Floor Toronto, ON M5S 1Y6
Phone: (416) 323-3251
Emailblum@yorku.ca
Primary websitewww.greyzone.uwaterloo.ca
Secondary websitewww.arts.yorku.ca/soci/facstaff/people/blum
 
  • Overview
  • Projects
  • Publications
  • Full Profile

Alan Blum is Professor of Sociology and Communication and Culture at York University, Project Director of City Life and Well-Being: The Grey Zone of Health and Illness, and Director of the Culture of Cities Centre, Toronto, Ontario. His current teaching and research endeavors are informed by his work as director of the CIHR-funded Grey Zone in Health and Illness project. The Grey Zone in health and illness refers to the tensions between, on the one hand, the biomedical model’s understanding of health, and on the other hand, and the individual’s unquantifiable understanding of her own body; it also refers to the tensions inherent in the ways in which the collective (the city, the community, culture) informs the ways in which the individual manages her own health. Neither approach to medicine or health is right or wrong, per se, but the ways in which culture intersects with medicine can be thought of as a zone of ambiguity in which the decisions that professionals and clients make reveal much about the unspoken assumptions and understandings underpinning culture and medicine that cannot be fully mastered. Prof. Blum’s recent work on birth, death and dying, the city, and mental disease and illness is informed by this conception of the Grey Zone.

Prof. Blum’s graduate courses in recent years have focused on the Grey Zone and critiques in everyday culture, usually in relation to health and illness. Students read texts ranging from the Classics (Plato, Descartes) to the foundational texts of the humanities and the social sciences; they are encouraged to treat these texts as tools to help identify how ambiguity permeates everyday life. Students are taught that the object of theorizing is to try to uncover the unspoken assumptions lying behind any representation of an event or phenomenon or idea – whether the source is academic, journalistic, artistic, etc. – with the idea that all such “texts” and the narratives they produce provide representations of an Imaginary, and that such representations can be formulated as a problem about the ambiguities that they conceal.

   Area of Specialization

Sociology



Degrees

American Council of Learned Societies Visiting Scholar, Cambridge University
Post-Doctorate Fellow , Harvard University
M.A., Ph.D, Sociology and Social Psychology, University of Chicago
B.A., Anthropology and Sociology, University of Chicago

Appointments

Faculty of Graduate Studies

Professional Leadership

2009 “The Eternal Recurrence of the Body.” Presented at the 2009 Joint Conference of the National Popular Culture and American Culture Association in New Orleans, United States. April 8-11.

2008 “Catastrophe.” Presented at X Marks the Spot: Cryptographies of the City during the Symptoms of the City Fall/Spring Series at the Culture of Cities Centre. April 9.

2008 “Setting the Stage: Death and Dying.” Presented at End Notes: A Symposium on Death and Dying during the Symptoms of the City Fall/Spring Series at the Culture of Cities Centre. March 15.

2006 “City and Consumption.” was presented at a workshop on Alternative Histories of Urban Consumption: Disease, Disguise, and Displacement in the Modern City in Vienna, Austria, December 14-16.

2006 “Charters as Documents.” was presented at the conference The Venice Charter Revisited: Modernism and Conservation in the Postwar World held by the International Network for Traditional Architecture, and Urbanism (INTBAU), in Venice, Italy, November 2-5.

2006 “The Unprecedented Present: Ways of Representing the City.” Invited plenary speaker. Cities and Media, Cultural Perspectives and Urban Identities in a Mediatized World. European Science Foundation Conference, Vladestena, Sweden, October.

2006 “Baudelaire’s Disguises.” Modernist Studies Association, Chicago, Illinois. November 3.

2006 “The Question of Efficiency and Inefficiency as an Ethical Collision.” The Inefficiency Committee of St. Jerome’s, University of Waterloo, Waterloo. November 28.

2006 “Care and Collective Life: Rethinking the Notion of the Culture of the City.” Symposium on Ontario Quebec Relations: New Realities, New Challenges, Glendon College, Toronto, Canada. February 25.

2005 Invited Panel on Imaginary and Immigration Modern Language Conference: University of Saarland, Sarrhrudra, Austria, September 25.

2003 Member of Privy Council Discussion Group

2003 “The City and its Scenes.” Presentation at Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany.

2002 “The City and its Culture.” Talk to Executive Committee of Toronto City Council, November 15.

2002 “The City as an Imaginative Structure”, Workshop on Globalization and Urban Studies. IFK International Research Center for Cultural Studies and the Institute for Urban and Regional Research at the Austrian Academy of Science, Vienna, October 4th– 5th


Research Interests

Health, Disease, and Illness; Collective Representation of Suffering; Medical Humanities; Culture of the City; Sociology of Knowledge; Theorizing Everyday Life; The Imaginary, Symbolic, and Real registers of Social Life and Phenomena

Current Research Projects

  • Book Project  more...

All Publications

Books

2010 The Grey Zone of Health and Illness. Bristol: Intellect Press

2003 The Imaginative Structure of the City; Montreal: McGill-Queen's Press

Book Chapters

2010 “The Imaginary of Self-Satisfaction” in Circulation and the City: Essays on Mobility and Urban Culture Circulation, Will Straw and Alexandra Boutros (eds.) Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press.

2010 “Preserving the Notion of Preservation: The Ineradicable Perpetuity of Me, Myself and I” in The Venice Charter Revisited, published by Cambridge Scholars Press.

2008 “Health, Desire, City: Theorizing and the Method of Analogy” in Alternative Histories of Urban Consumption / Alternative Geschichten urbanen Konsums, Susan Ingram (ed.) Vienna: Milletre Verlag: 19-49.

2006 “Comparing Cities: On the Mutual Honoring of Peculiarities”, Urban Enigmas, Johanne Sloan (ed.) Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Journal Articles

2005 "Ground Zero comme Spectacle," for issue on Le Spectacle des Villes in Sociologie et Sociétés, Anouk Bélanger and J .F. Côté (eds.) Spring, Volume XXXVII, Number 1.

2003 "New York New York”, Monopolis: Globalization and Urban Studies International Research
Center for Cultural Studies and the Institute for Urban and Regional Research.

2002 “Un lieu qui n’en est pas un”, Spirale, January-February, Number 182.

2001 “Scenes,” in Scenes and the City: Special Issue of Public, Janine Marchessault and Will Straw (eds.), November.

2001 “Voice and its Registers”, Poeisis: Journal of Art and Communication.

Research Reports

2002 Report on Arts Funding in Berlin, Dublin, Montreal and Toronto, Prepared for the City of Toronto

Forthcoming

Forthcoming. “Born Again: Why Two Births are Better than One” in Of Indeterminate Birth:Studies in the Culture of Fecundity and Beginnings, Jan Plecash and Elke Grenzer (eds.) Bristol: Intellect Press

Forthcoming. “Dying, Waiting: The Imaginary of Light Hearted Writing” Spectacular Death: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Mortality and (Un)representability. Tristanne Connolly (ed.) Bristol: Intellect Press


Alan Blum is Professor of Sociology and Communication and Culture at York University, Project Director of City Life and Well-Being: The Grey Zone of Health and Illness, and Director of the Culture of Cities Centre, Toronto, Ontario. His current teaching and research endeavors are informed by his work as director of the CIHR-funded Grey Zone in Health and Illness project. The Grey Zone in health and illness refers to the tensions between, on the one hand, the biomedical model’s understanding of health, and on the other hand, and the individual’s unquantifiable understanding of her own body; it also refers to the tensions inherent in the ways in which the collective (the city, the community, culture) informs the ways in which the individual manages her own health. Neither approach to medicine or health is right or wrong, per se, but the ways in which culture intersects with medicine can be thought of as a zone of ambiguity in which the decisions that professionals and clients make reveal much about the unspoken assumptions and understandings underpinning culture and medicine that cannot be fully mastered. Prof. Blum’s recent work on birth, death and dying, the city, and mental disease and illness is informed by this conception of the Grey Zone.

Prof. Blum’s graduate courses in recent years have focused on the Grey Zone and critiques in everyday culture, usually in relation to health and illness. Students read texts ranging from the Classics (Plato, Descartes) to the foundational texts of the humanities and the social sciences; they are encouraged to treat these texts as tools to help identify how ambiguity permeates everyday life. Students are taught that the object of theorizing is to try to uncover the unspoken assumptions lying behind any representation of an event or phenomenon or idea – whether the source is academic, journalistic, artistic, etc. – with the idea that all such “texts” and the narratives they produce provide representations of an Imaginary, and that such representations can be formulated as a problem about the ambiguities that they conceal.

Area of Specialization

Sociology


Degrees

American Council of Learned Societies Visiting Scholar, Cambridge University
Post-Doctorate Fellow , Harvard University
M.A., Ph.D, Sociology and Social Psychology, University of Chicago
B.A., Anthropology and Sociology, University of Chicago

Appointments

Faculty of Graduate Studies

Professional Leadership

2009 “The Eternal Recurrence of the Body.” Presented at the 2009 Joint Conference of the National Popular Culture and American Culture Association in New Orleans, United States. April 8-11.

2008 “Catastrophe.” Presented at X Marks the Spot: Cryptographies of the City during the Symptoms of the City Fall/Spring Series at the Culture of Cities Centre. April 9.

2008 “Setting the Stage: Death and Dying.” Presented at End Notes: A Symposium on Death and Dying during the Symptoms of the City Fall/Spring Series at the Culture of Cities Centre. March 15.

2006 “City and Consumption.” was presented at a workshop on Alternative Histories of Urban Consumption: Disease, Disguise, and Displacement in the Modern City in Vienna, Austria, December 14-16.

2006 “Charters as Documents.” was presented at the conference The Venice Charter Revisited: Modernism and Conservation in the Postwar World held by the International Network for Traditional Architecture, and Urbanism (INTBAU), in Venice, Italy, November 2-5.

2006 “The Unprecedented Present: Ways of Representing the City.” Invited plenary speaker. Cities and Media, Cultural Perspectives and Urban Identities in a Mediatized World. European Science Foundation Conference, Vladestena, Sweden, October.

2006 “Baudelaire’s Disguises.” Modernist Studies Association, Chicago, Illinois. November 3.

2006 “The Question of Efficiency and Inefficiency as an Ethical Collision.” The Inefficiency Committee of St. Jerome’s, University of Waterloo, Waterloo. November 28.

2006 “Care and Collective Life: Rethinking the Notion of the Culture of the City.” Symposium on Ontario Quebec Relations: New Realities, New Challenges, Glendon College, Toronto, Canada. February 25.

2005 Invited Panel on Imaginary and Immigration Modern Language Conference: University of Saarland, Sarrhrudra, Austria, September 25.

2003 Member of Privy Council Discussion Group

2003 “The City and its Scenes.” Presentation at Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany.

2002 “The City and its Culture.” Talk to Executive Committee of Toronto City Council, November 15.

2002 “The City as an Imaginative Structure”, Workshop on Globalization and Urban Studies. IFK International Research Center for Cultural Studies and the Institute for Urban and Regional Research at the Austrian Academy of Science, Vienna, October 4th– 5th


Research Interests:

Health, Disease, and Illness; Collective Representation of Suffering; Medical Humanities; Culture of the City; Sociology of Knowledge; Theorizing Everyday Life; The Imaginary, Symbolic, and Real registers of Social Life and Phenomena

Current Research Projects

  • Book Project
    Description: 
    3. Alan’s latest publication is The Grey Zone in Health and Illness (Intellect Press, forthcoming September 2010), in which he analyzes conceptions of health and illness and the “good life,” from a variety of sources (from psychoanalysis, popular culture, Plato’s Republic, etc.) and elucidates a theory of how they all help to construct an Imaginary of the healthy body or city as always in a state of emergency (and how such a construction informs public policy, the doctor-patient relationship, and lay understandings of health and disease). Alan is currently building on the work he has done on death and dying for the Grey Zone of Health and Illness project to formulate a new way to understand dementia and Alzheimer’s disease: dementia is a physical impairment, but characterizing it as such elides that dementia is also a construction – not a social construction in the sense that mental illness is all in the eye of the beholder, but in the sense that the doctors and relatives who care for the affected person always formulate dementia in such a way as to make it meaningful to them at the expense of their inarticulateness with respect to the unfathomable enigma of death.

All Publications

Books

2010 The Grey Zone of Health and Illness. Bristol: Intellect Press

2003 The Imaginative Structure of the City; Montreal: McGill-Queen's Press

Book Chapters

2010 “The Imaginary of Self-Satisfaction” in Circulation and the City: Essays on Mobility and Urban Culture Circulation, Will Straw and Alexandra Boutros (eds.) Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press.

2010 “Preserving the Notion of Preservation: The Ineradicable Perpetuity of Me, Myself and I” in The Venice Charter Revisited, published by Cambridge Scholars Press.

2008 “Health, Desire, City: Theorizing and the Method of Analogy” in Alternative Histories of Urban Consumption / Alternative Geschichten urbanen Konsums, Susan Ingram (ed.) Vienna: Milletre Verlag: 19-49.

2006 “Comparing Cities: On the Mutual Honoring of Peculiarities”, Urban Enigmas, Johanne Sloan (ed.) Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Journal Articles

2005 "Ground Zero comme Spectacle," for issue on Le Spectacle des Villes in Sociologie et Sociétés, Anouk Bélanger and J .F. Côté (eds.) Spring, Volume XXXVII, Number 1.

2003 "New York New York”, Monopolis: Globalization and Urban Studies International Research
Center for Cultural Studies and the Institute for Urban and Regional Research.

2002 “Un lieu qui n’en est pas un”, Spirale, January-February, Number 182.

2001 “Scenes,” in Scenes and the City: Special Issue of Public, Janine Marchessault and Will Straw (eds.), November.

2001 “Voice and its Registers”, Poeisis: Journal of Art and Communication.

Research Reports

2002 Report on Arts Funding in Berlin, Dublin, Montreal and Toronto, Prepared for the City of Toronto

Forthcoming

Forthcoming. “Born Again: Why Two Births are Better than One” in Of Indeterminate Birth:Studies in the Culture of Fecundity and Beginnings, Jan Plecash and Elke Grenzer (eds.) Bristol: Intellect Press

Forthcoming. “Dying, Waiting: The Imaginary of Light Hearted Writing” Spectacular Death: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Mortality and (Un)representability. Tristanne Connolly (ed.) Bristol: Intellect Press