Monthly Archives: December 2008

Happy Holdays from Sociology Eye

by Feistyle

Our news editors are on a well-deserved break from December 15th to January 5th.  We will be back in the New Year starting with a guest post from Bryan Turner on the subject of Sociology and Religion.  In the meantime, enjoy the holidays.

Phil

Capitalism's meltdown and the Body (II)

by kiddingthecity

Jeff Wall is famous for grand tableaux, which he shoots in sections over several months before stitching together the final image using computer montage. He has been known to spend almost two years on a single picture, with actors and crew to shoot scenes of the everyday. He teases out the myth of reality outside perception to the point that he is able to re-create in studio the ‘decisive moment’ of Cartier-Besson, in which the elements of an external world join together at a decontextualized point, outside time. “There’s a fine line between fact and fiction, between a moment and a perfect representation of that moment” – he said. Jeff Wall’s best work comes from never having to choose.
I want to use his work here to criticize the idea of performative aspects of identity as expression of never ending exercise of will, disconnected from the web of social practices, context and history, in which they are embedded. In other words, I maintain, practices are not propriety of actors but of the practices themselves. On the other hand, though, there is a sense in which the studio or the laboratory provides a very poor metaphor to be able to capture the complexity of the world: so to say, the body cannot contain all. There is always an emergent element of free-play, a ‘personal authorship’ (Thrift, TwoThousandEight) that comes out from the ongoing creation of affects, through encounters: ‘A non-representational outlook depends upon understanding and working with the everyday as a set of skills, which are highly performative’ (ibidem). In this sense the metaphor of the mime is a pertinent one: the actors are going out in a specific place, they cannot use any words, just facial expression, their bodies and of course objects. We don’t know what and how they are going to perform. And especially what kind of audience they are going to meet: we can only guess.

Adkins on reflexivity

Adkins on reflexivity

youtube videoWatch Jeff Wall on BBC4 documentary

University Lecturers: Academics or Immigration Officers?

graduation_thinker_lumaxart

by paulabowles

A group of university lecturers and students have recently handed a petition to the British Government, in order to protest against forthcoming immigration reform. As part of these new rules, UK universities will be required to obtain a licence before they can enrol students from outside the EU. Furthermore, the universities will also be expected to sponsor these overseas students for the period of their study.

Although, the government insist these plans were subject to a period of consultation with Universities UK, as well as other organisations within higher education, these reforms have been met with resistance. As part of the sponsorship of international students, lecturers will have a duty to report on individuals’ attendance in class. Although, the Home Office is quick to point to the universities duty of care to all of its students, such a pronouncement has angered some. Ian Grigg-Spall of the National Critical Lawyers Group insists that there are dangers in requiring teachers to take on the role of ‘quasi immigration officers.’ Moreover, he states that such action would be ‘a breach of our university autonomy and…a breach of academic freedom. This is a slippery slope, this is a dangerous slope.’

Whether or not, academic autonomy and freedom are seen as more important issues than illegal immigration remains to be seen. Arguably, now may be a good time to revisit Foucault’s ‘Panopticism.’

 

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square-eye24‘Surveillance’ by David Lyon

That’s Virtually…a Nice Bag!

800px-mall_culture_jakarta01by ishein1

As the current economic crisis necessitates consumer frugality, various companies are attempting to reap additional revenue by innovative means of selling their brand.  Internet cultures and networking sites are expanding at a meteoric rate providing a spate of opportunity for celebrities and companies to capitalize materially from this virtual medium.  The company Virtual Greats, based out of California, is utilizing this opportunity by representing celebrities and brands that are being sold in virtual worlds.  These sop virtual goods are sold at a fraction of the price compared to their ‘real’ material counterpart.  As the co-founder of Virtual Greats astutely recognizes “a customer may not be able to afford the ‘real’ Louis Vuitton bag but [certainly] can afford the virtual one.”  Virtual Greats acts as a buttress between brand companies, celebrities and virtual worlds like Gaia, Whyville and WeeWorld.  These three virtual worlds are youth oriented and have witnessed, perhaps counter intuitive to the current economic climate, unabated sales.  The perennial and fecund concept ‘commodity fetishism’ concretized by Marx 150 years ago is a useful tool in understanding this new level of consumption and identity formation. This fetishism refers to the mystical qualities products retain above and beyond their use value.  Similar to the material world, certain virtual goods are kept sparse in order to increase their value.  It is palpable that goods bartered in virtual worlds have limited, if any, use value, but its ‘fetishized’ value is potentially unlimited.  Marx could not have augured the commodification of virtual worlds, however this new medium may be bringing commodity fetishism to its apogee. Avatars, as in the past, are no longer just icons with dialogic capabilities; they are self-expression identities.  If we are to allow children unencumbered access to virtual worlds, and believe they provide fruitful growth experiences, we must beware the dangers of consumerism subjugating self-expression.  Citizens of virtual worlds must remain wary of their colonization and hucksters selling them ersatz products, even if it creates distinction and temporarily fills a void.   

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square-eye18 Silvia Rief on a Critical Sociology of Consumption

What Role Do Men Play in Feminist Leadership Goals?

nygov2 by NickieWild

After Hillary Clinton’s loss in the race to be the Democratic nominee and Sarah Palin’s loss as vice presidential candidate, the role of women in leadership positions is more salient than ever.  However, one question that does not always get asked is, what (if any) is the role of men in furthering feminist goals? Clearly, one such goal is the attainment of more powerful leadership positions in the United States. One way that men in leadership positions can contribute to this process is by (at least) considering women when it comes time to make appointments to powerful jobs that are not elected offices.

With this in mind, it was refreshing to see Governor David Paterson of New York go a little ballistic at a televised press conference when a commission recommending replacements for the (female) retiring chief judge Judith Kaye failed to come up with any female candidates. The Governor is obligated to pick from the list that is comprised of seven male candidates. He said, “I don’t accept that there wasn’t a woman in this state that wasn’t qualified to serve on the Court of Appeals.” How many times has a male politician made such a statement? Unfortunately, the Governor has little legal power to change the commission’s mind. Yet the role of male allies in the struggle for gender equality gained new visibility.

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square-eye16Men’s Narrative Work in Relation to Women’s Issues by Mark Cohan

Conspicuous or Inconspicuous Consumption?

by bmckernan

Over one hundred years ago, noted sociologist Thorstein Veblen introduced the concept of “conspicuous consumption” to describe the lifestyle of members of the upper class who purchase goods and services not out of necessity but instead as indicators of their wealth and status. According to a recent Newsweek article, the era of conspicuous consumption may be placed on momentary hiatus as millions of Americans struggle to make ends meet.

While the article should not be treated as a rigorous investigation into American consumption patterns, it at least points towards some potentially insightful research projects and contains some interesting anecdotes. For example, the article notes that multimillionare Michael Hirtenstein, a man who already owns eight properties, sadly had to renege on his latest acquisition, a $35 million duplex in Manhattan’s trendy Tribeca neighborhood. As the article explains, though Hirtenstein can afford the apartment, he just doesn’t feel like “buying random toys” while his friends are hurting. Similarly, the article notes that circulation rates for luxury magazines are down 22% in only a year and Hollywood is currently struggling to tone down luxurious lifestyle depictions in such soon to be released films as “Confessions of a Shopaholic”.

According to the article, this feeling of “luxury shame” is proliferating across America’s upper class. Suddenly, as much of America struggles just to get by, conspicuous consumption appears to be no longer fashionable. How prevalent this sentiment actually is and how long it will endure are certainly two valuable research questions for social scientists interested in this field to answer.

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square-eye11 “Exploring consumer status and conspicuous consumption”

"Illness as Metaphor"

YouTube Preview Image (the video is a song by the inhabitants of Losheng Sanatorium, singing their love and attachment to the Losheng community)

By linanne 10

Taiwanese students have been extremely busy for participating in social movements the past two months. After the protest against the regulation on the freedom of speech and assembly, Taiwanese students are now again bringing back the issue on the Losheng Sanatorium. The Losheng Sanatorium is a community like construction for displacing leprosy patients during the Japanese colonial dictatorship in Taiwan. Due to misunderstanding which led to the stigmatization of the disease, the sanatorium is separated and isolated entirely from the rest of the population, even until now days. After nearly eighty years of inhabitation, the sanatorium has developed into a self-sufficient community unique to the inhabitants–the patients, their friends and families–who were casted aside from the society for so long. The protest last week was a reaction toward the government policy of building a MRT (Mass Rapid Transportation) station right at the site of the current Losheng Sanatorium. This basically means that the government is going to tear down the sanatorium for the MRT construction.

Even though the government provided indemnification and alternative accommodations, this could not compensate for the violation against human rights of the policy. The alternative accommodations are highly medicalized which deprives the inhabitants of their individual agency. Using Michel Foucault’s term, political technology, government policies are instruments of power concealed under the neutral language of science. Eighty years ago, illness has been a justification for confining lepers in restricted areas; eighty years later, illness legitimizes the relocation of the inhabitants from an open air community to an enclose medicalized hospital institution. Because of the scientific language of illness, lepers are placed in a highly subordinated position. The metaphorical use of illness conceals the power informing the order of the society and the action orientations people engage in. From leprosy to AIDS, from tuberculosis to SARS, political technology consistently take on the form of disease. In what sense could illness strip off its stigma? Thus cease to be a metaphor of political control.

The student protest for Losheng Sanatorium

The student protest for Losheng Sanatorium

 

The student protest for Losheng Sanatorium The social construction of Fat

The myth of religious tolerance

nmccoy1

 

 

uskontotynkaAs a recent incident in Olympia, WA shows (see article below), the belief that American is a place of religious tolerance is in some aspects a myth or perhaps even ideology.  Despite the imposition of more generalized Christian holidays in public schools, the pledge of allegiance, and the colloquial invocation of Christian beliefs (love thy neighbor for example), we can also find that religious tolerance only encompasses a very particular definition of religion.  It is clear from the dozens of hate crimes and everyday discrimination faced by non-Christian groups that religious tolerance is the exception and not the rule.  In this sense “tolerance” is acceptable only if and when other religious beliefs do not affect, impinge on or even assume a public face.  Just imagine the outcry if there were menorahs, Hannukah sweaters, and dreidels in every store window and on every commercial?  In Gramsci’s work on hegemony and ideology we can see how the phrase ‘religious tolerance’ has been used itself as a tool of religious domination.  What religions do we tolerate?  Certainly not Wiccan or Candomble.  The definition of religious tolerance itself is centered on a Christian model.  Is this what we mean by tolerance?

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 Missing Atheist sign in Olympia, WA

 

square-eye11 Karpov on Religion and Tolerance

the (post-structural) new-media digital-divide

by nathan jurgenson

A major study (.pdf) on the way teens use social networking sites suggests that,

“…their participation is giving them the technological skills and literacy they need to succeed in the contemporary world. They’re learning how to get along with others, how to manage a public identity, how to create a home page.” [quote is from this article's coverage]

bemowo_library_internetParents can no longer view MySpace as just a waste of time. In fact, so important are the skills being learned that we might hypothesize a new sort of habit-based digital divide taking shape.

Typically, the “digital divide” refers to physical access (access to the Internet, cell phones, etc), and this remains a crucial issue. However, as access becomes more diffuse, we can put forward another important non-material digital divide: between those who have and those who have not learned the important skills of social networking and online content production.

Pierre Bourdieu describes in his book Distinction how things like skills, habits and tastes are often learned outside of the education system. That is, those habits that the upper class learn that reproduce their status as the upper class are not simply the product of access to education but are also learned more informally. Similarly, in the case of the Internet, a different sort of digital divide could be based on computer usage behaviors that have little to do with material access. Much like the rest of the social world, adolescents are learning the skills online essential for future success, and they are learning these skills unequally. Who will best be able to utilize new media to build social capital? Who will not?

This reformulated non-material digital divide will be a split between those who just consume Internet content and those who both produce and consume content (the prosumers). It will be between those who experience the Internet in a solitary way and those who effectively network. [On a global scale, this is already playing out]

Do we conclude on the side of Bourdieu that the democratizing potential of the Internet could be usurped by the interest of the upper class in making itself distinct in its usage, thus perpetuating its status? Or should we see the Internet as a tool that will be used creatively to blur class distinction? Will class even be the primary factor for this non-material digital divide? ~nathan

square-eye32 Read More: The New York Times: Teenager’s Internet Socializing Not a Bad Thing

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The Digital Divide: The Special Case of Gender

The Reality of A "Team of Rivals"

lincolnby theoryforthemasses

Election fever has dissipated for most Americans since President-Elect Obama’s November 4th victory. The word “change,” which characterized Obama’s candidacy, no longer dominates the language of news anchors, correspondents, and pundits. As Obama makes his Cabinet selections, however, a new idea is being embraced: the “team of rivals” paradigm. The “team of rivals” refers to the cabinet that Abraham Lincoln appointed at the commencement of his presidency and was popularized by presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. As a recent CNN article suggests, however, Lincoln’s team of rivals, while admirable in theory, was not necessarily effectual. Ready to glom on to popular phraseology, however, the news media have de-historicized the “team of rivals” concept by praising Obama for taking cues from the Lincoln presidency without discussing the realities of its failures. The concept therefore has become reified as it has been presented in the media, and has begun to lose its historical meaning.

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square-eye5A. Edgar on reification