“Crimmigration,” With Tanya Golash-Boza, Ryan King, and Yolanda Vázquez

Tanya Golash-Boza
Tanya Golash-Boza is in the sociology department at the University of California--Merced. She is the author of Due Process Denied and Immigration Nation.
Ryan King
Ryan King is in the sociology department at The Ohio State University. He is affiliated with OSU's Criminal Justice Research Center and the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.
Law portraits, Yolanda Vazquez
Yolanda Vázquez is in the University of Cincinnati's College of Law. A former litigator and public defender, Vázquez is the faculty co-advisor for the Immigration and Nationality Law Review.

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) removed a record high of 419,000 people—ten times as many as in 1991, and more than during the entire decade of the 1980s. This increase can be attributed to the fact that immigration law enforcement in the United States has never been fully separated from criminal law enforcement. The term “crimmigration,” coined by law professor Juliet Stumpf, reflects the intersection of these two systems; a convergence of policies has deepened their entanglement. Almost 200,000 of the 2012 deportations were the result of a criminal conviction. Below, we ask a panel of experts to elaborate on “crimmigration”—both as a phenomenon and a field of study—and its possible repercussions for migrants and U.S. immigration law. (more…)

Mass Violence and the Media

Michael Kimmel is a distinguished professor at Stony Brook University. He is among the leading researchers and writers on men and masculinity in the world today.
Melissa Thompson is an assistant professor of sociology at Portland State University. Her current projects involve examining the gendered nature of the drugs/crime connection, studying mental health implications of criminal justice interventions, and exploring racial differences in access to health care treatment in prison.
Victor M. Rios conducts research on Juvenile Justice; Social Control; Race; Dignity; Resilience; and Educational Equity. He is currently completing a book titled Missing Fire: Gangs Across Institutional Settings.

Acts of mass violence generally receive prompt, widespread, and often one-note media coverage in the U.S. For instance, coverage of a mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard was dominated by punditry over the ease with which the suspect was able to procure a firearm despite his history of mental illness.

This roundtable aims to explore and deconstruct the narrative frames media outlets use to talk about and circumscribe violent events. More often than not, our panelists say, coverage oversimplifies these incidents and neglects their social and environmental circumstances. Such rhetoric is well-suited to the evening news, but it will not prevent further violence. (more…)

Burning Man: A Roundtable Discussion

Katherine Chen
Katherine K. Chen is in the department of sociology at The City College of New York and the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is the author of Enabling Creative Chaos: The Organization Behind the Burning Man Event.
S Megan Heller
S. Megan Heller (the Countess) is an anthropologist and an expert on play. She is currently lecturing at UCLA. Applying a neuroanthropological approach to her mixed methods research, Heller has identified an ethos of play at Burning Man that seems to have significant effects on behavioral and cultural patterns.
Photo courtesy Jon Stern
Jon Stern is a sociologist whose interest lies in identity and alternative space. They have been researching Burning Man since 2010. Jon's queer identity and deep involvement with both the Black Rock Rangers (4th year) and BRC Perimeter Gate and Exodus (3rd year) shapes their view of identity at Burning Man.

Each year around Labor Day, nearly 60,000 people gather to participate in Burning Man, an “experimental community” committed to art, creativity, and free expression. The festival began on a San Francisco beach in 1986 and has since moved to the Black Rock Desert, a vast alkali salt flat in northwestern Nevada. Here on the “the playa,” as the ancient seabed is called, participants construct the teeming Black Rock City. The pop-up utopia is built up from hundreds of individual “theme camps” (extended households or tribes), ranging in size from five to 500 individuals and organized around a common identity, concept, or practice.

Everywhere, there is art—performance art, installation art, body art, experiential and immersive art—scaled from the microscopic to the size of tractor-trailers. Participants are encouraged to embrace, imbibe, and abide by the ten principles of the event. These include, among other things, the ideals of radical inclusion, self-expression, and self-reliance, as well as an ethos of gift-giving, immediacy, and leaving-no-trace. Some of the ten principles (like decommodification, defined as resisting “the substitution of consumption for participatory experience”) stand in sharp contrast to mainstream American values. Others, like radical self-reliance, lay at the core of the American dream.

Burning Man brings to mind a lot of preconceptions, but it also raises a lot of questions, from the sociological to the plain old curious. What is this event about? What purposes does it serve? Who is involved and why? And what does this festival say about art and expression in America? I brought together three of my fellow social scientists—all of whom have attended the event, think of themselves as “Burners,” and have done research on Burning Man—to talk a bit about what these days in the desert mean to us and what larger social significance Burning Man might hold. (more…)

International Criminal Justice

Susanne Karstedt is in the School of Law at the University of Leeds. Her present research is on violent societies, mass atrocities and genocide, with particular expertise on the Holocaust trials in post-war Germany. She is the editor of Legal Institutions and Collective Memories.
Naomi Roht-Arriaza is in the Hastings College of the Law at the University of California. She specializes in accountability for human rights violations and is the author of The Pinochet Effect: Transnational Justice in the Age of Human Rights.
Wenona Rymond-Richmond is in the department of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her research focuses on genocide, race and ethnicity, and sociology of law. She is co-author of Darfur and the Crime of Genocide.
Kathryn Sikkink is in the department of political science at the University of Minnesota. She studies international human rights law, transnational advocacy networks, and international politics and is the author of The Justice Cascade.

In our lifetimes, institutions like the International Criminal Court have fundamentally reshaped the sphere of international justice and accountability. Just a few decades ago, an international criminal indictment against a sitting head of state would have been much less likely or perhaps even inconceivable. Today, the President of Sudan is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The ICC traces much of its legacy back to the Nuremberg Trials, which held dozens of leaders of Nazi Germany accountable for their actions after World War II. Since then, temporary international tribunals have been created to respond to specific situations of mass atrocity and human rights abuses, such as in Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia. Some of these tribunals are still in place today, but they have been joined by the ICC, the world’s first permanent, global court with jurisdiction over crimes seen as so egregious they are deemed crimes against all people.

We asked four leading experts to weigh in on some of the most controversial issues facing international criminal justice, including its potential interference with state sovereignty and its capacity to really curb human rights abuses.

Is the social control of crime at the international level a new development?

Naomi Roht-Arriaza: War crimes trials go back at least to the 14th century. Even the principle that some crimes are so heinous and so difficult for any one state to try has a long and storied pedigree, going back to cases involving piracy and slave trading.

Two things are perhaps new… (more…)

American Immigration and Forgetting

Yen Le Espiritu is in the departments of sociology and ethnic studies at the University of California, San Diego. She is the author of Home Bound: Filipino American Lives across Cultures, Communities, and Countries.
Katherine Fennelly is in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. She studies immigration, diversity, and health as they relate to public policy.
Douglas S. Massey is in sociology and the Office for Population Research at Princeton University. He is the author of Brokered Boundaries: Creating Immigrant Identity in Anti-Immigrant Times.

Though the United States is known as a “melting pot,” immigration has long been a divisive political and social issue here. Throughout the nation’s history, countless arguments have been leveled for and against immigration practices—with numerous connections made to the nation’s economy, sovereignty, and general sense of identity by both sides of the debate.

Taking these points into consideration, this roundtable discussion attempts to map the historical trajectory of immigration in the U.S. and elaborate on the multiple discourses that have surrounded it. Our panelists explain why immigration has remained an obsession for Americans, while it became almost a non-issue in the 2012 elections.

How has the discourse regarding immigration changed over the years, if at all?

Katherine Fennelly: The question makes me think of a statement by Simon and Lynch that Americans view immigration with “rose-colored glasses turned backwards” —i.e., with positive attitudes toward earlier groups of immigrants and negative ones about those who enter today. Nevertheless, platitudes about “celebrating our heritage as a nation of immigrants” mask some of the darkest events in our nation’s history, such as broad discrimination toward non-Protestant immigrants, anarchists, and others in the nineteenth century; periodic expulsions of Mexican and Chinese laborers; and the mass internment of Japanese Americans in the twentieth century. In spite of egregious examples of discrimination today, the existence of an extensive network of immigrant advocacy and human rights groups provides some counterpoint. (more…)

Concussions and Consequences

Eric Anderson
Eric Anderson is in sociology at the University of Winchester, England. He is the author of Psychology Today's "Masculinity Today" blog and Sport, Theory, and Social Problems.
Jay Coakley
Jay Coakley is in the sociology department at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. He is the author, with Elizabeth Pike, of Sports in Society: Issues and Controversies, now in its 10th edition.
Nicole LaVoi
Nicole LaVoi is in the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of the blog "One Sport Voice."
Dominic Malcolm
Dominic Malcolm is in the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Loughborough University. He is the author of The SAGE Dictionary of Sport Studies.

With the release of “Head Games,” a new documentary by the maker of “Hoop Dreams” that carries the tagline, “How much of you are you willing to lose for a game?,” we thought it an appropriate moment to ask some experts to weigh in on the relationship between sport, physical play, and brain trauma. Recent medical reports have raised concern about the safety of a number of sports—including hockey, boxing, and mixed martial arts—and have indicated that the potential for permanent damage begins with youth sport. American football, in particular, has been subject to scrutiny as a result of the deaths of several retired NFL players, including football legend Junior Seau, in seemingly very specific suicides: they shot themselves in the chest, in some cases with the explicit goal of preserving their brains for study. The NFL is also facing a lawsuit brought by over 2,000 players who believe the league has deliberately hidden known risks to profit from the game’s hard-hitting style. Even Malcolm Gladwell has gotten in on the action, comparing the ethical implications of football players destroying their minds to the brutality of dogfighting in a well-read New Yorker article. In this scary era, a new survey suggests parents are reconsidering whether to allow their children to play contact sports, especially football.

What, if anything, has surprised you about the reactions to the growing amount of information on the dangers of high-contact sports?

Jay Coakley: That people can dismiss, ignore, or discredit systematically collected evidence about harm possibly being done to the brains of players in certain sports, especially young players. (more…)

Correcting American Corrections

Francis T. Cullen is in the departments of criminal justice and sociology at the University of Cincinnati. He is the author of Rethinking Crime and Deviance Theory.
David Garland is in the departments of sociology and law at the New York University. He is the author of Peculiar Institution: America's Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition.
David Jacobs is in the department of sociology at The Ohio State University. He studies stratification and inequality, political sociology, and criminal justices.
Jeremy Travis is the president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He is the author of But They All Come Back: Facing the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry.

In this Roundtable, we ask a panel of experts to reflect on a recent Pew Center on the States Survey that found half of Americans believe there are too many prisoners in the U.S. The survey also found that voters believed that one-fifth of prisoners could be released without compromising public safety. In other findings, 48 percent agreed with reducing funding for state prisons and large majorities favored reducing prison time for low-risk, non-violent offenders.

Our Roundtable panelists, while encouraged by the implementation of this survey, were careful not to put too much positive spin on the results. While public support may be moving towards a less punitive America, it’s not certain policy will quickly follow suit.

We began by asking whether anything in the Pew results surprised our respondents. Their answers ranged from near dismissal to cautious optimism.

David Jacobs: There are only a few policies that respond to public opinion, so I’m not very optimistic that [these measures matter]. The conventional wisdom in American politics, or demographic politics, is that public opinion drives policy. But that’s only true about a few issues. If it’s at all complicated, forget it. ….We have a tendency as graduate students and sociologists to think in terms of left-right. You can ask people are they conservative or liberal, and you’ll get answers from them. They’ll be polite and answer your questions. But if you correlate those self-identifications with actual policy or voting, it doesn’t seem to matter much.

Frank Cullen: As someone who has studied public opinion for thirty years, I am not overly surprised by any of the findings. I am heartened that the survey was undertaken, however, because it shows that the American public holds reasonable views about crime-control policy. Its members realize that mass incarceration is not a sustainable policy and is not appropriate for all offenders. (more…)

Thinking about Trayvon: Privileged Response and Media Discourse

Charles A. Gallagher is in the departments of sociology and criminal justice at LaSalle University. He is the editor of Rethinking the Color Line: Readings in Race and Ethnicity, now in its fifth edition.
Zenzele Isoke
Zenzele Isoke is in the University of Minnesota's departments of gender, women, and sexuality studies; political science; and African American and African studies. She is the author of Urban Black Women and the Politics of Resistance.
Enid Logan
Enid Logan is in the department of sociology at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of "At This Defining Moment": Barack Obama's Presidential Candidacy and the New Politics of Race.
Aldon Morris
Aldon Morris is in the department of sociology at Northwestern University. He is the author, with Jane Mansbridge, of Oppositional Consciousness: The Subjective Roots of Social Protest.

Much has occurred in the months following the initial media frenzy surrounding Trayvon Martin’s death. George Zimmerman, whose ethnicity was later re-classified as “Hispanic,” was eventually arrested for second-degree murder and is currently out on bond while awaiting trial. His wife has been charged with perjury for lying about their finances (and the over $200,000 sent to them for legal defense by sympathetic citizens) in a bail hearing. Discussions on “stand your ground” laws abound. And there’s even been a public backlash against Martin’s presumed innocence in his death, with numerous reports claiming that he was a juvenile delinquent. Others felt his “hoodied” look had made Martin appear threatening, and thus perhaps deserving of being profiled.

The “hoodie,” in particular, has become an important symbolic tool for those seeking justice for Trayvon Martin and his family, as well as others like him. Thousands of individuals, ranging from professional basketball players to white suburban youth, have sported hoodies in solidarity.

We called on a number of prominent social scientists to discuss the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s death, examining the multiple narratives that have factored into media coverage and public responses. We started by asking our panelists why they thought Trayvon Martin’s death elicited such a large public response, especially among white, middle-class Americans.

Aldon Morris: The middle-class image of Trayvon Martin and the middle-class quality of the response by his parents are largely responsible for the extraordinary [public] response. The early images of Martin depicted him as a young, innocent, handsome, wholesome, gentle kid that all parents, friends, and relatives [would want to] embrace and protect… middle-class America [thought] “this kid looks and acts like my own son despite being a young black male.”

Trayvon’s mother and father also looked and acted like decent middle-class parents. They spoke good English, dressed in middle-class garb, and portrayed no threatening black militancy. Yet, though persistent and vociferous in their outrage, Trayvon’s parents spoke softly and movingly conveying a grief that tugged at the hearts of ordinary people… The Martins pulled off a near miracle in white America… they were able to subjugate their blackness to their humanity.


Pink Slime and the Modern Jungle

Michael Bell is in the department of community and environmental sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of Farming for Us All.
Valentine Cadieux
Valentine Cadieux is a researcher in geography and sociology at the University of Minnesota. She studies the intersections of urbanization and food systems.
Julie Guthman
Julie Guthman is in the department of community studies at the University of California-Santa Cruz. She is the author of Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism.
Marion Nestle
Marion Nestle is in the department of nutrition, food studies, and public health, as well as sociology, at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics.

As widely reported (and covered by The Society Pages’ Sociological Images), it took less than two months after an ABC News report about the use of “pink slime” in grocery store beef for manufacturer Beef Products Incorporated to close three of its plants. The industry came under intense scrutiny about this “lean finely texture beef” (LFTB) being used as an additive in 70% of ground beef in the U.S. Critics have pointed out that the product is in our school lunches, while defenders, including a bipartisan group of politicians and high ranking members of the USDA, have claimed the ammonia-treated bricks of beef product are actually safer and contain less fat than “normal” ground beef. They’ve suggested Americans are being misled by a smear campaign and a widely circulated image of what is actually “mechanically separated chicken,” Pepto-Bismol pink and oozing from industrial machinery.

In this roundtable we ask experts on the production and consumption of food to weigh in onthe public outcry and the larger lessons we might learn about the American meat industry, so many decades after Upton Sinclair.

First, we wondered, why has there been such a vocal reaction to pink slime—and why now? Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics, brought up the power of language and discourse, a “yuck” theme echoed by UC Santa Cruz’s Julie Guthman, the University of Minnesota’s Valentine Cadieux, and Michael Bell, author of Farming For Us All.

Pink Slime

The “pink slime” image that inspired such revulsion, and perhaps revolution. Via The Society Pages’ Sociological Images.

Nestle: Think [about the] power of the food movement and social media. This recent episode was kick-started by a school food advocate who wrote a letter to the USDA and collected signatures—more than 200,000 by the time it was over. That got press attention, and the company [Beef Products Incorporated] got defensive. Just the name “pink slime” poses a huge public relations problem.

Guthman: There is little doubt that the vocal reaction to LFTB is due to the “yuck” factor. When people learn about what goes on in much of industrial food production, especially involving livestock, they understandably become grossed out. Not all pay attention because they would rather not know, or choose to believe that the food industry must be sufficiently regulated to prevent harm. But when they do, the knowledge is unsettling.

Cadieux: I think that the dramatic nature of this processed beef trimmings incident has illustrated some unfortunate aspects of the way that contemporary engagements with food reform are structured by disgust and fear. The incendiary tone of both “pink slime” denunciations and defenses, for example, suggest a whole realm of desire to change or improve food that exhibits very strong compulsion to fix things and yet also seems to point to the way that this fixing may be inhibited by the way people repress their concerns about food. This tension seems really important. (more…)

Polling, Politics, and the Populace

Paul Goren
Paul Goren is a political scientist at the University of Minnesota. He studies public opinion, voting behavior, and applied statistics and econometrics.
Howard Schuman
Howard Schuman is a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Method and Meanings in Polls and Surveys.
Tom W. Smith
Tom Smith is a senior fellow and the director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Society at the University of Chicago's NORC. He is the incoming editor of Public Opinion Quarterly.

Every news-consuming American knows there’s always a ballot or election on the horizon. As stats are shot at us from left and right, it is difficult to go  a day without hearing the most recent reports on which candidate has taken the lead, who has gained momentum, and who or what is no longer viable. This leads to two rather important, but rarely asked, questions: who cares and what do these numbers really mean? In this roundtable, we hope to provide a basic understanding of polling, its different forms, how they are used by the candidates, campaigns, and the media—and what insight sociologists can provide.

What is polling and what does it measure?

Howard Schuman: A poll is almost always a series of questions intended to provide information about a large population (one too big to talk to one on one). For example, the total American population, which is now over 300 million people, or you can be interested only in American adults, say, 18 and over. A poll does this by drawing a relatively small sample from the population, then using probability theory to generalize the sample results to the entire population.

Surveys or polls can be used for practically any issue you wish to ask about, whether it’s factual, attitudes, beliefs, values, or anything else you can think to ask people. Most people are familiar with polls that measure opinions about political candidates, including who will win an election, but there’s really no limit to the types of topics that a poll or survey can ask about. For example, the federal government uses surveys each month to measure unemployment. So when you hear a figure like “There’s 8.2% unemployment over the past month,” it’s based on a sample. It’s a fairly large sample, but still, it’s a very small part of the total population of the U.S. labor force, so the government uses a survey to determine and report on unemployment every month. And much else that appears in government reports is based on samples of either the total population or some part of the population.

The questions themselves matter. And it turns out that writing questions is a lot more complex than most people realize. Answers can be affected by the form of the question—that is, whether it is open-ended or closed. The words also matter. For example, there’s no real difference between “forbidding” smoking and “not allowing” smoking in, say, a classroom, but many Americans give different answers to the question depending on whether you say “Should smoking be forbidden?” or “Should it not be allowed?” So, wording can make a huge difference. A third factor that affects answers is the context of the question. This includes the order of the questions—what questions came before—and also if there’s an interviewer, the race and sex of the interviewer often affect the answers, particularly if the questions deal with race or gender. (more…)