I just read David Anderegg’s new book, Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them. It’s a very quick readâ€”I got through it in two sittings, taking notesâ€”but rather interesting and engaging. I noted in an earlier comment here that it seemed to lack academic references, but in fact these are at the end, with no superscript numbers in the text to indicate which claims have corresponding endnotes. As a result, it reads much more like a journalistic account than an academic book (though the author certainly employs his own observational data and theoretical background). Basically, this book is meant to convince parents to help eradicate the nerd/geek stereotype among middle schoolers, and to give some helpful tips to parents of beleaguered nerds and geeks in the meantime.
Dr. Anderegg analyzes a variety of statistics and cultural objects in attempting to come up with a comprehensive account of what behaviors get kids labeled as geeks and nerds (sometimes reaching conclusions very similar to those of my own dissertation!). This includes discussion of things like nerds’ interest in “magic” and fantasy fiction, but focuses most of all on why kids might feel like they can’t (or shouldn’t) be good at science and math. His strongest arguments, I think, are those that draw upon his direct experience and knowledge as a child psychologist. His discussion of the connection (or lack thereof) between geek stereotypes and Asperger syndrome is the most compelling I’ve read, and all the quotes from conversations with kids and parents really help give a sense of how non-nerds go out of their way not to be seen as nerds.
With the exception of a brief note in the conclusion about a 17-year-old who considers herself a member of a “Geek Club,” the book mostly considers “nerd identity” as synonymous with “the nerd stereotype”â€”something negative that we need to do away with. This means, perhaps unsurprisingly, that there isn’t really much consideration of geek/nerd identity and culture as something celebrated among adults; it’s something kids mostly grow out of, the author suggests, before they go on to make tons of money. In some ways, though, this was just a necessary limitation in scope, and I’m hoping to help fill in the gaps in this area myself.
If you happen to read this book yourself, I’d be very curious of your take on it. Please feel free to leave comments on this post or shoot me an email at jason at geekstudies dot org.