Monthly Archives: January 2009

Transnational Migration and Conflict

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by socanonymous

Ongoing fighting in Sri Lanka has brought together about 45,000 Tamils from across Toronto, to protest what they call the genocide of Tamil people. They came together to form a human chain in Toronto’s downtown city core. The powerful emotions shown in the video give a glimpse of the struggles that many transnational migrants have gone through and escaped from.

Globalization has facilitated diasporas to maintain political and social ties transnationally, in spite of geographical proximity. These nonstate actors, some of whom seek asylum or are displaced because of violence, relocate to safer nations and are better able to provide support back home. Support often comes in the form of remittances to loved ones, essential resources and sometimes, as in this case, support for political and humanitarian goals. Communication is now faster and more efficient, which is essential in the mobilization of collective political action across state boundaries. Transnational migrants are better able to empower themselves and give a voice for their people back home, thereby applying political pressure from a safe distance.

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square-eye42 Patricia Landolt on “The Transnational Geographies of Immigrant Politics”

Prison Violence: “A Growing Concern”?

panopticon2by paulabowles

The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Dame Anne Owers has recently expressed concern at the escalation of prison violence in England and Wales. While, she has acknowledged that, thus far the violence has been effectively contained, it would seem that this may struggle to continue. In her Annual Report she identifies many areas of concern, but once more the main focus appears to be on overcrowding.

In spite of some positive areas—particularly in relation to the help provided to prisoners upon release—Anne Owers articulates considerable anxiety at the current state of British prisons. Such a viewpoint is shared by Juliet Lyon (Prison Reform Trust) who also pinpoints the increasing prison population, as well as major concerns with the Government’s proposal to build super-sized ‘Titan jails’ to deal with the problem.

Since the creation of the first prisons we have seen a continuing debate over the purpose of prison. Questions of rehabilitation, incapacitation and recidivism crop up again and again. It would appear that even today we are no closer to answering Robert Martinson’s question ‘What Works?’ Until a satisfactory conclusion is reached it is unlikely that any real progress can be achieved.

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square-eye43Meredith Rossner on Healing Victims and Offenders and Reducing Crime

 

 

Entering the New Frontier, There is no Turning Back

600px-hubble_ultra_deep_fieldby ishein1

As the first week of Obama’s presidency passes, a top priority, set forth prior to his election, is to transform “the internet based machinery”, that helped him get elected, into an agenda setting tool.  The millennial generation tools within a new frontier of political interaction, i.e. social networking sites, like facebook, twitter, and YouTube are still in their embryonic form, particularly with regard to their impact on the political process.  It is clear, however, that if one wants to be a powerful political actor he or she must embrace these new forms of media.  There are a number of past politicians, once with substantial clout, who are now lying in the graveyard that this new media dug.  Trent Lott and George Allen, for example, were sidelined by the powerful quotidian torrent of Internet politics.  Obama’s campaign was an exposé of the galvanizing proclivities of this new medium.  Now, it is the telos of the Obama administration to turn its revolutionary campaign into revolutionary governance. 

 

Building off his campaign’s successful use of the new frontier, Obama’s first step was to revamp the white house website, modeling it after his campaign site.  The improved White house website can be continually updated with presidential orders and blogs.  Next, rather than utilizing the old medium of radio, Obama streamed his position on the economic crisis via video.  Presidential Obama’s utilization of new media provides for an unparalleled dissemination of information.  It successfully bypasses the conduits of the old watchdog media leaving the bypassed representatives of the older forms of media concerned.  It can be proffered, however, that citizens are now becoming the watchdogs, as they are provided with new forums for discussion and reaction.  Obama, differently than during his astonishing and meteoric rise to the presidency, will now have many more restrictions on his usage of the millennial generations tool kit.  Mr. Obama was unfettered in his usage of Facebook, instant messaging and twitter, President Obama will be more regulated.  Democracy theorist Benjamin Barber (1998 ) adroitly elucidates the potential of new technology’s proclivities for civics.  He states, “The bittersweet fruits of science will…serve as facilitator rather than a corruptor of our precious democracy”. The Internet is interactive and the viewer has much more control, thus, fostering democracy.  New technology has transformed the dynamics and structure of civics, political campaigning, and democracy.  Therefore, citizens, and politicians alike must embrace this new medium and shunt aside any desire to stultify the inexorable current of this new media.  We have entered the new political frontier and there is no turning back.         

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square-eye39 Janet M. Ruaneand Karen A. Cerulo on Presidential Politics 

Conflict, Propaganda, and “Homeland Security”

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by NickieWild

A new television show on the U.S. broadcast network ABC called “Homeland Security USA” has been stirring up controversy within the immigrants’ rights community. Ostensibly a Homeland Security Department version of the long-running show “Cops,” this version includes border and port security activity. Critics ask, is this just another reality show, or an elaborate piece of propaganda? Some civil rights groups believe the latter, and one has organized a protest and boycott directed against the show. They charge that the program glosses over some very questionable practices of immigration enforcement like “detainees being held in inhumane and overcrowded conditions, often without charges, and for months and even years.” A Facebook page has been started to organize protest activity. Proponents of the show say that it allows the public to see the work being done to protect citizens. Conflict theory states that social order is maintained by the ability of the dominant group to control those without power, a perspective that the protesters want to make evident.

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A Nation of Immigrants and a Gatekeeping Nation: American Immigration Law and Policy by Erika Lee

Hip-Hop in Beijing

by bmckernan

In the last few decades, authenticity has become an increasingly popular area of social research. While much of the published work within this area has focused on authenticity in regards to notions of self, a growing body of literature has emerged that has sought to examine the relation between authenticity and popular culture. Within this burgeoning field, David Grazian’s Blue Chicago is perhaps one of the most critically acclaimed works. In Blue Chicago, Grazian uncovers what precisely an “authentic blues” experience means for different social groups, including blues musicians, blues patrons, and even blues club owners. Among his findings, Grazian illustrates how for many patrons, an “authentic blues” experience involves more than just the proper set list and style of play. Performers must also conform to certain racial and class characteristics. To be considered “authentic” for this particular social group, blues must usually be performed by seemingly poor, out of luck African-Americans.

This concern with “authentic” styles of music also appears in a recent NY Times article on China’s underground hip-hop scene. For the Chinese M.C.s interviewed in the article, authentic hip-hop is about more than just the speedy delivery of lyrics. According to these artists, hip-hop must also serve as a form of social commentary and self-expression. Using this criterion, these artists and their supporters criticize mainstream performers who claim to be rappers because they incorporate rap techniques into their pop songs. These pop stars are contrasted with “real” Chinese hip-hop artists, such as Wong Li, who in the article claims to have started rapping to deal with his realization that “he is one of the millions left out of China’s economic boom.”

By focusing on Chinese notions of “authentic” hip-hop, a style of music originally popularized in America (with connections to other cultures as well), this NY Times article serves to remind interested scholars that authenticity is not primarily a local phenomenon but may also have global roots.

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 Racial Authenticity in Rap Music and Hip Hop” by Anthony Kwame Harrison

Transphotography

trans-itionby kiddingthecity

Transsexual people are willing to become invisible, international acclaimed photographer and researcher Sara Davidmann maintains, in order to be accepted in the social norm, which wants a strict binary distinction between genders.  The issue of safety in public space here, I guess, is crucial – hence, the urge to comply to the visual stereotype of the male or of the female. As it is the issue of ‘medicalization’, that is, the tendency of western culture to push ‘deviance’ to the safe border of psy-disciplines as well as towards surgery: the idea being of fixing the ‘wrong’ bodies.

On the other hand, the insistence on the inadequacy of our language categories (most notably written texts) to describe and hence make acceptable situations at the border, or in-between binary constructions, seems to me quite inadequate. I borrow an expression from Thrift (2008), according to whom: ‘Practices are property of the practises themselves, not of the actors’.

Let’s look at the problem of the public toilets, for instance: two signs on the door of the cinema or the pub, no other chance. This action, which most of us takes for granted, might become a big issue for some people. Pace Judith Butler, the social construction of gender seems a lived practical experience, which involves all sort of conflicts, misunderstanding, resistance, defences, and so on. Davidmann’s critical photography seems to me to do more and better.

square-eye23 Border Trouble: photography, strategies, and transsexual identities by Sara Davidmann [CONTAINS NUDITY]

The Obamas and the Status of Black Families

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090120-F-3961R-968.jpgAs the Obamas take their place as the nation’s First Family in the White House as well as history, they are also apparently stepping into the role of ‘model African American family.’  A recent CNN article (see below) articulates the positive possibilities for the African American community in seeing a loving and stable Black family.  Though the media’s portrayal of African Americans has been caricatured and stereotyped as hypersexualized, welfare mothers, drug addicts, and gang members, the Obama family alone cannot ultimately change these images.  The article claims that perhaps the Obamas as a role model could inspire changes within Black families themselves, in the ways that men treat women, in the appreciation of darker skin colors, in being married.  Arguably, the Obamas have been a source for inspiration for the African American community in particular but it would seem somewhat demeaning and utopian to assume that the image of one family could alter the structural, cultural, and economic circumstances that have affected this population.  As Patricia Hill Collins notes, the status of Black families and especially images of Black women today are not simply the result of media images and self-esteem within the community but rather a part of an interlocking system of race, gender, and class domination.  By focusing blame on the Black community, we continue to ignore the structural, economic, political, and social conditions that have led to the disintegration of the Black family.  

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  CNN article, Black First Family

 

square-eye23  Collins, Black Feminist Thought

A "New" Economics 101

 

1907_panic1by theoryforthemasses

In a recent New York Times op-ed, columnist David Brooks questions whether the old, “rational,” Keynesian model of economics is truly useful for trying to understand the current economic crisis. He suggests that while economists have traditionally built elegant economic models of efficient markets based on rational actors, the process of making economic decisions is actually much more complex. Brooks explains that these complexities, which are informed by actors’ various strategies, memories, and intuitions, are what influences economic decisions and ultimately markets. In other words, markets are not simply efficient manifestations of reasonable actions; they are confluences of decisions made by individuals who are deeply influenced by their historical, social, political, and cultural contexts. Sociologist Mark Granovetter has drawn from the ideas of economist Karl Polanyi in order to elaborate this very point.

Granovetter has developed a “new economic sociology,” a theoretical framework that suggests that interpretation and social interaction are at the crux of economic action. He sheds the view that economic markets are increasingly separate from the individuals who constitute them. Rather, he argues that economies are “embedded” in ongoing social interactions among individual actors. Economic action is therefore not just a matter of individual, rational decision-making; instead it is patterned along elaborate social networks and influenced by various culturally-defined goals and priorities. Perhaps once we begin to let go of our old assumptions about human nature, specifically that “man” is a rational barterer of economic goods and services, we may be better able to understand the complex causes and consequences of economic collapses, including the one currently in our midst.

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square-eye21E. Mingione and S. Ghezzi on social embeddedness

Check The Box

prisonbars

Due to the current state of the economy of the United States many individuals across the country are concerned about job security.  With the current unemployment rate in the U.S. climbing to 7.2 % (U.S. Labor Department), those who are unemployed are finding it extremely difficult to obtain employment with so many competing in the job market.  For many, maintaining or obtaining employment is on their mind from the moment they awake until they fall asleep, with some even finding their worries invading sleep time.  These concerns have different implications for different people, but for ex-convicts the state of the economy can have the greatest implications. 

For those without a job, having to “check the box” at a time with so many seeking new employment their odds for being hired are pretty dismal.  This obviously has great implications for being able to obtain legitimate means to being able to support themselves.  Much research has shown support for a relationship between unemployment and recidivism. One can only imagine the sociological research that is going to be conducted within the next decade on the effects the recession has had crime in general, as well as recidivism rates.  In a recent news article (see below) the implications on the tough job market for ex-convicts are discussed.  For additional information on criminal records, unemployment, and recidivism see the link below.

 

Tight job market makes finding work even tougher for ex-convicts

Tight Job Market Makes Finding Work Even Tougher for Ex-Convicts

 

CRIMINAL RECORDS, EMPLOYMENT, & RECIDIVISM

Ban the Box to Promote Ex-Offender Employment 

 

 

 

 

The Legacy of Martin Luther King, Junior

by Delawaregrad

Barack Obama and Martin Luther KingAs the United States prepares to inaugurate its first African American President, the President-Elect took time out of his final day before taking office to commemorate Martin Luther King Day by honoring his commitment to service.  In an inaugural speech which promises a strong commitment to public service, the below link highlights a portion of the legacy of Dr. King.

 

 

 

Washington Post Article on President-Elect Obama and Martin Luther King

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Martin Luther King, Junior Biography

Blackwell Reference Online entry on Martin Luther King