The Society Pages: All Blogs http://thesocietypages.org/ RSS feed for all blogs on The Society Pages en-us Copyright 2007-2014 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ Happy Birthday, Sociological Images! http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/TKeWqGQ9UgM/ http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/TKeWqGQ9UgM/ Thu, 24 Jul 2014 16:48:55 CDT Lisa Wade, PhD at Sociological Images We’re 7 years old today!  To celebrate, here’s a picture of seven capybaras. Thanks to everyone who has visited over the last seven years!  This is our 5,226th post and I can hardly believe it.  Ready to charge on for another! Here are some highlights from the last year. The blog never ceases to surprise! Volunteers put […]

We’re 7 years old today!  To celebrate, here’s a picture of seven capybaras.

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Thanks to everyone who has visited over the last seven years!  This is our 5,226th post and I can hardly believe it.  Ready to charge on for another!

Here are some highlights from the last year. The blog never ceases to surprise!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

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In Dealing with Iran, the Best Option for Israel is to Strike First—Diplomatically http://thesocietypages.org/ssn/2014/07/24/iran-israel-diplomatically/ http://thesocietypages.org/ssn/2014/07/24/iran-israel-diplomatically/ Thu, 24 Jul 2014 15:42:43 CDT Steven Weber at Scholars Strategy Network Searching for a solution to curb Iran’s nuclear military ambitions, the United States is leading international negotiations likely to come to a head before long. As these discussions have proceeded, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken almost every opportunity to express consternation over the possibility of any agreement enshrining a nuclear détente between the […] Searching for a solution to curb Iran’s nuclear military ambitions, the United States is leading international negotiations likely to come to a head before long. As these discussions have proceeded, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken almost every opportunity to express consternation over the possibility of any agreement enshrining a nuclear détente between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. He has good reason for concern, because, as seen from Jerusalem, a truly comprehensive deal that would fully and irreversibly dismantle Iran’s potential to develop nuclear weapons does not seem plausible. From Netanyahu’s perspective, the partial deals appear as fool’s bargains, likely merely to postpone and complicate inevitable military action against Iran’s nuclear complex.

For anyone worried that an Israeli military strike against Iran would unleash an incalculable risk of conflicts in Middle East and world politics, this sounds like bad news. Even if a newly negotiated agreement between the United States and Iran comes packaged with some mild sweeteners for Israel, it probably would not be enough to compensate for what Israel views as an existential threat from a hostile Iranian regime. From this perspective, Israel’s best current move is to play the spoiler, to search for ways to undermine evolving diplomacy, and if that move fails, send the Israeli Air Force to bomb Iran.

I take Israeli concerns very seriously, but suggest another, better option: preemptive diplomacy rather than a preemptive military strike. Rather than try to forestall a new détente between the United States and Iran –in which America leads the way in trying to contain and divert rather than outright destroy Iran’s underlying potential to develop nuclear weapons –Israel could take the lead in forging new alliances in a changed Middle East.

Unilateral Military Strikes or New Israeli Alliances?

A unilateral Israeli military attack on Iran cutting off ongoing negotiations would be a gamble of historic proportions. Regardless of the immediate military outcome, Israel would face the greatest risk since the country’s founding of international isolation, possibly including unprecedented condemnation from the United States. The Israelis need more constructive options. One appealing possibility is to take the logic of ‘offense dominance’from military doctrine and apply it to diplomacy.

[Israel] courtesy of Edoardo Costa via flickr.com CC

[Israel] courtesy of Edoardo Costa via flickr.com CC

In what political scientists call offense-dominant environments, it is easier to capture territory than to defend it. The side that strikes first has an innate advantage. Normally, diplomacy is considered a defense-dominant approach, because it is easier to use diplomacy to protect the status quo and move incrementally than it is to use it to spur dramatic change in international relations. But there are times and places where diplomacy can be effective on offense, and the 2014 Middle East is one of them. Given the Arab Spring and Syrian War, boiling Shia-Sunni cleavages across the region, and rising tensions between the United States and Saudi Arabia, it is arguably easier at this moment to create new alliances than to maintain older ones. In an offense-dominant environment, it is better to move first to define and drive the characteristics of change, than it is to wait for others to initiate and then try to defend, react, or find a niche in a new system defined by others.

So what would be a bold diplomatic move on the part of the Israelis, as bold as a military strike on Iran in terms of its potential to shift calculations in the region? One game-changing possibility is to develop new bargains with the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, or both. Each country has its own concerns about re-positioning in a world shaped by a new U.S.-Iran détente.

The Emirates will need a new source of economic vibrancy, growth, and entrepreneurship to supplement and diversify its current reliance on a large Iranian diaspora community, many of whose members might refocus and return home if Iran moderates. The Qataris would also become even more interested than they are now in pursuing technological development to diversify their economy and boost the seedlings of an entrepreneurship culture. In relation to both of these countries, the Israelis could help. Their nation has a deep entrepreneurial culture, and a fertile environment for technology and innovation that is generating lots of small companies with room to grow. Economically, in short, there are grounds for deeper relations and new bargains between Israel and the Emirates and Qatar.

More broadly, Israel and these Arab countries share the characteristics of small rich countries with ambivalent yet overall positive relationships with the United States. All seek to punch above their weight in the global economy and in regional diplomacy. All worry about the development of a “Shia axis”in a region shaped by intense ruptures between Shia and Sunni Muslims. There are grounds for them to work together diplomatically as well as economically.Rather than try to forestall a new détente between the United States and Iran, Israel could take the lead in forging new alliances in a changed Middle East.

Toward a New Relationship with the United States

Whether these particular players could actually finalize deals is less important than the energetic, forward-looking diplomacy that Israel could demonstrate in this effort. Looking to forge new economic and diplomatic alliances, rather than striking out with military means alone, could crack open other regional possibilities for Israel –including a limited deal with Saudi Arabia or a deeper and more open collaboration with Jordan. Such options have been blocked for decades, but if Iran reaches a détente with the United States, Saudi and Jordanian interests will change.

War in the Middle East by Stephen Cole via flickr.com CC

War in the Middle East by Stephen Cole via flickr.com CC

Added benefits from new Israeli regional diplomatic efforts would register in Israel’s relationship with the United States, still its most important international tie. As hard as it is for some in both Washington and Jerusalem to acknowledge, the established U.S.-Israel relationship needs to adapt and change. The world polity as a whole is no longer bipolar as it was during the Cold War, and other countries no longer fall into fixed categories as enemies or friends. Military balances of power are now one of many concerns, very important but not always the most dynamic issue. In addition, the generation of American Jews who saw Israel as infallible has passed, along with a generation of Israelis who felt fully beholden to the United States. Going forward, each nation is likely to pursue its own strategies and ties, and Israel needs its own realistic and sustainable diplomatic offensives. To build new relationships with the United States and other world powers along with its regional neighbors, Israeli diplomats should strike first.

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Bedside Manners: “Science” on Saturated Fat, Cholesterol & Heart Disease http://thesocietypages.org/girlwpen/2014/07/24/science-on-saturated-fat-cholesterol-heart-disease/ http://thesocietypages.org/girlwpen/2014/07/24/science-on-saturated-fat-cholesterol-heart-disease/ Thu, 24 Jul 2014 10:55:48 CDT Adina Nack at Girl w/ Pen This month’s column features a guest-post by Mary K. Assad, Ph.D.: she critiques recent health debates on nutrition and encourages us to question the science behind medical claims being made about heart disease.  Assad is a Lecturer in the English Department at Case Western Reserve University who studies medical rhetoric, with a focus on health communication aimed at the general […] This month’s column features a guest-post by Mary K. Assad, Ph.D.: she critiques recent health debates on nutrition and encourages us to question the science behind medical claims being made about heart disease.  Assad is a Lecturer in the English Department at Case Western Reserve University who studies medical rhetoric, with a focus on health communication aimed at the general public.

__________

In The Big Fat Surprise (2014), investigative journalist Nina Teicholz “lays out the scientific case for why our bodies are healthiest on a diet with ample amounts of fat and why this regime necessarily includes meat, eggs, butter, and other animal foods high in saturated fat.” She argues that current medical guidelines are based on unproven hypotheses about dangers of saturated fat.

Teicholz’s book echoes arguments of writers including Gary Taubes, who in a 2002 New York Times essay and subsequent books urges that medical recommendations for a low-fat diet have caused America’s obesity epidemic. Multiple sources have condemned low-fat approaches and urged Americans to consume more fat and fewer carbohydrates: e.g.,  Dr. Peter Attia’s Eating Academy, Mercola Products and PCC Natural Markets.

As a medical rhetorician and writing instructor, I care about how health messages aimed at the general public transform medical information into public knowledge. We learn about our bodies and health through such discourse. However, distinguishing fact from fiction within these conversations is often more challenging than deciphering the original research studies because writers with competing arguments all cite “science” as their evidence.

While researching women’s heart health for my dissertation, my professional and personal worlds collided: I learned I had high cholesterol at age 29 despite a low BMI and regular exercise. Based on my doctor’s advice (which resembled the American Heart Association’s guidelines), I drastically revised my diet and realized that “burning off” calories is not the same as preventing arterial blockages. Yet, what if my doctor’s advice was misguided? What if reducing cholesterol and saturated fat would hurt rather than help me? The Big Fat Surprise and similar texts call into question decades of medical guidelines. They aim to do more than stir controversy: they seek to persuade us to change our approaches to healthy eating and to distrust medical advice that, presumably, was based on faulty science.

However, close inspection of these texts reveals that they often misrepresent medical research when translating it for the general public. For instance, Attia asserts: “Eating cholesterol has very little impact on the cholesterol levels in your body. This is a fact, not my opinion. Anyone who tells you different is, at best, ignorant of this topic. At worst, they are a deliberate charlatan…To see an important reference on this topic, please look here .” The linked abstract states, “the relation between dietary cholesterol and the risk of CHD [coronary heart disease] is not clearly understood.” Nowhere does the source state that ingesting cholesterol has “very little impact.”  Further, this article raises the possibility that 15-25% of the general population are “hyperresponders,” meaning that dietary cholesterol affects their measured LDL cholesterol more than usual. The researchers urge the importance of examining the relationship between dietary cholesterol and CHD among this group. Attia acknowledges none of this information.

By providing a link to a medical journal, Attia points to medical authority to support his argument without acknowledging how this source complicates or contradicts his claims. This tendency to draw on medical evidence by gesturing toward research, rather than actively conversing with it, is problematic: readers may be drawn in by liberating claims (eat as much red meat as you want!) because they believe them to be scientifically supported.

Indeed, the Amazon.com summary for Teicholz’s book proclaims, “science shows that we have needlessly been avoiding meat, cheese, whole milk, and eggs for decades and that we can now, guilt-free, welcome these delicious foods back into our lives.” In a culture where we are conditioned to feel guilty for eating indulgent foods, promises of dietary freedom may be persuasive because they tap into social — and particularly female — anxieties about weight, food, choices, and guilt.

As a woman, I am conscious both of the social pressures to “watch what I eat” and the medical guidelines that advise the same. However, navigating competing claims to scientific truth requires interrogation of not only the claims but also the ‘means of persuasion’.  A rhetorical approach creates a critical distance between health messages and our decision-making processes.  When reading an article, book, or website, we must ask several key questions: What is this text trying to persuade me to believe or do?  How does it go about accomplishing this task? What evidence is offered, and how is it presented?

Over the past year, I’ve read about cholesterol from many sources but have been most persuaded by a friend who told me how a vegan diet reduced his cholesterol. In closing, then, I ask: who or what has persuaded you to make a health-related decision in your life, and what made the claim convincing?  Conversations about health need to include attention to language and persuasion. Only then can we begin to make sense of what we’re being told and determine how to respond.

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When Child Migrants Weren’t an Unwelcome Problem http://thesocietypages.org/trot/2014/07/24/when-child-migrants-werent-an-unwelcome-problem/ http://thesocietypages.org/trot/2014/07/24/when-child-migrants-werent-an-unwelcome-problem/ Thu, 24 Jul 2014 10:22:51 CDT Lisa Gulya and Stephen Suh at There's Research on That News and images of an influx of unaccompanied child migrants have swept across the nation in recent weeks. In late June, USA Today reported that since Oct. 1, 2013, “more than 47,000 migrant kids primarily from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador” have been caught entering country through the U.S.-Mexico border. More recently, government officials have […] News and images of an influx of unaccompanied child migrants have swept across the nation in recent weeks. In late June, USA Today reported that since Oct. 1, 2013, “more than 47,000 migrant kids primarily from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador” have been caught entering country through the U.S.-Mexico border. More recently, government officials have estimated that this population could grow to 90,000 by the end of September. These children, many of whom have journeyed to the U.S. hoping to reunite with family, are being held in numerous southwestern detention facilities while awaiting trials to determine their fates. Most will be deported back to the countries that they fled.

Child migrants locked up and awaiting deportation, feared as future voters, pushes us to think about how the idea of “immigrant child threat” reveals the ongoing negotiation over the value of different kinds of children. So, while Clay Jenkins, a Democrat elected Dallas County judge in 2010, argues that “these are children—they are precious children,” he is expressing a contested view.

This is not the first time children have come to the U.S. based on rumors that they would be allowed to stay. Today it is cause for alarm and a desire to close borders; in the 1950s, the faulty rumors were CIA-sponsored tall tales of Communist child-eaters during Operation Peter Pan, rumors that served to get thousands of Cuban families to give up their children to foster families in Miami, never to be reunited after the Cuban Revolution.
We see how immigrant children are devalued when we compare them to another group of child migrants: transnational adoptees. Research on legislation regarding children’s citizenship argues that adoptees were granted the privilege of their adoptive parents’ citizenship while children of immigrant parents, who had arrived through official channels, could not access social citizenship rights because of their parents’ non-native status.
Society’s “value” of children changes over time and in different situations. While children were once members of household production in the 19th century—say, just another worker on the family farm—they may now be “sacralized” as priceless, if economically worthless, in the 20th century. However, as adoption scholar Laura Briggs writes on the children of deportees from the U.S., “[T]his is still a fight, a question; immigrant children are not seen as a cute, innocent, victimized population.”

For more on how immigration to the U.S. has changed over time, check out this roundtable.

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What the EPA’s Kardashian Tweet Says About Affective Labor http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/07/24/what-the-epas-kardashian-tweet-says-about-affective-labor/ http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/07/24/what-the-epas-kardashian-tweet-says-about-affective-labor/ Thu, 24 Jul 2014 08:00:47 CDT davidbanks at Cyborgology Late Monday night it was discovered that one of the EPA’s Twitter accounts was a C-list celebrity on the popular iPhone game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood

Late Monday night it was discovered that one of the EPA’s Twitter accounts was a C-list celebrity on the popular iPhone game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. The Tweet was one of those automatically generated ones meant to announce progress in a game or the unlocking of an achievement. Its easy to imagine the scenario: an over-worked or deeply bored social media manager didn’t realize they were signed into their work account instead of their personal one and let the tweet go. Or maybe a family member borrowed their work phone. Who knows? What we do know is that the tweet immediately garnered thousands of retweets and countless more screenshots were shared on other platforms. Why is this even remotely funny? What sorts of publicly held believes does it reveal?

On the face of it, the tweet is funny in a late night show monologue sort of way: a recent event upon which dozens of jokes can be made about ineffectual government agencies, social media habits, and celebrities. Republicans have defanged the Environmental Protection Agency so much even Kim Kardashian doesn’t think they’re worth hanging around. Maybe if Climate Change came out with an iPhone app we’d pay more attention to it. [prompted laughter] Something terrible and lazy like that. But these sorts of jokes only work if there are some widely held value judgements about their ingredients. And, as we all know, there’s no shortage of value judgements on any of these things.

Powerful women like Kim Kardashian are often maligned as stupid or shallow despite their tremendous talents as savvy business owners and public figures (I don’t like the accumulation of wealth but I’d never say the people that manage to do it are necessarily stupid); social media is often disregarded as mere self-centered posturing; and environmental protection always walks the line between obnoxious tree hugging liberalism and nefarious economic sabotage. The reactions to the EPA’s tweet showed how sexism, economics, and everyday identity performance are deeply interwoven.  I should note that I was one of the people who retweeted. I even posted a screenshot to Facebook, so when I say that the reactions to the EPA tweet are deeply conservative, I’m calling myself out and recognizing the sorts of default behaviors that I’ve been taught to uphold as a straight white guy.

The tweet was eventually taken down the next day after accumulating several thousand retweets.

The tweet was eventually taken down the next day after accumulating several thousand retweets.

No specific tweet stands out as the ultimate example of conservativism and that is precisely why and how these conservative ideas are able to evade critique and rebuttal. But with each “looks like that intern got fired” it gets a little bit easier to apply unrealistic expectations to public relations teams . Its also worth mentioning that these jobs are actually not something that just gets tossed to interns, managing a social media brand is real work. And, as Jennifer Pan wrote last month, public relations is one of those professions that are both dominated by women and disparaged as not real work: “Communication and multitasking, of course, are precisely the ‘soft skills’ of emotional labor that define the post-Fordist work environment, especially within majority-women professions.”

The EPA (perhaps unfortunately?) does not have the kind of sophisticated and irreverent communications strategy that keeps us “engaged” with Taco Bell or Hot Pockets. The EPA Water twitter account is usually pretty busy convincing the public that they’re not looking to “regulate puddles.” So when evidence arises that someone at the EPA is playing a game on their phone (like so many office workers do) it looks like a slip of the mask. It comes off as an accident that reveals something true about a government agency that is regarded as superfluous if not a harmful waste to a too-large percentage of the country. We can reverse Pan’s observation that “In PR, a certain overlap of professional and personal relationships is not only likely, but ideal” and say that many people assume the ideal and project the personal (iPhone games) onto the professional (environmental protection).

Discovering evidence of someone playing an iPhone game immediately opens up the opportunity to impose our own game-playing habits on someone we’ve never met. We play games on our phones when we’re bored. A lot of that boredom is experienced at work, either because the work is tedious or because your entire job description is bullshit. Maybe both. Of course it is a uniquely American sentiment that working for the government is subject to very different expectations. Government workers should be super-efficient as their paychecks come from our involuntarily paid tax dollars rather than our voluntarily paid (tell that to the uninsured hospital patient) private market exchanges. While it might be okay for me to play Dots at my desk, the EPA worker should always be perfectly efficient. If you think the entire mission of the EPA is detrimental to your own desires, then you’re doubly angry. You don’t want to pay them to work, let alone play!

The pièce de résistance is, of course, the name of the iPhone game. Chastising a PR person for playing a game that reifies celebrity culture is just too tempting for those seeking a way to feel “above it all”. The person/brand/idea that is Kim Kardashian is the epitome of the right’s idea of unearned riches. To (literally!) play her game is to enact the seemingly vacuous life of fame for fame’s sake. It’s a deeply ironic stance to take: Turning your nose up at both the profession and the game playing person requires an appeal to the genuine and to the authentic- things that are deeply informed by celebrities and public relations professionals.

I don’t think, by itself, laughing at the EPA Kardashian tweet is a bad thing. There is something benignly funny about the juxtaposition of these two brands meeting in a single tweet. At the same time, it does seem like something that a Fox News mouth breather would find hilarious. What is disturbing and deeply insidious however, is the latent conservativism that props up many of the seemingly banal reactions to the accident. It demeans affective labor while simultaneously reminding everyone that Kim Kardashian got rich the wrong way.

David is on Twitter & Tumblr.

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Don’t use the threat of intimate partner violence to promote marriage http://thesocietypages.org/families/2014/07/24/dont-use-the-threat-of-intimate-partner-violence-to-promote-marriage/ http://thesocietypages.org/families/2014/07/24/dont-use-the-threat-of-intimate-partner-violence-to-promote-marriage/ Thu, 24 Jul 2014 01:00:56 CDT Joanna Pepin at Families as They Really Are Joanna Pepin is a graduate student in sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park. Follow her on Twitter at @CoffeeBaseball. Comedian Louis C.K. has a comedy bit about the bravery necessary for heterosexual dating. He points out, perceptively and with humor, that (traditionally) men have to summon the courage to ask out a potential partner […] Joanna Pepin is a graduate student in sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park. Follow her on Twitter at @CoffeeBaseball.

Comedian Louis C.K. has a comedy bit about the bravery necessary for heterosexual dating. He points out, perceptively and with humor, that (traditionally) men have to summon the courage to ask out a potential partner while women are courageous for dating men at all.

How do women still go out with guys, when you consider that there is no greater threat to women than men? We’re the number one threat to women! Globally and historically, we’re the number one cause of injury and mayhem to women. You know what our [men’s] number one threat is? Heart disease.

Although women continue to date, love, and sometimes marry men, marriage has been in decline for decades.

The response to this demographic shift has been to invest billions of dollars in marriage promotion. Although the primary (flawed) justification given to emphasize marriage is to decrease poverty – especially for single mothers and their children – marriage promotion activists also have argued that “marriage dramatically reduces the risk that mothers will suffer from domestic abuse.” This ideological thinking was debunked as early as 2004, but was revived when Brad Wilcox and Robin Fretwell Wilson published a piece in the Washington Post claiming the solution to violence against women is marriage.

The pro-marriage activists rely on statistics that compare rates of violence between cohabiting and married couples.  What they ignore are selection effects. For instance, research from the longitudinal Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study illustrated mothers’ strategies to keep their children safe by leaving relationships they see as unhealthy, especially those involving physical abuse. Sociologists Catherine Kenney and Sara McLanahan show in their research analysis of data from the National Survey of Families and Households that selection out of cohabitation and into marriage – and selection out of marriage through divorce – creates an apples-and-oranges comparison between these two groups.

Another talking point for the marriage promoters is that married men have lower rates of criminal activity compared to non-married men. However, the research is still unclear on whether marriage per se decreases criminal activity, or if crime cessation is associated with stable family ties — cohabiting, married, or otherwise. Moreover, this line of research investigates generalized crime and not intimate partner violence (IPV) specifically. There is no reason to think IPV operates in the same way, given that DV is characteristically a uniquely individual dynamic of one person establishing power and control over another. It also ignores research on violence in later life, which shows that violence doesn’t decrease over the course of a relationship, but rather abusive tactics change. If the marker of a lifelong commitment is what decreases IPV, having children together should also be associated with lower rates of DV.  However, many survivors of IPV continue to experience abuse during their pregnancies (and after) and there is some evidence that the risk of violence increases during pregnancy.

To no one’s surprise, the federally funded marriage promotion programs have had no impact on relationship quality of participants, couples were no more likely to stay together or marry after participating, and they had no effect on the frequency or severity of IPV. Yet, we continue to spend scarce welfare dollars on marriage promotion at the expense of the very real economic resources survivors of domestic violence need.  For example, although a Family Violence Prevention option grants temporary waivers of public assistance requirements for survivors of domestic violence, women are rarely screened for domestic violence and few are able to obtain the mandated services even when they do report domestic violence to their case worker.

Contrary to the theory that marriage reduces IPV, one could theorize that marriage is actually more dangerous for women. Sociologist Philip Cohen showed that prevalence of IPV has been declining over the same time period as marriage rates have been falling. While the myth of widespread stranger danger is pervasive, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice, in two thirds of female homicides, women were killed by an intimate partner or family member (24% were killed by a spouse or ex-spouse; 21% were killed by a boyfriend or girlfriend). Marriage theoretically increases perpetrator access to victims, and social sanctions as well as legal ties make it more difficult to leave dangerous situations.

Indeed, evidence we do have demonstrates marriage is no safe haven for women. In some ways our societal obsession with the institution of marriage may be placing more women at risk. Data from the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project reveal that 45% of the women killed in DV homicides committed by male perpetrators had been married. These couples were more likely to be living together, have children together, and be in the process of ending the relationship. Public health researcher Sara Shoener affirmed what I witnessed as an advocate working with survivors of abuse: cultural narratives of linking marriage with success, the stigma of single motherhood, and religious beliefs about divorce hinder survivors’ ability to access the vital resources they need to keep themselves and their children safe. Creating a no-win situation, mothers are condemned if they raise their children alone, blamed if they don’t leave an abusive relationship to protect their children, and criticized for deliberately obstructing relationships between children and fathers if they exit an abusive relationship.

Image by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Data from Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project.

Image by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Data from Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project.

The pro-marriage movement seems to be borrowing a concept from the National Rifle Association, that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” As the NRA asserts that the solution to gun violence is more gun violence, pro-marriage advocates assert the solution to men’s violence against women is for women to marry men. Increase both access and dependence. Raise the stakes. Make the relationship permanent. This solution is not only illogical and unsubstantiated, it’s dangerous.

 

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Mighty Girls Can Do It All? http://thesocietypages.org/feminist/2014/07/24/mighty-girls-can-do-it-all/ http://thesocietypages.org/feminist/2014/07/24/mighty-girls-can-do-it-all/ Thu, 24 Jul 2014 00:00:25 CDT meika at Feminist Reflections When we had a baby girl, her super hip grandmother asked “Is there an Internet site where we can buy books that feature strong girls?” At the time there wasn’t. But lo and behold, it has arrived. And it is a sensation. We have to thank the feminist blogosphere for helping us to get here. […] logo-300x135

When we had a baby girl, her super hip grandmother asked “Is there an Internet site where we can buy books that feature strong girls?”

At the time there wasn’t. But lo and behold, it has arrived. And it is a sensation. We have to thank the feminist blogosphere for helping us to get here.

One of our favorite bloggers told us about A Mighty Girl – a site that features 1500 girl-empowerment books. What a relief to not have to ask every bookstore owner and librarian to find these books for us! Here they are all here organized by age, awards, etc. And maybe now future daughters of feminists will not have to receive 5 copies of Paper Bag Princess!

Today, girl power = mighty and pink. Girls have to prove they are just as good as boys, and also girly girls. As the founders of A Mighty Girl say, “Girls do not have to be relegated to the role of sidekick or damsel in distress; they can be the leaders, the heroes, the champions that save the day, find the cure, and go on the adventure.”

This is true liberation, but it also means the bar has been raised, and expectations for girls can be contradictory, wide-ranging, and just plain overwhelming.

Educator and life coach Ana Homayoun, author of Myth of the Perfect Girl, meets these high-achieving girls in high school, as they are preparing to apply to college. On the surface they appear to be doing well, excelling across the board. But beneath the surface, she says, girls are stressed out and stretched too thin as they strive to be perfect. “Somewhere along the way… they lose sight of who they are, and instead work overtime to please their friends, parents, teachers, and others.”

This is what I was thinking about when I watched the super short docu-movie Gnarly in Pink featuring the “Pink Helmet Posse,” three 6-year-old girls who share an unusual passion: skateboarding. They cry, they beat up pink ponies, and skateboard like champs while wearing tutus. Multi-dimensional girls in a violent culture. It feels/looks like a much more complicated world than generations before, but then again, it is familiar. Tomboys have always experienced serious peer pressure to fit in with the girls (to be accepted). You just hope that in the process of meeting everyone elses’ expectations, that they are also living for themselves.

Homayoun says we can help our kids “forge an anchor that can hold them in place when everyone else is calling for them to conform.” And books can help us with this project. Thank you, A Mighty Girl, and feminist parents far and wide, for your efforts in helping our kids come to self-acceptance and develop their own sense of purpose.

How do you help the girls in your life navigate endless social expectations and pressures?

This blog post was originally published at Unconventional Kids!

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Marriage or the Baby Carriage http://thesocietypages.org/citings/2014/07/23/marriage-or-the-baby-carriage/ http://thesocietypages.org/citings/2014/07/23/marriage-or-the-baby-carriage/ Wed, 23 Jul 2014 11:06:16 CDT Andrew Wiebe at Citings and Sightings Differences in education level lead to dramatically different views on when to become a parent, according to new research. John Hopkins University sociologist Andrew Cherlin shows that millennial women with college educations are more likely to wait until they are married before they have children than women without a college degree. In an interview with […] Photo by Rob Tom via Flickr.

There are more married mothers among millenial women with college degrees. Photo by rob tom via Flickr.

Differences in education level lead to dramatically different views on when to become a parent, according to new research. John Hopkins University sociologist Andrew Cherlin shows that millennial women with college educations are more likely to wait until they are married before they have children than women without a college degree. In an interview with Sarah Kliff of Vox, Cherlin explains:

“We’re seeing the emergence two very different paths to adulthood. Among young adults without college educations, most of their childbearing is in their twenties and the majority of it is outside of marriage. That includes people who have gotten a two-year associate’s degree. The dividing line is the four-year degree. The vast majority of people with that college degree are having children in marriage. We didn’t see this 20 or 30 years ago. We didn’t see these sharp differences between the college graduates and non-graduates.”

This trend concerns Cherlin, as it could lead to a more unstable family life for the children of unmarried parents with a high school education. He sees a lack of middle-skill jobs as the cause of their financial instability. This leads to their higher rate of breaking up and ultimately reinforces economic inequalities between education groups. Parents who have a college education are less likely to get divorced, since they are the couples who are more likely to have two steady incomes.

When asked if we could turn this worrisome trend around, Cherlin posits:

“It depends on if you think we can turn the middle of the job market around, and if we can find productive employment for high school graduates. If that happens, then I think we have a chance of reversing the instability we’re seeing in family lives. I also think that it might be a good idea to promote a message that one should wait to have children until one is in a stable marriage.”

That said, providing an alternative vision of a future where the high-school and college-educated alike can navigate the new economy could lead to greater family stability for their kids.

 

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Ronen Shamir, “Current Flow: The Electrification of Palestine” http://newbooksinsociology.com/crossposts/ronen-shamir-current-flow-the-electrification-of-palestine-stanford-up-2013/ http://newbooksinsociology.com/crossposts/ronen-shamir-current-flow-the-electrification-of-palestine-stanford-up-2013/ Wed, 23 Jul 2014 10:14:36 CDT Carla Nappi at New Books in Sociology [Cross-posted from New Books in Science, Technology, and Society] Ronen Shamir’s new book is a timely and thoughtful study of the electrification of Palestine in the early twentieth century. Current Flow: The Electrification of Palestine (Stanford University Press, 2013) makes use of Actor-Network Theory as a methodology to trace the processes involved in constructing a powerhouse and assembling an [...]

[Cross-posted from New Books in Science, Technology, and SocietyRonen Shamir’s new book is a timely and thoughtful study of the electrification of Palestine in the early twentieth century. Current Flow: The Electrification of Palestine (Stanford University Press, 2013) makes use of Actor-Network Theory as a methodology to trace the processes involved in constructing a powerhouse and assembling an electric grid in 1920s Palestine. The book brilliantly shows how electrification “makes politics” rather than just transmitting it: under the auspices of British colonial government, the material processes of electrification produced and affirmed ethno-national distinctions like “Jews” and “Arabs” and the spaces they came to produce and inhabit in Palestine. The electric grid, here, “performs and enables (or disables) social formations through the physical connections it establishes and its attachments to other entities.”  The episteme of separatism and the roots of what would become a partition plan were born in this context, as Shamir shows. The first part of the book (chapters 1 & 2) explores these phenomena by looking at flows of electric current to streetlights and private consumers who were lighting their homes and businesses. The second part of the book (chapters 4 & 5) looks at the attachment (or not) of the electric grid to railways, industry, and agriculture. The third chapter acts as a pivot between them, examining the processes by which the measurement and standardization of current became a potent social force, creating new divisions between areas of the city of Tel Aviv, public and private spheres, and kinds of consumers. Whether you’re interested the history of Palestine or the historical sociology of science, this is a fascinating, inspiring study well worth reading!

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Conspicuous Pollution: Rural White Men Rollin’ Coal http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/7Q2yJh4CqBg/ http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/7Q2yJh4CqBg/ Wed, 23 Jul 2014 09:00:29 CDT Lisa Wade, PhD at Sociological Images Conspicuous consumption refers to the practice of ostentatiously displaying of high status objects.  Think very expensive purses and watches.  In the last few decades, as concern for the environment has become increasingly en vogue, it has become a marker of status to care for the earth.  Accordingly, people now engage in conspicuous conservation, the ostentatious display of […]

Conspicuous consumption refers to the practice of ostentatiously displaying of high status objects.  Think very expensive purses and watches.  In the last few decades, as concern for the environment has become increasingly en vogue, it has become a marker of status to care for the earth.  Accordingly, people now engage in conspicuous conservation, the ostentatious display of objects that mark a person as eco-friendly.

Driving a Prius and putting solar panels on visible roof lines, even if they aren’t the sunniest, are two well-documented examples.  Those “litter removal sponsored by” signs on freeways are an example we’ve featured, as are these shoes that make it appear that the wearer helped clean up the oil spill in the gulf, even though they didn’t.

Well, welcome to the opposite: conspicuous pollution.

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Elizabeth Kulze, writing at Vocativ, explains:

In small towns across America, manly men are customizing their jacked-up diesel trucks to intentionally emit giant plumes of toxic smoke every time they rev their engines. They call it “rollin’ coal”…

It’s a thing. Google it!

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This is not just a handful of guys.  Kulze links to “an entire subculture” on Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram. “It’s just fun,” one coal roller says. “Just driving and blowing smoke and having a good time.”

It isn’t just fun, though. It’s a way for these men — mostly white, working class, rural men — to send an intrusive and nasty message to people they don’t like. According to this video, that includes Prius drivers, cops, women, tailgaters, and people in vulnerable positions. “City boys” and “liberals” are also targeted:

Kulze reports that it costs anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000 to modify a pickup to do this, which is why the phenomenon resonates with conspicuous consumption and conservation.  It’s an expensive and public way to claim an identity that the owner wants to project.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

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My Life and Times as a Young Convict http://thesocietypages.org/monte/2014/07/22/my-life-and-times-as-a-young-convict/ http://thesocietypages.org/monte/2014/07/22/my-life-and-times-as-a-young-convict/ Tue, 22 Jul 2014 23:33:29 CDT monte at A Backstage Sociologist commentaries   THE INDELIBLE STAIN OF JUVENILE PRISONS MONTE BUTE July 17, 2014  My stays at Red Wing were unforgettable. Eventually, I turned my life around. The Minnesota Correctional Facility-Red Wing was colloquially known as the Red Wing Boys’ Reformatory 50 years ago, when offenders rubbed shoulders with juvenile felons. Photo: GLEN STUBBE • Star Tribune […]

commentaries

 

THE INDELIBLE STAIN

OF JUVENILE PRISONS

MONTE BUTE

July 17, 2014 Red Wing

My stays at Red Wing were unforgettable. Eventually, I turned my life around.

The Minnesota Correctional Facility-Red Wing was colloquially known as the Red Wing Boys’ Reformatory 50 years ago, when offenders rubbed shoulders with juvenile felons.

Photo: GLEN STUBBE • Star Tribune file 2006,

America’s incarceration explosion begins with young offenders. In “Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison,” Nell Bernstein explores the physical and psychological abuse that occurs in these state-run correctional facilities. Her new book argues that these kids internalize an unvarnished message — “That they are at once disposable and dangerous.” The evidence is indisputable: Brutal imprisonment and stigmatized identities breed not rehabilitation but recidivism.

My alma mater is the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Red Wing. That boys’ reformatory both granted me a high school diploma and stamped my identity with an indelible stain that persists even after 50 years.

This Mennonite homeboy was born under a bad sign; by age 4, the elders had expelled me from summer Bible school for fighting. I was a precocious child; by age 12, my story had become the town’s cautionary tale about juvenile delinquency. Today, I can treat those memories with the detachment of a stand-up comic. In those days, however, my survival kit was limited to rage, violence and crime.

In 1962, at age 17, I was dispatched by the town fathers of Jackson, Minn., to what was colloquially known as the Red Wing Boys’ Reformatory. I had ambivalent feelings as I rolled across southern Minnesota, locked in the back seat of an unmarked squad car. On the one hand, I felt an existential despair that I only began to understand years later when I played the lead role in Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” In Red Wing, I was always waiting, waiting for a deliverance that never arrived.

On the other hand, I felt a sense of anticipation and exhilaration. From one end of the state to the other, bad-boy wannabes (like little Bobby Zimmerman from Hibbing) fantasized about making it to the big show. To understand that ambition, just listen to Bob Dylan’s “Walls of Red Wing.”

I was in for a rude awakening. In those days, Red Wing was what Erving Goffman called a “total institution.” Privacy was an idea you checked at the front gate. You ate together, you worked together, you slept together, you showered together and, without benefit of stalls, you defecated together.

Back then, few adolescents faced trial as adults. Consequently, you rubbed shoulders on a daily basis with juvenile felons who may have been burglars, sex offenders, armed robbers or even murderers. In any sort of gulag, there are predators and there is prey. I spent my stint at Red Wing avoiding becoming anyone’s prey. When paroled, I had few remaining illusions. I just knew that I was not coming back.

But back I came. There were many “cottages” (the mother of all euphemisms) at Red Wing. Resembling medieval fortresses, those jagged stone buildings were gothic dungeons. The two that housed the most hardened boys and were the toughest places to do time were McKinley and Lincoln.

This time, I drew Lincoln. I decided to live by Faulkner’s Nobel Prize motto — I would not merely endure: I would prevail. The highest status an inmate could achieve was to become a “belt” (in the old days, they literally wore belts across their chests and over their shoulders). Belts represented a combination of trustee and cottage enforcer. Two belts in each unit ran the show. Within a month, I had dispatched a cottage bully to the hospital infirmary. That made all the difference. I soon became the Lincoln belt.

Paroled once again after 10 months, I knew better than to return home. The good citizens of Jackson were just waiting to award me a scholarship to the “big house” at Stillwater state prison. That being a foregone conclusion, I packed up my 1949 Plymouth and headed for the Twin Cities.

I eventually found work in the basement of the Pillsbury Co. I spent my days mindlessly churning out office note pads and my nights drinking cheap liquor. I eventually met an attorney in the lunchroom who for some reason took interest in me. One day, he said, “Kid, you really aren’t as stupid as you sometimes appear to be. Have you ever thought of going to college?”

That conversation made all the difference. I soon found myself at Austin Junior College. To be honest, even Red Wing’s remedial courses had accomplished little. However, I did make a remarkable discovery midway through my first year of college — cultural capital. From that day forth, I was like a burglar seeking the combination to a bank vault.

Today, I am a college professor and have had the redemptive experience of giving a commencement address at Red Wing. Nevertheless, even though a half-century has passed, those incarcerations remain deeply etched in my soul.

Monte Bute teaches sociology at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/monte)

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Chad Lavin on Eating Anxiety http://thesocietypages.org/officehours/2014/07/22/chad-lavin-on-eating-anxiety/ http://thesocietypages.org/officehours/2014/07/22/chad-lavin-on-eating-anxiety/ Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:39:33 CDT Matt Gunther at Office Hours In this episode, political scientist Chad Lavin discusses his new book, Eating Anxiety: The Perils of Food Politics. Chad’s work explores how our experiences with food shape popular ideas about identity, authenticity, and responsibility. He speaks with us about the political meanings of diet in a globalized society, and some limitations of the local food […] In this episode, political scientist Chad Lavin discusses his new book, Eating Anxiety: The Perils of Food Politics. Chad’s work explores how our experiences with food shape popular ideas about identity, authenticity, and responsibility. He speaks with us about the political meanings of diet in a globalized society, and some limitations of the local food movement. Chad is a professor at Virginia Tech, where he teaches in the political science department and at ASPECT – the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought.

Download Office Hours #95

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The Other Little Blue Pill http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/07/22/the-other-little-blue-pill/ http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/07/22/the-other-little-blue-pill/ Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:23:02 CDT jennydavis at Cyborgology Pharmaceutical drugs do an array of things to the body. They can affect mood, energy, blood flow, experiences of pain, and capacities for pleasure.  Their increasing prevalence in the marketplace and home medicine cabinets suggests an addition to the old adage that ‘we are what we eat.’ Today, we are also what we take. But […]

Pharmaceutical drugs do an array of things to the body. They can affect mood, energy, blood flow, experiences of pain, and capacities for pleasure.  Their increasing prevalence in the marketplace and home medicine cabinets suggests an addition to the old adage that ‘we are what we eat.’ Today, we are also what we take.

But embedded within cultural realities,  pharmaceuticals do not simply do things to the body. Rather, they are the conduits through which the body becomes connected with and constituted through economies of both money and moral value. Pharmaceutical drugs are at once tools of medicinal healing and commodities of social and financial exchange. In understanding the implications of any particular pharmaceutical drug, then, it is pertinent to ask not only what it does, but what the pharmaceutical company is selling, to whom, and with what kind of trajectory. 

Truvada is a pharmaceutical drug associated with HIV. Manufactured by Gilead, the pill has traditionally treated those already infected. Recently, however, it has also been used as an HIV preventative. Gilead claims that when taken daily, Truvada is over 90% effective in preventing HIV contraction. The preventative use for Truvada falls under the category of  pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. The use of Truvada as PrEP was highlighted this month  by the World Health Organization (WHO), which now recommends PrEP for all men who have sex with men, citing a projected 20-25% decrease in HIV infections among this population over 10 years[i]. WHO’s statement, released on July 11th, came in anticipation of the 20th International Aids Conference in Melbourne, Australia, currently going on this week.

Addressing the questions above about goods sold and apparent trajectory, the most obvious answer is that Gilead is selling health and wellness. They are selling it to HIV vulnerable populations. And they are selling it at widely varying financial costs, with a trajectory of reduced incidents of AIDS. In the U.S., the drug costs between $8,000-$14,000 per year—though those with insurance may be eligible for coverage—while in South Africa and India, the yearly bill for the drug is around $100.  Of course, the costs also come in the form of side effects, such as liver damage, lethargy, nausea, and decreased bone density. Likely an easy trade for HIV positive patients, though maybe less so for those who have not contracted the virus.

But for the price, both financial and physical, I argue that Gilead offers more than just health and wellness; more than a future trajectory with fewer cases of AIDS internationally.  In addition, Gilead offers a technology of intimacy and a re-positioning of trust.

The WHO focuses exclusively on AIDS prevention, but doctors, citizens, activists, and practitioners address the social side of medicine when they talk about PrEP.  In particular, proponents construct discourses of control over sexuality and new kinds of connection, purportedly stifled or repressed when mediated through the barrier of a condom. For instance, in an interview with NPR, a New York man who uses Truvada as PrEP explains:

I didn’t fully understand what it meant to live in fear every time I had sex…And it wasn’t until about a year after I was using PREP that I had the experience of pleasurable intimacy, and realized: I’m not afraid anymore.

In ironic tension with this increased physical intimacy, is the diminished need to rely on a partner’s honesty and engage in potentially awkward and difficult conversations about sexual history[ii]. In a neoliberal move of control over the self—rather than stewardship for one another—the pill allows sexual subjects to protect themselves responsibly. This of course repositions responsibility, such that the contraction of AIDS can legitimately elicit the accusatory question: were you taking your pill regularly? This is inextricably entwined with morality. A protected body is a responsible body. A responsible self is a moral self[iii].

Interestingly, this personal responsibility is tied in with, indeed depends upon, a technological object. The moral self, here, is literally consumed.

Perhaps unsatisfyingly, I close with no clear argument for or against the production, sale, distribution, or use of PrEP. Instead, I point to the imbrication of bodies, technologies, and market economies. Truvada is not just about safety, it is about self. It is about morality. And it is, as always, about monetary exchange.

 

Jenny Davis is a weekly contributor for Cyborgology. Follow Jenny on Twitter @Jenny_L_Davis

[i] It is unclear why the recommendation is for men who have sex with men specifically, and not extended to the full list of “vulnerable populations” as identified by the WHO, which include people in prison, people who inject drugs, sex workers and transgender people

 

[ii] Of course this drug only prevents AIDS.  Condoms and communication are still essential in preventing other sexually transmitted diseases.

 

[iii] This discourse sounds quite familiar in its mimicry of women and birth control pills.

 

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Children Seeking Refuge Have Hardened Americans Against Undocumented Immigrants http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/R7wZ6IiQxYQ/ http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/R7wZ6IiQxYQ/ Tue, 22 Jul 2014 09:00:59 CDT Lisa Wade, PhD at Sociological Images This year tens of thousands of Central American children, fleeing violence and poverty, have been arriving in the U.S. seeking refuge.  It’s a stunning story that has been covered widely in the media and Americans’ opinions about immigration have taken a hit. The Pew Research Center collected data regarding American leniency toward undocumented immigrants in February and […]

This year tens of thousands of Central American children, fleeing violence and poverty, have been arriving in the U.S. seeking refuge.  It’s a stunning story that has been covered widely in the media and Americans’ opinions about immigration have taken a hit.

The Pew Research Center collected data regarding American leniency toward undocumented immigrants in February and July, before and after media coverage of this crisis began.  The results show that members of all political parties, on average, are less inclined to allow “immigrants living in U.S. who meet certain requirements” to stay legally (see far right column).

The strongest opponents are Republicans and members of the Tea Party.  These groups were more opposed to enabling undocumented immigrants to stay legally to begin with and they showed the greatest change in response to this new crisis.

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Republicans and Independents are also more likely than Democrats to think that we should speed up the deportation process, even if it means deporting children who are eligible for asylum.

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

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Feminist Reflections http://thesocietypages.org/editors/2014/07/21/feminist-reflections/ http://thesocietypages.org/editors/2014/07/21/feminist-reflections/ Mon, 21 Jul 2014 16:35:17 CDT Chris Uggen at The Editors' Desk We place a high value on collaborative conversations at TSP. That’s one of the reasons we’re so delighted to welcome Feminist Reflections to our community pages. Gayle Sulik’s inaugural post offers a thoughtful invitation to a new space for engaging in feminist conversations about everyday life, for expanding feminist networks, and for celebrating feminist work. We need a formal […] Creative Commons image by D. Morris

Creative Commons image by D. Morris

We place a high value on collaborative conversations at TSP. That’s one of the reasons we’re so delighted to welcome Feminist Reflections to our community pages. Gayle Sulik’s inaugural post offers a thoughtful invitation to a new space for engaging in feminist conversations about everyday life, for expanding feminist networks, and for celebrating feminist work.

We need a formal communal setting that is open to intellectual curiosity, the musings of everyday life and the emotions that set their tone, and the exploration of how ideas and knowledge are tied to power and influence. We need to contemplate poverty in the midst of riches, subjectivity and neutrality, public power and the linkages between meaning and power, and the social construction of knowledge (What counts as “knowledge”? Who has/lacks access? Who gets to create it?). We need to reflect, with a feminist perspective, on our lives as sociologists and human beings.

You can learn more about Tristan Bridges, another regular contributor, in this week’s fascinating Office Hours podcast on masculinities and sexual aesthetics. You’ll also find such scholars as Meika Loe, Trina Smith, and Amy Blackstone on Feminist Reflections. I’m personally excited to welcome Professor Blackstone to these pages, since few people have taught me more about the value and necessity of feminist perspectives in sociology. As we’ve coauthored seven pieces, I’ve felt fortunate to engage in the sort of productive back-and-forth that yields lasting insights as well as articles. We’re looking forward to engaging many more such collaborative conversations in Feminist Reflections.

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Weekly Roundup: July 21, 2014 http://thesocietypages.org/editors/2014/07/21/ru072114/ http://thesocietypages.org/editors/2014/07/21/ru072114/ Mon, 21 Jul 2014 13:05:45 CDT Letta Page at The Editors' Desk This week, TSP was pleased to welcome our latest Community Page, Feminist Reflections; to host Tristan Bridges (one of Feminist Reflections’ contributors) on Office Hours, and to talk baby contagions and blocking contraception at the Supreme Court. What else did we get up to? Office Hours: “Tristan Bridges on Hybrid Masculinities and Sexual Aesthetics,” with […] RU072114This week, TSP was pleased to welcome our latest Community Page, Feminist Reflections; to host Tristan Bridges (one of Feminist Reflections’ contributors) on Office Hours, and to talk baby contagions and blocking contraception at the Supreme Court. What else did we get up to?

Office Hours:

Tristan Bridges on Hybrid Masculinities and Sexual Aesthetics,” with Kyle Green. Being straight but not narrow and changing masculine norms along the way.

There’s Research on That!

Religion, Reproduction, and the Supreme Court,” by Jacqui Frost. Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College’s cases before the SCOTUS reveal just one facet of the constraints on women’s access to reproductive health services.

Reading List:

Testing in the Trenches,” by Evan Stewart. In Sociology of Education, Jennifer Jennings and Heeju Sohn consider whether both high and low achieving kids are left behind when teachers have to do perform “educational triage” before high-stakes testing.

Citings & Sightings:

Baby-onic Plague,” by Kat Albrecht. The Chicago Tribune considers international research identifying three reasons women seem to catch a “case of the kids” from their circle of friends.

Council on Contemporary Families:

Gender Equality: Family Egalitarianism Follows Workplace Opportunity,” by Philip N. Cohen. Traditional male and female arrangements in housework became more balanced as the labor market opened up in the 1970s and ’80s. Why has it stalled since then?

A Few from the Community Pages:

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Border Fences Make Unequal Neighbors http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/LaDv821lSbk/ http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/LaDv821lSbk/ Mon, 21 Jul 2014 09:00:49 CDT Philip Cohen at Sociological Images There is one similarity between the Israel/Gaza crisis and the U.S. unaccompanied child immigrant crisis: National borders enforcing social inequality. When unequal populations are separated, the disparity creates social pressure at the border. The stronger the pressure, the greater the military force needed to maintain the separation. To get a conservative estimate of the pressure at the Israel/Gaza border, […]

There is one similarity between the Israel/Gaza crisis and the U.S. unaccompanied child immigrant crisis: National borders enforcing social inequality. When unequal populations are separated, the disparity creates social pressure at the border. The stronger the pressure, the greater the military force needed to maintain the separation.

To get a conservative estimate of the pressure at the Israel/Gaza border, I compared some numbers for Israel versus Gaza and the West Bank combined, from the World Bank (here’s a recent rundown of living conditions in Gaza specifically). I call that conservative because things are worse in Gaza than in the West Bank.

Then, just as demographic wishful thinking, I calculated what the single-state solution would look like on the day you opened the borders between Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. I added country percentiles showing how each state ranks on the world scale (click to enlarge).

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Israel’s per capita income is 6.2-times greater, its life expectancy is 6 years longer, its fertility rate is a quarter lower, and its age structure is reversed. Together, the Palestinian territories have a little more than half the Israeli population (living on less than 30% of the land). That means that combining them all into one country would move both populations’ averages a lot. For example, the new country would be substantially poorer (29% poorer) and younger than Israel, while increasing the national income of Palestinians by 444%. Israelis would fall from the 17th percentile worldwide in income, and the Palestinians would rise from the 69th, to meet at the 25th percentile.

Clearly, the separation keeps poor people away from rich people. Whether it increases or decreases conflict is a matter of debate.

Meanwhile

Meanwhile, the USA has its own enforced exclusion of poor people.

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Photo of US/Tijuana border by Kordian from Flickr Creative Commons.

The current crisis at the southern border of the USA mostly involves children from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. They don’t actually share a border with the USA, of course, but their region does, and crossing into Mexico seems pretty easy, so it’s the same idea.

To make a parallel comparison to Israel and the West Bank/Gaza, I just used Guatemala, which is larger by population than Honduras and El Salvador combined, and also closest to the USA. The economic gap between the USA and Guatemala is even larger than the Israeli/Palestinian gap. However, because the USA is 21-times larger than Guatemala by population, we could easily absorb the entire Guatemalan population without much damaging our national averages. Per capita income in the USA, for example, would fall only 4%, while rising more than 7-times for Guatemala (click to enlarge):

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This simplistic analysis yields a straightforward hypothesis: violence and military force at national borders rises as the income disparity across the border increases. Maybe someone has already tested that.

The demographic solution is obvious: open the borders, release the pressure, and devote resources to improving quality of life and social harmony instead of enforcing inequality. You’re welcome!

Cross-posted at Family Inequality.

Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and writes the blog Family Inequality. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

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Why Don’t Older People Want to Move in with Their Families? http://thesocietypages.org/families/2014/07/21/why-dont-many-older-people-want-to-move-in-with-their-families/ http://thesocietypages.org/families/2014/07/21/why-dont-many-older-people-want-to-move-in-with-their-families/ Mon, 21 Jul 2014 08:44:03 CDT Stacy Torres at Families as They Really Are “It’s my home,” Sylvia, 85, offers as a simple but profound explanation for why she’s not ready to give up her Manhattan apartment and move in with relatives. Though she lived with her own parents as they aged, Sylvia has lived alone for almost twenty years, since her husband passed away, as does her 92-year-old […] “It’s my home,” Sylvia, 85, offers as a simple but profound explanation for why she’s not ready to give up her Manhattan apartment and move in with relatives. Though she lived with her own parents as they aged, Sylvia has lived alone for almost twenty years, since her husband passed away, as does her 92-year-old sister-in-law and many of her contemporaries in old age.

People increasingly prefer to "age in place"--near rather than with family.

People increasingly prefer to “age in place”–near rather than with family.

The advent of Social Security gave older people—and more often than not, older women—the financial resources to live on their own. Economists Kathleen McGarry and Robert Schoeni found that 59 percent of widows over the age of 65 lived with adult children in 1940, compared with 20 percent fifty years later. Today nearly a third of all older adults live alone. These rates rise with age and follow distinct gendered patterns, with women much more likely to live alone than men at all ages. By age 85, 47 percent of women and 27 percent of men lived alone in 2010.

Many older people struggle to make ends meet on Social Security as their sole source of income, or in combination with modest savings and pensions. For immigrant elders in cities like New York, living alone is often not an option due to a lack of affordable housing, linguistic hurdles, and cultural traditions of multi-generational living arrangements. While poverty rates rise with age and hit women hardest in late life, as my analysis of Census data has found, those who can afford to live alone usually do. Researchers expect that these trends will only increase with the aging of baby boomers, who have experienced higher rates of divorce, cohabitation, lifelong singlehood, and childlessness during their lifetimes.

Despite the financial, physical, and psycho-social challenges of living independently, many older people I’ve spoken to prefer to “age in place” and remain on their own for as long as possible, rebuffing numerous offers to move in with family. Why?

Classic sociological studies of community and family life found that a half century ago elders eschewed intergenerational living arrangements in favor of living independently. When British sociologist Peter Townsend interviewed older people in East London about their families in the 1950s, he discovered that most desired familial intimacy at a distance. They felt a deep attachment to their homes and didn’t want to invite conflict with adult children by moving in. They preferred to live near family instead of with family, and the great majority had a child living within a mile of them.

Despite the conventional wisdom and handwringing over the potential for isolation, sometimes living alone can be less isolating for older people than living with younger family members. As sociologist Arlie Hochschild found in her classic study The Unexpected Community, living independently among “age peers” can often provide greater opportunities for social interaction than within a family where an older person feels like a burden or “in the way,” as some of the older people I’ve spoken to have expressed. My own research on older adults aging in place has found that while many have loving, close relationships with their families and keep in touch by phone and email, co-residence poses a number of drawbacks. Eugene, a 90-year-old man living in New York I first met ten years ago, has received repeated offers to move in with his sister. They care deeply for each other. But even in the face of financial struggles and limited mobility that makes walking more than a city block physically draining, Eugene prefers to stay put rather than risk a loss of independence in the suburbs of Dallas: “I don’t drive, and they would have to take me everywhere.” Dispatches from siblings that have moved in with family provide him with little incentive. He reports that one younger sister has had a difficult time living with her son and wants to move into an assisted living facility where she can make friends and socialize. “Her son and daughter-in-law ignore her, and she’s miserable,” he cautions.

Older adults may also hesitate to move in with family due to expectations that they will provide unpaid care giving. Grandparents already provide significant help raising grandchildren, and low-income grandparent care givers can experience health declines and neglect their own preventative care when care work demands outstrip resources. In countries with a shortage of affordable child care, such as Japan, having a grandparent nearby can make it more difficult for families to obtain subsidized day care, due to assumptions that elder family members will provide care. Sociologist Jennifer Utrata’s study of Russian single mothers and grandmothers found that older women faced pressure to be good, self-sacrificing “babushkas” and to provide the lion’s share of unpaid care giving for their grandchildren and household help to their single daughters in the paid workforce.

Given demographic shifts toward an older, grayer society, it’s in everyone’s interest to invest in supporting elders so that they can age with dignity in their communities, whether living alone or with family, and understand that living alone does not guarantee isolation but in many cases can promote less stressful relationships between family members and the space to develop stronger bonds across generations.

Stacy Torres is a PhD candidate in sociology at New York University.

 

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Sunday Fun: The Flintstones take a Smoke Break http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/su3hLxsDYNo/ http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/su3hLxsDYNo/ Sun, 20 Jul 2014 09:00:55 CDT Lisa Wade, PhD at Sociological Images A blast from the past.  Fred and Barney let their wives do all the work, pull out a pack of Winston’s: Originally posted in 2008. Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

A blast from the past.  Fred and Barney let their wives do all the work, pull out a pack of Winston’s:

Originally posted in 2008.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

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Saturday Stat: Wait, WHO Dislikes Atheists? http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/JS1PMC7J7XY/ http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/JS1PMC7J7XY/ Sat, 19 Jul 2014 09:00:06 CDT Lisa Wade, PhD at Sociological Images Last month I posted data showing that, of all the things that might disqualify someone for public office, being an atheist is tops.  I wrote: “Prejudice against those who say there’s no god is stronger than ageism, homophobia, and sexism.” On average, Americans would rather vote for someone who admitted to smoking pot or had an extramarital […]

Last month I posted data showing that, of all the things that might disqualify someone for public office, being an atheist is tops.  I wrote: “Prejudice against those who say there’s no god is stronger than ageism, homophobia, and sexism.” On average, Americans would rather vote for someone who admitted to smoking pot or had an extramarital affair.

We just don’t like atheists.

But who is “we”?

A survey by the Pew Research Center asked Americans of varying religious affiliations how they felt about each other.  atheists were most disliked by Protestants, especially White evangelicals and Black Protestants (somewhat less so White Mainline Protestants).  Atheists quite liked themselves, and agnostics thought were they were okay. Among other religiously affiliated groups, Jews gave atheists the highest rating.

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For what it’s worth, atheists feel warmish toward Jews in return, preferring them to everyone except Buddhists, and they dislike Evangelical Christians almost as much as the Christians dislike them.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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An attempt at a precise & substantive definition of ‘neoliberalism,’ plus some thoughts on algorithms http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/07/19/an-attempt-at-a-precise-substantive-definition-of-neoliberalism-plus-some-thoughts-on-algorithms/ http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/07/19/an-attempt-at-a-precise-substantive-definition-of-neoliberalism-plus-some-thoughts-on-algorithms/ Sat, 19 Jul 2014 04:00:53 CDT robinjames at Cyborgology     One secondary effect of the blow-up over Jack Halberstam’s trigger warning essay is the widening skepticism of the term “neoliberal” as a sort of empty buzzword. Because I just finished teaching a grad seminar whose main objective was to figure out what the hell we mean when we say “neoliberalism” (here is the […]

Click here to view the embedded video.

 

 

One secondary effect of the blow-up over Jack Halberstam’s trigger warning essay is the widening skepticism of the term “neoliberal” as a sort of empty buzzword. Because I just finished teaching a grad seminar whose main objective was to figure out what the hell we mean when we say “neoliberalism” (here is the tumblr for the class), I thought I might be of some assistance here. I think the term “neoliberalism” can mean something useful and specific if we’re more cognizant of its use.

It seems to me that a lot of the confusion around the term is that it is used in (at least) two senses: one indicates a period in time, and one indicates an ideology. Just as “the Cold War” or “modernity” can refer to both a historical time-frame and a dominant ideology that shaped that historical period, “neoliberal” can mean both “now” and the ideology that informs this “now.”

Sometimes, “neoliberalism” is used as a historical marker: our era is the “neoliberal” one. Generally, people use the term “neoliberal” to denote things they don’t like about our historical situation. It’s a kind of shorthand for “contemporary society” with a “which sucks” inflection. This shorthand sense is where all the looseness and imprecision comes in. As Hegel said, “now” can be narrowly particular because it can mean any particular point in time. So, “neoliberal” gets used to mean “now,” which means something specific because it can refer to any specific thing.

But things suck for a reason. This reason lies in the deeper sense of “neoliberalism,” the useful sense. As an ideology, “neoliberalism” is a very specific epistemology/ontology (or, more precisely, it’s an ideology in which epistemology and ontology collapse into one another, an epistemontology) [1]: neoliberals think everything in the universe works like a deregulated, competitive, financialized capitalist market. [2] Many scholars from all over the map seem to agree on this basic definition of neoliberalism. For example:

  • David Harvey: “Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices which proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by the maximization of entrepreneurial freedoms within an institutional framework characterized by private property rights, individual liberty, free markets, and free trade” (145); “The corporatization, commodification, and privatization of hitherto public assets has been a signal feature of the neoliberal project. Its primary aim has been to open up new fields of capital accumulation in domains hitherto regarded off-limits to the calculus of profitability” (153).
  • Stuart Hall: “Political ideas of ‘liberty’ became harnessed to economic ideas of the free market: one of liberalism’s intersecting fault-lines which re-emerges with neoliberalism” (13); “Neoliberalism, then, evolves. It borrows and appropriates extensively form classic liberal ideas; but each is given a further ‘market’ inflexion and conceptual revamp” (15).
  • Lester Spence: “What distinguishes neoliberal governmentality from other forms is its attempt to simultaneously shape individual desires and behaviors and institutional practices according to market principles, while simultaneously CREATING the market through those individual and institutional desires and behaviors” (12).

A lot follows from this epistemontology: human capital, big data (the generalization of financialization as both episteme and medium), post-identity politics, globalization, creative destruction, resilience, sustainability, privatization, biopolitics, relational aesthetics…We can call all these things “neoliberal” because they are manifestations or elaborations of its underlying epistemic/ontological project. A rigorous understanding of this epistemontological project is a necessary first step in analyzing, critiquing, and working with and against all of its mundane manifestations. The concept of “neoliberalism” can be really helpful if we account for why it seems to apply nearly indiscriminately to everything.

RIght now, though, I want to hone in on one tiny aspect of neoliberalism’s epistemology. As Foucault explains in Birth of Biopolitics, “the essential epistemological transformation of these neoliberal analyses is their claim to change what constituted in fact the object, or domain of objects, the general field of reference of economic analysis” (222). This “field of reference” is whatever phenomena we observe to measure and model “the market.” Instead of analyzing the means of production, making them the object of economic analysis, neoliberalism analyzes the choices capitalists make: “it adopts the task of analyzing a form of human behavior and the internal rationality of this human behavior” (223; emphasis mine). (The important missing assumption here is that for neoliberals, we’re all capitalists, entrepreneurs of ourself, owners of the human capital that resides in our bodies, our social status, etc.) [3] Economic analysis, neoliberalism’s epistemontological foundation, is the attribution of a logos, a logic, a rationality to “free choice.”

 

Just as a market can be modeled mathematically, according to various statistical and computational methods, everyone’s behavior can be modeled according to its “internal rationality.” This presumes, of course, that all (freely chosen) behavior, even the most superficially irrational behavior, has a deeper, inner logic. According to neoliberal epistemontology, all genuinely free human behavior “reacts to reality in a non-random way” and “responds systematically to modifications in the variables of the environment” (Foucault, sumarizing Becker, 269; emphasis mine). Human behavior is systematic because it’s dynamic: it is the predictable pattern of responses to determinate variables. The object of neoliberal economic analysis is the “calculation” (223) of the program, protocol, indeed, the algorithm that makes apparently incoherent choices cohere into a model that can then be used to predict that individual’s future choices. Economic analysis finds the signal in the noise.

What I’m arguing is this: Foucault’s analysis of the role of ‘choice’ in neoliberal epistemology/ontology shows us why algorithms are so central to contemporary capitalism, media, and science.

If each individual is modeled as an algorithm (which is not too far-fetched a claim: big data and the government model individual users’ behavior in this way), how do these individual algorithms interact? I think Foucault’s work is particularly helpful on this count. As he reads the American neoliberals (Becker, the Chicago School, etc.), they think an individual makes choices in “pursu[it of] his own interest” (270); “interest” is the metaphor for the overarching logic or rationality that systematizes discrete choices. And, as I’ve just shown above, that rationality can be modeled algorithmically. Thinking about interest algorithmically, that is, as wave-form shaped probability functions, helps us understand what Foucault means when he says that neoliberals think individual interest “converges spontaneously with the interest of others” (270). What does it mean to “converge spontaneously”? Well, if we take individual interests as wave-forms, these wave forms will have their own periodicity, their own frequency. In general, individual periods will be out of phase. But, if left to run independently over time, individual frequencies will synch up and fall in phase, like windshield wipers on a bus. These individual frequencies will converge spontaneously with one another. Phase convergence is how contemporary acoustics understands harmony: when tones and their overtones fall in phase, we hear consonances; when tones and overtones are too significantly out of phase, we hear dissonances.  “The will of each harmonizes spontaneously with the will and interest of others” (275) because like sound waves, algorithmically-modeled individual behaviors will fall in phase and out of phase with one another. [4] Though seemingly spontaneous, the phasing isn’t random–it’s the effect of predictable responses to material conditions (just as, for example, the two tapes in Reich’s “It’s Gonna Rain” slide in and out of phase because of minute differences in the materiality of the tape players and the tapes themselves).

So, this long tangent about algorithms and social harmony is both an example of the benefits of having a precise definition of neoliberalism. This specific definition of neoliberalism helped me draw correlations among neoliberal epistemontology–everything is a deregulated, financialized market–and the increasing centrality of algorithms to contemporary society. Moreover, Foucault’s language of harmonization helps me  fill what Kate Crawford has called the “metaphor gap” in understanding/theorizing how algorithmic media/culture industries work.

 

[1] As Foucault explains in Birth of Biopolitics: “Liberalism in America is a whole way of being and thinking” (218).

[2] As Stuart Hall notes, “Actual markets do not work that way” (20). Neoliberalism (like classical liberalism) is an ideal theory: this “free market” is an ideal-as-idealized model, a top-down picture of how things ought to work in perfect conditions. It is not a bottom-up description of how markets actually work in imperfect conditions.

[3] As Foucault explains, this market-thinking “means taking this social fabric and arranging things so that it can be broken down, subdivided, and reduced, not according to the grain of individuals, but according to the grain of enterprises…the framework of a multiplicity of diverse enterprises connected up to and entangled with each other” (241).

[4] This point is too technical to really develop in this venue, but it’s something I’m working on for my next book: this model of social harmony  is very different from the classically liberal model of social harmony. Neoliberal social ‘harmony’ doesn’t eliminate dissonance; rather, it understands out-of-phaseness/dissonance as pervasive. It’s only “spontaneously” and by chance that consonant convergences occur. The point is to find phenomena that are predictably in (and out) of phase. Classically liberal theories of social harmony treats dissonance as something that must be assimilated and/or eliminated (Susan McClary’s work on tonality here is important; see also my Philosophy Today piece on Kristeva’s interpretation of Don Giovanni). All this is to say that theories of social harmony track musical understandings of harmony–you could almost say neoliberalism offers a post-tonal theory of social harmony (perhaps to match its post-identity politics).

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Tristan Bridges on Hybrid Masculinities and Sexual Aesthetics http://thesocietypages.org/officehours/2014/07/18/tristan-bridges-on-hybrid-masculinities-and-sexual-aesthetics/ http://thesocietypages.org/officehours/2014/07/18/tristan-bridges-on-hybrid-masculinities-and-sexual-aesthetics/ Fri, 18 Jul 2014 22:50:22 CDT Kyle Green at Office Hours Today we are joined by Tristan Bridges. Tristan is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at The College at Brockport, State University of New York. Tristan researches and blogs on issues related to gender, sexuality, inequality, and space at Inequality by (Interior) Design and Feminist Reflections, the newest Community Page at The Society Pages. We discuss Tristan’s […] Today we are joined by Tristan Bridges. Tristan is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at The College at Brockport, State University of New York. Tristan researches and blogs on issues related to gender, sexuality, inequality, and space at Inequality by (Interior) Design and Feminist Reflections, the newest Community Page at The Society Pages. We discuss Tristan’s recently published article “A Very ”Gay” Straight?: Hybrid Masculinities, Sexual Aesthetics, and the Changing Relationship between Masculinity and Homophobia,” that is part of his larger book project tentatively entitled “Othering Other Men: Transformations in Gender and Politics among Men.”

 Download Office Hours #96

 

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How I (sorta) stopped worrying and (kinda) learned to love the selfie http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/07/18/how-i-sorta-stopped-worrying-and-kinda-learned-to-love-the-selfie/ http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/07/18/how-i-sorta-stopped-worrying-and-kinda-learned-to-love-the-selfie/ Fri, 18 Jul 2014 13:28:42 CDT Sarah Wanenchak at Cyborgology I had no idea the upcoming ABC sitcom Selfie was going to be a thing (this fall if you for some reason care) until I saw an ad spot for it while half watching the World Cup or something. Very suddenly I was more than half watching, and within a few seconds I was tweeting […]

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Today’s makeup selfie (Urban Decay’s Electric Palette).

I had no idea the upcoming ABC sitcom Selfie was going to be a thing (this fall if you for some reason care) until I saw an ad spot for it while half watching the World Cup or something. Very suddenly I was more than half watching, and within a few seconds I was tweeting angrily.

I mean. Read the premise (courtesy of Wikipedia).

Using a premise similar to Pygmalion and My Fair Lady, the series will follow the life of Eliza Dooley (a modern day version of Eliza Doolittle), a woman obsessed with becoming famous through the use of social media platforms (including the use of Instagram and taking selfies), until she realizes that she needs to actually find people that she can be friends with physically instead of “friend” them online. This prompts Eliza to hire Henry Higenbottam (a modern day version of Henry Higgins), a marketing self-image guru who is left with the task of rebranding Eliza’s image in the hopes to show her that there is more to life out there than just playing Candy Crush Saga with an iPhone and connecting with a Facebook page.

As one of my Twitter friends put it, “The problem with Pygmalion is that Eliza just liked herself too much, said no GBS fan ever.”

No, but seriously, though. My anger had a lot more than just to do with general knee-jerk Feminist Rage. That was, of course, part of it, and part of it was also the tired, irritating, silly stuff in there about anything done via social media as less real (is this really a thing we’re still doing?). But a more significant part of it was also related to some emotional work I’ve been doing recently that’s left me feeling intensely vulnerable and has been much more difficult than I expected.

I’m doing selfies.

Mostly on Twitter, mostly of makeup. I recently got majorly into eyeshadow (I will stop LJing at some point, promise) and at first it just seemed like a fun way to record my experiments with it, but soon I was doing it a fair amount. So yeah, so what? Lots of people do. It’s in the dictionary in an official capacity, for crying out loud.

The thing is that it hurts. It makes me want to cringe every time I hit send, an awful moment where I feel like I’m betraying something. I’m doing a wrong thing. A lot of it is probably personal neurosis, but I don’t think anywhere near all, and anyway, don’t all our neuroses have social contexts? Don’t they all come from somewhere?

I was familiar with the fraughtness of the selfie. Most of us should be by now. Selfies are great, selfies are awful, selfies are feminist, selfies aren’t feminist at all and are in fact tools of the patriarchy, selfies are things stupid attention whores (I use that term here very, very mindfully) do because they have no self-esteem and need people to tell them they’re pretty. Duckface. Duckface duckface duckface.

Intellectual familiarity does not prepare you for something like this.

The discourse around selfies is fraught because selfies are complex locations within which gender and mental wellbeing and the attention economy and the politics of self-presentation and a hundred other things all collide into a tangled mess of a thing. Selfies are fraught because almost everything of which a selfie is conceptually and culturally comprised is controversial.

(Alliteration!)

But what I see in almost everything being said about selfies is that it seems impossible to not, in one way or another, feel bad for taking them. Whichever way I turn, there’s conflict.

The idea of selfies as something that vapid, appearance-obsessed women (always women, even if non-binary people like me are doing it, even if men are) do is especially toxic, I think. Witness the Selfie premise above. There’s also the now-infamous piece in Jezebel by Erin Gloria Ryan that characterizes selfies as “a cry for help”. She’s ostensibly writing in the service of feminism, and it’s not that she doesn’t make some good points, but the form in which she does ends up being pretty shaming, in a way that Ryan herself appears to feel intensely.

Nor is the proliferation of selfies into a generation of women who are old enough to know better a promising development; it’s a nightmare. The picture that accompanies my byline on this very website is a selfie. I’ve posted selfies to Facebook, and Twitter. I always feel bad about it; it always takes several tries to not look stupid, and even now, I kind of hate all of them. “Hey guys, I’m by myself!” my selfie says, “Can you please somehow indicate that other humans are out there so that I do not collapse into my own loneliness????? LOLOLOL” Please, god, no.

I know that feel. The thing is, I can’t escape the powerful suspicion that I feel that way only because I’ve been made to.

Not that selfies and what they do, when we’re talking about gender, aren’t problematic. Focus on appearance for the sake of affirmation is not necessarily a good thing, no, and when it’s a thing embedded in society organized along patriarchal lines, of course it’s profoundly troubling. But for me, then, there’s the feeling of I’m making myself look desperate and stupid and self-absorbed. I shouldn’t enjoy it when people say nice things about how I look. Bad feminist. Bad.

I should note that Ryan would probably disagree that what I post is a “pure selfie”, given that I’m usually showing off my makeup skills. But I think that’s hair-splitting of a pretty unhelpful kind. It’s still my face. I still want people to say nice things.

At the last Theorizing the Web we had an entire panel devoted to selfies, and Anne Burns noted many of the ways in which this kind of discussion is harmful in her paper “Disciplining the Duckface: Online Photographic Regulation as a form of Social Control”:

Regulating the selfie is a means for regulating the selfie-subject, where both are conceived of as being innately problematic and requiring control. As addressed in this study, notions of ‘too many selfies’ and the labeling of young women’s self-presentations as narcissistic, seek to limit both what, and how, women are encouraged to photograph. Such discussions impact upon notions of privacy and identity negotiation, but serve primarily to mark and marginalize certain groups. Therefore, through the limitations imposed on a certain type of creative practice, subjects’ behavior and participation within the public sphere is curtailed.

For Ryan, it’s (mostly sort of) okay to take a picture of you wearing a hat and post it to Instagram. Take a picture of just your face and you’re in trouble.

But as Jenny Davis has noted, the duckface itself is a kind of control over the form and presentation of the bodies we gender female:

[O]ne performs the Duckface by sucking in the cheeks and pushing out the lips. This makes the lips appear fuller, the cheekbones more prominent, and the eyes wider. It can also minimize asymmetry when taken from the correct angle. In short, this expressive configuration contorts the face in line with standards of feminine beauty.

So again, it’s not that there’s nothing troubling or problematic going on here. It’s not that the context of the selfie isn’t indicative of harm. It’s that for someone who isn’t cisgender male who wants to take a selfie, who wants to post a selfie, and who dares to want to hear nice things in response, there is literally no way to win. There’s no way to not feel at least kind of bad.

Guys. I just want to post pictures of myself wearing makeup on Twitter. It should not be this hard.

I want to emphasize that I realize how obvious these points must be to just about everyone who’s likely to read this. They are obvious. But these things are wound up in visceral, embodied emotion, and it’s easy to forget that when primarily what you’re doing with them is engaging in academic debate. It’s one thing to write and talk about a selfie; it’s another thing to post them and deal with the resulting emotional fallout. It’s another thing to take all the stuff you’ve read in blog posts and essays and papers about selfies and identity, and face the way they really do smash painfully together in your head when you’re announcing to your Twitter followers, as I did a couple of weeks ago, that for a few days you’re going to post a daily makeup selfie.

So why not just stop?

Because I don’t think this is fair, to put it bluntly, for all the reasons Burns describes. This is regulating the self and presentation of the self in ways that legitimize some things and delegitimize others. It reifies the idea that some kinds of selfies are okay and others are beyond the pale, that some kinds of selfie-subjects are acceptable and others are simply not. That, among other things, No True Feminist would ever do it. That enjoying attention is wrong, false, inauthentic, and vain in a way we almost exclusively ascribe to women.

We should examine where a desire for positive, appearance-based attention comes from. But can I please not feel ashamed for having that desire at all? I’m not saying that anyone has directly and intentionally made me feel that way, but that this is exactly why that discourse is harmful, and I understand that now in a deep way I didn’t before.

So what I’m doing about it is I’m posting selfies. Aggressively, like I’m making a point to myself, because I am. I’m trying to enjoy the positive comments as much as I can. I’m thinking about this a lot. And someday, maybe, someone will be like “hey, you look awesome today,” and I’ll be able to just smile, type “thanks :D”, hit tweet, and get on with my goddamn day.

LOOK AT MY FACE on Twitter – @dynamicsymmetry

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Kevin Schilbrack, “Philosophy and the Study of Religions: A Manifesto” http://newbooksinsociology.com/crossposts/kevin-schilbrack-philosophy-and-the-study-of-religions-a-manifesto-wiley-blackwell-2014/ http://newbooksinsociology.com/crossposts/kevin-schilbrack-philosophy-and-the-study-of-religions-a-manifesto-wiley-blackwell-2014/ Fri, 18 Jul 2014 12:17:51 CDT Kristian Petersen at New Books in Sociology [Cross-posted from New Books in Religion] Very often evaluative questions about cultural phenomena are avoided for more descriptive or explanatory goals when approaching religions. Traditionally, this set of concerns has been left to philosophers of religion. In Philosophy and the Study of Religions: A Manifesto (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014), Kevin Schilbrack, professor of Religious Studies at Appalachian State University, argues that philosophical [...]

[Cross-posted from New Books in Religion] Very often evaluative questions about cultural phenomena are avoided for more descriptive or explanatory goals when approaching religions. Traditionally, this set of concerns has been left to philosophers of religion. In Philosophy and the Study of Religions: A Manifesto (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014), Kevin Schilbrack, professor of Religious Studies at Appalachian State University, argues that philosophical approaches to the study of religions plays a central role in our understanding of both religious communities and the discipline of Religious Studies. This book offers both a critique of “Traditional Philosophy of Religion,”characterized as narrow, intellectualist, and insular, and a toolkit for achieving a global, practice-centered, and reflexive philosophical approach. With our wide-ranging goals in sight we are offered a new definition of religion that points us in a common direction for analyzing social data. Ultimately, Schilbrack positions his new evaluative approach as one branch in a tripartite methodology, complimenting more dominant descriptive and explanatory approaches. Overall, this books looks to the future of the field and offers interesting directions for others to follow. In our conversation we discuss religious practice, cognition, belief, embodiment, conceptual metaphors, definitional boundaries, ‘superempirical realities,’ and the ontology of “religion.”

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Modern Politics, the Slave Economy, and Geological Time http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/pZh1jowMFSo/ http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/pZh1jowMFSo/ Fri, 18 Jul 2014 09:00:20 CDT Lisa Wade, PhD at Sociological Images Flashback Friday. I have borrowed the information and images below from Jeff Fecke at Alas A Blog.  His discussion, if you’re interested, is more in depth. There is a winding line of counties stretching from Louisiana to South Carolina, a set of states that largely voted for McCain in 2008, that went for Obama.  The […]

Flashback Friday.

I have borrowed the information and images below from Jeff Fecke at Alas A Blog.  His discussion, if you’re interested, is more in depth.

There is a winding line of counties stretching from Louisiana to South Carolina, a set of states that largely voted for McCain in 2008, that went for Obama.  The map below shows how counties voted in blue and red and you can clearly see this interesting pattern.

 

These counties went overwhelmingly for Obama in part because there is large black population.  Often called the “Black Belt,” these counties more so than the surrounding ones were at one time home to cotton plantations and, after slavery was ended, many of the freed slaves stayed.  This image nicely demonstrates the relationship between the blue counties and cotton production in 1860:

 

But why was there cotton production there and not elsewhere?  The answer to this question is a geological one and it takes us all the way back to 65 million years ago when the seas were higher and much of the southern United States was under water.  This image illustrates the shape of the land mass during that time:

I’ll let Jeff take it from here:

Along the ancient coastline, life thrived, as usually does. It especially thrived in the delta region, the Bay of Tennessee, if you will. Here life reproduced, ate, excreted, lived, and died. On the shallow ocean floor, organic debris settled, slowly building a rich layer of nutritious debris. Eventually, the debris would rise as the sea departed, becoming a thick, rich layer of soil that ran from Louisiana to South Carolina.

65 million years later, European settlers in America would discover this soil, which was perfect for growing cotton.

So there you have it: the relationship between today’s political map, the economy, and 65 million years ago.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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Eating Meat is Funny and Sexy. Don’t Stop Eating Meat. http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/HNHQCYWyxzY/ http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/HNHQCYWyxzY/ Thu, 17 Jul 2014 09:00:10 CDT Lisa Wade, PhD at Sociological Images Activist Carol Adams has famously argued that the common phenomenon of sexualizing meat products is designed to make us feel better about eating animals. One of the ways it does this is by making it funny.  She explains: Uneasiness becomes sexual energy… and everybody knows what to do about sexual energy.  You can laugh at it, you can talk […]

Activist Carol Adams has famously argued that the common phenomenon of sexualizing meat products is designed to make us feel better about eating animals. One of the ways it does this is by making it funny.  She explains:

Uneasiness becomes sexual energy… and everybody knows what to do about sexual energy.  You can laugh at it, you can talk about it, it reduces whoever is presented to an object.  And so it makes it okay again.

Sexualizing meat also turns the object of consumption, the animal, into a willing participant.  Sex takes two and, even when one partner is objectified, there is a desire.  If not “want,” it’s a “want to be wanted.”

If the meat wants you to want it, then you don’t have to feel bad about eating it.  As I’ve written before, “this works best alongside feminization, as it is women who are typically presented as objects of a lustful male gaze.”

This ad, in which roosters flock to Carl’s Jr to ogle and lust over chicken “breasts,” is a disturbing example.

Thanks to @wegotwits for the link!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

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Best. Class. Ever!! http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/07/17/best-class-ever/ http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/07/17/best-class-ever/ Thu, 17 Jul 2014 06:00:35 CDT jennydavis at Cyborgology Okay, readers, it’s time to get to work. I recently found out that I get to teach a New Media and Society course in spring 2015. The course, housed in Sociology,  is geared toward upper-level undergraduates and will be listed under “Special Topics,” which basically means it’s a trial run with the potential for eventual […]

best class everOkay, readers, it’s time to get to work. I recently found out that I get to teach a New Media and Society course in spring 2015. The course, housed in Sociology,  is geared toward upper-level undergraduates and will be listed under “Special Topics,” which basically means it’s a trial run with the potential for eventual inclusion in the official course catalog. I have had this course milling around in my head for quite awhile now, and have an outline ready.

What would really make the course great, though, is input from the scholarly community (broadly conceived). Since Cyborgology has a truly fantastic scholarly community, I’m asking for help here.

Below, I outline the general topics I plan to cover. Your job is to suggest content for any of these topics. You can list them in the comments. I will combine everyone’s suggestions, along with my own existing list, and construct a follow up post. Suggestions can include books, journal articles, blog posts, videos, and popular media pieces in written or visual form.

This only works if you participate, so please, everyone, give me what you’ve got and spread widely.

General Topics:

1)      Theories of Technology and Society

2)      Theories of Communication

3)      Social Media: A History and Recent Trends

4)      Utopias and Dystopias

5)      Political Economy of Social Media 

6)      The Public Sphere

7)      Privacy and Publicity

8)      Self and Identity

9)      Interpersonal Relationships

10)  Opting Out

 

Jenny Davis is on Twitter and happy to take suggestions there, too: @Jenny_L_Davis

Image Source

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A Feminist Reflection on the Discipline of Sociology http://thesocietypages.org/feminist/2014/07/17/a-feminist-reflection-on-the-discipline-of-sociology/ http://thesocietypages.org/feminist/2014/07/17/a-feminist-reflection-on-the-discipline-of-sociology/ Thu, 17 Jul 2014 00:00:36 CDT Gayle at Feminist Reflections In 2007, I was invited to speak at an event for graduate sociology students at Texas Woman’s University (TWU). A new faculty member in the department, I accepted the invitation. I had no idea what I would talk about. I had just moved to Texas and felt pretty uneasy about my place. In addition to […] Winged Victory Statue on TWU Campus - Photo by CameliaTWU via flickr.com.

Winged Victory Statue on TWU Campus – Photo by CameliaTWU via flickr.com.

In 2007, I was invited to speak at an event for graduate sociology students at Texas Woman’s University (TWU). A new faculty member in the department, I accepted the invitation. I had no idea what I would talk about.

I had just moved to Texas and felt pretty uneasy about my place. In addition to the heat (100 degree days and 90 degree nights), I was an east coast woman sociologist in a small academic department with no gender focus, in a southern state known for religiosity and gun-toting individualism. I had only been to Texas for my job interview, and I had no shortage of preconceived biases about the lone star state. The gun-toting individualism turned out to be true, relatively. But as we know, sweeping stereotypes misrepresent the nuance of any social context. As a newbie, I had no real sense of context. I just did my best to get along while staying true to myself.

I decided to talk about something safe, the name of the university—Texas WOMAN’s University. What did it mean to use the singular term woman to describe this co-ed university? The Chancellor explained the name by saying that every Texas woman has a place at TWU. It reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s, A Room of One’s Own… which addresses the spaces women have a right to occupy, the paths women are allowed to take. Having a University of one’s own suggested the right to occupy intellectual space, to learn and to create knowledge. I liked the idea. It seemed like an acceptable subject for my talk so down the path of womanism I went.

What is a woman sociologist? What do woman sociologists want?

I recounted the history of the woman sociologists, specifically women’s invisibility in my discipline. Harriet Martineau (1802–1876) considered to be the first woman sociologist; Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860–1935), best known for The Yellow Wallpaper and recognized as a social theorist and public intellectual; Anna Julia Cooper (1858–1964), known for the first systematic analysis in A Voice from The South that no one social category could capture the intersectional reality of gender and race; Jane Adams (1860-1935), who explained how the sociologist could study the alignment of ethical conduct and material interests through empathetic participation in the lives of disempowered groups; Marianne Weber (1870–1954), known for her famous spouse Max, but also for her theorizing of women’s standpoint and analysis of women’s status and the here-to-fore universalized male understandings of the world; and Beatrice Potter Webb (1858–1943), keen on the vital role of social investigation to inform public policy.

I explained that these women were social theorists who analyzed the social construction of knowledge, power, gender, intersectionality, and social inequality from the perspective of wanting to do something to shape it. Their work included applied topics in addition to general theoretical frameworks. They faced discrimination in the area of university employment. They had difficulties when they tried to have serious work published. And the prevailing belief that women were less intelligent than men, and therefore incapable of making academic or intellectual contributions, did not help their cause within the discipline of sociology or their place in the sociological cannon.

The erasure of those women’s work was also based in a struggle over the purpose of sociology and the social role of the sociologist. In the formative stages of the discipline (1890–1947), sociology’s academic elites reached a consensus that the appropriate role for the sociologist was that of the intellectual, committed to the purpose of scientific rigor, value-neutrality, and formal abstraction. No advocacy. No subjectivity.This de-legitimated the work of the women founders, and many men, who practiced the alternative position of a critical, activist sociology.

“That’s all behind us now,” I said, with a smile. In 2004, the American Sociological Association’s official newsletter Footnotes declared, “Sociology is the most open of academic disciplines. Its boundaries and community are not as rigid as, say, the boundaries of economics or physics.” The annual conference that year was even dedicated to public intellectuals who are “doing sociology.” Different from the early days of hierarchical knowledge structures and value-free examination, the new sociology is more fluid, responsive, open, connected to the real world—relatively speaking.

In this brave new sociological world, do the woman sociologists have “a room of our own?” The answer is likely debatable. Less debatable, to me anyway, is that we still need one.

We need a formal communal setting that is open to intellectual curiosity, the musings of everyday life and the emotions that set their tone, and the exploration of how ideas and knowledge are tied to power and influence. We need to contemplate poverty in the midst of riches, subjectivity and neutrality, public power and the linkages between meaning and power, and the social construction of knowledge (What counts as “knowledge”? Who has/lacks access? Who gets to create it?). We need to reflect, with a feminist perspective, on our lives as sociologists and human beings.

The Feminist Reflections blog is a room of our own. Even better, there’s room in this room.

Our Feminist reflections will come from women and men of diverse backgrounds and sensibilities, interests and intents, subject areas and methodological expertise. We’ll engage in feminist conversations about our everyday lives. We’ll kick around untested feminist ideas in an open forum. We’ll remind ourselves that feminist perspectives are about about more than gender alone. We’ll expand feminist networks and celebrate feminist work, online and beyond.

Let’s look at our lives through a feminist sociological lens, and reflect.


Recommended Reading:

 The Women Founders: Sociology and Social Theory, 1830-1930 by Patricia Madoo Lengermann and Jill Niebrugge-Brantley (McGraw-Hill, 1997).

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (Martino Fine Books, 2012); first publication 1929.

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Religion, Reproduction, and the Supreme Court http://thesocietypages.org/trot/2014/07/16/religion-reproduction-and-the-supreme-court/ http://thesocietypages.org/trot/2014/07/16/religion-reproduction-and-the-supreme-court/ Wed, 16 Jul 2014 14:13:52 CDT Jacqui Frost at There's Research on That The recent Hobby Lobby, and subsequent Wheaton College, Supreme Court rulings that exclude organizations with “sincere religious objections” from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate have raised a plethora of fears and heated commentary about access to birth control, women’s rights, and the slippery slope of religious exemption. Sociological research, however, suggests that this […] The recent Hobby Lobby, and subsequent Wheaton College, Supreme Court rulings that exclude organizations with “sincere religious objections” from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate have raised a plethora of fears and heated commentary about access to birth control, women’s rights, and the slippery slope of religious exemption. Sociological research, however, suggests that this ruling’s infringement on access to reproductive services and women’s rights is far from straightforward.

The language of birth control mandates varies by state, and the more ambiguously worded the mandate, the less likely there is to be a challenge. Instead, it is the more precisely worded statutes that have prompted court cases, as they allow for less interpretation and compromise.
The moral framing of religious exemption cases is key to making them effective. When actors frame an issue in moral terms, as opposed to scientific or technical, their arguments are usually too divisive to be completely adopted, however, they are often able to thwart their opponents by defining an issue in ways that make it difficult for legislators to support progressive causes.
A woman’s access to birth control is not only influenced by her insurance policy or the religion of her employer. Race, class, and cultural understandings of what it means to be a “responsible reproductive subject” all play a role in why women seek reproductive services such as birth control, infertility treatment, and abortion, as well as which services they are more likely to have access to.

For more on the Hobby Lobby decision and the history of birth control in the U.S., check out these great pieces by fellow sociology bloggers families as they really are and Girl w/ Pen.

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A Community of Scholars + Faculty Unions = Students as an End unto Themselves http://thesocietypages.org/monte/2014/07/16/what-is-a-community-of-scholars-why-do-faculties-need-unions/ http://thesocietypages.org/monte/2014/07/16/what-is-a-community-of-scholars-why-do-faculties-need-unions/ Wed, 16 Jul 2014 13:09:06 CDT monte at A Backstage Sociologist Minnesota has perhaps the most over-centralized system of public higher education in the nation. With the best of intentions, the Legislature’s former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe in 1991 orchestrated a consolidation of three independent systems—state universities, community colleges, and technical colleges—into an über-bureaucracy called the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU). Moe and his […] Minnesota has perhaps the most over-centralized system of public higher education in the nation. With the best of intentions, the Legislature’s former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe in 1991 orchestrated a consolidation of three independent systems—state universities, community colleges, and technical colleges—into an über-bureaucracy called the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU).

Moe and his legislative colleagues were oblivious to the unintended consequences that would follow. What they had intended was a rational and efficient federation of public colleges and universities. Instead, what they got was a Byzantine empire, with top-down management ruling local campuses like colonial outposts.

Established in 1995, MnSCU is now fittingly ensconced in the palatial and well-secured Wells Fargo Bank building in downtown St. Paul. This behemoth has now mushroomed to over 400 bureaucrats who mandate policies and dictate procedures to its 31 college and universities.

I teach in a union shop at Metropolitan State University. A few colleagues are non-members. They have doubts about the efficacy of collective action. They behave as if faculty activism is beneath them, or that they have no dog in this fight.

Equally misguided are the handful of  libertarians who claim that unions are a coercive imposition upon their “freedom.” They want neither to belong to a union nor to pay anything for the benefits that a union bestows upon them. Economists call these two groups “free riders.” Nonetheless, the union still represents and defends them.

I can only assume that these two sets of colleagues are either naïve or woefully obtuse to the existential threat that MnSCU poses to every faculty member within its dominion. They also seem oblivious to the collateral damage that this Kafkaesque ministry of higher education inflicts on its students.

The Inter Faculty Organization (IFO) is the statewide faculty union for Minnesota state universities. Subscribing to a rather old-fashioned idea, we see ourselves as a community of scholars. As teachers, we hold one truth to be self-evident—that our students are never a means to some other end, but are an end unto themselves.

What is a Community of Scholars?

The first European universities developed in the 11th and 12th centuries in Italy, France, and England. By the 13th century, Peter Abelard had established at the University of Paris the progenitor of the modern college and university. Modeled on the medieval guild, Paris exemplified the principle of autonomy, a federated and self-regulating community of teachers and scholars.

Paul Goodman wrote The Community of Scholars in 1962. He saw an unbroken lineage between those medieval institutions and contemporary colleges and universities. Goodman argued that there is one dominant ancestranal trait in higher education’s genealogy: The community of scholars has always been self-governing, and its continued existence depends upon that principle. Over a half century ago, he had already pinpointed the most toxic threat to this venerable tradition:

“Will the community of scholars survive its present plague of administrative mentality? The ultima ratio of administration is that a school is a teaching machine [online learning and MOOCs are only the latest iterations], to train the young by predigested programs in order to get pre-ordained marketable skills . . . Such training can, and must, dispense with the ancient communities, for they are not only inefficient but they keep erasing or even negating the lessons.”

Paul Goodman: “The community of scholars is self-governing, and has never ceased to regard itself as such.” 

Why Do Faculties Need Unions?

During the 20th century, trustees and a new class of professional administrators eventually destroyed those self-governing faculty guilds that had persisted for 800 years. Teachers and scholars increasingly became wage slaves in a corporate university, at-will employees with few protections, minimal bargaining power, and little say in governance. Administrators and trustees held a monopoly of power in higher education.

Faculty members finally realized that without their traditional form of self-governance, they were individually subject to autocratic behavior by administrators and trustees, and collectively they were an endangered species. The community of scholars became a shape-shifter—it organized faculty unions.

The IFO improves and protects faculty wages, health coverage, pensions, and contract rights, whether you are a member or not. With the combined 2006 and 2008 contracts, the IFO won long-overdue salaries increases of nearly 17 percent. Since the Great Recession, we have protected those gains and stopped ongoing attempts to cut faculty salaries and benefits. We have worked without benefit of a contract for over a year. Today we are the only public union in Minnesota without a new one: We refuse to settle for anything less than just compensation and protection of our rights to self-governance.

Most importantly, the IFO has organized a countervailing power to the potentially absolute power of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) and local university administrations. We now have shared governance in our public higher education system.

This faculty power grows from a democratic and participatory organization that projects a collective voice—we hang together, or the powers-that-be will hang us one by one. Much of the time, the slogan “The union makes us strong” seems a mere cliché: Given our current contract stalemate and MnSCU’s efforts to create sweatshops (particularly with its exploitation of adjunct faculty), this notion is what keeps our lifeblood flowing.

MnSCU controls public higher education at 31 colleges and universities on 54 campuses. It has 430,000 students, is the state’s third largest employer with 17,000 employees, and is the nation’s 5th largest higher education system. Chancellor Steven Rosenstone says he is running a $2 billion business and, befittingly, has joined the board of the Minnesota Business Partnership—an organization composed of the CEOs of the state’s 100 largest banks and corporations.

A Board of Trustees governs MnSCU. Business leaders, including current and past executive directors of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and the Minnesota Business Partnership, dominate the board. Naive political appointees (including the former of Speaker of the House and a former Senate Minority Leader for the Minnesota Legislature), with no experience in higher education are the next largest bloc. Students have four seats, labor one, and faculty none.  The market ideology that permeates MnSCU has no sympathy for faculty unions. In fact, there are Trustees and MnSCU employees who support efforts to weaken, and even destroy, public unions.

Imagine doing your job without a faculty union having your back. It is not a comforting thought. The choice is yours—union solidarity today or wage slavery tomorrow.

Why are Students an End unto Themselves?

Higher education in Minnesota is fundamentally undemocratic: The University of Minnesota and private colleges provide elite education for those who are destined to give orders; Rosenstone and MnSCU are seeking to provide mass education for those whose fate it is to obey those orders. I, and many of my state university colleagues, seek to subvert the imposition of this class system by providing elite education to the masses.

The mission that drives MnSCU is an ideological belief that they are providing vocational training to meet the needs of Minnesota employers. Given that bias, “workforce development” trumps all other criteria for teaching and learning. While the chancellor and trustees would vehemently deny it, they seem to see MnSCU students as little more than flesh-covered widgets, mass-produced to fill the needs of the state’s workforce. They now even have production quotas.

Under this paradigm, MnSCU students (and their families) are not ends; they are means to satisfy the ends of employers. By contrast, state university faculties hold the seemingly utopian belief that students are not means to an end; they are an end unto themselves.

Consequently, the vocationally educated employee, in the eyes of MnSCU’s leadership, is a well-trained worker bee. As you might imagine, the leadership qualities fostered by a traditional liberal arts education are, at best, an afterthought (like France, the care and feeding of elite leaders is the province of elite institutions). The development of well-educated persons and well-informed citizens still occurs on our local campuses but in spite of, not because of, the trustees and their over-staffed and over-compensated MnSCU chain of command.

Students and teachers are the heart and soul of higher education: All other partners exist merely to facilitate their teaching and learning.

 

 

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/monte)

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