Recently, Netflix added the widely acclaimed documentary Half the Sky to its online streaming library. The film, inspired by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn book of the same name, follows six American celebrities as they travel throughout Asia and Africa addressing some of the health care, educational, and economic issues that oppress women and girls across the globe. Throughout the film, the viewer clearly sees the impact women and girls of the developing world have on both Kristof and the celebrity activists who join him in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Vietnam, Somaliland, India, and Kenya.
What is even more striking is the difference between the lives of the women featured in film and the actresses visiting from the West. At one point Kristof and actress Olivia Wilde are interviewing a former sex worker living in Kenya who is struggling to come up with the money needed to pay for her son’s tuition. When Kristof asks her what she will do if she cannot raise the money needed the woman simply relies that she will not eat. The conversation moves forward to other issues in the woman’s life and the viewer never finds out if the woman was able to pay her son’s tuition.
In my previous post for the ‘Capital Ideas’ mini-series, I outlined the basic premise of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century - that we are approaching a situation whereby a substantial European elite seems likely to receive an inheritance larger than the lifetime earnings of the bottom half of that same population. The post ended with a brief discussion of Timothy Johnson’s interesting but troubling critique of Piketty, which rests on the notion that capitalism is based on reciprocity rather than growth. Johnson has made some interesting attempts to rescue the Fundamental Theorem of Asset Pricing (the ‘unifying proposition’ of modern finance) from the world of calculating, consequentialist ethics, and has reimagined it in terms of ‘balanced reciprocity’ in Marshall Sahlins’ sense. Johnson’s hopeful (if structurally naive) notion of a financial capitalism that is based on reciprocity brings to mind Bruno Latour and Michel Callon’s approach to treating gifts and capital “symmetrically,” such that the structures of capitalism disappear: “one should not believe in [capitalism]…happily for us, it does not exist!” When Latour and Callon speak of a symmetry between gifts and capital, they claim that both ‘disinterested’ gift exchanges, and ‘interested’ transactions in capitalist markets rely upon “interdictions [disruptions] of calculation” (p. 11): gift exchanges disrupt calculation when participants are not allowed (or refuse) to calculate, while market transactions disrupt calculation by always refusing to ‘internalize’ all possible ‘externalities‘ into the participants’ calculative framework. Latour and Callon’s piece is perhaps the first manifesto for the sociological sub-discipline known as the ‘social studies of finance.’ Callon, and to a lesser extent Latour, have had a significant influence on the researchers carving out this ever-growing field of inquiry, one which has produced fascinating insights into the production of prices, the derivation of values and the coordination of agency within financial markets. (more…)
An ESL Classroom. Somewhere. By Tallersperlallengua (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
I recently took a break from my PhD to work as an ESL teacher in a summer school in Northern England. As well as making a welcome change from my studies to a very different working and living environment for a month, it also made me reflect on language and the linguistic hegemony which English continues to enjoy around the world. On the one hand, I’m slightly uncomfortable with the way which English has become the dominant world language, allowing people like me access to certain jobs just because of where we were born and the language we were born with. On the other, I am often struck by how one ‘global’ language brings people together. In academia, where English is the default language, we see this all the time. At my summer school, it was a pleasant (and rather cute) sight to hear Russian, Kuwaiti, Chinese and Spanish teenagers all using English to chat to each other, play games, and build friendships.
This is a photo I took in July, 2014, during my fieldwork in Jandiayacu. Jandiayacu is a Sapara community in the Amazonian region of Ecuador. It is accessible only by plane or a difficult journey on foot and by canoe, which takes several days. (click for full size image)
So often we talk about being rational, making decisions based on established facts and existing knowledge, as if it is, and should be, the aim of all people at all times. Ways of being or knowing that sit outside of accepted knowledge can open a person up to being dismissed, discredited or ridiculed, particularly in the academic world. Anybody who knows me knows that I am a somewhat methodical and ‘rational’ person (most of the time). I love questions and puzzles and finding answers, and I struggle with things being disorganised, chaotic or inefficient. This is probably why I have found beginning my research with the Sapara nation, an Indigenous people here in Ecuador, so difficult. (more…)
In 2008, I read a book by Adina Nack, Damaged Goods? Women Living With Incurable Sexually Transmitted Diseases. At the time I was blown away by a text that focused on the study of chronic, non-fatal sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at a time when the majority of research on gender and STIs focused on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States and abroad. Nack’s study examined the ways in which women diagnosed the issue of non-fatal, chronic, sexually transmitted infections managed the stigma and ultimately came to terms with their sexual selves.
The fact that estimates from the CDC in 1998 suggested three out of every four sexually active adults in the United States have human papillomavirus infections (HPV) and one out of five sexually active adults in the United States has genital herpes suggested to me that an examination of these STIs warranted significantly more attention than they had been given in studies of both sexualities and medical sociology at the time of Nack’s research (Nack 2014). Yet, few scholars have added to the work produced by Nack in the first decade of the 21st century.
University of Bristol BSc Sociology Graduates, 2011 – (authors own)
This is a guest post from Guy Sanders. Guy is a freelance graphic artist living and working in London. He specialises in promotional design and branding for theatre and entertainment companies. He holds a BSc in Sociology and Political Science from the University of Bristol. Guy’s interests include cultural criticism and the deconstruction of nation making. He tweets @GuyJSanders
Is The Sociology Finished Yet?
I completed a BSc in Sociology and Political Science in 2011. What followed immediately was a period of indecision about continuing my studies, and a prolonged period of misplaced commitment to jobs I didn’t enjoy or do well because now this was ‘real life’,and I needed to ‘get a job’. All of this was very un-sociological. Very uncritical. Very driven by having no job and none of the various kinds of capital (economic, social, Starbucks) that came along with having a job. I now work as a freelance graphic designer, helping arts and entertainment companies find images and words that best represent their products. It’s enjoyable, challenging and involves thinking critically. But that doesn’t mean it’s wholly “Sociology friendly”, even if I have, at the very least, ditched the Starbucks.
This post is the first in a short series exploring the ways in which ideas about kinship and inheritance appear in three recent and high-profile explorations of economic life: Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, Rana Dasgupta’s Capital: A Portrait of 21st Century Life, and the admittedly less current Capital by John Lanchester. (The astute amongst the readers will have noticed something of a pattern!) This instalment follows on from Johannes Lenhard’s earlier Sociology Lens post by exploring Piketty’s writing on inheritance and inequality through anthropological eyes. In the second half of ‘Enriching Economic Sociology’ (to be posted on August 14th), I suggest that high profile sociologists studying finance and markets have adopted methodological and theoretical commitments which prevent them from engaging with Piketty, or even asking questions about merit and inheritance in their research. If we are to address this blind spot, there is as much to be learned from Piketty-as-sociologist as there is from Piketty-as-economist. (more…)
There are now free tools available, such as Node XL, which, at unprecedented speeds and scales allow us access, harvest, and analyse the traces of people’s (often transgressive) thoughts, opinions and behaviours on Twitter. Since it combines the grand scale and generalisability of methods such as national surveys with the granularity and detail of close textual analysis, ethnography, or participant observation (Driscoll & Walker, 2014, p1746), Twitter analysis seemingly represents the holy grail of research methods. Existing research into misogyny on Twitter for example shows feminism is as indispensable as ever. There is, however, an increasingly important role for sociology to address technologically mediated symbolic violence like this. (more…)
There’s an interesting post at over on The Philosopher’s Eye, questioning whether Facebook’s recent ‘emotional contagion’ experiments really were so unethical. So, what do you think? Was manipulating the newsfeeds of a few hundred thousand Facebook users unethical, or just part and parcel of the standard user agreement?
The Facebook Scandal that Wasn’t – By Udo Schuklenk
Sleepy? Get used to it kid. [http://lovebabypictures.com/baby-pic-216_Baby_yawning.php]
How well did you sleep last night? Or the night before? Feeling rested and ready? Nope, me either. While I find it no trouble at all to feed
myself adequately, I’m in a constant struggle to provide myself with enough of that most basic resource, sleep
. It sometimes feels like while my body and mind most certainly value sleep a lot, technology and modern social practices seem to have very little regard for it at all, and my body and mind are on the losing side in this battle. I’m not the only one: sleeping habits seem to be getting worse in many developing countries, with some experts estimating that people in the UK sleep an hour and a half less today
than we did sixty years ago. Yet beyond a bit of grogginess, why should we care? What’s caused this shift in sleep patterns, and what can we do to get more shut-eye?