With presidential hopefuls gearing up for the 2016 election, shifting views about the relationship between the United States and Cuba could influence electoral outcomes, especially in the swing state of Florida. Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio, both Cuban Americans running on the Republican ticket and hoping to secure the Cuban-American vote, should take note. Sociologist Guillermo Grenier, who has run the Florida International University Cuba Poll for over 20 years, recently told the Washington Post:
Almost half of Cuban Americans are now U.S.-born, and they are reverting to a full spectrum of political perspectives.
The article explains how, in the 1960s and 1970s, the passion to overthrow Fidel Castro drove Cuban-American political ideology. But since then, a newer and younger generation of Cuban Americans has entered the voting booth.
“In South Florida, immigrants who arrived after 1995 now make up a third of the Cuban community, and most are not Republicans.” Grenier added,
My students think of themselves as Republicans, but they keep asking, ‘How can Rubio be against making Cubans’ lives easier by being against investing in the island?’ Republicans can’t just play the Cuba card like they did 20 years ago.
In debates about whether to ban porn, it’s interesting to consider what a world without legal “adult entertainment” would look like. Sociologist Chauntelle Tibbals, author of the forthcoming book Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society and Adult Entertainment, talked to MTV after the show “Guy Code” made a video called “Life Without Porn.” The video, embedded below, mocked the mundane situations that often serve as the opening for pornographic films—a visit to the auto repair shop, a pizza delivery, or a visit from the TV cable provider—where, instead of ending in an erotic encounter, the actors’ teasing dialogue ultimately ends with advice on how to reheat pizza or another item to add to the car repair bill.
Tibbals argues that a world completely devoid of porn is not possible. From cave drawings and carvings to Renaissance paintings to avant-garde photography, humans create images of sex and sexuality:
“Us wanting to visually represent sex has been around since humans have been around, and porn is just another medium to do that. I don’t think it’s possible for there to be no erotic representation,” Tibbals told MTV.
But what if we bracketed erotic representation and just eliminated commercial porn? Tibbals says it’s not so simple. Billions of people watch billions of dollars worth of porn:
…if you limit other people’s capacity to professionally produce and legally produce that content, the demand for it is not going to go away.
Instead of disappearing, she believes a black market would expand, putting people who work in pornographic film creation at higher risk of sexual exploitation:
Right now, when people watch porn legally made, they know that they’re watching consensual sex on a safe set run by professionals. That’s not to say that every set is perfect, but consumers can watch that content and know that the people working on it want to be there.
“Spark it up!” Sure, next time you’re in Colorado, you might want to stock up on Cheetos and take advantage of the state’s legalized marijuana. That is, if your skin’s the right color.
According to a new report by the Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-legalization collective, it’s already apparent that there are still racial disparities in the enforcement of the new drug laws in CO. As explained in an Associated Press article, laws that penalize carrying amounts in excess of 1oz of marijuana and the public use of the substance have disproportionately affected blacks compared to whites. Total marijuana arrests have dropped by nearly 95% since legalization, but blacks are twice as likely as whites to face sanctions under laws that criminalize illegal cultivation, public use, and excess possession. In Washington, the same phenomenon can be seen at work, the report states. In Seattle in 2014, one-third of the marijuana citations were issued to blacks, who only make up 8% of the city’s population.
According to University of Wisconsin sociologist Pamela E. Oliver, this discrepancy is indicative of African Americans’ overall treatment under the law, even after policy shifts: “Black communities, and black people in predominantly white communities, tend to be generally under higher levels of surveillance than whites and white communities… this is probably why these disparities are arising.” This discrepancy shows up in nearly all crime policing, from homicide to drug laws to robbery. In Colorado, it’s really killing the buzz.
School segregation has been the topic of social science research and public debate for decades. Still, the average person may think than in the post-Civil Rights era, when the law explicitly forbids racial discrimination, school segregation is an issue of the past. In fact, sociologists of education point to changes in demographics, living arrangements, and school funding that have lead to unforeseen issues increases in school segregation. One city in particular, San Francisco, is seeing a resurgence; the number of schools considered “racially isolated,” or over-representative of one race, has climbed there in the last few years.
A recent article in the San Francisco Public Press describes new practices that determine where students get placed and how such mechanisms can undermine diversity. Parents can apply for placement across San Francisco’s public schools, meaning that many students don’t go to school in the area they live. This enrollment fluidity may seem helpful for increasing diversity, but the ability to make informed and effective choices within school system application is nuanced and heavily influenced by who you know, what you know, and what matters to you. Parent choices, especially within particular racial or ethnic groups, can exacerbate school segregation.
The article quotes Prudence Carter, a Stanford sociologist who studies inequality and education and was involved in creating the San Francisco school-choice system (implemented in 2010). Carter uses Asian families as a case in point: “there’s a lot of pride in the Chinese community in having created educational enclaves.” For example, a Chinese family is more likely to send their children to a school with a certain reputation; replicated across a community, it can lead to a school with a disproportionate number of Chinese students. Similarly, disproportionate concentration of students from certain income backgrounds can lead to a racially segregated student body.
If parents want to be part of segregation solution, Carter advises, “You have to think grander, and beyond your own self-interest… So long as we live in an individualistic and self-interested country, we’re going to probably continue to have this problem.” In her view, policy makers will have to adapt legislation to account for the sociology of parent choice when trying to increase diversity in education.
California’s measles outbreak has refueled heated debates about mandated childhood vaccinations. With little known about the political leanings of anti-vaxxers, many politicians are carefully toeing the line to avoid alienating potential voters. In a recent Star Tribune article, though, sociologist Kent Schwirian said:
There is a long history to the fight against vaccination, and it does seem to break down along liberal versus conservative lines.
Schwirian argues that political conservatives are more likely to be anti-vaxxers than their liberal peers. The Ohio State University professor bases his claim on his own 2009 study of the swine flu scare, in which he found that conservatives who distrusted government were more likely to oppose vaccinations than were others with higher levels of trust or more progressive politics.
One of the most forceful themes in the 2015 State of the Union Address was the need to help working families. President Obama and other progressives argue that implementing policies like guaranteed paid sick leave and child care tax credits will boost the national economy by making it easier for mothers to work. Opponents believe the policies will hurt businesses, damaging job growth and economic recovery.
Sociologists have long studied how the roles of parent and worker intersect, and some of their data and findings are being put to use in this political debate. The New York Times’s Upshot blog highlighted several studies of paid leave policies, including CUNY sociologist Ruth Milkman’s work. Milkman’s analysis supports paid leave and credits for child care—she argues that “For workers who use these programs, they are extremely beneficial, and the business lobby’s predictions about how these programs are really a big burden on employers are not accurate.” Milkman, along with economist Eileen Applebaum, surveyed California firms about whether their costs had increased as a consequence of that state’s paid leave law. 87% of companies said that their bottom line had not suffered, and 9% found that their costs had actually decreased, thanks to lower worker turnover or health benefits payments.
Yet even in California, New Jersey, and Washington, the three states that have, thus far, enacted paid leave laws, many workers don’t know about the policies. State-level political campaigns may change policy, but a broader national discussion must help change workplace cultures to make good on the policies’ promise.
Winter is in full swing up here in Minneapolis, and with it comes the traditional chorus that “it isn’t that bad” just yet. However, new research shows complaining about the weather—the archetype of casual chatting—may be more than just small talk. The Washington Post reports on new research from Aaron McCright, Riley Dunlap, and Chenyang Xiao which finds a significant relationship between political affiliation and perceptions about the weather. From the article:
The paper…examined people’s perceptions of the winter of 2012, which was anomalously warm. Comparing Gallup polling results from early March 2012 (just after the winter ended) with actual temperature data…“The researchers found that ‘Democrats [were] more likely than Republicans to perceive local winter temperatures as warmer than usual”…beliefs about global warming also predicted temperature perceptions.
It may have been one of the warmest years on record, but this work shows that partisanship affected who actually felt warmer than usual. We’ve known about socialization for a long time— many researchers study how social groups teach people to act in certain ways—but this study is especially interesting because it shows how deeply political socialization can effect individuals. Later in the article Dunlap argues that “people have begun to filter their fundamental perceptions of what is going on…through a partisan frame.” Contrary to expectations, this also means firsthand experiences with extreme weather as the planet warms may not be enough to inspire widespread change for environmental protection. Looks like we’ll need more than small talk.
The Hunger Games books are often brought into sociology classrooms, where they are used to discuss anything from economic inequality to capital punishment. In a recent interview with Flavorwire, Mari Armstrong-Hough, a professor in the sociology department at Davidson College, described the social theory behind the books as a model of total resistance:
We see politicking, corruption, and unjustified violence from both the guardians of the status quo in the Capitol and the architects of the rebellion. Katniss, whom we naturally align ourselves with, rejects both these systems.
Armstrong-Hough went on to expand on the idea of resistance, stating that docility is bred by violence:
The Games institutionalize a political docility not so much because they threaten violence to the districts’ children, but because they create a society in which people think they must choose survival over solidarity. I think a lot of people, regardless of their political affiliation, feel like there has been a lot of being forced to choose survival over solidarity going around in the US.
During election season, we are treated to story after story about how candidates have made themselves out of nothing. Wisconsin Governer Scott Walker, locked in a tight reelection battle with Mary Burke, his Democratic opponent, has made a career of turning talk about his lack of a college degree into a story about upward mobility rather than academic insufficiency. Much of Joe Biden’s appeal as both a Senator and a Vice President comes from his salt of the earth appeal as the son of father who faced financial ruin, lived with his grandparents, and, through hard work and dedication, made something of his life. Candidates on both sides of the aisle tap into the discourse of upward mobility to demonstrate that they understand the struggles of the people they hope will elect them.
When candidates talk about how they have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps on the campaign trail, they’re doing more than lauding their own humble pasts to gain voters’ trust. They’re also tapping into a social narrative that’s been used throughout American history to determine what counts as economic success and who it’s available to. At the same time as it aligns candidates with desired swaths of the electorate, especially middle-class whites who turn out in numbers, it also implies a subtle distance between candidates and social problems. All of us can do this, if only we try hard enough, goes the implied reasoning, and if you can’t do it, that’s on you. Who can’t do it? As usual in American society, that would be the out-groups: non-whites, immigrants, LGBT people, and the disabled. Advocates of the bootstraps school of social mobility like to counter this critique by linking economic success to cultural values. They point out that immigrant Jews have largely succeeded economically, while African Americans still struggle, and attribute this to a set of American cultural values that Jews share, but blacks don’t.
In an excellent longform Slate article on this topic, John Swansburg cites sociologist Stephen Steinberg’s 1981 book The Ethnic Myth, a critique of what Steinberg calls the “Horatio Alger Theory of Ethnic Success,” or the belief that all social outgroups start with the same set of disadvantages. Most early 20th century Jewish immigrants, Steinberg argues, came from urbanized, industrial European cities, where they gathered “years of industrial experience and concrete occupational skills that would serve them well in America’s expanding industrial economy.” Most American blacks, on the other hand, learned farming and field work—skills that benefited them little as they moved to the industrial North after Reconstruction.
When Scott Walker, Joe Biden, or any other candidate for office talks about his or her humble past, he or she is making a subtle implication that the problems of disadvantaged groups in America are mostly cultural, rather than economic or structural. I know how to work hard and I know you do too, so elect me and I’ll make sure that our kind of work is rewarded. And those others, whose work is never rewarded? Well, they’re just not working hard enough.
For more on how candidates construct narratives to court voters, read (or listen to!) Jeffrey Alexander’s “Heroes, Presidents, and Politics,” now in podcast form.
Despite preliminary polls showing the Scottish independence vote as too close to call, last week saw a decisive victory for keeping the nation part of the United Kingdom with a 10.6 percentage point lead. Now that the media has swung from predicting to explaining, The Guardian considers why the early polling was so far off the mark, pointing to early decisions for “no” among voters and anxiety over the economic impacts of independence.
Oxford sociologist Stephen Fisher weighed in on the post-vote analysis and pointed out two trends which help explain the outcome. First, economic concerns were closely related to decision patterns:
“…in all four councils won by Yes Scotland, unemployment rates are higher than the Scottish average… Better Together’s best results were in councils where unemployment rates were below the Scottish average.”
Second, despite widespread national conversation and high intentions to vote, actual turnout among “yes” voters wasn’t quite enough:
“Only in one of the four councils where yes came on top was turnout higher than the countrywide 84.6%. This indicates that the participation among groups that tend to historically vote less (or not at all), such as younger people, the unemployed and those living in more deprived areas, where yes was theoretically strongest, while far higher than normal, was not as high as expected.”
There is plenty more work to be done before we fully understand the outcome, but these preliminary findings remind us that the key challenge for any political movement is getting enough folks to move where and when it really counts.