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/ Second Look: Worried and Grumpy But Not Forgetting to Celebrate http://thesocietypages.org/girlwpen/2014/08/22/worried-and-grumpy-but-not-forgetting-to-celebrate-3/ http://thesocietypages.org/girlwpen/2014/08/22/worried-and-grumpy-but-not-forgetting-to-celebrate-3/ Fri, 22 Aug 2014 15:49:23 CDT Susan Bailey at Girl w/ Pen   August 26th is Women’s Equality Day. It will mark the 94th anniversary of the final ratification of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women in the United States the right to vote. Lately anti-woman political rhetoric, the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision and various state and national legislative proposals that would turn back the clock on women’s rights […] Unknown  August 26th is Women’s Equality Day. It will mark the 94th anniversary of the final ratification of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women in the United States the right to vote. Lately anti-woman political rhetoric, the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision and various state and national legislative proposals that would turn back the clock on women’s rights have left me pretty glum.

Even the awarding of the Fields Medal, the most prestigious prize in mathematics, to a woman for the first time in the entire 78 years the Medal has been given has me grumbling. We should be well past ‘firsts’ of this kind. And what about the fact that the first woman to win the Medal, Maryam Mirzakhani, now a professor at Stanford University, received all her early encouragement and education in Iran before coming to Harvard for graduate work? Are we doing enough to encourage and inspire young women in this country to pursue mathematics? No. The data still show that women in the U.S. are far less likely than men to hold professorships in the field. Old dated stereotypes continue to pervade K-12 and even college level environments. As Field Medalist Sir Tim Groves noted “I am thrilled that this day has finally come…I hope that the existence of a female medalist…will put to bed many myths about women and mathematics, and encourage more young women to think of mathematical research as a possible career.” Yes, me, too. But it sure is a long time coming.

I’ve been so grumpy that a friend recently suggested I take a break and get a grip. “It’s not as bleak as you feel, Susan. Think back to when women couldn’t even vote.”

And of course, she’s right. Her remark reminded me of my father quoting the old adage, ‘don’t let the bastards get you down’ when attempting to cajole me out of an adolescent funk because girls weren’t allowed to try out for track. It would take more than decade before Title IX began to change sports opportunities for girls, but it did happen.

Women have made major steps toward equality since the passage of the 19th Amendment. But my gloom is not entirely misplaced. Progress is not inevitable; backsliding surrounds us. The depth of inequality confronting Black Americans highlighted by events in Ferguson, Missouri is but one example of how far our nation has to go before achieving equality for all. Women and girls from every socio-economic level and racial/ethnic background are part of the continuing struggle for full civil and human rights. We can’t forget this. But the anniversary of the 19th amendment is a good time to recall progress, even if we seem smack dab in the middle of a ‘two steps forward, one step back’ phase of the struggle.

Too many women and men, girls and boys have no knowledge of the days when women were denied credit cards; few realize that 2014 marks the fortieth anniversary of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act giving women the right to credit cards in our own names. Nor are most people aware of a time when dozens of states prevented women from serving on juries. The Civil Rights Act of 1957, while focused primarily on racial discrimination, guaranteed every woman the right to serve on federal juries, but it wasn’t until 1973 that all fifty states permitted women to serve on state juries.

Job listings ‘for men’ and ‘for women’ and the illegality of birth control are often considered the ‘the stuff of feminist urban legends’ as one twenty year old recently informed me. And the very real threats to women’s reproductive rights strike some as far-fetched. After all, the Supreme Court decriminalized abortion long ago, way back in 1973. Yet today’s reality is that this right is being increasingly curtailed by state actions. Even current attempts to limit access to the voting booth are less understood than they should be.

So let’s celebrate and educate. Let’s celebrate Maryam Mirzakhani and the many other women ‘firsts’ who provide young women important role models in a wide range of fields. But let’s also be sure we remember legislative victories, the struggles involved, the decades required. Sometimes grumbling is both appropriate and necessary, but celebrations are important, too. There’s a long road ahead.

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Watch London Cops Subdue, Not Kill, a Man Yelling and Swinging a Machete http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/mPL9Md0RtDA/ http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/mPL9Md0RtDA/ Fri, 22 Aug 2014 15:24:25 CDT Jay Livingston, PhD at Sociological Images Despite the cellphone video of two police officers killing Kajieme Powell, there is some dispute as to what happened (see this account in The Atlantic). Was Powell threatening them; did he hold the knife high; was he only three or four feet away? The video is all over the Internet, including the link above. I’m not going to […] Despite the cellphone video of two police officers killing Kajieme Powell, there is some dispute as to what happened (see this account in The Atlantic). Was Powell threatening them; did he hold the knife high; was he only three or four feet away? 

The video is all over the Internet, including the link above. I’m not going to include it here.  The officers get out of the car, immediately draw their guns, and walk towards Powell. Is this the best way to deal with a disturbed or possibly deranged individual – to confront him and then shoot him several times if he does something that might be threatening?

Watch the video, then watch London police confronting a truly deranged and dangerous man in 2011.  In St. Louis, Powell had a steak knife and it’s not clear whether he raised it or swung it at all.  The man in London has a machete and is swinging it about.


Unfortunately, the London video does not show us how the incident got started. By the time the recording begins, at least ten officers were already on the scene. They do not have guns. They have shields and truncheons. The London police tactic used more officers, and the incident took more time. But nobody died.  According to The Economist:

The police in and around Ferguson have shot and killed twice as many people in the past two weeks (Mr Brown plus one other) as the police in Japan, a nation of 127m, have shot and killed in the past six years. Nationwide, America’s police kill roughly one person a day.

The article includes this graphic:

1 (2)

I’m sure that the Powell killing will elicit not just sympathy for the St. Louis police but in some quarters high praise – something to the effect that what they did was a good deed and that the victims got what they deserved. But righteous slaughter is slaughter nevertheless. A life has been taken.<

You would think that other recent videos of righteous slaughter elsewhere in the world would get us to reconsider this response to killing. But instead, these seem only to strengthen tribal Us/Them ways of thinking. If one of Us who kills one of Them, then the killing must have been necessary and even virtuous.

Originally posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

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Tuskegee Syphilis Study Recruitment Letter http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/eCirNZ-cY7Y/ http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/eCirNZ-cY7Y/ Fri, 22 Aug 2014 09:00:59 CDT Gwen Sharp, PhD at Sociological Images Flashback Friday. The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment is one of the most famous examples of unethical research. The study, funded by the federal government from 1932-1972, looked at the effects of untreated syphilis. In order to do this, a number of Black men in Alabama who had syphilis were misinformed about their illness. They were told [&hellip;] Flashback Friday.

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment is one of the most famous examples of unethical research. The study, funded by the federal government from 1932-1972, looked at the effects of untreated syphilis. In order to do this, a number of Black men in Alabama who had syphilis were misinformed about their illness. They were told they had “bad blood” (which was sometimes a euphemism for syphilis, though not always) and that the government was offering special free treatments for the condition. Here is an example of a letter sent out to the men to recruit them for more examinations:

The “special free treatment” was, in fact, nothing of the sort. The researchers conducted various examinations, including spinal taps, not to treat syphilis but just to see what its effects were. In fact, by the 1950s it was well established that a shot of penicillin would fully cure early-stage syphilis. Not only were the men not offered this life-saving treatment, the researchers conspired to be sure they didn’t find out about it, getting local doctors to agree that if any of the study subjects came in they wouldn’t tell them they had syphilis or that a cure was available.

The abusive nature of this study is obvious (letting men die slow deaths that could have been easily prevented, just for the sake of scientific curiosity) and shows the ways that racism can influence researchers’ evaluations of what is acceptable risk and whose lives matter. The Tuskegee experiment was a major cause for the emergence of human subjects protection requirements and oversight of federally-funded research once the study was exposed in the early 1970s. Some scholars argue that knowledge of the Tuskegee study increased African Americans’ distrust of the medical community, a suspicion that lingers to this day.

In 1997 President Clinton officially apologized for the experiment.

Originally posted in 2009.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

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Big Data & the ‘Physics’ of Social Harmony http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/08/22/big-data-the-physics-of-social-harmony/ http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/08/22/big-data-the-physics-of-social-harmony/ Fri, 22 Aug 2014 04:00:47 CDT robinjames at Cyborgology &nbsp; I want to think about the relationship two recent-ish articles draw between big data and social &ldquo;harmony.&rdquo; Why is big data something that we think is well-suited to facilitate a harmonious society? Or, when we think about applying big data to the control and regulation of society (which is something distinct from, but which [&hellip;]  

I want to think about the relationship two recent-ish articles draw between big data and social “harmony.” Why is big data something that we think is well-suited to facilitate a harmonious society? Or, when we think about applying big data to the control and regulation of society (which is something distinct from, but which can overlap with, the legal control and regulation of the state and its citizens), why is “harmony” the ideal we think it will achieve? Why is a data-driven society a “harmonious” society, and not, say a just society or a peaceful society or a healthy society? Why “harmony” and not some other ideal?

Last month in Foreign Policy, Shane Harris wrote about Singapore’s Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning (RAHS) project. This project is already in place, sniffing out possible terrorist or public health threats. But, in response to recent election results in which the ruling party received less than near-unanimous support (which is interpreted as a sign of social discord), the government has extended the reach of this program

to analyze Facebook posts, Twitter messages, and other social media in an attempt to “gauge the nation’s mood” about everything from government social programs to the potential for civil unrest. In other words, Singapore has become a laboratory not only for testing how mass surveillance and big-data analysis might prevent terrorism, but for determining whether technology can be used to engineer a more harmonious society. [emphasis mine]

This isn’t just about predicting unruly and disruptive behavior, like bombing a public event. It’s about tuning the general mood to minimize social discord. The aim is to temper everyone’s temper, to monitor and influence not just what people do, but how they feel. And “harmony” is the metaphor Harris and others use to describe the status of a society’s affective temperament, its “national mood.” (Why is harmony the preferred metaphor for affect? Well, I’ve got a paper about that here.)

Harris emphasizes that Singaporeans generally think that finely-tuned social harmony is the one thing that keeps the tiny city-state from tumbling into chaos. [1] In a context where resources are extremely scarce–there’s very little land, and little to no domestic water, food, or energy sources, harmony is crucial. It’s what makes society sufficiently productive so that it can generate enough commercial and tax revenue to buy and import the things it can’t cultivate domestically (and by domestically, I really mean domestically, as in, by ‘housework’ or the un/low-waged labor traditionally done by women and slaves/servants.) Harmony is what makes commercial processes efficient enough to make up for what’s lost when you don’t have a ‘domestic’ supply chain.

***

This situation of scarcity–indeed, austerity after the loss of mothers’s work, mother nature’s work in providing food, water, and energy–is exactly what’s depicted in the much-thinkpieced film Snowpiercer. There, the whole human species is stuck on a train that circles the frozen, sterile earth. Everything–food, water, energy–must come from the train itself, because the earth can no longer be exploited for resources (so instead, the train exploits people more explicitly than when we’ve got nature and people to exploit). In order for this setup to work, everything, especially and including the population of humans, must be curated in a careful balance. This isn’t just population management, but the carefully curated balance among different parts of the population. As the film repeatedly emphasizes, the train will work only if everyone stays in their assigned place and does only what that station requires. In other words, social harmony exists when all the parts of the community are in proper proportion.

This idea of social harmony as proportion among parts is straight outta Plato’s Republic: remember the myth of the metals, the division of society into gold, silver, and bronze? The ideal city, for Plato, was one that embodied the proper proportion among its parts. Not coincidentally, ancient Greeks thought musical harmony was also the expression of proportional relationships among the parts of a musical instrument. So, in Plato as in Snowpiercer, social harmony was a matter of proportionality. But Snowpiercer implies that this idea(l) of harmonic proportionality is something much more contemporary than Plato. With Tilda Swindon’s obvious Margaret Thatcher cariacture as this ideology’s main mouthpiece, the film implies that proportional social harmony is the idea(l) that informs Thatcher-style neoliberalism.

As I have argued before, this neoliberal upgrade on Plato is also, as Jacques Ranciere argues, the ideal that informs data science. He argues:

The science of opionion…this process of specularization where an opinion sees itself in the mirror held up by science to reveal to it its identity with itself…It is the paradoxical realization of [Platonic metaphysics and archipolitics]: that community governed by science that puts everyone in their place, with the right opinion to match. The science of simulations of opinion is the perfect realization of the empty virtue Plato called sophrosune: the fact of each person’s being in their place, going about their own business there, and having the opinion identical to the fact of being in that place and doing only what there is to do there” (Disagreement 105-6).

Data science (what Ranciere calls the “science of opinion,” i.e., the science of opinion polls, which we can also call the science of the “national mood”) is the tool that allows us to listen for, measure, and maintain a particularly neoliberal kind of social harmony. Not harmony as proportion, but harmony as dynamic patterning. Dynamic patterning is how contemporary physics understands sound to work: sound is the dynamic patterning of pressure waves. Dynamic patterning is also what data science listens for–the patterns that emerge as signal out of all the noise.

So, what I want to suggest is that what Alex Pentland calls “social physics” or, “the reliable, mathematical connections between information and idea flow…and people’s behavior” (2), is modeled–implicitly–on the physics of sound. Instead of a geometric mathematics of proportion, social physics is a statistical mathematics of emergence or “dynamic patterning,” to use Julian Henrique’s definition of “sounding.” For example, Pentland says “there are patterns in these individual transactions that drive phenomena such as financial crashes and Arab springs” (10); the role of social physics is to find these patterns, “analyzing patterns within these digital bread crumbs” (5) to find the signal amid a bunch of data-noise. “Social Physics” updates the idea of the “harmony of the spheres” for the 21st century: this harmony is just statistical not geometric, grounded in contemporary acoustics instead of ancient philosophy.

I’m still working my way through Pentland’s book, but for now I want to turn to Nicholas Carr’s review of it. Carr’s review consistently relies on sonic metaphors to describe the “social physics” Pentland theorizes. For example, in the introductory paragraph, Carr notes that Marshall McLuhan “predicted that the machines eventually would be deployed to fine-tune society’s workings” (emphasis mine). Or later, summarizing Pentland’s argument, Carr writes:

If people react predictably to social influences, then governments and businesses can use computers to develop and deliver carefully tailored incentives, such as messages of praise or small cash payments, to “tune” the flows of influence in a group and thereby modify the habits of its members.

What’s getting tuned? As above in Singapore, people’s moods and affects are what social physics listens for and tunes. As Carr notes, Pentland’s studies “measure not only the chains of communication and influence within an organization but also “personal energy levels” and traits such as “extraversion and empathy.””

As Carr reports it, tuning these affects and moods–people’s ‘opinions’ rather than just their actions–is what leads to a harmonious society: “group-based incentive programs can make communities more harmonious and creative. “Our main insight,” [Pentland] reports, “is that by targeting [an] individual’s peers, peer pressure can amplify the desired effect of a reward on the target individual.””

***

Positive or negative reinforcement of behavior through peer pressure…hmmm…this sounds a whole lot like what JS Mill advocates in Chapter 4 of On Liberty. This chapter is about the “limits of the authority of society over the individual.” Here, Mill argues in language that should clearly resonate with the above discussion of Plato & Snowpiercer:

Each [individual and society] will receive its proper share, if each has that which particularly concerns it. To individuality should belong the part of life in which it is chiefly the individual that is interested; to society, the part that chiefly interests society (69).

So what interests the individual, and what interests society? Well, the individual is interested in things that affect him and nobody else (that’s what the first three chapters argue); society is interested in optimizing its health. According to Mill, laws protect individual liberty; they limit individuals and the government from interfering in things in which it is chiefly the individual that is interested. However, as Mill notes, “The acts of an individual may be hurtful to others, or wanting in due consideration for their welfare, without going to the length of violating any of their constituted rights. The offender may then be justly punished by opinion, though not by law” (69).  Opinion is how society manages behaviors it cannot and ought not prohibit or require, but nevertheless needs to encourage or discourage: “In these modes a person may suffer very severe penalties at the hands of others for faults which directly concern only himself; but he suffers these penalties only in so far as they are the natural and, as it were, spontaneous consequence of the faults themselves, not because they are personally inflicted on him for the sake of punishment (72). Arguing that the negative consequences of being out of synch with dominant mood or opinion are the direct effect of discordant behavior, Mill rationalizes his way out of the liberal principle of non-interference by blaming the victim. Society can regulate individuals in this way because they were asking for it, more or less. He concludes, “Any inconveniences which are strictly inseparable from the unfavorable judgment of others, are the only ones to which a person should ever be subjected for that portion of his conduct and character which concerns his own good, but which does not affect the interests of others in their relations with him” (72).

Mill has recognized that the liberal principle (the law can interfere with individual liberty only in matters that have an affect on society), if followed strictly, would lead to social upheaval. So, in order to maintain the status quo–e.g., white bourgeois standards of behavior, taste, comportment, gendered behavior, etc.–the law (“reprobation which is due to him for an offense against the rights of others” (73) needs to be supplemented by opinion, by the “loss of consideration a person may rightly incur by defect of prudence or personal dignity” (73).

But how does Mill relate to social physics and the science of opinion? Well, it seems like data science, in tracking and tuning people’s moods and affects, it’s doing the work of opinion-regulation that Mill thinks is necessary for ‘social harmony.’ Indeed, as Carr points out, social physics “will tend to perpetuate existing social structures and dynamics. It will encourage us to optimize the status quo rather than challenge it.”

In both Harris’s article and Pentland’s book, concepts of individual liberty are seen as things that impede this harmony, or rather, they impede our ability to listen and adjust for this harmony. According to Harris, “many current and former U.S. officials have come to see Singapore as a model for how they’d build an intelligence apparatus if privacy laws and a long tradition of civil liberties weren’t standing in the way” (emphasis mine). Similarly, Pentland argues that, given what a more Marxist theorist would call the current relations of production, i.e., the current state of material-technical existence, “we can no longer think of ourselves as individuals reaching carefully considered decisions; we must include the dynamic social effects that influence individual decisions” (3). So “harmony” is a way of describing the overall behavior of a population, the concord or discord of individuals as they intertwine with and rub up against one another, as their behaviors fall in and out of synch.

Mill has already made–in 1859 no less–the argument that rationalizes the sacrifice of individual liberty for social harmony: as long as such harmony is enforced as a matter of opinion rather than a matter of law, then nobody’s violating anybody’s individual rights or liberties. This is, however, a crap argument, one designed to limit the possibly revolutionary effects of actually granting individual liberty as more than a merely formal, procedural thing (emancipating people really, not just politically, to use Marx’s distinction). For example, a careful, critical reading of On Liberty shows that Mill’s argument only works if large groups of people–mainly Asians–don’t get individual liberty in the first place. [2] So, critiquing Mill’s argument may help us show why updated data-science versions of it are crap, too. (And, I don’t think the solution is to shore up individual liberty–cause remember, individual liberty is exclusionary to begin with–but to think of something that’s both better than the old ideas, and more suited to new material/technical realities.)

***

Big data, social physics, Snowpiercer, Plato, JS Mill–on the one hand this post is all over the place. But what I’ve tried to do is unpack the ideals that inform and often justify/rationalize data science forays into social management, to show just what kind of society data science thinks it can make for us, and why that society might be less than ideal.

[1] Harris writes, “Singapore’s 3.8 million citizens and permanent residents — a mix of ethnic Chinese, Indians, and Malays who live crammed into 716 square kilometers along with another 1.5 million nonresident immigrants and foreign workers — are perpetually on a knife’s edge between harmony and chaos.”

[2] “It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say that this doctrine is meant to apply only to human beings in the full maturity of their faculties…We may leave out of consideration those backward states of society in which the race itself may be considered in its nonage…Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians” (14).

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Marriage and the Market: How Economic Inequality and Gender Equality Shape Marriage Trends http://thesocietypages.org/citings/2014/08/21/marriage-and-the-market-how-economic-inequality-and-gender-equality-shape-marriage-trends/ http://thesocietypages.org/citings/2014/08/21/marriage-and-the-market-how-economic-inequality-and-gender-equality-shape-marriage-trends/ Thu, 21 Aug 2014 17:40:17 CDT Jacqui Frost at Citings and Sightings In a recent New York Times oped, Stephanie Coontz cites a plethora of sociologists in her discussion of the tug-of-war between gender equality and economic inequality over current marriage trends in America. In her piece, Coontz argues that families have become more egalitarian and stable due to increased gender equality, with women increasingly gaining equal [&hellip;] sadie hawkins-img

Couples who share housework and have equal levels of education are as likely to stay together as couples following traditional gender roles.

In a recent New York Times oped, Stephanie Coontz cites a plethora of sociologists in her discussion of the tug-of-war between gender equality and economic inequality over current marriage trends in America. In her piece, Coontz argues that families have become more egalitarian and stable due to increased gender equality, with women increasingly gaining equal access to education and employment. However, because of the recent recession and the increased income gap, the inequality between families continues to rise. Both forces, she argues, push and pull on the rates of marriage and divorce in American society. She writes:

Sometimes these trends counteract each other, with women’s work gains partly compensating for men’s losses in low-income families. Sometimes they reinforce each other, since the new trend for high-earning men to marry high-earning women increases the relative advantage of such couples over low-income or single-earner families. For all Americans, these trends have changed the rewards, risks, and rules of marriage.

Citing sociologists Christine Schwartz and Hongyun Han, she details how couples who share housework and have equal levels of education are just as likely to stay together as those who subscribe to more traditional gender roles. Husbands have doubled the time they spend doing housework, and the percentage of Americans who believe in the “male-breadwinner” family arrangement has declined significantly. However, these increases in gender equality are counteracted by growing economic instability among families. She cites research by sociologist Philip N. Cohen, as well as a Susan Brown and I-Fen Lin, to show how, while the more educated are more likely to get married and stay married, the return on a college education continues to decrease, increasing income inequality and marriage instability. Coontz argues:

While the sexes have become more equal, society as a whole has become far less, producing especially deep losses for young men. In 1969, by the time men reached age 25, three-quarters were earning wages that could support a family of four above the poverty line. By 2004, it took until age 30 for the same percentage of men to reach this income level. And while in 1969 only 10 percent of men ages 30-35 were still low earners, by 2004 almost a quarter of men in that age range remained low earners.

Coontz then turns to sociologist Andrew Cherlin’s book Labor’s Love Lost to discuss the implications of these findings. Cherlin’s book details how two important factors have lead to a decrease in marriage rates among younger generations. First, the decrease in blue-collar work that requires only a high school diploma has significantly affected the ability of lower-income males to fulfill the historical role of bread-winner. Second, the increase in gender equality detailed above has made it so females no longer need a breadwinner in the first place, allowing them to wait for a mate with a stable income or to make that income themselves. Coontz summarizes Cherlin:

Women’s expectation of fairness and reciprocity in marriage has been rising even as men’s ability to compensate for deficits in their behavior by being “good providers” has been falling. Low-income women consistently tell researchers that the main reason they hesitate to marry – even if they are in love, even if they have moved in with a man to share expense, and even if they have a child – is that they see a bad marriage or divorce as a greater threat to their well-being than being single.

However, our very own Doug Hartmann qualifies findings that indicate a decline in marriage rates in an interview with CBS Minnesota, saying that even though younger cohorts, especially women, are waiting to pay off their student loans and build their careers before marriage, the desire to get married has not declined. Hartmann says, “When you ask people about their attitudes about marriage, their desires to get married, that doesn’t seem to be in decline. It’s just the timing of it and when it’s happening is getting put off.”

Sociologists across the country are invested in understanding the changing trends in marriage and American family life, and their research has detailed important factors contributing to these trends. Coontz ends her article with an important insight, urging us to consider the stability and equality of the marriage landscape Americans are so often nostalgic for.

If women lowered their expectations to match men’s lower economic prospects, perhaps marriage would be more common in low-income communities. But it would most likely be even less stable, and certainly less fair. Turning back the inequality revolution may be difficult. But that would certainly help more families – at almost all income levels – than turning back the gender revolution.

See more of Coontz, Cohen, and other sociologists of family life, including Coontz’s piece on how religious affiliation affects marriage rates, at the Council of Contemporary Families’ blog Families As They Really Are.

 

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The Privilege of Disconnection http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/08/21/the-privilege-of-disconnection/ http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/08/21/the-privilege-of-disconnection/ Thu, 21 Aug 2014 11:12:36 CDT Sarah Wanenchak at Cyborgology I sort of wish this thing could be longer. But I also think maybe it shouldn&rsquo;t be. I&rsquo;ve spent a great deal of the last two weeks watching the world scroll by on my Twitter feed and weighing the relative merits of saying things against not saying things, but mostly I&rsquo;ve just been watching, because [&hellip;]

image by Elvert Barnes

image by Elvert Barnes

I sort of wish this thing could be longer. But I also think maybe it shouldn’t be. I’ve spent a great deal of the last two weeks watching the world scroll by on my Twitter feed and weighing the relative merits of saying things against not saying things, but mostly I’ve just been watching, because what else can you really do? A lot of us can and do do a great deal more, but a lot of us just seem to be watching. And retweeting. The amplification of voices is, I believe, a worthwhile thing in itself.

As is always the case in situations of fast-moving catastrophe – human-caused or otherwise – emotion is hopelessly intertwined with the sharing of information, yet when it come to academic discussions of how events are covered via social media I so often see emotion ignored. Its existence is recognized, but also treated as mostly incidental. And how can this be? The emotion is overwhelming, physically so. Despair, grief, rage, a grim kind of hope. I’ve seen tweets expressing dread for the coming multitude of thinkpieces regarding white feelings about watching violence dealt out to black and brown bodies, so I don’t want to make this about what I feel but about the feelings that are there, that are real and legitimate and need to be recognized.

The devaluation of certain people’s emotions in favor of the emotions of others is a central feature of systems of domination and oppression. The silencing of those emotions always results. To be able to feel and to have people care about those feelings is a mark of privilege. So white people are distressed by black anger, and the hurt feelings of white people dominate the narrative. As Brittney Cooper writes in her piece “In Defense of Black Rage”:

Nothing makes white people more uncomfortable than black anger. But nothing is more threatening to black people on a systemic level than white anger. It won’t show up in mass killings. It will show up in overpolicing, mass incarceration, the gutting of the social safety net, and the occasional dead black kid. Of late, though, these killings have been far more than occasional. We should sit up and pay attention to where this trail of black bodies leads us.  They are a compass pointing us to a raging fire just beneath the surface of our national consciousness. We feel it. We hear it. Our nostrils flare with the smell of it.

The delegitimization and erasure of emotion is about domination and oppression, and it’s also about the validity of sites for the expression of emotion. Recently a piece on Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish referenced Nathan Jurgenson’s essay on the “IRL Fetish”; it said nothing new and got almost everything wrong, but it made me think about emotion and disconnection, and what it means to disconnect.

Over and over in the last few days I’ve seen people of color on my Twitter timeline say (paraphrasing) “I can’t take this anymore, I need to step away. I can’t watch. This is too painful.”

Why don’t we talk about this when we talk about voluntary disconnection?

The stories are seemingly always about and told by people who have the privilege of choosing to step away, to log off, to unplug. People who may “depend” on social media and digital communication for work, to maintain basic everyday connections with friends and family, to simply entertain themselves. And we do write about the cost of opting out, and we also write about how “opting out” isn’t actually possible. But we don’t talk much about how people denied power are locked into the act of witness, subject to massive psychological pain with each fragment of news that scrolls by, every image, every Vine, every livestream clip. How simply being there and watching feels like an imperative, like something necessary, but also amounts to a barrage of emotional assault. And when we talk about how one can’t opt out, we need to talk about how what we see on timelines and hashtags is something that marginalized and oppressed people can’t step away from. It’s still there.

If you’re lucky, you can walk away from Twitter and close your eyes and, for a while, not see. But for a person of color, it’s still there, all around, and it couldn’t possibly be any more real. I’m white. I can step away, and suddenly it’s at a distance and I can breathe again. That’s my privilege. The act of disconnection means something different for me, and is embedded within different arrangements of power and inequality. And if I want to talk about my significantly lesser pain, most people will at least probably listen, while for the majority of white America, black anger and despair mediated by all forms of communication amount to shouting in a dark, closed room.

I’m getting very, very bored with discussions about how much more fulfilled we are if we stop checking Twitter.

That’s not real life.

 

Sarah is on Twitter – @dynamicsymmetry

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Peach Panties and a New Pinterest Board: Sexy What!? http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/J18VMOsOkww/ http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/J18VMOsOkww/ Thu, 21 Aug 2014 09:00:47 CDT Lisa Wade, PhD at Sociological Images @zeyneparsel and Stephanie S. both sent in a link to a new craze in China: peach panties. &nbsp;I totally made the craze part up &mdash; I have no idea about that &ndash;&nbsp;but the peach panties are real and there is a patent pending. I thought they were a great excuse to make a new&nbsp;Pinterest board [&hellip;] @zeyneparsel and Stephanie S. both sent in a link to a new craze in China: peach panties.  I totally made the craze part up — I have no idea about that – but the peach panties are real and there is a patent pending.

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I thought they were a great excuse to make a new Pinterest board featuring examples of marketing that uses sex to sell decidely unsexy — or truly sex-irrelevant — things.  It’s called Sexy What!? and I describe it as follows:

This board is a collection of totally random stuff being made weirdly and unnecessarily sexual by marketers who — I’m gonna say it — have run out of ideas.

My favorites are the ads for organ donation, hearing aids, CPR, and sea monkeys.  Enjoy!

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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From Applied to Action Sociology: Jamaica Plain Porchfest http://thesocietypages.org/feminist/2014/08/21/from-applied-to-action-sociology-jamaica-plain-porchfest/ http://thesocietypages.org/feminist/2014/08/21/from-applied-to-action-sociology-jamaica-plain-porchfest/ Thu, 21 Aug 2014 00:00:04 CDT Mindy Fried at Feminist Reflections For a couple of decades I have been an &ldquo;applied sociologist,&rdquo; meaning that my sociology leaves the classroom and situates itself in organizational contexts. There are many ways that applied sociologists &ldquo;do sociology.&rdquo; For the most part my work focuses on evaluating a range of programs and policies to help organizations get stronger and ultimately, [&hellip;] 00 applied sociology graphicFor a couple of decades I have been an “applied sociologist,” meaning that my sociology leaves the classroom and situates itself in organizational contexts. There are many ways that applied sociologists “do sociology.” For the most part my work focuses on evaluating a range of programs and policies to help organizations get stronger and ultimately, bring in more funds so they can continue to do their work.

Applied sociology may be perceived by some as the step child of academic sociology.  “Professor” is a far classier title than Senior Research Associate or even, Wowza Evaluation Research Expert!  But academic and applied sociology are equally good options; the choice to pursue one or the other has more to do with the job market and one’s career goals and interests. That said, applied sociologists have fewer institutionalized steps along the career ladder to achieve “success,” and we experience less institutionalized scrutiny.  For better or worse, applied sociologists also don’t generally have a “family” of colleagues for life!

01 NSH and Wanda

Woman doing limbo at Nate Smith House, affordable housing for elders. Band was Tempo International Rhythm Section.

A lot of us “applied folks” are happy with our choice. The work is challenging, and the potential to improve programs and policies that improve people’s health, education, incomes, and more is satisfying. Many of us also love to teach, but generally when we do, we’re on the lowest rung of the totem pole as adjuncts, with low wages, no benefits and, depending on the institution, no status, even if one is a stellar teacher whose students adore you. But unlike adjuncts who are scraping a living together teaching multiple single courses, we may choose to teach a course, without fully depending on this income.

Sociology in Action

02 SterlingRhyne_at Betsaida Gutierrez porch_7.19.14

Sterling Rhyne performing at home of Betsaida Gutierrez, housing activist. Photo credit: Sam Sacks.

This spring, I discovered another way to put my sociology into action, when I joined with a friend to organize a neighborhood music festival on porches called “Jamaica Plain Porchfest.

My type of applied sociology had, for the most part, been stuck in a room, or on occasion, at an event or rally. But I felt ready to break out. While I have been evaluating arts-based programs for a number of years, I found that I could bring my sociological eye to designing and implementing a participatory arts-based musical event. Luckily I was partnered with a dear friend who brought the same sensibility and perspective.

03 JP Porchfest Sign

JP Porchfest banner, created by Hyde Square Task Force Youth Leaders.

Our sociological eyes went into motion from the beginning, as we identified the “outcomes” we wanted to achieve. We live in a community that is considered very diverse in terms of race/ethnicity, class, and sexual/gender orientation. But in reality, the community is very divided. There is a “Latin Quarter” which houses Cubans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans and Central Americans; there are public housing developments that cloister poor people in large high rises; there are new mixed-income housing developments; there are sections of “town” that are entirely working class, and others that are entirely middle class. Our goal was to bring the various strains of the community together – bridging race/ethnicity and class – using music as the vehicle.

04 Damn Tall Buildings at JP Porchfest

Damn Tall Buildings. Photo credit: Damn Tall Buildings (selfie!)

The phenomenon of “porchfests” is not new.  The first one was organized in Ithaca, New York in 2007, and now there are 20 of them in cities and towns throughout the U.S., including Tucson, Napa Valley, Boulder, Buffalo (my home town!), Salt Lake City and in Somerville, Massachusetts, the porchfest that initially inspired us. From the looks of the incredible photos on each of their porchfest websites, we can see that they are joyous events that build community. From our conversations with the Ithaca and Somerville porchfesters, we also know how successful they are in promoting community bonding, as people come out on the streets to enjoy music together.

05 porchfesters black white pf day jane

Audience members at JP Porchfest. Photo credit: Jane Akiba.

In contrast to some of the neighborhoods where other porchfests take place, around half of Jamaica Plain’s residents are people of color, including 25 percent Latino, 14 percent African-American, 4 percent Asian, and 50 percent white. Our commitment was to promote bridging and bonding, by pursuing three strategies: include a diverse range of musicians in terms of their racial/ethnic backgrounds as well as musical genres; locate and include porches throughout the neighborhood where musicians can play; and engage and bring out diverse audiences. We hoped that these strategies would help to overcome some of the “tri-furcation” or “quadri-furcation” in the ‘hood.

Initially, we created a Facebook page with a call for musicians and porch hosts. But a lot of people don’t go on Facebook, including 27 percent of online adults who don’t use social media, and another group of people defined as Facebook “resisters.”

06 Screen shot JP PF

JP Porchfest Facebook Page.

So we reached out to local non-profit organizations, some of whom serve youth, others who manage low-income housing, others who coordinate small business activity, and yet others who run programs around maintaining a beautiful, large park in one of the neighborhood’s low-income neighborhoods. We also reached out to students at a highly renowned local music college. We even “scouted” musicians, sometimes at a local park or other venue, as well as musicians we heard of through friends.

07 JP Porchfest jpg

Promotional flyer for JP Porchfest

My organizing partner and I started with the idea that we’d do a “pilot” event with three bands and three porches. But if were to stay true to our goals, we needed to do more than that. Ultimately, we had 60 bands sign up and enough porches committed so that two bands could play on each porch. We spent hours poring over the mix of bands and porch hosts we would match, focusing on bringing together a mix of people from diverse backgrounds by race/ethnicity, gender, and where possible, class. In the end, diverse bands and solo musicians shared a stage – a.k.a. porch – hosted by a third party who generously offered her/his porch.

We had been informed that one of the other porchfests almost got shut down one year because there were crowds of people roaming the streets, obstructing traffic and trashing neighbor’s lawns. So we created a tiered structure, in which each porch had a “Porch Fun Manager,” each cluster of porches in a particular part of the neighborhood had a “Cluster Manager,” and the overall event had two “Network Managers” (me and my partner), who kept an eye on the whole thing. Organizational sociology in action…

08 Amy Hoffman pf day jane

The Amy Hoffman. Photo credit: Jane Akiba.

While the two of us organized this event, we realized we were operating within the construct of social institutions that needed to be privy to our plans, offer advice, and inform us of limitations. We met with officials from the City and the police, and from a neighborhood services department that does city permitting. (We were committed to NOT having permits for each porch! We didn’t have the budget, and we didn’t want to deal with the bureaucracy.)

And did I mention that we had NO budget whatsoever? This was one of the appeals of the event. Nothing commercial. No “brought to you by” banners, logos or even food trucks! We received a few in-kind donations: one from a friend, another from the City of Boston which paid for printing colorful maps of the porch routes to be used on the day of the event, and another from a printer who didn’t charge us for printing postcards to announce the event. For many people, the fact that JP Porchfest was commercial-free was a breath of fresh air.

09 wax and gold on pf day

Gut and Buttons. Photo credit: Sue Dorfman.

So how did it go?

On the day of the event, we had 7,000-8,000 people roaming throughout the neighborhood listening to music and hundreds show up at a local restaurant, Bella Luna Restaurant, and Milky Way Café for an after-party that served $5 all-you-can-eat pizza!

Anecdotally, it seemed that everyone loved the event from the audience to the musicians to the porch hosts. But a good “action sociologist” can’t just leave it there! We needed to evaluate the impact of the event.

010 Stickers PF

Porchfest Stickers!

To count the numbers in attendance we used porchfest stickers. We had intended to count the leftovers to gauge the size of the crowd, except we ran out of stickers in one hour! We consulted an audience researcher on how to calculate the final numbers and it’s her figures – 7,000-8,000 – we are citing.

We also distributed very short surveys with a few questions that would help us learn what worked and what didn’t as well as to identify the demographics of the porchfesters. Nearly 100 percent reported that the event was “excellent” or “very good” (we’re still working on analyzing this data).  In addition, we had two sociology graduate students from Brandeis University (my alma mater) traversing the event and interviewing participants about their experience.

011 Cornell and drum circle Blessed Sacrament Church

Cornell Coley and Hyde Square Task Force. Photo credit: Jane Akiba.

And we queried musicians and porch hosts to provide more detailed feedback on their experiences performing at JP Porchfest and learned that they made great connections with the band with whom they shared their porch, and with their porch hosts. They were pleased that they were able to add people to their mailing lists and increase their CD sales.

We heard that small businesses had also increased sales. One of our colleagues and friends from a local nonprofit conducted her own short survey to see if business picked up in the “Latin Quarter” and interestingly, small shops like the local beauty shop and local rotisserie chicken take-out place increased their business by anywhere from 100 to 400 percent!

012 Film Crew planning at Ula's

Filmmakers planning Porchfest videos.

Finally, we wanted to document the event. We put together a team of professional filmmakers who shot the event and will produce two videos.  One is a documentary about JP Porchfest that centers on three narratives: a long-time Latina political activist who had just moved into affordable housing and wanted to use porchfest as a way to unite her racially divided neighborhood; a veteran rock musician who writes songs about JP, and is a staple in the ‘hood; and a group of youth leaders from a local non-profit organization who were accompanied by two filmmakers who documented their response to the event and the different types of music. The other is a 5-minute “how-to” video, which will be accompanied by a training guide that we write, in order to help other communities produce their own porchfests!

013 son of Chris Riding Shotgun playing guitar at PF

Son of Chris Antonowich, Riding Shot Gun. Photo credit: Sue Dorfman.

Reflecting Back, Looking Forward

My organizing partner and I were initially worried that no one would show up, and then after the event, we worried that we would experience a post-event malaise. But we have been disproven twice!

We are now planning JP Porchfest 2015, this time knowing a lot more than we knew before we started. Soon we’re going to launch a Kickstarter campaign, and Bella Luna/Milky Way has offered us their venue for two fundraisers.

In the end, we determined that we had done a pretty good job, maybe even a really good job! While roughly one-third of our musicians were people of color, we want to increase the diversity of the audience, and we are developing a strategy to do so.

In a follow-up conversation I had with Ayanna Pressley, a brilliant African-American City Councilor who spoke at the event, I lamented that the audience wasn’t as diverse as we wanted it to be, and she told me, “you are acting like a woman!”  I was startled. What did she mean? She told me that the event was a great success, but I was focusing on the negative. “We’ll work on that for next year,”she reassured me.

Watch this video of Rick Berlin and the Nickel and Dime Band:  “I Love My Street.”


MindyFried_7.8.14Mindy Fried, M.S.W., Ph.D. is a sociologist with 30 years of experience conducting research, teaching, and conducting policy analysis on work and organizational issues. She is Co-Founder and Principal of Arbor Consulting Partners. Through Arbor and in her independent consulting, Mindy has worked with a wide range of diverse organizations, both on evaluation design and implementation, as well as in providing technical assistance on research design and organizational issues. Mindy has been teaching a Women’s Studies class at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called Gender, Power, Leadership and the Workplace, and will soon be teaching evaluation research to Sociology graduate students at Boston College. Over the past four years, she has been writing “Mindy’s Muses.” Mindy received her Masters and Doctorate degrees in Sociology from Brandeis University, and a Masters in Social Work from Syracuse University, with a focus on Community Organizing and Social Policy Planning.

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Bathing Suit Fashion and the Project of Gender http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/ZWhNWcU9KPo/ http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/ZWhNWcU9KPo/ Wed, 20 Aug 2014 09:00:16 CDT Lisa Wade, PhD at Sociological Images I came across this ad for bathing&nbsp;suits from the 1920s&nbsp;and&nbsp;was struck by how similar the men&rsquo;s and women&rsquo;s&nbsp;suits were designed. &nbsp;Hers might have some extra coverage up top and feature a tight skirt over shorts instead of just shorts but, compared to what you see on beaches today, they are essentially the same bathing suit. [&hellip;] I came across this ad for bathing suits from the 1920s and was struck by how similar the men’s and women’s suits were designed.  Hers might have some extra coverage up top and feature a tight skirt over shorts instead of just shorts but, compared to what you see on beaches today, they are essentially the same bathing suit.

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So, why are the designs for men’s and women’s bathing suits so different today? Honestly, either one could be gender-neutral. Male swimmers already wear Speedos; the fact that the man in the ad above is covering his chest is evidence that there is a possible world in which men do so. I can see men in bikinis. Likewise, women go topless on some beaches and in some countries and it can’t be any more ridiculous for them to swim in baggy knee-length shorts than it is for men to do so.

But, that’s not how it is.  Efforts to differentiate men and women through fashion have varied over time.  It can be a response to a collective desire to emphasize or minimize difference, like these unisex pants marketed in the 1960s and 70s.  It can also be, however, a backlash to those same impulses.  When differences between men and women in education, leisure, and work start to disappear – as they are right now – some might cling even tighter to the few arenas in which men and women can be made to seem very different.

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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How Emergency Managers and Community Organizations can Cooperate to Handle Disasters http://thesocietypages.org/ssn/2014/08/20/disaster-cooperation/ http://thesocietypages.org/ssn/2014/08/20/disaster-cooperation/ Wed, 20 Aug 2014 07:30:13 CDT Scott E. Robinson at Scholars Strategy Network In May of 2013, Oklahomans in the area around Moore and Oklahoma City were hit by two strings of devastating tornados. In Moore in particular, one could see the swath of total destruction carved through the city and across the interstate highway. Schools, shopping areas, and entire neighborhoods were totally destroyed. After the initial shock, [&hellip;] In May of 2013, Oklahomans in the area around Moore and Oklahoma City were hit by two strings of devastating tornados. In Moore in particular, one could see the swath of total destruction carved through the city and across the interstate highway. Schools, shopping areas, and entire neighborhoods were totally destroyed. After the initial shock, people immediately asked, “how do we rebuild our lives and our community?” Government organizations leapt into action to assist in rescue operations, provide emergency medical services, and coordinate assistance. Alongside these public agencies were many nongovernmental, community organizations that offered services ranging from debris removal to shelters for people who had lost their homes.

After tornados devastated Moore, in short, the whole community, not only public officials, stepped up to propel the rebuilding process. For disasters to come in many other places, my research explores how community organizations, including those new to emergency management, can similarly support efforts to respond and rebuild.

The Resilience of Communities

The first step in building resilient communities is to take stock of the range of human and organizational resources. Emergency officials have a long history of looking outside their own offices for support. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, for example, has only a relatively small work force of its own, and thus routinely relies on supportive local partners.

  • Local American Red Cross offices help to manage shelters.
  • Local emergency organizations conduct rescue operations.
  • Other organizations, including private companies as well as nonprofits, deliver supplies.

Similarly, during disasters local emergency management offices rely on fire and police offices for personnel to provide security and conduct operations in affected neighborhoods. Dealing with disasters has always involved orchestrating the efforts of many actors who lend and combine diverse strengths to build a resilient community.

Photo by Wesley Fryer via Flickr CC.

Photo by Wesley Fryer via Flickr CC.

The only new development is the breadth of the collaborative network, as new organizations regularly step up. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, housing charities, work training organizations, and many other groups volunteered to help. After “Super Storm Sandy” on the East coast, disability advocacy groups pitched in to help many affected people. Lately, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has begun to work with communities on how to handle pets during disasters and evacuations. In short, while extreme events such as the Moore tornadoes and the Katrina and Sandy storms have revealed the vulnerabilities in affected communities, they have also revealed new sources of strength and resilience – teaching lessons that can carry over into other community responses to disasters.

Community organizations possess unique resources and expertise that are difficult or impossible to replicate within the government. Particularly in an era of budget cutting, government organizations could not replace the national network of shelters run by the American Red Cross; nor could governments maintain case management systems to direct people affected by disasters to the various resources available to them. When disasters strike, officials must know they can reach out to community organizations to provide the full array of services residents need.

It Takes Planning and Practice to Include Civic Organizations

But recognizing diverse resources within the community is only the first step. The second, and harder, step is to include these organizations in planning, building trust and familiarity in advance of emergencies. Traditionally, emergency management networks have been knit together during years of interaction, planning, and training. This strategy has worked, but it remains challenging to integrate new organizational partners into long-term networks.

Emergency managers need to know that new participants are reliable and will not falter or fade after the worst of a disaster is past. At times, volunteers have failed to show up when called upon and many don’t return after the first day of an emergency. This experience can leave emergency managers worried about how reliable groups might be in disaster response and recovery – especially new groups that have not built up experience and a solid reputation already.Emergency managers need to know that new participants are reliable and will not falter or fade after the worst of a disaster is past.

What is more, new participants need to know that their contributions will be valued and respected. Organizations aiming to contribute usually understand that they play a supportive role in disaster planning, yet their leaders and core volunteers need to feel trusted and know that their expertise is respected. Emergency managers therefore must engage with potential volunteer organizations to build trust over time. Frequent interactions, exercises, and training are the keys to including new organizations in disaster response planning. Such a process well in advance of any crisis shows emergency managers that new organizations are here to stay and worthy of their trust, even as it also helps the organizations feel comfortable and vitally involved. Although it takes time, constructing cooperation in this way builds the trust essential for diverse, resilient community contributions during disasters and reconstruction.

During Superstorm Sandy, Occupy Wall Street contributed to community-level storm relief. Image by Daniel Latorre via Flickr CC.

During Superstorm Sandy, Occupy Wall Street contributed to community-level storm relief. Image by Daniel Latorre via Flickr CC.

Important institutional mechanisms already exist to foster disaster response networks. National and state emergency management organizations have sought to create and sustain community-based teams for training purposes. Most notably, the Federal Emergency Management Agency created Community Emergency Response Teams teams to educate volunteers within each community about how to prepare for disasters. In part, this involves weaving prior ties between community organizations and disaster agencies, but it also means identifying a few people in each neighborhood with first aid skills and disaster readiness kits at hand.

Across America, efforts such as these have a long way to go to forge strong, pre-positioned networks of organizations and people sufficient to cope when disasters happen. But strides have been made in harnessing the cooperative potential of public agencies and private groups in every U.S. community, preparing them to come quickly together to give needed emergency help during disasters and speed rebuilding in the aftermath.

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OKCupid Experiments on Its Users, Makes Us Hate Ourselves http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/1BW5z-FTwQM/ http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/1BW5z-FTwQM/ Tue, 19 Aug 2014 09:00:28 CDT Lisa Wade, PhD at Sociological Images In the aftermath of the revelation that Facebook has been manipulating our emotions &ndash; the one that prompted Jenny Davis to write a post titled&nbsp;Newsflash: Facebook Has Always Been Manipulating Your Emotions &ndash; the folks at OkCupid admitted that they been doing it, too. I&rsquo;ll let you debate the ethics. Here&rsquo;s what Christian Rudder and [&hellip;] In the aftermath of the revelation that Facebook has been manipulating our emotions – the one that prompted Jenny Davis to write a post titled Newsflash: Facebook Has Always Been Manipulating Your Emotions – the folks at OkCupid admitted that they been doing it, too.

I’ll let you debate the ethics. Here’s what Christian Rudder and his team found out about attractiveness. Let me warn you, it’s not pretty.

OkCupid originally gave users the opportunity to rate each other twice: once for personality and once for score.  The two were strikingly correlated.

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Do better looking people have more fabulous personalities?  No. Here’s a hint: a woman with a personality rating in the 99th percentile whose profile contained no text at all.

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Perhaps people were judging both looks and personality by looks alone.  They ran a test. Some people got to see a user’s profile picture and the text and others just saw the picture. Their ratings correlated which means, as Rudder put it: “Your picture is worth that fabled thousand words, but your actual words are worth… almost nothing.”

Their second “experiment” involved removing all of the pictures from the site for one full workday.  In response, users said something to the effect of hell no.  Here’s a graph showing the traffic on that day (in red) compared to a normal Tuesday (the dotted line):

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When they put the pictures back up, the conversations that had started petered out much more aggressively than usual. As Rudder put it:  “It was like we’d turned on the bright lights at the bar at midnight.”  This graph shows that conversations started during the blackout had a shorter life expectancy than conversations normally did.

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It’s too bad the people are putting such an emphasis on looks, because other data that OkCupid collected suggests that they aren’t as important as we think they are.  This figure shows the odds that a woman reported having a good time with someone she was set up with blind.  The odds are pretty even whether she and the guy are equally good looking, he’s much better looking, or she is.  Rudder says that the results for men are similar.

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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.

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Who Are Habitats For? Electrified Nature in Zoo Exhibits http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/z9Yqia34Fws/ http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/z9Yqia34Fws/ Mon, 18 Aug 2014 09:00:59 CDT Lisa Wade, PhD at Sociological Images What do you see? While it hasn&rsquo;t always been&nbsp;the&nbsp;case, most well-funded zoos today feature pleasant-enough looking habitats for their animals. &nbsp;They are typically species-appropriate,&nbsp;roomy&nbsp;enough&nbsp;to&nbsp;look less-than-totally miserable, and&nbsp;include trees and shrubs and other such natural features that make them attractive. How, though, a friend of mine recently asked &ldquo;does that landscaping stay nice? Why don&rsquo;t [the [&hellip;] What do you see?

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While it hasn’t always been the case, most well-funded zoos today feature pleasant-enough looking habitats for their animals.  They are typically species-appropriate, roomy enough to look less-than-totally miserable, and include trees and shrubs and other such natural features that make them attractive.

How, though, a friend of mine recently asked “does that landscaping stay nice? Why don’t [the animals] eat it, lie down on it, rip it to shreds for fun, or poop all over it?”

Because, she told me, some of it is hot-wired to give them a shock if they touch it. These images are taken from the website Total Habitat, a source of electrified grasses and vines.  

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Laurel Braitman writes about these products in her book, Animal Madness.  When she goes to zoos, she says, she doesn’t “marvel at the gorilla… but instead at the mastery of the exhibit itself.”  She writes:

The more naturalistic the cages, the more depressing they can be because they are that much more deceptive. To the mandrill on the other side of the glass, the realistic foliage that frames his favorite perch doesn’t help him one bit if it has been hot-wired so that he doesn’t destroy it… Some of the new natural looking exhibits may be even worse for their inhabitants than the old cement ones, as the new plants and other features can shrink the animals’ usable space.

The take-home message is that these attractive, naturalistic environments are more for us than they are for the animal.  They teach us what the animal’s natural habitat might look like and they soothe us emotionally, reassuring us that the animal must be living a nice life.

I don’t know the extent to which zoos use electrified grasses and vines, but next time you visit one you might be inspired to look a little more closely.

Photo of elephants from wikimedia commons.

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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The Feel of Faith http://thesocietypages.org/specials/the-feel-of-faith/ http://thesocietypages.org/specials/the-feel-of-faith/ Mon, 18 Aug 2014 07:30:26 CDT Daniel Winchester at The Society Pages » TSP Specials Daniel Winchester is in the sociology department at the University of Connecticut. He is the coauthor with Wesley Longhofer of Social Theory Re-Wired. &ldquo;So, what is it they believe?&rdquo; As a sociologist of religion, I&rsquo;m used to getting some variant of this question when colleagues, students, or curious friends want me to describe a religious [&hellip;]
winchester-dan
Daniel Winchester is in the sociology department at the University of Connecticut. He is the coauthor with Wesley Longhofer of Social Theory Re-Wired.

“So, what is it they believe?” As a sociologist of religion, I’m used to getting some variant of this question when colleagues, students, or curious friends want me to describe a religious community I happen to be studying. And, as a cultural sociologist, I’m sympathetic to this line of questioning. Cultural scholars of religion have long argued that, in order to fully understand how religion shapes human behavior, we need to pay attention to and take seriously the powerful role that religious meanings play in the lives of adherents. Religious symbols, as the famous anthropologist Clifford Geertz noted, instill some of the fundamental “moods and motivations” by which worshippers experience and act in the world. What better way to understand the power of such meanings than to learn about their beliefs—what they believe about God, the nature of the universe, the purpose and meaning of life?

Yet, as sympathetic as I am to the “What do they believe?” question, it can also limit our understandings of religious meaning and experience. The question presumes that once we know the basic ideas or concepts behind a religious individual or community’s most important symbols, we’ve gotten to know something essential about them. In this view, what it means to “be religious”, either at the individual or group level, is acceptance of and adherence to a set of abstract doctrines—that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his Messenger, for example, or that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and born of a Virgin.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASuch beliefs are certainly central to any thorough understanding of a religious individual, community, or tradition, but focusing too heavily on these aspects can also give us a disembodied, dematerialized, and even asocial understanding of religious meaning and experience. This is because to be religious isn’t only about accepting specific doctrines. It is also about entering into a specific kind of sensory environment, one that materially engages and organizes individual and collective bodies in particular ways. It is to feel the wooden pews, prayer rugs, or carpeted floors under your backside; to taste the bread at communion or the dates at the end of the day’s fast; to see the magnificence of the massive arches and stained glass windows at St. Paul Cathedral or the simplicity of a prayer circle at a Quaker meeting; to hear the sounds of hymnals, scriptural recitations, or ecstatic worship. Taking seriously these embodied and material aspects of religious life allows us to begin to understand that when someone says, “I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord” or that “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad was his Messenger” or “The Goddess resides within each of us,” what we are hearing is only the tip of a much vaster and deeper structure of cultural meaning and experience. Submerged beneath explicit statements of belief are a lifetime’s worth of bodily engagements with the literal “stuff” of religious life—the familiar feel of hands folded and head bowed in evening prayers, the taste of dates after breaking the Ramadan fast with family, the look in a favorite saint’s eyes during a time of crisis, the sounds of chanting during a pilgrimage.

What I’m arguing here is that while it is perfectly reasonable and necessary to ask what religious people believe, to more fully understand the cultural dimensions of religious life, we also need to complement this emphasis on belief with a focus on the sensual and material aspects of religious practice. In other words, we need to appreciate the underlying aesthetic dimensions of religious culture—the literal feel of the faith. In other words, we need to appreciate the underlying aesthetic dimensions of religious culture—the literal feel of the faith.

Religion, of course, is only one area of social life where cultural sociologists do their research. But a focus on the aesthetics of religious culture is relevant for any researcher interested in how particular cultural meanings become important—even sacred—for different social groups. Nationalist symbols like an American flag, for example, generate meanings not only from ideas about patriotism and national myths, but also from sensory engagements within concrete social communities. Growing up in the United States, many of us were socialized into patriotic beliefs by pledging our allegiance, not an abstract belief but a collective practice that involved complex social relationships between material locales and objects (school desks, chairs, white stars and red and white stripes) bodily comportments that engaged the senses (standing up, eyes on the flag, with hands over hearts), and, of course, other people (students, teachers, fellow citizens). Religion, then, is just one very interesting social microcosm in which to explore what social theorist Raymond Williams termed the “structures of feeling” undergirding cultural life as a whole.

Seeing and Believing

For my own part, the importance of the aesthetic side of religious culture became very apparent when I began a recent research project on Eastern Orthodox Christianity in the contemporary United States. While not as widely known as the Protestantism and Catholicism in the U.S., the Eastern Orthodox Church is actually the second largest Christian body in the world today, with some 225–300 million adherents worldwide (about 1.2 million in the U.S.). Walk into a Russian, Greek, Serbian, Syrian, or any of the other sixteen churches that make up the Orthodox Christian communion on a given Sunday morning, and you’ll be exposed to a vibrant religious culture that extends back to the founding first century of the Christian faith.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABodily engagements with material objects and artifacts are essential to this tradition. During rites, incense fills your nostrils, the chanting of priests and deacons performing the Divine Liturgy ring in your ears and, perhaps most strikingly, the faces of saints, the Virgin Mary (or Theotokos, as the Orthodox often call her, using the Greek for “God-bearer”), and Jesus Christ, the religion’s savior and son of God, seem to stare from all corners of the church. Painted on flat wooden panels with extraordinary color and detail, the holy iconography of the Eastern Orthodox tradition adorn the walls and ceiling of the church. Both abundant and aesthetically intricate, the icons are impossible to ignore.

For Orthodox Christians, icons are much more than decoration. They are said to literally make present holy figures. Those who interact with icons are allowed tangible access to an otherwise invisible relationship with the figure portrayed in the image. The subject of the icon is also, in some sense, at one with the icon; it has a spiritual presence beyond but also within the material object. In common Orthodox parlance, these icons are “windows onto heaven,” and they extend the presence of holy persons into devotees’ everyday lives.

On one hand, we could simply say that the Eastern Orthodox believe that icons make holy figures literally present to the faithful. This would certainly be true. On the other hand, sticking strictly to the language of belief, while at least giving attention to these material objects, still misses how icons are active partners in the creation and maintenance of belief. Orthodox Christians don’t just believe things about icons, they believe through them—they pray with them in times of contemplation, they kiss them in moments of gratitude, they venerate them as a matter of admiration and respect, they implore them in times of frustration and despair. Icons are not mere placeholders for already existing religious beliefs. They are aesthetic mediators of social relationships and cultural meaning. They are matter that matters.

A Cloud of Witnesses

“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every earthly care and … run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith …” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

Emile Durkheim, one of the founding fathers of the sociology of religion, noted long ago that religious objects often serve as a symbolic representation of the larger community. They help a group imagine and commemorate itself as a collective. Contemporary scholar of religious images David Morgan elaborates that material images like icons create “…visual situations in which viewers assume a position within a set of relations.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor Eastern Orthodox communities, icons are a constant reminder that humans are positioned in a set of social relations that span the divides between life and death, heaven and earth. Icons represent a great cloud of witnesses who commune with the faithful. Even within the entrance to the church (the narthex), icons surround you. They often depict Christ, the Holy Trinity, Mary, and important saints such as John the Baptist and St. John Chrysostom. The faithful stop to venerate these icons, which consists of looking the depicted figure in the eyes, crossing one’s self, bowing before the revered figure, and then kissing and sometimes lightly touching the icon (usually near where the hands or feet of the holy figure are depicted).

This cycle of crossing, bowing, and kissing continues as church members enter the main hall (the nave). Here, an icon depicting the patron saint of the church often stands at the entrance. This icon is venerated first, followed by an icon of Christ and then other saints depicted near the iconostasis—a veritable wall of iconography that separates the nave, where lay persons worship, from the sanctuary and the tabernacle, areas where the Eucharist—the mixture of bread and wine believed to be the body and blood of Christ—is located and where only priests are allowed until the taking of communion at the end of the liturgy. Above the tabernacle hangs a crucifix—a depiction of Christ on the cross, an image that shows the faithful their savior dying for their sins. Higher still, an even larger depiction of Christ inside the church’s dome looks down upon all who have congregated there.

During the liturgy itself, the icons also feature prominently. Several times during the two-hour ritual, which includes the collective singing of hymns, reading of biblical scriptures, prayers, and communion, icons are carried by clergy and the faithful again venerate the saints as they pass by.

For newcomers, the physical adoration of these objects may seem strange. The Orthodox faithful, who have seen an influx of inquirers and even a sizeable number of converts to their churches in recent years, understand. “I know that it’s probably very strange for them at first,” a woman named Marjorie told me one Sunday at coffee hour after the liturgy, “seeing all of these pictures of these strange-looking people, and all of us Orthodox kissing them and crossing ourselves in front of them. But I take it as my job to make it un-strange for them. I just say, ‘I want to introduce you to some of my dear friends.’”

Being introduced to a saint or other holy figure through an icon is, in fact, a way in which people are brought into this larger Church community. Established Orthodox members often give icons to new members as gifts, selecting a saint with whom the new worshipper might share some kind of affinity. Peter, a life-long member of an Orthodox Church in Saint Paul, Minnesota, explains:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve been fortunate enough to be a sponsor for several of the new members of our church. And, with a lot of the new converts, I try to give them or lead them to icons that they might feel a connection with. You know, like I’ve given icons of Christ the Teacher and St. John Chrysostom [the patron saint of letters] to people who are educators, or icons of Mary or Joseph to people I know are really doting and fretful parents—God knows, there are plenty of those! Or, you know, maybe something even a bit more personal if the person has confided in me that they struggle with a particular problem in their life, because we all do. Because the amazing thing about the saints is that they were people, just like us. They weren’t perfect. In fact, many of them started out their lives as really damaged, sinful people. So they have their human flaws and foibles, just like we do. But, through their icons, they also let us see that, if you turn toward God and the Church, you can overcome your sins.

In and through the exchange of icons, people like Marjorie and Paul encourage new members to look at the icon and see not a strange picture of a long-dead saint, but a fellow community member, a friend—someone kind of like themselves. Further, in and through the circulation of icons—in liturgical ritual and as sacred gifts—the cloud of witnesses manifests itself in collective practice.

Taking the Virgin Mary for a Drive

Icons not only fill the churches of Eastern Orthodox Christians. Their portability allows the saints to tag along with worshippers into the seemingly mundane spaces of everyday life: homes, workplaces, and even cars.

At home, Orthodox Christians invariably keep what is called an “icon corner”, usually a small shelf or table placed in the east corner of a room (see images for a typical example; icon “corners,” as shown, can also grow to be as large as entire rooms). These spaces have at least one icon of Jesus and the Theotokos, popular saints, and favored saints of the individual and their family members. Worshippers go to the icon corner to offer their daily prayers and devotions, whether in the morning, evening, or both. As a man named Alex told me:

I look over at my icon corner and see that I’m never really alone, that there is this larger community around me all the time, praying along with me and encouraging me to keep going along the path I’ve taken.

Icons, in other words, act as material mediators of religious community. Their presence outside the church space allows even seemingly individual prayers to be experienced as collective.

The aesthetic dimensions of icons also simply demand attention. To put it bluntly, icons look weird to modern eyes, let alone to the non-religious. In most of our interactions with artworks, for example, we are used to viewing the images with a linear perspective: figures that are farther away are depicted as smaller, giving the viewer the illusion of a naturalistic, three-dimensional image. More geometrically, in most of the art of the past 700 years or so, parallel lines are either shown or could be drawn that would converge at what is called a “vanishing point”. It gives a sense of distance. Icons, however, reverse this perspective, in effect closing distance between religious worshippers and their saints. In traditional Orthodox iconography, figures are enlarged as they go into the distance, diverging against the horizon. The vanishing point is, instead, outside the painting, right where the viewer stands. The effect is an expanding and unfolding toward the viewer.

Moreover, the holy figures are depicted with disproportionately large eyes and ears and small noses and mouths. These features have theological significance, to be sure, but they have profound sensory effects as well. The combination of the large eyes and the inverted perspective produces a feeling that, when you are looking at the icon, it is looking back at you. For worshippers, this is a materialized invitation to greater piety and concentration. As a woman named Kim told me, showing me one of her favorite icons of the Virgin Mary:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the things that—and I’m sure you’ve noticed this too—one of the first things that people notice about icons are the eyes. They’re usually very big, very round, and it can even look distorted and off-putting at first…. I think that they are there to draw your own eyes to them…. Like, with this icon of Mary, I focus my eyes on hers, and I feel like she focuses hers on mine, and I feel like that keeps the rest of me—my brain and my heart—focused where it should be while I’m praying, on God. Because where the eyes go, the rest of you will follow.

While icons are an established part of most every Orthodox home, some saints are not content with being homebodies. In my research, I regularly witnessed Orthodox Christians taking an icon or two to work. “Keeping a Christian mindset is difficult to do on your own,” said Charles, a finance executive in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. One morning I asked Charles about an icon of Christ on his office wall. He smiled, stood up, and walked me out of his office. He closed the door behind us. Then, almost immediately, he opened the door and led me back in:

My wife gave me that after we joined the Church together. And I put it here because it is the first thing that I walk past everyday when I come into this room and, even if I don’t look at Him, I know that He is always watching me…. In my business, as I’m sure you probably know from the news right now, people can be tempted to do some pretty unscrupulous things. And that [he points to the icon, for emphasis] is there to remind me of who I’m really called to be like. Because, at the end of the line, I’m not going to be judged on how much money I make for my clients—or for myself, for that matter—but on if I’ve lived a Christ-like life.

In addition to home and work spaces, smaller, travel-sized icons also allow Christ, Mary, and the saints to go on long trips and daily commutes. Showing me a small, book-like icon (a diptych) of Christ and the Theotokos (see photo), Hannah told me that she hung an almost identical version from her car’s rearview mirror, “I keep this icon in my car because I tend to get very impatient and angry when I drive,” she told me, “so my daughter and husband gave me this to help.” Examining the detail of the small piece, I asked if it worked. “Well, sometimes,” she laughed, “but sometimes not at all. But it does always remind me to ask for forgiveness right after [laughs]…. It’s so bad, but I’ve probably asked Jesus and the Theotokos for forgiveness in that car more often than I have in a confessional!”

“The saints,” one Orthodox priest relayed to me, “are with us everywhere.” Now I was seeing how true his words were. Through icons, the saints can be—and regularly are—taken just about anywhere. In taking up icons for their own everyday purposes, the faithful also submit themselves to meaningful forms of icon-mediated bodily discipline. When Charles, for example, placed his icon of Christ in his office, he was submitting not only his gaze but, ideally, all his daily actions to the scrutiny of God. Engaging the eyes of the icon, as Kim so aptly put it above, was also a matter of disciplining the body, mind, and heart.

* * *

icon of christ pantocratorThe role of icons in the lives of Eastern Orthodox Christians demonstrates just one way aesthetic culture matters in the production and experience of religious meaning. If religion, as scholar Robert Orsi, puts it, is in large part a practice of making the invisible visible, then belief statements alone just won’t get the job done. Leaps of faith are real, but usually not blind. In most religions, people also seek a felt connection with a sacred reality: the supernatural needs to somehow be made empirical, available to be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched. Aesthetic culture, the embodied and material dimensions of religious life, is the often overlooked domain in which this happens.

Recommended Readings

Jeffrey C. Alexander, D. Bartmanski, and B. Giesen. 2012. Iconic Power: Materiality and Meaning in Social Life. New York: Palgrave MacMillan. A recent collection on the cultural power of icons, religious and secular, in shaping contemporary social life.

Omar McRoberts. 2004. “BeyondMysteriumTremendum: Thoughts Toward an Aesthetic Study of Religious Experience,”The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 595: 190–203. An acclaimed ethnographer of urban religion ponders how sociology can better understand religious experience through a focus on the aesthetics of worship.

David Morgan. 2012. The Embodied Eye: Religious Visual Culture and the Social Life of Feeling. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Demonstrates how religious ways of seeing are profoundly embodied social practices that vary across religious communities and traditions.

Robert Orsi. 1996. Thank You, St. Jude: Women’s Devotion to the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press. Studies the important role one saint, Jude Thaddeus, has played in the lives of countless American Catholic women.

Geneviève Zubrzycki. 2013. “Aesthetic Revolt and the Remaking of National Identity in Québec, 1960–1969,” Theory and Society 42:423–475. A cultural sociologist of religion and nationalism examines how icons of and rituals surrounding Saint John the Baptist have shaped French-speaking Canadians’ national identity.

All pictures courtesy and © John Winchester, 2014.

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Promoting Marriage among Single Mothers: An Ineffective Weapon in the War on Poverty http://thesocietypages.org/ccf/2014/08/18/single-mothers-marriage/ http://thesocietypages.org/ccf/2014/08/18/single-mothers-marriage/ Mon, 18 Aug 2014 02:30:09 CDT Kristi Williams at Council on Contemporary Families The rapid rise in nonmarital fertility is arguably the most significant demographic trend of the past two decades. The proportion of births to unmarried women grew 46 percent over the past 20 years so that more than four in ten births now occur to unmarried women. Nonmarital fertility is quickly becoming a dominant pathway to [&hellip;] The rapid rise in nonmarital fertility is arguably the most significant demographic trend of the past two decades. The proportion of births to unmarried women grew 46 percent over the past 20 years so that more than four in ten births now occur to unmarried women. Nonmarital fertility is quickly becoming a dominant pathway to family formation, especially among the disadvantaged. This is worrisome because decades of research show that children raised in single-parent homes fare worse on a wide range of outcomes (e.g. poverty, educational attainment, nonmarital and teen childbearing) than children raised by two biological parents. The poverty rates of single parent households are particularly striking. According to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 46 percent of children in single mother households were living in poverty in 2013 compared to 11 percent of children living with two married parents.

How can we improve the lives of the growing numbers of unmarried mothers and their children? So far, a dominant approach has been to encourage their mothers to marry.  At first glance, the logic makes sense. If growing up in a two-parent home is best for children, then adding a second parent to a single-mother home should at least partially address the problem. The 1996 welfare reform legislation and its subsequent reauthorization institutionalized this focus on marriage by allowing states to spend welfare funds on a range of marriage promotion efforts.

Photo by David Goehring via Flickr CC.

Photo by David Goehring via Flickr CC.

The flaw in this argument is the assumption that all marriages are equally beneficial. In fact, however, the pool of potential marriage partners for single mothers in impoverished communities does not include many men with good prospects for becoming stable and helpful partners. Single mothers are especially likely to marry men who have children from other partnerships, who have few economic resources, who lack a high-school diploma, or who have been incarcerated or have substance abuse problems. The new unions that single mothers form tend to have low levels of relationship quality and high rates of instability.A nationally representative study of more than 7,000 women found that approximately 64 percent of the single mothers who married were divorced by the time they reached age 35-44. More importantly, single mothers who marry and later divorce are worse off economically than single mothers who never marry. Even marriages that endure appear to offer few health benefits to single mothers unless they are to the biological father of their first child.

The hope of the marriage promotion campaign was that marriages in low-income communities could be made more stable and beneficial through skills training and support. Although one program in Oklahoma City slightly increased relationship stability, the most rigorous evaluation  of the programs in eight cities found that, overall, they created no long-term improvements in new unwed parents’ relationship quality, marriage rates, or children’s economic wellbeing, and they actually resulted in modest decreases in fathers’ financial support and parental involvement.

Our recent research adds to the growing body of evidence that promoting marriage is not the answer to the problems facing single mothers and their children. Analyzing more than 30 years of data on a nationally representative cohort of women and their children, we found no physical or psychological advantages for the majority of adolescents born to a single mother whose mothers later married. We did find a modest physical health advantage among the minority of youth whose single mother later married and stayed married to their biological father, compared to those whose mothers remained unmarried. However, such unions are exceedingly rare. Only 16 percent of low income unwed mothers in the Fragile Families and Child Well Being study were married to the child’s biological father five years after the child’s birth. Marriage may matter, but only a little, and only in very specific and relatively rare circumstances.Marriage may matter among single mothers, but only a little, and only in very specific and relatively rare circumstances.

There is growing consensus among researchers that it would be more beneficial to convince women to delay childbirth rather than to promote marriage. But even this seemingly uncontroversial policy is more complicated than it sounds. For African-Americans in the U.S., later ages at birth are associated with higher rates of neonatal mortality, perhaps because the stress of chronic disadvantage and racial discrimination accelerates biological aging for this group. More recent evidence from Britain indicates that delaying births to the early 20s offers few advantages for children’s later educational and socioeconomic attainment and our ongoing research suggests that such delays may even pose long term health risks for African-American women. Ultimately, attempts to influence highly personal decisions such as fertility timing and context will likely have limited success, especially in a context in which early or nonmarital fertility is sometimes adaptive compared to the alternatives.

A more promising approach is to focus on reducing unintended or mistimed births. Approximately 79 percent of births to unpartnered women under the age of 25 are unintended, and these appear to have the most negative consequences for women. Our research suggests that, among African-American women, nonmarital childbearing is associated with negative mental health outcomes only among those who did not expect to have a nonmarital birth.  Unlike broader efforts to convince women to delay childbirth or to marry, reducing unintended births does not require changing attitudes or preferences. Instead, it involves providing women most likely to be negatively affected by a nonmarital or early birth (i.e., those who do not intend to have one) with the resources and knowledge to carry out their intentions. These include comprehensive and early sex education and expansive and affordable access to birth control and family planning services.

If the goal of marriage promotion efforts was truly to lower poverty rates and improve the well-being of unmarried parents and their children, then it is time to take a different approach toward this goal. Fortunately, numerous models of success exist.  International comparisons indicate that single mothers and their children fare substantially better in countries with supportive social and economic family policies.  A recent cross-national comparison indicates that the 51 percent poverty rate of U.S. single parent households is nearly twice the average in 16 high income comparison countries, even though U.S. single parent households have higher rates of employment. Another recent study identifies three family policies associated with substantially lower poverty rates among single parent households: (1) family allowances (direct payments to parents of dependent children), (2) paid parental leave, and (3) publicly funded childcare for children under age 3. For example, in countries like the U.S. with the least generous family transfer policies among the 20 high-income countries included in the study, single parent households are more than twice as likely to be in poverty than in countries with the most generous policies. Paid parental leave and publicly funded childcare for children under age three appear especially advantageous in reducing poverty among single mothers, largely by increasing their employment rates—a primary goal of the 1996 welfare reform legislation. Such policies benefit all families and are likely to be more effective than marriage promotion in reducing poverty and improving the lives of the growing number of single mothers and their children.International comparisons indicate that single mothers and their children fare substantially better in countries with supportive social and economic family policies.

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Sunday Fun: The Best Thesis Defense… http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/FuPRJCYw0V4/ http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/FuPRJCYw0V4/ Sun, 17 Aug 2014 09:00:10 CDT Lisa Wade, PhD at Sociological Images &hellip;is a good offense. Congratulations to all the August thesis and dissertation defenders out there! And thanks to xkcd for the&nbsp;ongoing higher ed humor. Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at&nbsp;Occidental College&nbsp;and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on&nbsp;Twitter&nbsp;and&nbsp;Facebook. …is a good offense.

Congratulations to all the August thesis and dissertation defenders out there!

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And thanks to xkcd for the ongoing higher ed humor.

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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Marianne Constable, “Our Word is Our Bond: How Legal Speech Acts” http://newbooksinsociology.com/crossposts/marianne-constable-our-word-is-our-bond-how-legal-speech-acts-stanford-up-2014/ http://newbooksinsociology.com/crossposts/marianne-constable-our-word-is-our-bond-how-legal-speech-acts-stanford-up-2014/ Sat, 16 Aug 2014 11:00:19 CDT Siobhan Mukerji at New Books in Sociology [Cross-Posted from&nbsp;New Books in Law]&nbsp;Our Word is Our Bond: How Legal Speech Acts&nbsp;(Stanford UP, 2014),&nbsp;by UC Berkeley Professor of Rhetoric&nbsp;Marianne Constable, impels its readers to reassess the dominant methods of considering what is law. Constable&rsquo;s study of law is informed by both philosophy and sociology; however, she avoids common approaches employed by both disciplines and [...]

[Cross-Posted from New Books in LawOur Word is Our Bond: How Legal Speech Acts (Stanford UP, 2014), by UC Berkeley Professor of Rhetoric Marianne Constable, impels its readers to reassess the dominant methods of considering what is law.

Constable’s study of law is informed by both philosophy and sociology; however, she avoids common approaches employed by both disciplines and instead conducts her legal analysis by searching for directives in the form of J.L. Austin’s “speech acts.”

Her methods suggest that there is more of a connection between law-in-books and law-in-action than typical sociological research has proposed. Law-in-books, she argues, is active because it hears claims and makes claims within the context of a world that changes. An overview of the claims found within legal speech, such as promises, debts and warnings, reveals a dynamic force.

Constable’s way of thinking about law insularly removes it from the debate between natural law and positive law. As the title Our Word is Our Bond suggests, the work seeks to show that legal language commits us. These commitments come directly from law’s speech acts, thus her theory avoids principles derived either from a sovereign or God.

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Saturday Stat: The Invention of the “Illegal Immigrant” http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/ygQSNSNYshs/ http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/ygQSNSNYshs/ Sat, 16 Aug 2014 09:00:09 CDT Lisa Wade, PhD at Sociological Images Citing the immigration scholar, Francesca Pizzutelli, Fabio&nbsp;Rojas explains that the phrase &ldquo;illegal immigrant&rdquo; wasn&rsquo;t a part of the English language before the 1930s. &nbsp;More often, people used the phrase &ldquo;irregular immigrant.&rdquo; &nbsp; Instead of an evaluative term, it was a descriptive one referring to people who&nbsp;moved around and often crossed borders for work. Rojas points [&hellip;] Citing the immigration scholar, Francesca Pizzutelli, Fabio Rojas explains that the phrase “illegal immigrant” wasn’t a part of the English language before the 1930s.  More often, people used the phrase “irregular immigrant.”   Instead of an evaluative term, it was a descriptive one referring to people who moved around and often crossed borders for work.

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Rojas points out that the language began to change after anti-immigration laws were passed by Congress in the 1920s.  The graph above also reveals a steep climb in both “illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien” beginning in the ’70s.

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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I Fought the Laws of Economic Rationality, & I Won http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/08/16/i-fought-the-laws-of-economic-rationality-i-won/ http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/08/16/i-fought-the-laws-of-economic-rationality-i-won/ Sat, 16 Aug 2014 05:00:54 CDT robinjames at Cyborgology This is a cross-post from Its Her Factory. &nbsp; &nbsp; The neoliberal subject is supposed to make economically rational calculations about how she spends her time, her money, and her energy. Do I spend my time working, or would it I get a better return doing something else, like sleeping or going out? Partying hard [&hellip;] This is a cross-post from Its Her Factory.

 

 

The neoliberal subject is supposed to make economically rational calculations about how she spends her time, her money, and her energy. Do I spend my time working, or would it I get a better return doing something else, like sleeping or going out? Partying hard and going gaga might be a good investment if it helps you work smarter and more efficiently, if it builds your brand, if you need a release, and so on. But the effect of this is that every decision–even the decision to have fun, or the decisions you make about what is fun, while having fun–is now work. It’s not that you’re choosing to do have fun instead of do work, but that having fun its own type of work. If you’re lucky, you get the return on that investment. If you’re less lucky, that return goes to someone else (e.g., I’ve talked about the way clubbing has become a type of outsourced labor here at Cyborgology).

In this context, Katy Perry’s new single “This Is How We Do” sounds like a defense of the wanton disregard for economic rationality. In the bridge (and sounding like she’s doing her best to channel P!nk), Perry praises a bunch of economically irrational activities in the form of shout-outs to

The ladies at breakfast…in last night’s dress

All you kids who still have their cars at the club valet…and its Tuesday

All you kids buying bottle service with your rent money

All you people going to bed with a 10, and waking up with a 2

The last two–spending money on overpriced booze rather than housing, and sleeping with someone who is quantitatively inattractive–really resonate with the idea of economic calculation. All of these decisions are economically irrational because they give you diminishing returns. Imagine the disappointment (and, perhaps, shame or self-disgust) of waking up next to that person you realize you’re not attracted to at all.

There’s also a musical representation of miscalculation at the end of the song. The last iteration of the chorus sounds like it’s going to conclude with a fade-out. But at about 2:56 in the YouTube video posted to Perry’s official account, Perry says “Wait, what? Bring the beat back,” and we get about half a minute more of instrumental coda. In bringing the beat back, the song goes past the point of diminishing returns–it’s really likely, IMO, that this last 30 seconds will get cut in radio airplay. Even in the video this section feels like filler–Perry walks to the background and lies down in the dark as animated ice cream cones twerk in the foreground. So, both the lyrics and the composition give examples of economic irrationality, that is, of pushing something fun past its point of diminishing returns.

Instead of arguing for the benefits of such irrationality, for its positive contributions to individual or social life, the song argues for its normalcy, for its lack of perceptible effect. It doesn’t treat over-the-top partying like something that’s ecstatic or extraordinarily pleasurable, but something that’s mundane. In effect, “This Is” defends economic irrationality as non-disruptive, either to society or to “our” ability to function in it.

You can hear this defense strategy in the song’s music. Especially with the slowed-down sample of the song’s title, “This Is How We Do” sounds like Perry’s answer to Miley’s sizurpy “We Can’t Stop.” Perry’s song has a similarly muted soar, and what I’ve argued here is its concomitant first-person-plural perspective. But what’s really interesting is what Perry sings over that muted soar: she repeats the phrase “it’s no big deal” four times. The song phones in its soars because they’re no big deal. While such irrationality might feel overwhelming to people who don’t “do” like us, from “our” perspective we’re so habituated to it this irrationality barely even rises to the level of perception. What some think is irrational excess is, for us, just another day.

The song’s structure reflects the regularization of otherwise irregular excess. The two NBD soars aren’t even the song’s main climax–they’re just the chorus…a regular, repeated part of the song. The biggest musical moment is at the end of the bridge, when Perry finally puts some support behind her voice and wails “RENT MO-NAY”; this is followed by some sounds of a cheering, whistling crowd (and, um, a really puzzling picture of Aretha Franklin singing at the first Obama inaugural. I get the R-E-S-P-E-C-T analogy, but, um, otherwise the video’s use of this image just seems gratuitous and racist). There’s like a hyper-abbreviated soar in the last few beats of the bridge to lead us back to the final iteration of the chorus, a sort of pale echo of the earlier soars.


Such economic irrationality is “no big deal” only when it’s performed by specific kinds of bodies in very particular circumstances. Just think for a minute about the absolutely huge deal made about “welfare queens”–implicitly black women who make supposedly economically irrational decisions like buying alcohol, beauty services, or even junk food. According to this anti-welfare perspective, such purchases are bad returns on taxpayer investment because they are wasteful–they bring enjoyment and relief to black women, rather than the (generally white) ‘taxpayer.’  This Jezebel post shows plenty of examples of these anti-welfare memes, and does a decent take-down of them.

The ability to fuck up and not be punished is like the definition of privilege (e.g., men getting away with rape, whites getting away with murder, “I Fought the Law and I Won,” etc etc). So perhaps what “This Is How We Do” is really about is affirming the privilege of those whose economically irrational behavior passes as “no big deal”?



Oh, and p.s.: don’t even get me started on the racist appropriation in the video.

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Estranged from the ASA? My experience 20 years ago as a resident alien http://thesocietypages.org/monte/2014/08/16/estranged-from-the-asa-my-experience-as-a-resident-alien-20-years-ago/ http://thesocietypages.org/monte/2014/08/16/estranged-from-the-asa-my-experience-as-a-resident-alien-20-years-ago/ Sat, 16 Aug 2014 00:16:12 CDT monte at A Backstage Sociologist Let 50 Flowers Bloom by Monte Bute, Metropolitan State University, Minnesota I attended my first meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) in 1994. I went to Los Angeles as a middle-aged outsider, hoping to gain a little disciplinary knowledge from the natives. For five days, I was mesmerized by phenomena that were not listed [&hellip;] Footnotes Logo

Let 50 Flowers Bloom

by Monte Bute, Metropolitan State University, Minnesota

I attended my first meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) in 1994. I went to Los Angeles as a middle-aged outsider, hoping to gain a little disciplinary knowledge from the natives. For five days, I was mesmerized by phenomena that were not listed in the official program—a perpetual display of Goffmanesque rituals of deference and demeanor.

These customs are by no means limited to this tribe of sociologists. All academic disciplines are defined by what Robert K. Merton called their manifest functions. The obvious and intended function of scholarship is the production and dissemination of knowledge. These professional practices also have what Merton identified as latent functions, consequences that are unintended and frequently unrecognized. The scholarly enterprise has one latent function that dares not speak its name—status stratification.

The professional culture and reward structure of our discipline have evolved gradually over the past half century and are now so much the taken-for-granted-reality that most sociologists are oblivious to their functions. Ralph Linton once observed that the last thing a fish in the depths of the sea would discover is water. The late Stanley L. Saxton was a particularly perceptive denizen of the deep. In A Critique of Contemporary American Sociology (1993), he noted, “The conditions of work for a small but powerful minority of sociologists at research universities need not and should not imprint the whole discipline” (p. 247). Unfortunately, they do. The practices of this disciplinary elite have produced a stratification system for both individuals and institutions within the profession of sociology.

Those who believe that the existing academic labor market is a meritocracy might well challenge my central assertion. Defenders of the status quo do not lament this latent function of status stratification. In fact, they claim that whatever prestige is bestowed upon these luminaries is richly deserved. What fairer system could be devised for the manifest function of knowledge creation than one that rewards “the best and the brightest”? In addition, I might well be accused of sour grapes. What am I but a provincial from the periphery who has failed to measure up?

It is not so much the reward structure that I question but rather how this social order manages to perpetuate itself. I question that an oligarchy of sociology departments at research universities holds sovereignty over the entire discipline. How does this occur? Let me give you just one example.

ASA is the premier professional association for the discipline. All ASA officers for 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 come from schools belonging to the Carnegie Foundation’s most selective category of research universities. Only 150 of nearly 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States are included in this exclusive club. With just a couple of exceptions, the members-at-large on ASA’s Council for those two years also possess this rare pedigree.

Defenders of the status quo will argue that these leaders won competitive elections. True, but if we examine the Committee on Nominations for those two elections we would find that those doing the nominating are disproportionately affiliated with the same elite institutions as those whom they nominate. A similar analysis of the Publications Committee speaks volumes as to why all the current editors of ASA journals are also from Carnegie’s most restrictive list of research universities.

The manner in which this disciplinary elite defines and privileges a certain type of scholarship—and the “conditions of work” that it entails—is the linchpin of supremacy. The old bromide about how one gets tenure now holds true for promotion, external professional recognition, and even superstar status: publish, publish, publish. The highest rank accrues to those doing esoteric research, with subsequent authorship in prestigious journals and academic publishing houses. This “gold standard” diminishes other types of scholarship, reduces teaching and service to second-rate activities, and reproduces a regime of status stratification within the discipline. If most rank-and-file sociologists continue without question to concede this criterion, it only serves to legitimize the oligarchy’s dynastic succession.

An outsider to the disciplinary canon, Alfred Schutz, developed a sociology of knowledge that poses an alternative to this elitist paradigm of practice. He distinguished between scholarship aimed at the “expert” and scholarship directed to the “well-informed citizen.” American sociologists once saw the well-informed citizen as their primary audience. Conversely, the disciplinary elite today sees fellow experts as their only audience.

How do we restore sovereignty to that large majority of sociologists who toil under a more populist paradigm of practice but remain second-class citizens within the profession? The state professional association is one important venue. As an apprentice to the craft, I found congenial homes, first in Sociologists of Minnesota (SOM), and later in the National Council of State Sociological Associations (NCSSA).

I was welcomed by colleagues who refused to be constrained by the “expert” model but were engaged in scholarships of integration, application, and teaching. I was mentored by master teachers who prided themselves in conducting three to five sections of undergraduate classes each semester, devoted to developing a sociological perspective in students who may never take another course in the discipline. These folks practiced service the old-fashioned way; a “good citizen” took on those often-thankless tasks on campus and in the community that needed doing.

I am only saying aloud what has long been whispered. The intent of this essay is to initiate a conversation, a dialogue of equals. Sociology’s latent function not only divides us but also hinders our ability to engage wider audiences—we need to practice what we preach. We invite more of our research university colleagues to join us in state organizations, just as we have joined you in the ASA. Our local associations and practices might, once again, make our discipline relevant to the well-informed citizen. Let 50 flowers bloom.

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

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What Does It Mean to be Authentically Cajun? http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/EFEeykyvbHI/ http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/EFEeykyvbHI/ Fri, 15 Aug 2014 09:00:31 CDT Lisa Wade, PhD at Sociological Images Flashback Friday. The term &ldquo;Cajun&rdquo; refers to a group of people who settled in Southern Louisiana after being exiled from Acadia (now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island) in the mid 1700s.&nbsp; For a very long time, being Cajun meant living, humbly, off the land and bayou (small-scale agriculture, hunting, fishing, and trapping).&nbsp; [&hellip;] Flashback Friday.

The term “Cajun” refers to a group of people who settled in Southern Louisiana after being exiled from Acadia (now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island) in the mid 1700s.  For a very long time, being Cajun meant living, humbly, off the land and bayou (small-scale agriculture, hunting, fishing, and trapping).  Unique cuisine and music developed among these communities.

In Blue Collar Bayou, Jaques Henry and Carl Bankston III explain that today more than 70% live in urban areas and most work in blue collar jobs in service industries, factories, or the oil industry. “Like other working-class and middle-class Americans,’ they write, “the Southwestern Louisianan of today is much more likely to buy dinner at the Super Kmart than to trap it in the bayou” (p. 188).

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But they don’t argue that young Cajuns who live urban lifestyles and work in factories are no longer authentically Cajun.  Instead, they suggest that the whole notion of ethnic authenticity is dependent on economic change.

When our economy was a production economy (that is, who you are is what you make), it made sense that Cajun-ness was linked to how one made a living.  But, today, in a consumption economy (when our identities are tied up with what we buy), it makes sense that Cajun-ness involves consumption of products like food and music.

Of course, commodifying Cajun-ness (making it something that you can buy) means that, now, anyone can purchase and consume it.  Henry and Bankston see this more as a paradox than a problem, arguing that the objectification and marketing of “Cajun” certainly makes it sellable to non-Cajuns, but does not take away from its meaningfulness to Cajuns themselves.  Tourism, they argue, “encourages Cajuns to act out their culture both for commercial gain and cultural preservation” (p. 187).

Photos borrowed from GQ, EW, and My New Orleans.  Originally posted in 2009.

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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Personal Stories and Generalist Sociologists: Why They Are Both Perfectly Valid http://thesocietypages.org/feminist/2014/08/14/personal-stories-and-generalist-sociologists-why-they-are-both-perfectly-valid/ http://thesocietypages.org/feminist/2014/08/14/personal-stories-and-generalist-sociologists-why-they-are-both-perfectly-valid/ Thu, 14 Aug 2014 09:15:01 CDT trina at Feminist Reflections I often write from a personal perspective when I blog, and my research also relates to questions I am interested in personally. I&rsquo;m not a specialist kind of expert with a long list of formal publications. I&rsquo;m what you might consider a &ldquo;generalist&rdquo; sociologist with a wide range of interests. I love to teach and [&hellip;] I often write from a personal perspective when I blog, and my research also relates to questions I am interested in personally. I’m not a specialist kind of expert with a long list of formal publications. I’m what you might consider a “generalist” sociologist with a wide range of interests. I love to teach and do research. I worked as an editor for a short time. Yet I find that after finishing graduate school, I now approach writing with trepidation. Blogging has been a way for me to rediscover my voice, to write what matters to me, to overcome my fears. I associated with Feminist Reflections because when I write about personal experiences I already tend to think about them from feminist sociological perspectives.

As one of most junior scholars in this blogging group I’ve published the least, but I write a lot. I started my own blog,Ms Knowledge Speaks,  a few years ago after I left a job in the business world where I felt silenced and needed an outlet. My blogging was sporadic for a while. Then after a major change in my life – landing a tenure track job and relocating my family from a liberal metropolitan area to a small town in the Deep South (what sometimes feels like a foreign country to me) – I felt compelled to blog again. This was in part for my own sanity but also to get back to the practice of writing. Still, I sometimes feel like I’m not getting it right.

On Facebook I am connected to colleagues all over the world who often share links to academics’ blogs in Sociology and related fields. It’s all great and interesting commentary on news and academic articles. When compared with these, I wonder if my personal reflections on my own blog appear to be just “naval gazing”? Is there a risk in exposing too much about myself, even though I do put limits on what I write? If I write about personal experiences within a more formalized sociological feminist framework, will this make me a legitimate feminist sociological blogger? Or am I an imposter?

I feel like an imposter when I blog because I do not always write about my research or offer a sociological analysis of current events, nor do I have my research cited in other’s blogs. I also feel like an imposter since I do not see myself as a “specialist” like many of the colleagues in my discipline. Gender is one of my areas of concentration, with a focus on reproduction issues, but I had to become a generalist when I worked as an adjunct instructor for many years and teaching any class available. After receiving my PhD in sociology, I continued to teach as an all-things-for-all-people adjunct. I worked as an analyst in market research, was a research manager and managing editor for a Center in a business school, and spent a summer working for the U.S. Census. Subsequently, and prior to my current academic position, I obtained a Master’s Degree in social work with a focus on clinical mental health, at the time intending work in mental health rather than academia.

Now that I’m back in the Academy, being a generalist is a plus for teaching because I’m using these experiences and education to teach sociology and social services courses. But it sometimes seems like sociologists who have general knowledge of the field or an ability to speak to other disciplines are not recognized for these skills. Someday I do hope to be seen as a specialist in an area that few sociologists study. I’ve already started a project on maternal mental health, specifically mental illness during pregnancy. But at times I feel like I know too much about the many subfields of sociology, feminist studies, and the related field of social work to be valued in a traditional way. So, to blog from this generalized, but well-informed perspective, scares me, especially when I talk about personal experiences. I’m afraid that I will be seen as a writer who lacks “expert legitimacy.”

Nate Palmer of Sociology Source, wrote a post titled, “I May Be an Impostor, but…” that also speaks to this self-doubt. He writes about how he felt like a fake because of his position in the hierarchy of academia and how the “imposter syndrome” held him back, resulting in missed opportunities. He also explains why sociologists, academics, applied sociologists, and activists do not blog more. First, we have a readily available platform to share our research and perspectives. Second, academics may have a harder time blogging because these writings are not published in a scholarly journal, which equates with polished work and prestige. Still, he believes we should take this risk and to share our research, teaching, and perspectives, to start a conversation.

To follow Nate’s advice, I need to get over my fears, overcome feeling inadequate or like an imposter, and write about what I find meaningful and relevant. A conversation could start. New ideas could be generated. Yet I still ask, is there room for my kind of blogging within these feminist and sociological spaces? To answer this, I refer to the first post on Feminist Reflections by Gayle Sulik, ” A Feminist Reflection on the Discipline of Sociology.”

Gayle begins with a story about speaking at a “woman’s” university and ties this back to the history of women in sociology. Many of the women sociological theorists analyzed social inequality because they wanted change it. They faced discrimination for this and for simply being women. This was also a time in sociology, where being “objective” was equated with being “academic.” Supposedly the discipline has moved on to become more inclusive of different perspectives and “more connected with the real world” as we do “public sociology” and applaud “public intellectuals.” However, as Gayle argues, and as I think most of us in Feminist Reflections would agree, we still need a feminist sociological place. In her words,

“We need a formal communal setting that is open to intellectual curiosity, the musings of everyday life and the emotions that set their tone…. We need to examine power, influence, and the construction of knowledge… We need to reflect, with a feminist perspective, on our lives as sociologists and human beings.”

In thinking about Gayle’s post on “needing a feminist room of our own,” Nate’s post on the “imposter syndrome,” and our rationale for starting Feminist Reflections, the notions of legitimacy, risk, and space come to mind. Even if other “academics” or “public intellectuals” blog about their specialty areas and their research, or have others blog about these and are therefore viewed as “legitimate,” those of us who teach, who are generalists, and/or who write from a personal perspective are also legitimate sociologists. We may be taking greater risks when writing about the personal, especially if we are not tenured or on a tenure track, but from a feminist perspective the personal matters. It is vital that we make more room for feminist sociologists of differing perspectives who write about different things. Feminist Reflections is a place to do this.

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#IfTheyGunnedMeDown Attacks Portrayals of Black Men Killed by Police http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/492mEu806ug/ http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/492mEu806ug/ Thu, 14 Aug 2014 09:00:31 CDT Lisa Wade, PhD at Sociological Images This has been a hard week. &nbsp;Another young, unarmed black man was killed by police. The Root added Michael Brown&rsquo;s&nbsp;face to a slideshow of such incidents, started after&nbsp;a black man named Eric Garner died after being put in a chokehold by officers less than one month ago. &nbsp;This week&rsquo;s guilty verdict in the trial of [&hellip;] This has been a hard week.  Another young, unarmed black man was killed by police. The Root added Michael Brown’s face to a slideshow of such incidents, started after a black man named Eric Garner died after being put in a chokehold by officers less than one month ago.  This week’s guilty verdict in the trial of the man who shot Renisha McBride left me feeling numb.  Nothing good could come of it, but at least I didn’t feel worse.

The shooting of Michael Brown, however, is still undergoing trial by media and the verdict is swayed by the choices made by producers and directors as to how to portray him. When Marc Duggan was killed by police earlier this year, they often featured pictures in which he looked menacing, including ones that had been cropped in ways that enhanced that impression.

Left: Photo of Duggan frequently used by media; right: uncropped photo in which he holds a plaque commemorating his deceased daughter.

antonio_gramsci_by_ludilozezanje-d5eqwsv

As the media coverage of Brown’s death heated up, the image that first circulated of Brown was this:

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Reports state that this was his current Facebook profile picture, with the implication that media actors just picked the first or most prominent picture they saw.  Or, even, that somehow it’s Brown’s fault that this is the image they used.

Using the image above, though, is not neutrality.  At best, it’s laziness; they simply decided not to make a conscious, careful choice.  It’s their job to pick a photograph and I don’t know exactly what the guidelines are but “pick the first one you see” or “whatever his Facebook profile pic was on the day he died” is probably not among them.

There are consequential choices to be made.  As an example, here are two photos that have circulated since criticism of his portrayal began — the top more obviously sympathetic and the bottom more neutral:

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Commenting on this phenomenon, Twitter user @CJ_musick_lawya released two photos of himself, hashtagged with #iftheygunnedmedown, and asked readers which photo they thought media actors would choose.

Top: Wearing a cap and gown with former President Clinton; bottom: in sunglasses posing with a bottle and a microphone.

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The juxtaposition brilliantly revealed how easy it is to demonize a person, especially if they are a member of a social group stereotyped as violence-prone, and how important representation is.  It caught on and the imagery was repeated to powerful effect. A summary at The Root featured examples like these:

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The New York Times reports that the hashtag has been used more than 168,000 times as of  August 12th.  I want to believe that conversations like these will educate and put pressure on those with the power to represent black men and all marginalized peoples to make more responsible and thoughtful decisions.

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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“Break. Them.”: The weaponization of emotion http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/08/13/break-them-the-weaponization-of-emotion/ http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/08/13/break-them-the-weaponization-of-emotion/ Wed, 13 Aug 2014 14:18:40 CDT Sarah Wanenchak at Cyborgology Yesterday David Banks did a fantastic job outlining the technical issues at work in the matter of the ongoing comment harassment in Jezebel&rsquo;s comments sections and Gawker Media&rsquo;s inability/refusal to deal with it directly (though to their credit, as of yesterday they disabled image posting until a better solution can be found). I want to [&hellip;]

url

just because

Yesterday David Banks did a fantastic job outlining the technical issues at work in the matter of the ongoing comment harassment in Jezebel’s comments sections and Gawker Media’s inability/refusal to deal with it directly (though to their credit, as of yesterday they disabled image posting until a better solution can be found). I want to use that as a jumping-off point to talk about the discursive aspect of this, how gendered spaces are explicitly being made unsafe for certain kinds of people, and about how those tactics at once obscure what’s going on and justify it.

To recap yesterday, gonna just steal from David:

For months now, waves of violent pornography gifs have been posted to Jezebel stories using anonymous accounts untied to IP addresses or any other identifiable information. That means it’s effectively impossible to stop abusive people from posting to the site. Instead, Jezebel writers and editors have to delete the posts themselves, hopefully before too many of their readers see them.

Jezebel went on to explain that their higher-ups at Gawker knew about the problem, had known for a while, and had not acted, hence Jezebel’s announcement to the public regarding what was going on (and yay, it seems to have at least sort of worked). But looking at and thinking about the problem, it struck me that both the harassment and the subtle – and really not so subtle – ways in which Gawker’s priorities are coming through here are part of a process that I’ve seen before. That we’ve seen before.

The idea that technical spaces in general and the internet in particular are gendered male is well established by now. The phenomenon of cisgender men getting resentful at ladies ladying up the internet isn’t a revelation to anyone who’s paying attention. When something is gendered, especially when it’s gendered according to the population in power, that population protects its territory by making that territory unsafe for what it perceives as the invaders, who will ruin it by putting makeup and nail polish and doilies all over it.

(Makeup and nail polish are awesome. I can take or leave the doilies.)

Okay, fine. We all recognize this, or we should. Hence the death threats in the comments sections of female bloggers, hence the rape threats, the body-shaming, the slut-shaming, the general abuse, et cetera ad finitum.

What’s interesting to me here are the images and the fact that these specific images are being used – rape porn, gore, violence in general. Rape and death threats are upsetting and triggering, and words can wound, but images are designed to bring you right up against what you find horrifying, temporally all at one go. You do not have the option of refusing to imagine it, or imagining it only in part. Even if you look away as fast as you can, you’ve still seen it. You can’t un-see it. At that point, whatever emotional and physiological reaction you have is no longer under your control.

And let’s please not forget that emotions are embodied. They are one of the most embodied things we ever experience. Emotional pain is physical pain. Emotional trauma is physical trauma.

Emotions are also gendered, and so is trauma. Emotional pain is something women feel; if men feel it, they’re supposed to suppress it, and really they’re not supposed to feel it at all. Conspicuously not being fazed by the ugly and the violent can in fact be a mark of mental toughness, something desirable and praiseworthy.  If you find a violent or disturbing image upsetting or triggering, you’re weak, which means you’re feminine, and you don’t belong in this masculine space. You should leave.

Add to this the whole “you’re too sensitive/you’re just looking to be offended/you like playing the victim/you’re taking it too seriously” dismissing/derailing tactics usually used against people of color/women/trans and gender-nonconforming people/people with disabilities whenever we point out what’s going on, and you have a rather effective arsenal for keeping a space reserved for certain people and shutting out the voices and even the very presences of people you don’t want. Plus you get to hurt them in order to do it, and who doesn’t enjoy that?

But the dismissal of the hurt is additionally interesting. The people who are posting these images in Jezebel’s comments are doing it because they know it’s an effective weapon. They know it hurts. They know it’s brutal and ugly. And at the same time, often in the same breath, they downplay the significance and power of what they’re doing.

The last time I noticed this was during 4chan’s most recent attack on Tumblr, part of a feud that’s been ongoing for literally years. Earlier this summer, 4chan launched a loosely coordinated attack on Tumblr fandom and social justice-oriented users – often the two groups are are one and the same – by posting graphically violent images tagged with fandom/social justicey things.

Now, whatever you may think about Tumblr users as a whole, it shouldn’t escape notice who was actually the target of this attack.

I’m on Tumblr for both reasons – fandom and politics – and I was interested in this for sociological reasons as well, so I poked around a bit, looking for what others were saying. Some people were taking it seriously, but I saw a lot of both dismissal and outright glee on the part of external observers. I didn’t save all the links I found – I should have – but these selections from Reddit (I know, I know) are pretty representative of a lot of it:

I’m still cracking up. I made a point earlier where the reason why 4Chan spread so widely on Tumblr is because people were stupid enough to tag warnings and flood the tags with peaceful stuff like puppies, oceans, various things. A site so opinionated didn’t know when to shut up and stop calling attention to itself.

You know what, I think some tumblrinas are enjoying this raid because there’s a little voice in the back of their heads saying “now you’re actually a victim of something tangible. Your martyrdom is more legitimate now than it has ever been”. I can just feel the wave of bullshit rumbling on the horizon.

I am tired of Tumblr being the place for oversensitive (edit: and sometimes overly hostile), special snowflakes and all the clusterfuck of circle jerking going on there. This is one of the best raids 4chan has done, IMO, and it makes me laugh seeing all these people squirming on Tumblr. I give it 3 thumbs up.

lol tumblrinas

Seriously, though, this is almost always what we see, and I’m not arguing that any of this is consciously calculated on the part of the people doing it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. You have the “asking for it” aspect, the “too sensitive” aspect, the “victim” aspect, the “enjoying being a victim” aspect. And at the core of it, the dismissal of the fact that these are mostly people who are members of marginalized populations who are legitimately being hurt. The hurt is being dismissed, the people are being dismissed, and the entire thing is justified with “they were asking for it”.

Even sympathetic parties often respond to this kind of thing with “Well, that’s the internet. What do you expect?”

To me, that’s the capper. Emotions are weaponized, the damage they do is dismissed, the people who have been hurt are dismissed, the entire thing is done – rather effectively – in the interest of making space unsafe for certain people and punishing them for having the gall to be there in the first place, and finally the possibility that maybe this isn’t necessarily how it has to be is foreclosed upon.

That last, I think, is what’s behind things like Gawker’s inaction: the general sense a lot of people have that yeah, it sucks, but there’s not much that can be done, so oh well, and maybe you should just toughen up anyway. “Trolls will be trolls” has a direct discursive connection to “boys will be boys”.

So no, I wasn’t surprised by how long it took Gawker Media to react. I’m glad they did. But I won’t be surprised when this exact thing happens again.

 

Sarah has a massively thin skin on Twitter – @dynamicsymmetry

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Why Can’t Conservatives See the Benefits of Affordable Child Care? http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/qRcJT4VI9e8/ http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/qRcJT4VI9e8/ Wed, 13 Aug 2014 09:00:35 CDT Jay Livingston, PhD at Sociological Images Ross Douthat is puzzled. He seems to sense that a liberal policy might actually help, but his high conservative principles and morality keep him from taking that step. It&rsquo;s a political version of Freudian repression &ndash; the conservative superego forcing tempting ideas to remain out of awareness. In his&nbsp;column, Douthat recounts several anecdotes of criminal [&hellip;] Ross Douthat is puzzled. He seems to sense that a liberal policy might actually help, but his high conservative principles and morality keep him from taking that step. It’s a political version of Freudian repression – the conservative superego forcing tempting ideas to remain out of awareness.

In his column, Douthat recounts several anecdotes of criminal charges brought against parents whose children were unsupervised for short periods of time.  The best-known of these criminals of late is Debra Harrell, the mother in South Carolina who let her 9-year-old daughter go to a nearby playground while she (Debra) worked at her job at McDonald’s. The details of the case make it clear that this was not a bad mom – not cruel, not negligent. The playground was the best child care she could afford.

One solution should be obvious – affordable child care.  But the U.S. is rather stingy when it comes to kids. Other countries are way ahead of us on public spending for children.

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Conservatives will argue that child care should be private not public and that local charities and churches do a better job than do state-run programs. Maybe so. The trouble is that those private programs are not accessible to everyone. If Debra Harrell had been in France or Denmark, the problem would never have arisen.

The other conservative U.S. policy that put Debra Harrell in the arms of the law is “welfare reform.”  As Douthat explains, in the U.S., thanks to changes in the welfare system much lauded by conservatives, the U.S. now has “a welfare system whose work requirements can put a single mother behind a fast-food counter while her kid is out of school.”

That’s the part that perplexes Douthat. He thinks that it’s a good thing for the government to force poor women to work, but it’s a bad thing for those women not to have the time to be good mothers. The two obvious solutions – affordable day care or support for women who stay home to take care of kids – conflict with the cherished conservative ideas: government bad, work good.

This last issue presents a distinctive challenge to conservatives like me, who believe such work requirements are essential. If we want women like Debra Harrell to take jobs instead of welfare, we have to also find a way to defend their liberty as parents, instead of expecting them to hover like helicopters and then literally arresting them if they don’t.

As he says, it’s a distinctive challenge, but only if you cling so tightly to conservative principles that you reject solutions – solutions that seem to be working quite well in other countries – just because they involve the government or allow poor parents not to work.

Conservatives love to decry “the nanny state.”  That means things like government efforts to improve kids’ health and nutrition. (Right wingers make fun of the first lady for trying to get kids to eat sensibly and get some exercise.)

A nanny is a person who is paid to look after someone else’s kids. Well-off people hire them privately (though they still prefer to call them au pairs). But for the childcare problems of low-income parents, what we need is more of a nanny state, or more accurately, state-paid nannies.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

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

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Attacking Iran’s Nuclear Facilities Would Likely Radicalize the Islamic Republic’s Government and Politics http://thesocietypages.org/ssn/2014/08/13/attacking-irans-nuclear-facilities-would-likely-radicalize-the-islamic-republics-government-and-politics/ http://thesocietypages.org/ssn/2014/08/13/attacking-irans-nuclear-facilities-would-likely-radicalize-the-islamic-republics-government-and-politics/ Wed, 13 Aug 2014 07:30:09 CDT Matthew Gratias at Scholars Strategy Network As the international community pressures the government of Iran to forego the possibility of developing nuclear weapons, the United States and Israel are both considering air strikes to cripple Iran&rsquo;s nuclear infrastructure if a negotiated solution fails. All participants in the current debate recognize that there would be repercussions in Iranian domestic politics &ndash; but [&hellip;] As the international community pressures the government of Iran to forego the possibility of developing nuclear weapons, the United States and Israel are both considering air strikes to cripple Iran’s nuclear infrastructure if a negotiated solution fails. All participants in the current debate recognize that there would be repercussions in Iranian domestic politics – but discussion has been conceptually hobbled by a narrow focus only on a popular “rally round the flag” effect. Iranian popular reactions would matter, of course, but in authoritarian regimes like Iran, the most important political fault lines are not between the regime and the masses but within the political elite itself. United elites can always crush popular rebellions, as the Iranian elite did in 2009. Furthermore, the course of the regime will be set by shifting balances within the elite.

The analysis I have done with my colleague Jacques Hymans suggests conservative elites in the Islamic Republic and their domestic political supporters would be galvanized and empowered by foreign military strikes against Iran’s nuclear program. Supporters of military strikes hope that, after the brief rally around the flag effect in Iranian domestic politics, a more salutary democratic transition might occur. But on the contrary, the probable result would be a renewal of Islamic revolutionary radicalism – very harmful to the long-term interests of the United States and regional stability.

Understanding Iranian Elite Politics

The foremost proponent of a U.S. preventive attack on Iran, Matthew Kroenig, has argued that “even if a strike would strengthen Iran’s hard-liners, the United States must not prioritize the outcomes of Iran’s domestic political tussles over its vital national security interests in preventing Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.” Although of course U.S. interests must come first, Kroenig’s view is dangerously shortsighted and ignores Iran’s recent history as a revolutionary regime. It was, after all, the 1979 Iranian Revolution that gave rise to the current U.S.-Iranian rivalry and shaped the domestic political elite with which the world must now cope.

Since 1997, the central Iranian political conflict has unfolded between reformist elites who want to lead the country into a post-revolutionary period and reactionary elites who want Iran to forever remain a revolutionary state. An attack by the United States – the “Great Satan” – would be a game changer for Iranian politics. It would reignite the revolutionary fervor of the clerical elite and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, doom the reform movement, and make Iran’s leadership far less willing to risk any domestic political evolution.

In the aftermath of a U.S. strike on Iran, the Islamic Republic’s senior leadership would face critical decisions – about international retaliations, reconstituting the nuclear program, and repressing internal opponents. Iran’s leaders are widely expected to react to military strikes by pursuing all three options, but analysts disagree about the scope, intensity, and effectiveness of Iran’s responses. Unfortunately, the history of the Iran-Iraq War of the early 1980s suggests that a revived and galvanized revolutionary leadership in Tehran would be quite willing to risk external strategic disaster in order to further consolidate internal power.The history of the Iran-Iraq War suggests that a revived and galvanized revolutionary leadership in Tehran would be quite willing to risk external strategic disaster in order to further consolidate internal power.

With unwarranted optimism, advocates of airstrikes view Iran’s conservatives as a monolithic group, securely in control, and capable of carefully calibrating responses to airstrikes. Citing the lack of retaliation after earlier Israeli strikes against the nascent nuclear programs of Iraq and Syria, they suggest that Iran may similarly forego or minimize retaliation. But such analogies between contemporary Iran and other authoritarian Middle Eastern states are simplistic.

USS Firebolt, USS Thunderbolt, and USS Whirlwind are on patrol in the Arabian Gulf. Photo by Official Naval Forces Central Command via Flickr CC.

The USS Firebolt, USS Thunderbolt, and USS Whirlwind are on patrol in the Arabian Gulf. Photo by Official Naval Forces Central Command via Flickr US Government Work.

At the time they were struck from abroad, the Iraqi and Syrian nuclear programs were relatively marginal parts of their nations’ military capabilities and remained secret. Further, Saddam Hussein personally dominated a relatively united Iraqi regime, as did Basher al-Assad in Syria. Both of these dictators had sharply curtailed the autonomy of their militaries and security forces to reduce the possibility of internal challenges to their own personal rule. In contrast, Iran’s nuclear program is no secret; rather it is a fully politicized source of popular prestige and legitimacy for the regime. Moreover, the Iranian regime is riven with elite rivalries and not dominated by a single dictator. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard enjoys enormous institutional autonomy and could take provocative international retaliatory steps with the blessing of certain factions of the regime.

Overall, an attack on Iran would instantly boost the Revolutionary Guard and push Iranian politics and society toward militarization. The current Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Hosseini Khamenei, is now 74 and cannot live forever. An attack would guarantee that any future succession struggles would take place in a highly militarized environment, increasing the Revolutionary Guard’s ability to play kingmaker. Constitutional changes might also happen, because Khamenei has previously hinted at abolishing the presidency. Although risky, such a move would eliminate one perennial source of elite political divisions of the kind that have given moderates a beachhead. Executive power could become more concentrated and radicalized in Iran, and a renewed revolutionary consensus could reinforce the power of hard-liners.

Military Actions are Not Always the Best Option

In short, the United States and the international community must recognize that the domestic political reverberations of military strikes against Iran would probably not play out in ways analogous to what happened after earlier strikes in Iraq and Syria. In Iran, military strikes could increase the determination of an emboldened revolutionary regime to suppress opposition at home and strike out abroad.“U.S. military action cannot be the only, or even primary, component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.” -President Obama

In a recent speech at West Point, President Barack Obama argued that “U.S. military action cannot be the only, or even primary, component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.” In the case of Iran, this philosophy is wise. Whether or not the Obama administration is able to resolve the Iranian nuclear conundrum, policymakers contemplating preventive war should be under no illusion that the consequences of an attack on Iran would be minimal or positive. Instead, an attack would likely spur a renewal for years to come of revolutionary politics with all of its terrible excesses.

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Jezebel’s Harassment Problem Needs More than Comment Moderation http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/08/12/jezebels-harassment-problem-needs-more-than-comment-moderation/ http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/08/12/jezebels-harassment-problem-needs-more-than-comment-moderation/ Tue, 12 Aug 2014 14:04:47 CDT davidbanks at Cyborgology Gawker needs to help their editors defend against harassment &ndash;and fast&ndash; but they should also be thinking more comprehensively about the culture of comments. 20993325_affce142b9_z

image source

The editors of Jezebel did a really brave thing yesterday and called out their parent company, Gawker Media for not dealing with a very serious and persistent abuse and harassment problem. For months now, waves of violent pornography gifs have been posted to Jezebel stories using anonymous accounts untied to IP addresses or any other identifiable information. That means it’s effectively impossible to stop abusive people from posting to the site. Instead, Jezebel writers and editors have to delete the posts themselves, hopefully before too many of their readers see them. People higher up on the Gawker masthead have known about this issue and have, through inaction, forced their co-workers to look at this horrific and potentially triggering content instead of dealing with the problem. This is precisely how spaces and tools meant for everyone, turn into alienating environments that foster homogenous audiences and viewpoints. Gawker needs to help their editors defend against harassment –and fast– but they should also be thinking more comprehensively about the culture of comments.

Obviously, first and foremost, this kind of harassment needs to be recognized as the persistent problem that it truly is- not just at Gawker but in digital publishing writ large. Lindy West, a Jezebel staff writer, described this-all-too-common situation in the comments  of the original post:

At pretty much every blogging job I’ve ever had, I’ve been told (by male managers) that it’d be a death sentence to moderate comments and block IP addresses, because it “shuts down discourse” and guts traffic. But no one’s ever shown me any actual numbers that support that claim. Does anyone have any? Not that I think traffic should trump employee safety anyway, but I’d love for someone to prove to me that it’s more than just a cop-out.

The false dichotomy West is describing also obscures the fact that harassment also hurts readership and most certainly “shuts down discourse.” The only difference is whom gets shut down.

When it comes to figuring out how to resolves these issues, I’m a big fan of following the lead of the person experiencing and speaking out about their oppression. They are generally the best people to fully understand the complexities of the problem at hand and we should at the very least should begin by doing what Jezebel’s staff suggests: adding a ban IP functionality to all comments on the Kinja publishing platform that Gawker utilizes. Gawker’s editorial director Joel Johnson tweeted today that they had suspended image posting all together until they figured out a more permanent solution.

In the world of Science and Technology Studies, we would call IP banning and suspending images a “tech fix.” A tech fix doesn’t get at the root of the problem (e.g. misogyny, rape culture) but it generally mitigates a severe symptom, while also bringing into stark relief the kinds of problems our society is equipped to deal with. The availability of, and ease with which a tech fix is implemented can reveal a lot about what we collectively value and ignore. So while suspending image posting is a good temporary fix and the IP ban is certainly a longer-term option, we should also give due consideration to why there aren’t lots of readily available tech fixes to this problem. Tech fixes that might, at least in this case, let Jezebel continue to benefit from anonymous commenters that are crucial for whistle-blowing and story development.

Kinja’s inability to help Jezebel staff deal with harassment is even more unforgivable when compared to all the amazing technologies we’ve developed to solve very similar (but less gendered) problems. Take, for example, spam. Junk messages don’t only show up in your embarassingnamefrom10thgrade@gmail.com account, they are constantly barraging anything with a “post” or “send” button. Administrators of wikis and other interactive publishing platforms have to fight spam all the time. To an admin, spam behaves more like digital weather than an annoying business model. Offers for Oakley Sunglasses and Louis Vuitton handbags are always raining on your site and so most admins install Akismet or a captcha to discriminate between humans and a bots. There are at least a handful of really effective spam blockers for just about every platform you use on a daily basis. Why is spam so easy to block while harassment goes virtually unchecked?

Lindy West’s comment gives us one side of the troll coin: people in management positions just don’t prioritize the problem, or see it as enough of a problem to devote serious thought to dealing with. The other side of the coin, also expertly described by West, is that trolls aren’t like the weather, “internet trolling is not random—it is a sentient, directed, strong-armed goon of the status quo. And the more we can hammer that truth through the public consciousness, the sooner we can affect the widespread cultural change we need to begin tamping down online hate speech.”

West’s suggested cultural change (or Cultural Fix [PDF]) is to engage trolls with the intension of humanizing everyone in the conversation. Talking about people as if they’re monsters, and then assuming those monsters will show up in comments with the inevitability of swallows returning to Capistrano, reinforces a sexism-without-sexist people worldview. Linda Layne (in the PDF linked above) notes that in the face of seemingly inevitable problems what is needed are rituals and social mores that acknowledge the problem but help everyone recover. Gawker has shown an interest in radically rethinking how commenting technology works, but has done comparatively little to reintroduce the culture surrounding comments. Is such a campaign possible?

Gawker has a lot of money. They can experiment with a lot of options and build a campaign of campaigns. Hire someone to do nothing but filter out harassment and make judgments about threats to authors. Pay researchers to figure out how and why this kind of harassment happens in the first place and build a public media campaign to stop it. Just don’t stop at the tech fix.

When Adrien Chen tweeted a link to the Jezebel article adding “I see Gawker Media’s ‘become more like Reddit’ strategy is coming along nicely” he was being much more than glib. As I have written before, the technological affordances of a site and the culture of its user base are mutually shaping systems. A site that affords anonymity in the service of attention will always maintain hegemonic discourse. This is why, while Kinja definitely needs a better set of moderation tools we also need to pay attention to the kind of culture engendered by the rest of the site. Who feels more at home in a competition for attention? Who feels more comfortable opening up within the safe bounds of digital anonymity? We’ll have better conversations if we think about and act on these kinds of questions.

David is on Twitter & Tumblr.

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Is the Glass Half-Empty or Three-Quarters Full? http://thesocietypages.org/ccf/2014/08/12/equality-marriage-sex/ http://thesocietypages.org/ccf/2014/08/12/equality-marriage-sex/ Tue, 12 Aug 2014 13:37:54 CDT Sharon Sassler at Council on Contemporary Families This paper is part of the Council on Contemporary Families Gender Revolution Rebound Symposium This look at sexual frequency among younger couples in equal marriages refutes recent claims that when a man shares the housework equally, it is bad for the couple&rsquo;s sex life. For several decades, research has suggested that attitudes and laws favoring [&hellip;] This paper is part of the Council on Contemporary Families Gender Revolution Rebound Symposium

This look at sexual frequency among younger couples in equal marriages refutes recent claims that when a man shares the housework equally, it is bad for the couple’s sex life.

For several decades, research has suggested that attitudes and laws favoring gender equity have changed more quickly than people’s actual behavior in intimate relationships. One recent highly publicized article reported that married couples who split domestic chores in an egalitarian manner had sex less often, and reported less satisfaction with their sex lives, than couples who adhered to more to conventional gender behaviors. The depressing message heard round the world was that couples remain stalled in their attachment to old “gender scripts,” and that attempts to revise these scripts decrease sexual desire and satisfaction, even among couples who claim to hold egalitarian values.

But the underlying study, based on data gathered over a quarter of a century ago, was focused on the sexual behaviors of married couples in the late 1980s, many of whom had met and married in the 1960s and 1970s. My colleagues Dan Carlson, Amanda Miller, Sarah Hanson and I wondered if the apparent erotic resistance to gender equality still applied to more recent marriages and partnerships, so we turned to newer data (from 2006), examining a sample of low- to moderate-income young married and cohabiting couples with minor children.

When couples divvy up household tasks, they both have to remember to put sex on the list! Photo via TSP.

When couples divvy up household tasks, they both have to remember to put sex on the list! Photo via TSP.

Like Cotter and his colleagues, we found evidence that things have changed significantly in more recent years. Couples who shared domestic labor had sex at least as often, and were at least as satisfied with the frequency and quality of their sex, as couples where the woman did the bulk of the housework. In fact, these egalitarian partners were ranked slightly higher in all these categories, reporting more frequent sex and greater satisfaction with the frequency and quality of that sex than conventional couples, although these differences did not reach the level of statistical significance. This suggests that it is good news for couples, not bad, that men have more than doubled the amount of housework they do since the 1960s.

The one group that did score significantly lower than both egalitarian and conventional couples?   Couples where men did the bulk of the domestic labor. Apparently, completely reversing gender roles in housework was not a sexual turn-on to either the men or women involved. But such couples accounted for only a small share (less than 5 percent) of those in our sample.

Although it is very clear that progress toward gender equality in Americans’ attitudes and behaviors has not come to a standstill, it is true that some areas remain stubbornly resistant to change. For example, only about three out of ten couples in our sample reported that housework was equally shared (and men were more likely to report they share things more equitably than were their female partners). The majority of our sample couples (63 percent) practiced rather conventional divisions of domestic labor, where the woman did approximately two-thirds of the housework. Perhaps if more men realized that sexual frequency was higher when the domestic load was more equitably shared they would grab that Swiffer more often.Perhaps if more men realized that sexual frequency was higher when the domestic load was more equitably shared they would grab that Swiffer more often.

Another area that seems especially resistant to change, despite being perceived by many men as an onerous responsibility, is the tradition that men are responsible for initiating relationships. In heterosexual marriage, for example, it is still usually the man who is expected to propose. In my research with Amanda Miller on cohabiting couples in the U.S., we find that even though such couples are egalitarian in many ways, with the women often having more schooling than their partners or contributing the same amount of income, the vast majority of both men and women view proposing as the right and responsibility of the man. It will be interesting to see if this pattern also changes in coming decades or if it will remain one of the last bastions of traditional gender arrangements.

July 30, 2014

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Helene Snee, “A Cosmopolitan Journey?: Difference, Distinction and Identity Work in Gap Year Travel” http://newbooksinsociology.com/crossposts/helene-snee-a-cosmopolitan-journey-difference-distinction-and-identity-work-in-gap-year-travel-ashgate-2014/ http://newbooksinsociology.com/crossposts/helene-snee-a-cosmopolitan-journey-difference-distinction-and-identity-work-in-gap-year-travel-ashgate-2014/ Tue, 12 Aug 2014 10:05:05 CDT Dave O'Brien at New Books in Sociology [Cross-posted from&nbsp;New Books in Critical Theory]&nbsp;Helene Snee, a researcher at the University of Manchester, has written an excellent new book that should be essential reading for anyone interested in the modern world. The book uses the example of the &lsquo;gap year&rsquo;, an important moment in young people&rsquo;s lives, to deconstruct issues of class, cosmopolitanism and [...]

[Cross-posted from New Books in Critical TheoryHelene Snee, a researcher at the University of Manchester, has written an excellent new book that should be essential reading for anyone interested in the modern world. The book uses the example of the ‘gap year’, an important moment in young people’s lives, to deconstruct issues of class, cosmopolitanism and identity. Like many other aspects of contemporary life, common assumptions about travel (as opposed to tourism) or the individual experience (as opposed to patterns in social life) are taken apart in the book. The book reflects broader debates around class in British society that have been influenced by French theorist Pierre Bourdieu, such as the recent Great British Class Survey. The book situates itself in the tradition that seeks to unsettle the assumptions about taken for granted ideas about what is good judgement or good taste, asking why one form of, largely, middle class self development is privileged over others.

A Cosmopolitan Journey? Difference, Distinction and Identity Work in Gap Year Travel (Ashgate, 2014) is not just a contribution to critical theory. In order to understand the lives of the gap year individuals, Snee uses online blogs as evidence for the way that the ‘gappers’ tell stories that are about the places they have come from (rather than travelled to), about having ‘authentic’ (& potentially middle class) experiences during their travels and about being self-developing individuals. Crucially the book shows how even the word ‘travelling’ draws boundaries with ‘tourism’ to show how power and class dominance function to make it seem as if not everyone has the good taste to take a gap year’, rather than the choice of a gap year being part of a much broader social structure.

Snee’s combination of travel and tourism as a topic, using predominantly young people’s experiences as an example, along with the way the text speaks directly to sociological debates between thinkers such as Bourdieu and Giddens, mark A Cosmopolitan Journey out as essential reading for a very wide audience.

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Julie Chen Explains Why She Underwent “Westernizing” Surgery http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/byoGf8UCfzA/ http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/SociologicalImagesSeeingIsBelieving/~3/byoGf8UCfzA/ Tue, 12 Aug 2014 09:00:46 CDT Lisa Wade, PhD at Sociological Images Eyelid surgery is the third most common cosmetic procedure in the world. &nbsp;Some are necessary&nbsp;for drooping eyelids that interfere with vision, others are undertaken in order to enable people to look younger, but many people choose these surgeries to make their eyes look more Western&nbsp;or&nbsp;whiter, a characteristic often conflated with attractiveness. Recently&nbsp;Julie Chen &mdash; a [&hellip;] Eyelid surgery is the third most common cosmetic procedure in the world.  Some are necessary for drooping eyelids that interfere with vision, others are undertaken in order to enable people to look younger, but many people choose these surgeries to make their eyes look more Western or whiter, a characteristic often conflated with attractiveness.

Recently Julie Chen — a TV personality and news anchor — revealed that she had undergone eyelid and other surgeries almost 20 years ago in order to comply with the standards of beauty and “relatability” demanded of her bosses.  She released these photos in tandem with the story:

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Chen said that she was torn about whether to get the surgeries.  Her entire family got involved in the conversation and they split, too, arguing about whether the surgeries represented a rejection of her Chinese ancestry.

Ultimately, though, Chen was under a lot of pressure from her bosses.  One told her “you will never be on this anchor desk, because you’re Chinese.” He went on:

Let’s face it, Julie, how relatable are you to our community? How big of an Asian community do we have in Dayton? ‘On top of that, because of your heritage, because of your Asian eyes, sometimes I’ve noticed when you’re on camera and you’re interviewing someone, you look disinterested, you look bored.

Another man, a “big time agent,” told her: “I cannot represent you unless you get plastic surgery to make your eyes look bigger.”

While cosmetic surgeries are often portrayed as vanity projects, Chen’s story reveals that they are also often about looking “right” in a competitive industry. Whether it’s erotic dancers getting breast implants, waitresses getting facelifts, or aspiring news anchors getting eyelid surgery, often economic pressures — mixed with racism and sexism — drive these decisions.

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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Mama w/ Pen: What’s Hot at Girl w/Pen – Late Summer Round Up Edition http://thesocietypages.org/girlwpen/2014/08/12/whats-hot-at-girl-wpen-late-summer-round-up-edition/ http://thesocietypages.org/girlwpen/2014/08/12/whats-hot-at-girl-wpen-late-summer-round-up-edition/ Tue, 12 Aug 2014 06:00:32 CDT Deborah Siegel at Girl w/ Pen SO much to pick from this season, but among our summer highlights for those of you who missed it or are just now dropping in: Natalie Wilson finds a gender con at comic con. Virginia Rutter sets us straight on love and lust. Elline Lipkin looks at the poetry and prose of &ldquo;real&rdquo; motherhood. Susan [&hellip;] imagesSO much to pick from this season, but among our summer highlights for those of you who missed it or are just now dropping in:

Natalie Wilson finds a gender con at comic con.

Virginia Rutter sets us straight on love and lust.

Elline Lipkin looks at the poetry and prose of “real” motherhood.

Susan Bailey cries uncle on Hobby Lobby.

Tristan Bridges and CJ Pascoe critique the over-thanking of straight male allies.

Adina Nack culls intel from guest Mary Assad on the science behind medical claims around fat and women’s hearts.

Kyla Bender-Baird invites Jocelyn Hollander to weigh in on Miss USA and self-defense.

Heather Hewett curates Emily Bent on what’s missing from girl power discourse in light of #BringBackOurGirls (namely: rights).

And I sound off on empowerment, tampon ads, and the Always #LikeAGirl campaign.

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