Monthly Archives: October 2008

"Pretty" enough to run for office?

A recent psychology study (see below) at Northwestern University reveals that one reason that we look for female political candidates to be “attractive” is due to human instincts for “mate selection.”  The authors of the study assert that these judgements about the attractiveness of a female candidate occur unconsciously, therefore insinuating that a) mate selection is transhistorical and is based on modern standards of attraction, b) mate selection is heteronormatively essentialized and c) male preferences and instincts are human instincts, which is why women would also hold female candidates to the same mate selection standards.  Michel Foucault’s work on discourse, power, and desire provides a context in which we can understand the dominant hegemonic suppressions at work in these kinds of assumptions.  Patriarchy as power operates at a level that does not feel repressive, rather, it creates the discourse that masks the inflection of this power, thereby operating “unconsciously.”  By this logic, go ahead and vote for Sarah Palin because she is ‘pretty,’ after all, its only natural that we prefer to look at her, it’s just our human instinct for mate selection kicking in, unconsciously of course. 

 Northwestern Study    

 

N. Obed on marginalized discourse

The So-Called "Silent Minority" Speaks

 

by theoryforthemasses

In the months leading up to the national election, the American news media has explored several demographic groups whose votes are up for grabs. The focus has largely been on African Americans, Latinos, and white female Clinton supporters; meanwhile, the Asian American vote (as though “Asians” can be qualitatively lumped together) has been largely overlooked. In her exploration of whether Asian Americans are considered “forever foreigners” or “honorary whites,” sociologist Mia Tuan paints a compelling picture of racialization in the United States. She argues that, despite their high rates of educational attainment and economic success, many Asian Americans are still perceived as “other.” A recent article on MSNBC.com explores the Asian American vote, and offers reasons for their burgeoning political participation in the upcoming election. One compelling suggestion, elucidated by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jeff Yang, suggests that Obama may represent the first Asian American president given his academic success, search for an identity, and outsider status. This identification may compel more Asian Americans, especially members of the 1.5 and second generations to support him. Although Tuan’s book, Forever Foreigners or Honorary Whites? was published nearly ten years ago, it is clear her exploration of racial identity is still highly salient among Asian Americans today.

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Jeff Yang editorial


David Eng on Asian American identity

 

Social Media and Politics

No one can deny that the technology available today is changing the face of politics.  With the explosion of the internet, candidates are conducting much of their fundraising efforts and the promotion of their campaigns on a virtual campaign trail.  Information concerning nominees of both parties can be found on social networking websites such as Facebook and Myspace, an infinite amount of blog sites, and video sites such as Google video and YouTube.  In the video clip below from Newsworld, the use of social media and how it is shaping the 2008 US Presidential Election is discussed.  

Sociologists have long recognized that the two most powerful agents of political socialization are the family and the media.  One of the changes that can be seen is the interest in the political of American’s youth.  No doubt there are other contributing factors, but utilizing tools that are so commonly used by the younger generations is a factor.  How is the new face of politics shaping individuals’ political attitudes, beliefs, and identities?  As explained in the video, no longer do the political messages appear to be transmitted from the candidate to the masses; but instead those messages are now experienced at an increased level of intimacy.  With such technological tools, the feedback loop between the messenger and the person receiving the message is almost instant, allowing the campaign to be constantly shaped and re-shaped accordingly.  One has to wonder how technology has changed the process of political socialization.  Current research on the relationship between the media and politics is needed.  In the article below, Young and her colleagues trace the technological changes and developments and call for interdisciplinary research in political communications.

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A Symbolic Interactionist Approach to Political Ideology

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Bull Market, Bear Market, Chihuahua Market?

by bmckernan

For decades, social scientists interested in studying ideology have been grappling with how to appropriately examine cultural texts. On the one hand, scholars such as Adorno assert that popular texts should be primarily treated as superficial products designed to not only distract audiences but also to deny them critical agency. On the other hand, Gramsci’s conceptualization of ideology views popular culture as one possible method employed by the dominant classes to route potentially destabilizing sentiments into more ideologically safe harbors. A recent article in the NY Times on Hollywood’s efforts to grapple with the current financial crisis touches upon both these themes. In language similar to that of Adorno, the article argues that the current popularity of the children’s film Beverly Hills Chihuaha and the action oriented film Max Payne may be seen as a sign that Americans are looking for lighter, more “care-free” movies to help them escape from these stressful times. Alternatively, the article proposes that given the current economic climate, America may instead witness an increase in the number of Hollywood projects centered on morally bankrupt businessmen. This sentiment was perhaps best reflected by Michael Douglass’s stirring performance as the morally bankrupt Gordon Gekko in the critically acclaimed Wall Street, a film released during the harsh economic climate surrounding the 1987 financial crisis. Of course, as Gramsci would note, in Wall Street the system is ultimately preserved as the antagonist is seen as embodying not the moral woes of the entire system, but rather as a member of a small group of “bad apples” that must be weeded out. No matter which approach one chooses, there is certainly no question that they both offer important insights for social scientists to keep in mind during this turbulent period.

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“The Relationship between Images of God and Political Ideology in a Cross-Cultural Analysis”

Card Games

by P Threlfall

The US presidential campaign has been played like Las Vegas poker tournament.  Between both campaigns, the race card, gender card, class card, and fear cards are strategically played with what Boudon referred to as “perverse effects.”  

 

Most would hope that tremendous progress would be promised from a campaign that does not consist of four upper class white men, but it seems that it has only served to unveil the deep seated classism, racism, and sexism that this extremely diverse society possesses. The card games played in this election have created a schism within American society that will take far more than a change in Washington to heal.

 

The question is whether or not this unveiling has been good or bad in the long run.  Was it better to keep these ugly truths in the closet?  Or now that the world has seen this complex culture for what it really is, will the healing begin?  

"You'll get moved on here"

(by kiddingthecity)

The other day I came across a great piece of ruin, an other fragment of this incredible city: a London based charity invites people sleeping rough to author a ‘Homeless City Guide’ by drawing listed signs on the wall in order ‘to help others to read the city’.

By scrolling down the list of symbols, I felt a sense of hollowness reading tags like ‘an attack happened here’, or ‘strong police presence’, and ‘unfriendly place’. Risk is a major concern in everyday life in the cities, and the media campaigns fulfil many moral panics alike. By thinking about geographies of danger, though, there is a sense in which risk cannot be a rational calculation made by rational individuals: on the contrary, there is a strong social element in the evaluation of risk, interlocked with personal memories, shared experiences, unconscious feelings of desire and uncanny, and relative positions in-between fields: so to say, we live in descriptions of places, which organise, link and make itineraries out of them.

Ah, the charity also recommends to use chalk in order to keep the system up to date. There is in fact the impression that non permanent marks can tell us more about the ever changing and ephemeral geographies of our living spaces.

Geographies of Danger Geographies of Risk

An introduction to citiesAn excellent introduction to Cities

Chocolate or Milk Chocolate?

YouTube Preview Image

(by linanne10)

Race has long time been a crucial issue for the American society. The representation of people of color is especially tricky in the media, where the mainstream discourses are produced and reproduced largely by and for the white community. The recent debut of the comedy, “Chocolate News,” unrolls with the idea of creating a black sitcom “by and for” the African-American community. The French theorist, Michel Foucault, has noted the relationship between power and the production of knowledge. In Foucault’s sense, those who have the ability and legitimacy to create and re-create prevailing knowledge, are those who are in the position of power. The reproduction of knowledge establishes discourses for the society, which informs our activities and how we perceive the environment we are placed in. Often times, the rights of social minorities to represent themselves are controlled and taken over by the dominant groups, resulting in distorted and denigrating images. The “Chocolate News” is a manifestation of a social group creating their own images by themselves and through their own point of view, within the realm of mainstream media. As David Alan Grier, the script writer and host of “Chocolate News,” noted the distinction between “audiences laughing with you because they get the joke,” and “audiences laughing at you in a dehumanizing way,” shows the crucial differences of who are in charge of media representation. However, could a show hosted and written by a black person be genuinely “black,” despite all of the other social factors in play which creates intra-racial segregation? For example, could we ignore the influence of class and gender in such context?

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The Representation of Islam and Muslims in the Media

Is Palin a Feminist Icon?

by P Threlfall

The questions raised from the sudden rise of Sarah Palin to political prominence has forced many, who consider themselves feminist, to re-examine the definition of feminist and construct some baseline idea of what constitutes carrying the moniker.  This isn’t a new struggle, but it’s one that has primarily been confined to the halls of Women’s Studies departments and the pages of social journals for many years. 

Enter Palin and all bets are off.  Suddenly feminists are forced to question what it is that feminism stands for.  If it is political power, then Palin is an icon standing toe to toe with Hillary Clinton.  If it is promoting equity for women, then Palin fails the litmus test.  Opinions vary. 

Palin doesn’t hold the same ideologies that traditionally constitute feminism, but she has reignited the discussions, and that may very well designate her as a feminist icon- as some in academia are beginning to argue.  Is feminism a paradigm that is confined to a set of ideologies?  Is feminism a strategy of action? Or is feminism forging a new territory where, as third wavers have argued, feminism is simply about honoring every perspective that emerges from the experiences of women? 

Regardless of what anyone says, it can be argued that Sarah Palin has pressed buttons- and ultimately, that may be the most feminist thing a woman can do.  Is Sarah Palin a feminist icon? You decide.

Pearl Green on The Feminist Consciousness

"Gender Solidarity"

by socanonymous

Nobel-prize winner, Dr. Harald zur Hausen, who discovered the link between the human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer recently gave a talk to researchers and health specialists in Toronto about the dangers of non-vaccination. He discounted the view that only females need to be vaccinated and stressed the importance of female and male inclusion in HPV vaccination efforts. Even though almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV, it also plays a large role in penile and anal cancer, which affects males.

The perception that only females are affected by sexually transmitted diseases and are therefore responsible for prevention, has been prevalent among the general public for decades. The media has attributed to reinforcement and validation of this archaic belief. Condom promotion and AIDS prevention advertisements are largely directed towards young females. This is living proof that patriarchy is alive and well in the 21st century. These beliefs are often at the roots of unequal gender power relations in society and often contribute to adverse consequences, including the degradation of women.

Dr. zur Hausen’s best advice for reducing the spread of HPV is for both males and females to get protected. He added that it would be a show of “gender solidarity.”

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Holland et al. on Sex, gender and power: young women’s sexuality in the shadow of AIDS

The German Democratic Republic: ‘A Social Paradise’?

by paulabowles

It has recently been noted that there appears to be ‘an increasing sense of nostalgia for communism’ among many Germans. Although, this may in part be connected to wider global financial concerns, this on its own does not explain the attraction for many younger people. Indeed, it is suggested that many of these were born after Germany’s reunification, with no experience of the reality of living under communism.

In an effort to tackle these concerns, the East German School Project, based in Leipzig’s former Stasi building, has created classroom re-enactments to enable teenage pupils to gain some insight. Elke Urban, who takes the role of teacher Frau Müller, insists that some pupils ‘think that it [communism] was like living in a social paradise’. By stressing the totalitarian nature of the GDR regime, the project hopes to dispel some of the myths.

As part of this role-play, one student is pre-selected to be the dissident member of the group. Frighteningly, in an echo of the studies carried out by Milgram, Elliott and Zimbardo respectively, Ms. Urban has found that out of all the groups to visit the project, only one has refused to conform, with the others happy to participate in the dissident individual’s discrimination.

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‘Does Antiregime Action under Communist Rule Affect Political Protest After the Fall?’