Coffee, Conversation and Camaraderie at Theory Camp 2015

August 14, 2015 | By Elise L. Murrell

Centre College’s celebrated faculty are life-long learners, just like their students, and their commitment to having important conversations in and out of the classroom continues even during the summer. For the ninth year, Van Winkle Professor of Sociology Beau Weston is continuing this tradition by hosting his much-loved Theory Camp.

Professor Beau Weston leads his annual Theory Camp at The Hub.

Professor of Sociology Beau Weston leads his annual Theory Camp at The Hub.

The intensive two-week session of analyzing and discussing scholarly texts grew out of a collaboration between Weston and Mark Mallman ’07, who spent the summer of 2006 tackling Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction: The Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Weston, who describes himself as a collaborative thinker, decided that having a group of people reading and discussing the text together would make such an endeavor more enlightening and satisfying. It also aids the student participants, who are able to hone valuable academic skills.

Each year, Weston uses his summer research funding to host five or six Centre students to read and discuss a particular piece that he is interested in working on or teaching. Every day of the camp he assigns a section of text, and the next morning students arrive filled with questions and commentary.

“The timing is really good. It’s important because it’s an immersive experience,” Mikayla Paolini ’16 said. “I like that it’s not part of the hectic Centre buzz of a regular semester or even during CentreTerm.”

The students all agreed that including participants from different majors and backgrounds is a wonderful aspect of the camp. Weston chooses a few students himself but also reaches out to colleagues for suggestions, hoping to integrate a variety of viewpoints for a richer discussion.

The group meets from 9-11 a.m. at The Hub, Danville’s local coffee shop. The informal and social location is the perfect place to discuss sociological texts, including this year’s books Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584-2069 and The Fourth Turning, both by William Strauss & Neil Howe.

“I like having Theory Camp at The Hub,” Leila Samhat ’16 noted. “It’s a more casual and intimate setting. The conversation flows well and it’s been really rewarding so far.”

Clara Gaddie reads The Fourth Turning.

Clara Gaddie ’16 reads The Fourth Turning.

The coffeehouse, as a “third place” between home and work, seems to be intrinsically designed for such conversations. On a drizzly August morning, the students sat down with coffee—generously provided by Weston—at a corner table to talk about the perspectives of different generations on social issues, family dynamics, the influence of the Cold War and millennials.

“The theory in Generations is unlike anything I’ve ever taught,” Weston explained, so having ideas to bounce around with students over the summer is extremely helpful.

The conversation is fascinating; locals have been known to eavesdrop and Centre College President John A. Roush has even dropped by for a visit.

Each member of the group—including Weston—will complete short papers on a topic they touched on during the camp. The subjects range from immigration to fashion to music, and the camp will conclude with a discussion of the essays.

The group’s six students are thoroughly enjoying the experience. Clara Gaddie ’16 has appreciated the camp so much that she’s calling for an SGA-sponsored Coffee Corner in the library, hoping to continue the exercise of having valuable conversations about books over coffee, what Weston once called the “distilled essence of intellectual life.”

“Our discussions never get boring!” she said.

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