The Conception of the Closet

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(Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4b/Coming_out_of_the_closet.jpg)

The concept of the “closet,” linguistically, served as the foundation, and means, to identify as a homosexual, or LGBTQ. Within her text, The Epistemology of the Closet, Kosofsky Sedgwick offers numerous ways to define the “closet.” However, there are two definitions pertinent to our understanding of the “closet.” The first definition of the “closet” is described as, “a room for privacy or retirement” (Kosofsky Sedgwick, 2008d: 65) and the second, more appealing, definition of the “closet” has an added word before it: “skeleton in the closet (or cupboard): a private or concealed trouble in one’s house or circumstances, ever present, and ever liable to come into view” (Kosofsky Sedgwick, 2008e: 65). To have something, or to be, in the “closet” points out something that is hidden or kept private from others, never to be discerned. It, also, points to a power relation, or antagonism, between sexualities, and sexuality known as knowledge. Currently, it is common for individuals of the LGBTQ community to ask one another if they are “out of the closet.” Yet, to ask someone if they are “out of the closet” is to pry into their secret: they are asked to elucidate, or bring to life, the sexual identity one feels they must hide and fear. (more…)

Going beyond growth: Why do economists have all the fun?

By Pearson Scott Foresman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What’s in a job title? If an academic came on the radio, TV or wrote a piece in a newspaper, would their title as a ‘sociologist’, ‘political scientist’, or ‘economist’ make a difference to the credence afforded to them? Of course it would. Economists trump the lot. Before he or she (it’s usually ‘he’) has uttered a word, an Economist appears more professional, more impressive, schooled in the hard science of trade and finance, rather than the wishy-washy relativists of the ‘soft’ social sciences like er… me.

Policy-makers and the media listen to economists, and the policy prescriptions they offer often have far-reaching social, political and even environmental implications. Economists know that unlike they will get an audience, as shown last week when Thomas Piketty, Ha-joon Chang and 75 other economists wrote an open letter to George Osborne last week, criticising his policy to bury Keynesian economics forever by banning future governments from ever running budget deficits. It made the news in a way that 77 sociologists never would.

The prominence of economists in policy-making and in the media is of interest to me because it might help explain our obsession with GDP growth. We hear politicians talk about ‘going for growth’, or aspiring to a ‘growth-based recovery’. Growth wins elections, growth keeps governments in power. We rarely question it, but there are reasons to be sceptical about our obsession with it. Last year’s report by the IMF, suggesting that inequality is bad for growth and more unequal economies are more prone to booms and busts, caused quite a stir mainly due to the fact that it was written by respected economists and played into the idea that growth is always the goal. Anti-poverty charity Oxfam welcomed the report, saying it shows “extreme inequality is damaging not only because it is morally unacceptable, but it’s bad economics”, also echoing esteemed economist Joseph Stiglitz’s view that despite strong average GDP growth in the United States since the 1980s, incomes have not increased for the vast majority of Americans. Take-home messages: Inequality is bad for growth, and the benefits of growth often only reach the few, not the many. (more…)

One History for All?: Pride

Photo owned by Megan Nanney

Photo owned by Megan Nanney

I will never forget my first Pride. I was living in New York City for the summer working as an intern at the Human Rights Watch. The office, last minute, decided to join the parade with people from the office and their families marching with signs regarding LGBT human rights issues. I got to carry the HRW banner (pictured above, I’m on the right) that read clearly “Tyranny has a Witness.” How many people can actually say their first Pride was one that you got to be in the parade, let alone in New York City? The whole parade we walked the behind a float with drag queens that had “It’s Raining Men” on repeat. I’ll never forget watching the people on the sides, decked out in rainbow flags from head to toe, and a few protesters with signs. When we got to Christopher Street, the home of Stonewall Inn, the crowd thickened with hoards of people waiting to party the night away. Being in that parade was electrifying. Being part of an event that celebrated diversity and human rights and my (not then out) self is something I will never forget.

But what is forgotten throughout Pride month is the history of the LGBT rights movement and why we celebrate. (Hint: it’s not about marriage equality). What is lost amongst the corporate sponsorship is the message of visible difference in the street, marching to take back our space and to celebrate ourselves and to celebrate being different. What is erased is the diversity within the LGBT community, along with the white-washing, patriarchal, and homonormative reduction of a group of individuals to a singular community. While my post today is not meant to retell the entire history of the LGBT rights movement, it is important to know that it doesn’t begin with Stonewall. So then, why do we always attribute that last Sunday in June to the riots that served as a “shot heard around the world?” Is the original tradition of Pride dead?

(more…)

Online Dating in 2015: The Good, the Bad and the Problematic

Recently I found myself at a bar in New York City on a Friday night with another female friend, where we had a starkly twenty-first century encounter. A polite man in his early thirties who was alone at the bar helped my friend and I find adjacent bar stools. He then sat on the stool next to my friend, and some other young women were sitting on his other side. I had a strange urge to study that man and saw him pull out his phone shortly after everyone in the immediate vicinity was seated. Not long after, he opened the Tinder application. For the next few hours, he sipped on his drinks and swiped away at pictures of women on this popular dating app, while physically surrounded by various women in their mid to late twenties, many of whom could possibly be single and available.

Maybe that doesn’t sound very strange to most people in 2015, but I was pretty taken aback, as the sociologist in me wondered what this man’s actions meant for society and its future. Somehow within the last few years, online dating has transformed from a deviant and stigmatized social practice to one of the most normative forms of meeting potential romantic partners. Therefore, we have to talk about its implications.

In many ways this is great news: we don’t like unsubstantiated social stigma, and this sure allows for a wider range of the community – including those that may experience trouble approaching potential suitors because of a myriad of potential social anxieties – to explore romantic possibilities. In the Western world and countries like the U.S. a substantially large population has access to this system: really all you need is a mobile device and Internet connection. It is at once the most socialist and capitalist forms of dating, too. Most people have equal access to these platforms and the users within these platforms, yet those with the highest erotic capital are the most likely to succeed. While this is slightly concerning in that any hierarchical distribution of human beings is concerning, it is not all that different from the non-virtual social world. People are attracted to people they find attractive – excuse my tautology – whether because of inherent or socially conditioned preferences, both online and offline. I’m not qualified to discuss the problems associated with that at length; however, I would like to address a tangentially related, possibly much larger social problem that online dating seems to have gotten some reputation for perpetuating: that of race and racially based discrimination.

According to data collected by OkCupid, another popular online dating platform, racially based bias in choosing potential romantic partners has increased between 2009 and 2014! People have less control over who occupies physical spaces traditionally popular for meeting people, such as bars or cafes, so they are more likely to meet and approach people from different racial backgrounds. However, in online dating, the options are numerous, allowing for the room to discount any potential candidate for any reason whatsoever. To provide a non-race related thought experiment: an extremely left-of-center woman, whose politics are integral to her life, encounters an attractive man at a bookstore and decides to approach him. They talk and there is instant spark, so they go on a few dates. On their third date the woman finds out the man’s political beliefs are extremely right of center. Whether or not it is a deal breaker in this scenario depends somewhat on the first two dates. In the online dating version of this, there probably wouldn’t be two dates to begin with because people often have information like political beliefs listed on their profile, and because there are so many choices, this hypothetical woman would have little need to give this hypothetical man a chance.

The problem is: alignment of political beliefs is a matter of compatibility, whereas specific racial preferences are a matter of institutionalized differences that reinforce racial bias. Whether or not attraction to specific physical attributes – particularly skin color – are intrinsic is an ongoing debate; however, it is difficult to argue that online dating has made these kinds of selection practices easier.

So, to go back to the man who was using Tinder alone at the bar: he was a white male, physically surrounded by women of color, as he “swiped right” – the Tinder equivalent of a “like” – for only white women. The man’s personal preferences for romantic partners matters little; however, the implications here are important to keep in mind: online dating allows for a more covert form of racial bias in the dating world.

Further Readings

Emerson Collins Blog: “Dating – Preference or Racism?

Time: “What Keeps Online Dating Segregated (and How to Fix It)”

 Photo Credit: Huffington Post

The Division of Society into Two Classes Transforms into the Sexual Differentiation of Space

1024px-Flickr_-_NewsPhoto!_-_Marxisme_festival_Amsterdam

(Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Marxism#/media/File:Flickr_-_NewsPhoto!_-_Marxisme_festival_Amsterdam.jpg)

The economist Karl Marx believed for society to change, there was a need for an uprising, and an overthrowing of the ruling class; the bourgeoisie. To Marx, no person would truly be free unless this rebellion would occur. Marx is known for his theories about the economy, workers, and social life. One concept, of his, that appeals to my attention is the division of society into two classes. However, what Marx failed to realize, was by this division, he, essentially, enabled a space to create gendered spaces; or, what I will label a sexual differentiation of space. (more…)

Tourists and refugees: two worlds that aren’t supposed to collide.

Picture used courtesy of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3099736/Holidaymakers-misery-boat-people-Syria-Afghanistan-seeking-asylum-set-migrant-camp-turn-popular-Greek-island-Kos-disgusting-hellhole.html

You have to hand it to the Daily Mail. Their writers have perfected the art of pressing people’s buttons; of making highly divisive clickbait, or, as my dad might’ve said, of stirring up sh*t. Last week’s article about British tourists in Greece being outraged by the influx of refugees coming from Turkey caused plenty of outrage and counter-outrage both online and in other parts of the British press. Even by its own standards of outrage, this was outrageously outrageous. Job well done Daily Mail.

The Mail highlighted the incongruous mix of outsiders that have been arriving on the island of Kos in recent weeks. One group are refugees from Syria and Afghanistan, who are seeking refuge in Europe from war, homelessness, and complete desperation back home. The other group are middle- or working-class white holiday-makers from the UK who go to Kos for sun, sea, booze and food. These two groups are not supposed to meet. This isn’t in the script. They might gaze upon at each other’s worlds briefly on TV or computer screens, but physical co-presence between these two worlds is not supposed to happen.  (more…)

The Rising Burden of Affording College and Undermatching

(Photo from Flickr user thisisbossi)

(Photo from Flickr user thisisbossi)

I recently came across an article on my Facebook feed about high school senior Ronald Nelson, who was accepted into all 8 ivy league colleges (among other highly competitive schools). The article discussed how, despite this amazing opportunity for Nelson to attend arguably one of the better colleges in the nation, he ultimately chose to attend University of Alabama (which is still a decent school). According to Business Insider, “After some thought and consideration of all the schools’ offers, Nelson decided it wouldn’t be worth the financial strain to use this money on his undergraduate education.”

Talk about the rising costs and burden of affording college is everywhere. The Wall Street Journal just announced that the graduating class of 2014 has the highest student debt in history, with the average student owing $33,000 after college. So for Nelson, attending a less competitive school that offered him a full ride scholarship was a strategy, as he plans on attending graduate school (where that debt only accumulates…). Seems like a smart choice, right?

Not according to Sociologists of Education who study and believe in undermatching theory.

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From the Editor’s Desk

Photo Credit: Gloria Mantovani used with expressed permission

Photo Credit: Gloria Mantovani used with expressed permission

Hello, and welcome to Sociology Lens.  It is a great pleasure to introduce myself as the site’s new Editor-In-Chief.  I believe that sociologists have a responsibility to directly engage with multiple publics through research, teaching, blogging, community activism, social organizing, cultural critique, and the like.  I am thrilled to have the opportunity to serve the news editors of Sociology Lens as they engage current debates in sociology and imagine future sociological projects while maintaining the integrity and professionalism established through the leadership of my predecessor, Terry Glenn Lilley.

When I am not writing for, and now editing Sociology Lens, I teach.  I am a recent graduate of Florida State University and will begin my full-time faculty position at Virginia Commonwealth University in August.  In addition to teaching core sociology courses I also teach in my area of media, adolescence, education, and gender studies.  I am also a parent to two small, slightly high-maintenance children.

In the immediate future, I will work closely with Wiley Publishing to design a new updated appearance for the blog.  The current editorial staff has also made some insightful recommendations to more closely connect Sociology Lens to the related Twitter and Facebook sites – which I will plan.  In addition, building on the recent success of the editor driven surviving graduate school themed month, I will encourage similarly creative ways to boost readership and new subscribers.

I hope that you will continue reading and sharing Sociology Lens as we promote a variety of emerging student voices.  If you are interested in writing for SL, please contact me directly.  Currently the site has around 14,000 subscribers and our Twitter account boasts 17,000 followers.  Our influence is growing.  You never know which doors will open because of your contributions here.

Onward!

Homosexuality and Anti-Colonialism: How Homosexual Frenchmen Are Actually Colonialists

Miklos_Vadasz_-_L'Assiettte_au_Beurre_-_Les_p'tits_jeun'_hommes_02

(Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:LGBT_history_in_France#/media/File:Miklos_Vadasz_-_L%27Assiettte_au_Beurre_-_Les_p%27tits_jeun%27_hommes_02.jpg)

 

Before the conquest of the colonies many non-Western, indigenous, societies did not believe in a heterosexual/homosexual binary. In lieu of this binary, many indigenous societies had some notion of a third category for a person’s sex: a man, or woman, who would dress as the opposite sex but sustained same-sex relationships. The indigenous populations viewed these same-sex relationships as something natural, not perverse. Conversely in Europe, the production of the homosexual was well underway with the coinage of the term in 1891. Many of the men in the imperial army were aware of their colleagues who had “those” tendencies: certain men that enjoyed having sex with other men. Yet once in the colonies, the soldiers met with indigenous men whom were willing to have relations with them. The soldiers believed it was a “situational” homosexuality, as coined by Aldrich. But how was the knowledge of a “situational” homosexuality produced? In the words of Bernard Cohn, this “situational” homosexuality came to be through investigative modalities. (more…)

Nudging might be sexy, but it isn’t enough.

Image courtesy of http://www.speroforum.com/a/NTUACKIKDY21/74868-Good-nudge-bad-nudge-Dont-get-too-comfortable#.VV8W4PlVhBc

Last week I went to a workshop in London about nudging, titled “Silver Bullets Need A Careful Aim. Dilemmas in applying behavioural insights”. It was very interesting, and my gratitude goes out to the organisers who put together a really interesting day focused on the ethics and effectiveness of ‘Nudge’, which, seven years after Thaler and Sunstein’s book of the same name was published, still seems to be capturing the imagination of academics, marketers and policy-makers.

(If you have no idea what ‘Nudge’ means, check my previous post here) (more…)