Surprise lecture!

It’s always fun to volunteer for an extra lecture — this time it’s for an honors series here at UMM. The theme is built around the essays of the late Renaissance humanist Montaigne, on the subject of “Of Family.” It’s also prompted by a visiting professor.

Monday September 18, 7pm in Imholte 109

Mark your calendars for the other three lectures in the series, all held in the same place at the same time: Dr. Stephen Gross on 9/25; Dr. Paul Z. Myers on 10/2; Dr. Sarah Buchanan on 10/9

Michelle Janning is a writer, social science researcher, speaker, and sociology professor and endowed chair of social sciences at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She teaches and consults on human-centered design, roles and relationships in families and workplaces, technology and social life, education, and inclusive data-driven assessment and strategic planning in organizations and architecture projects. Janning employs qualitative and quantitative methods in her academic and applied research, and has published numerous books, articles, and essays, including The Stuff of Family Life: How our Homes Reflect our Lives (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), Love Letters: Saving Romance in the Digital Age (Routledge, 2018), and A Guide to Socially-Informed Research for Architects and Designers (Routledge, 2023). She has been interviewed about homes and family life, along with other social issues, in numerous media outlets, including Real Simple, Vox, The New York Times, BBC, The Atlantic, NBC News, and

There I am, on 2 October, speaking on the cryptic subject “Of Boundaries.” I’m a biologist, so they’re going to have to expect something a little different from those other speakers in the humanities/social sciences. Would you believe I’m squeezing in some material on spiders, in a lecture series on families? Yes, you would. It’s not all spiders, though. You’ll have to come on out to Western Minnesota to find out.

For now, you can try guessing what “Of Boundaries” is about.


  1. jrkrideau says

    God, I hate US dating. It takes forever to figure out what they mean.

    Dr. Paul Z. Myers on 10/2

    To me and most of the world, Dr Myers is speaking on the Tenth of February of some year. Oh wait did he actually mean 2023-10-02?

    Sorry, P. Z. but US dates really annoy me.

  2. wzrd1 says

    Well, lemme check…
    Animal, mineral or vegetable.
    Fair game.
    Enough said, as nature does tend to build upon a fairly standard working model-ish.

    Although, on bad weather/barometric antics days, I’ve been compared to a heavy metal – lead.
    Mostly in my bottom.
    Which is why I keep a massive pantry, impressive to all viewers and a fully stocked freezer.

    As for natural families, they’re wildly divergent, from care for young to no care, from cannibalism to non-cannibalism and more.
    And I’ve not touched on chimerism in humans, absorbed twins and all.

    Would that I could attend!

  3. wzrd1 says

    Learn something new each and every day and when you learn two or more things, consider that equal to winning the Battle of the Bulge.

  4. says

    PZ, of course speaking on “Of Boundaries” you will be quite constrained. Obviously, no ‘thinking outside the box’ is allowed for that subject. Seriously, it seems to me, given all the articles you posted that one type of boundary would be interpersonal boundaries, like the boundaries of not beating and abusing children, or the boundaries of honesty that the LDS has trampled. Or, how the rightwingnut xitan terrorsts want ‘binary’ boundaries on sex and gender. Of course, for those topics, you would need to make the lecture softer and ‘non-offensive’ without making it pointless pablum. Good luck.
    @3 wzrd1 I like your approach to life. Yes, I, too, have always thought that living is learning and learning is living.

  5. Jazzlet says

    Yesterday I confirmed a suspicion that spiders do not like the smell of toilet cleaner (at least the ones I use anyway). I have been noticing where the spiders in our two toilets choose to spend their time, and in both cases the most favoured spot is between the side of the cistern and the wall/s except when I’ve put cleaner in the pan when that space empties, and the furthest corners of the room are suddenly occupied.

  6. birgerjohansson says

    -Watching “Boardwalk Empire”? They settled boundaries between “families” in a very drastic way.

  7. birgerjohansson says

    Let me see, there are no eusocial spiders, are there? That reduces the complexity of groups.
    So “family” might just apply to taxonomy.

    For cats boundaries may be temporal. In a village, cat domains overlapped but each cat visited an area on a different time of the day, avoiding conflict.
    But cats rarely have “families” beyond the bond mother-kittens.

    Too bad there is no telepathy or other phenomena that would permit very rapid data transfer between individuals, that would make the boundary between individual and family blurry, like in “The
    Midwich Cuckoos”.
    Midwich honey badgers would be scary.

  8. birgerjohansson says

    Boundary conditions?
    Families are generally found between solid ground and the stratosphere. They rarely stray under water.
    Spiders like to install themselves wherever families build a shelter.

  9. birgerjohansson says

    Shelob was technically part of the family of the Ungoliant, but I do not know if that is helpful, especially as she had a hybrid morphology with a thorax including elements of an insect.

    You might say she did not respect species boundaries…. Naah. Not good enough (crumbles up paper).

  10. Owlmirror says

    Let me see, there are no eusocial spiders, are there?

    I’m pretty sure there are — I remember reading about trees covered with webbing and spiders living together in there.

    [pray to Google Scholar]

    Ah, it’s actually questionable as to whether they qualify as “eusocial”.

    A Quantitative Index of Sociality and Its Application to Group-Living Spiders and Other Social Organisms

    Species are often classified in discrete categories, such as solitary, subsocial, social and eusocial based on broad qualitative features of their social systems. Often, however, species fall between categories or species within a category may differ from one another in ways that beg for a quantitative measure of their sociality level. Here, we propose such a quantitative measure in the form of an index that is based on three fundamental features of a social system: (1) the fraction of the life cycle that individuals remain in their social group, (2) the proportion of nests in a population that contain multiple vs. solitary individuals and (3) the proportion of adult members of a group that do not reproduce, but contribute to communal activities

    So these spiders are called “social” rather than “eusocial”:
    Task specialization in two social spiders, Stegodyphus sarasinorum (Eresidae) and Anelosimus eximius (Theridiidae)