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  • Ethos, Resilience, and Democratic Struggle in the Markets of the Americas
  • Jose-Antonio Orosco

we are called together in indianapolis, under the shadow of the poet Mari Evans, to reflect on the influence and constraints of place, and the transformative and liberatory power of imagination. In her essay, "Ethos and Creativity," Evans looks back on a lifetime spent in Indianapolis. She shares her experiences of uplifting and revelatory art performances, alongside a multitude of spirit-numbing indignities as a result of anti-black racism. The metaphor she chooses to elicit the experience of this racism is that of steel thread encased in luxurious fabric. No matter the beauty and exhilaration of the city, its character has been shaped and framed by an inflexible cord that tethers it to a legacy of white supremacy and black death.1 Yet Evans own poetry is an example of the imaginative mind that builds alternative paths forward through the pain and anguish, using creativity to transform trauma into agency. She writes: "I am a black woman / tall as a cypress / strong / beyond all definition still / defying place / and time / and circumstance."2 Her imagery here is telling; cypress trees have a reputation of incredible resilience and are resistant to rot from inhospitable soil. Ethos can surround and envelop, but place cannot completely define and determine the creative mind that links past struggle to future hope.

Within this context, it is appropriate to consider the work of Dr. Alfonso Morales for the Coss Dialogue series. For over thirty years, Morales has situated himself as a participant-observer of Chicago's Maxwell Street Market and has drawn lessons from the interactions of the vendors. In his talk "Food Systems: (Im)practical Interactions," Morales explains how pragmatism informs his work, helping to provide him with a theoretical framework for explaining those interactions and the ways in which some vendors, particularly Mexican immigrants, can be better conceptualized by social scientists using a pragmatist lens. In this essay, I try to better understand how Morales explains [End Page 63] his adoption of pragmatist methodology in his studies of the Market vendor interactions. Morales suggests that if we attend to the subtle and ordinary ways in which vendors interact at Maxwell Street, we see how it is possible to build an informal, non-hierarchal, system of order without the presence of formal or state authority. I also want to challenge Morales to deepen his understanding of pragmatism, and of the lessons that we might gather, by comparing what other notable Chicagoans, namely, Jane Addams and John Dewey, thought we might gain from paying attention to place and the everyday impractical interactions of immigrant residents.

I. Order versus Community

Morales began his work in the Maxwell Street Market some thirty years ago, but its history originates well before then, in the 1870s. Eastern European Jewish immigrants initiated the open-air market to sell produce, but it gradually expanded over the next hundred years, and moved to a couple of locations in Chicago, to encompass what one merchant, Virgilee, calls a veritable "melting pot" of ethnicities and social economic classes, selling everything from food to bargain basement products, as well as luxury items.3

Over the decades, Morales claims that the most fruitful way he has learned to understand the ethos of the Market is with pragmatist-influenced sociology. By the pragmatist method, Morales means "close observation of an established idea in practice, the interactions and processes of that practice, and how the purposes have served change and produce variation in idea and practice."4 Equipped with this perspective, Morales claims that his observations from the Market help to solve an age-old problem in philosophy and the social sciences: the creation of social order.

Classical liberal figures, such as Thomas Hobbes, have difficulty in conceptualizing how human beings can cooperate and build a stable society without an overarching power to control them and check their drive toward self-interest. More republican-minded modern thinkers, such as Montesquieu, respond that order arises through the exercise of natural reason creating a "sense of fit between persons in the process of doing things together."5 Morales finds this take more persuasive, but feels that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6489
Print ISSN
1930-7365
Pages
pp. 63-70
Launched on MUSE
2019-03-13
Open Access
No
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