Monthly Archives: November 2008

Capitalism's meltdown and the Body

by kiddingthecity

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My barber doesn’t bother at all: “Hair -he told me last week – will always grow on people’s head!”. The phantasmagorical numbers of the capitalist crisis do not mean anything at all to him (do they mean anything to most of us, by the way?). He carries on as he can, as he has almost always done, a coffee and a cigarette here and there, a joke quite often.

He made me think that everyday’s life is a challenging terrain for social scientists, more complex and fluid that we – social scientists – are usually inclined to think: it engages simultaneously with the real, the symbolic and the imaginary, and ‘how and what it is experienced as experience is itself variable’ (N. Thrift, Non Representational Theory, 2008).

square-eye47 Thrift on malice and misanthropy

square-eye47 Non-Representational Theory

The Writing is on the Wall

By PThrelfall

juicy_harassmentWith the research community barely scratching the surface of the cyber-conduct and behaviors of college students, the recent controversy over a site that has been proliferated and abused by college students is hardly surprising.  Juicycampus.com is a website that has rapidly grown from 63 to over 500 campuses across the United States in the past year and allows students to anonymously post “juicy” gossip, personal exploits, and controversial opinions, all without the threat of IP identification. Its founder claims that it is an opportunity for students to speak out without the repercussions of parents, professors and peers, but what has resulted is a site that combines the cruelty of a high school bathroom wall, the hubris of an intimate college campus social structure, and the reach of the global Web. At least fifty percent of the posts are sexually harassing towards women- and often provide the victims first and last name.  As Lonsway points out, “behaviors such as rape and sexual harassment lie on a single continuum of male sexual aggression against women.” While it would be impossible to prove that posts on Juicycampus.com are the precursors to an increased level of sexual assault on a campus, it can be argued that it greatly contributes to the culture of heightened danger that college women are already exposed to.

 

 The controversy has raised issues of freedom of speech versus campus safety at Universities across the country.  Many schools have decided to allow access to the site from campus servers regardless of pressure from students and parents to block it.  However, Tennessee State University blocked the site from campus servers in early November.  In response, the site owner issued a statement that TSU was treating its students like children and that the University had abdicated their educational responsibilities.  However, this is an obvious and cynical attempt to manipulate young people into rallying for his right to make money at the expense of their own social well being.  Additionally, this accusation fails to take into account that the greater task of educators is to ensure that students accept an appropriate level of personal responsibility and accountability, not only for themselves, but also for others in their community. 

square-eye43 Kimberly Lonsway on sexual harassment and rape myths

Child Poverty: The Breeding Ground for ‘Feral, Parasitic Yob[s]’?

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by paulabowles

The recent horrific death of Baby P, at the hands of family members, has raised many critical questions for Britain, not least the way in which we care for our children. Most recently, the Chief Executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, Martin Narey, has expressed his shock both at the toddler’s tragic death, and the events which led up to it.

At a lecture focusing on child poverty, Mr Narey took the opportunity to make an astounding prediction that if Baby P had survived, he most likely would have grown to become ‘feral, a parasite, a yob, helping to infest our streets.’ In spite, of Martin Narey’s stated ambition that we should focus on young peoples’ needs, instead of simply criminalising them, his comments have been greeted by children’s charities with horror and consternation.

Although, Mr Narey’s intentions may have been good, linking the tragic death of a child to Barnardo’s stated aim of breaking ‘the cycle of deprivation that prevents many children achieving their full potential,’ can be seen as provocative, and a naïve attempt to shock supporters. By using inflammatory labels such as ‘feral, parasitic yob,’ it is hard to see how Martin Narey hopes to gain support for the very organisation he purports to speak for. Furthermore, by attempting to attach Barnardo’s campaign to the emotive case of Baby P, he risks alienating both those he seeks to help, and new and existing supporters.

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square-eye47“Neighborhood Disadvantage, Social Capital, Street Context, and Youth Violence”

The Hannity &…Hannity Program?

by ishein1

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The ubiquity of news programs on contemporary American television is palpable.  The four major network stations all have their own sister news station.  It can be said, without many cavils, that the Fox news station, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, oscillates at varying degrees along the right side of the American political spectrum.  Fox News’ longest running and second highest rated program, only behind the O’Reilly Factor, Hannity & Colmes, at the end of the year will lose its left half.  Alan Colmes announced his departure from the show, planned for the end of this year.  Hannity will stay on as host and as of now it appears as if no one will join him.  The program will lose all of its “anachronism” and diversity.  The result will be a program isomorphous with most other cable news programs. These quotidian programs often only provide one paradigm.  The critical theorist Jurgen Habermas discusses the paramount concept of the public sphere.  The public sphere is a space in which open discussion and dialogue take place.  According to Habermas, within this arena, rationality and reason will win out.  This ideal has the possibility of being prevalent, and furthermore, it is the telos toward which the public sphere and therefore news media must aspire.  If our media continues to only cater to niche audiences, providing only one-sided arguments, our public sphere will be stultified and remain underdeveloped.  The possibility to circumvent the colonization of our life worlds and foster reason will be razed.  Our news media programs must represent an ideal form of communication in which the strongest argument will foster élan for its stance.  The watching public must covet a variegated dialogue between a multitude of positions if we expect democracy and reason to flourish.   


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square-eye40 Dwayne Winseckon on Media Ownership

Just Where Do Trusted News Sources Get Their Information?

by NickieWild

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Remember all the reports immediately following the conclusion of the presidential campaign that an unnamed McCain-Palin campaign policy advisor leaked to the media that Sarah Palin didn’t know that Africa was actually a continent, and not a country? Remember all the interviews Palin did denying the reports, and calling the unnamed sources cowards and liars? Soon afterwards, reports swirled on cable news that the source of the leak had identified himself as Martin Eisenstadt, a member of The Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy. However, what you most likely did not hear is that this neither of these entities really exists. They are the creation of a couple of filmmakers who regularly prank the media. This is their biggest hoax to date, as they managed to take in at least MSNBC, The New Republic, and The LA Times. It’s still not known who really did report that Sarah Palin had trouble with geography. But if reality is socially constructed as Berger and Luckman argue, it’s likely that merely claiming to have crucial or sought-after information will get you on the news, especially when more and more “facts” are needed to fill airtime in the 24-hour news cycle. News organizations were so eager to report that they knew the source of the leak that no one initially bothered to apply the revolutionary new vetting technique called “Google” on any of the parties that claimed credit before the news was reported. A quick glance at the Internet reveals that these guys have been putting out fake reports for some time now. It makes one wonder how many more pieces of “infaux-mation” are never found out.

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square-eye39Berger and Luckman: The Social Construction of Reality

The end of storytelling?

On November 18, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced the creation of the Center for Future Storytelling. One of the center’s primary concerns, according to a recent NY Times article, is to examine whether the “old way” of telling stories is on the decline. By “old way”, the center is apparently referring to stories told with a traditional beginning, middle, and end. Not surprisingly, given that the center is receiving $25 million a year from a film production studio (Plymouth Rock Studios), one of the primary focuses of this new center will be on studying the relationship between film and this alleged decline in traditional storytelling.

The NY Times article chooses an interesting manner to present the Center’s concern with this decline in storytelling. Quotes placed in the article from Hollywood execs, academics, and screenwriters on the alleged death of storytelling can be easily substituted with statements issued by Frankfurt School scholars more than half a century ago. For instance, statements by former Hollywood execs criticizing contemporary film as superficial entertainment or placing the blame on the audience’s unsophisticated tastes could just have easily been supplied by Theodor Adorno. Similarly, comments made by the executive director of the Sundance film festival praising modern technologies capacity to proliferate storytelling are reminiscent of Walter Benjamin’s concept of the potential democratizing ability of contemporary art.

Regardless of one’s own thoughts on this alleged end to traditional storytelling, it will certainly be interesting to see how these concerns are conceptualized and the types of research projects that came out of this new center.

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“Toward a Narrative Sociology”

Pretty Women, Fighting for Their Rights

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By linanne10

Along with the presidential election, a proposition promoting the decriminalization of sex-workers, Proposition K, was also put on the voting ballot in San Francisco, California. Proposition K is mainly concerned with sex-workers rights and citizenship. There are three main points proposed in the proposition. First, it stated that law enforcement agencies should not allocate any resources for the investigation and prosecution of sex-workers for prostitution. Second, the proposition noted that any agencies of the City and County of San Francisco should not subject sex-workers to life long economic discrimination associated with having a criminal record. Third, the proposition requires that the San Francisco police department and the San Francisco county office of the district attorney should enforce existing laws against coercion, extortion, battery, rape and other violent crimes, regardless of the victim’s status as a sex-worker.

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Joe the Plumber and Good Ol' American Reductionism

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by PThrelfall

Joe the Plumber, the Johnny-come-late hero of the failing McCain-Palin presidential campaign, was a call to Americans to identify themselves, and hence the candidates, using a perspective that assumes that we are what we do.  Moreover, the subliminal message was that we are who we associate with.  In this sense, the campaign was attempting to build their social capital with a particular segment of middle American voters. 

Theories of social capital include arduous debates on issues of definition, value, and measurement. If, as Putnam argues, it serves as a  mechanism that engenders cultural norms that facilitate individual benefit through  collective action, then social capital should be a measured at the community level. If, as Bourdieu argues, it serves as a mechanism that facilitates individual benefits through cultural values that exist at the class level, then it should be measured at the individual level.  However, Lin argues that social capital is best measured in the socioeconomic locations of those within one’s network.  In this sense, the American tradition of reductionism is alive and well in sociological theory. 

Discourses in social capital have garnered contributions from a variety of disciplines in recent history, but it can be argued that the analysis is futile without the sociological imagination.  It is from this perspective that Lisa Adkins argues that there is no room for such over-simplification in sociology.  If we are to develop a measurement of social capital that accounts for the intersectionality of public and private life, we must move beyond the cultural need to reduce individual agency to a purely socioeconomic definition.  

The failure of Joe the Plumber’s presence to translate into an electoral win illustrates that Americans may not be willing to drink the reductionist kool-aid anymore.

 

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Lisa Adkins calls for a sociological social capital

Socialization, Internet and Youth

by socanonymous

An article in the New York Times demonstrated from anecdotal evidence how many teens are indeed engaging in ‘normal’ teen behaviour – only through the internet. Keeping in touch with friends, maintaining romantic relationships, and looking for information (such as how to install a video card) are a few common examples of what teens typically do during long hours on the internet.

Personal computers and home internet use are quite prevalent today, especially among young people. There have been concerns about the well-being of our young children and teens because of this pervasiveness. Adult concerns are often related to unknowns of the internet and potential threats, such as adult predators, which give way to moral panics. There is an another worry which many adults fear, which is that constant use of the internet and social forms of technology are detrimental to reading, writing, and comprehension skills. In this day and age where use of computing is integral in essentially all types of work, youth are teaching themselves the technical skills that they will find useful later on in life. This is a new form of socialization that is occurring in a unique way because information is democratized and youth have much more influence in what they are exposed to. Socialization is the social process in which people are engaged in throughout experiences in their life, learning the patterns of their culture, including social norms and behaviours. This new way of socialization can link different cultures and generations from all over the world. Perhaps excessive amounts of internet use will facilitate a new generation, tolerant of different cultures in ways which can break down barriers.

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Georgia Hall on Teens and Technology: Preparing for the Future

 

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Whose economic crisis?

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stock_tickerThe media, the government, and the stock market are reporting and reflecting on the economic crisis that seems to worsening by the minute.  People are out of work, jobs are not paying enough, savings are disappearing and Congress must act now (see article below) to protect the millions affected.  But none of this is new or any less urgent today than it was five, ten and twenty years ago to a large population of marginalized peoples.  The question is, why does it matter now?  Does the economic “crisis” matter now because white middle and upper class families are being affected?  Nancy Fraser’s work on the gendered nature of unemployment benefits illuminates the ways in which society assigns blame and responsibility differentially based on race and gender.  The overwhelming number of recipients of welfare are women, with African American women disproportionately represented.  Welfare recipients are monitored, they have to prove that they are deserving of money, they have had to subject themselves to emotional and physical oversight to continue to receive the money they need.  On the other hand, unemployment benefits are chunks of cash, whose recipients tend to be male and white, no oversight, no need to prove yourself “worthy” of this assistance and certainly no physical scrutiny of their sexual activities.  In light of these differences it is worthwhile to think about the urgency and extension of financial assistance in the form of unemployment benefits today contrasted with the blame, stigma, and opposition to welfare reform over the last twenty years.  The economic “crisis” has been felt for a very long time, it is not a recent phenomena; what is new is who is asking for help and whose claims are legitimate.

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  Senate bill for unemployed

 

square-eye36  Fraser on welfare