Monthly Archives: February 2009

"British jobs for British workers"

by socanonymous

Negative immigrant sentiments seem to appear in public discourse during various times of national concern. Host attitudes toward immigrants seem to be concerned most with access to scarce economic resources and competition for jobs. It would seem logical then that during times of economic turbulence, attitudes toward immigrants would be on the rise. A study by the Institute for Public Policy Research found that contrary to popular belief, foreign migrant workers do not pose a harmful threat to UK jobs and wages. The massive influx of Eastern European migrants since 2004 may in fact even have a small positive impact, say economists. The study was done amidst various protests held in favour of “British jobs for British workers”.

These fears of host societal members seem to arise from larger structural concerns, often complicated by contentious politics. Economic recessions are often complex to understand, even for well trained economists. What often ends up happening is that immigrants and foreign workers become the scapegoats. Logically, they are the perfect group to blame since they really have no collective voice to defend themselves; ‘their’ success means ‘our’ failure. There have been many studies showing that reinforcing a commonality between the two groups (host and immigrant), often reduces the of amount dissent towards immigrants.

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square-eye39 “Perceived in-group threat…”

“It's time to get liberal – or get mugged”

burglar3by paulabowles

Johann Hari’s recent article in the Independent focuses on the ‘credit crunch’ and crime, in the UK. He states that ‘[i]t is an iron law of sociology that when the economy falls, crime spikes.’ However, Hari is keen to put forward three ideas for tackling crime. In brief these are:

• Move all mentally ill prisoners to hospital where they can be treated appropriately
• Stop trying to enforce a policy of abstinence for users of illegal drugs
• Make rehabilitation the primary aim of prison.

Although, Hari links these suggested reforms to the current recession, he does not make clear how such policies would stop crime increasing. Instead the focus appears to be on those already in the criminal justice system. He also fails to explain where the political will and financial resources are likely to be found.

However, while many may agree with some, if not all of Hari’s suggestion it seems unlikely they will be accepted by the current government, who judging by their track record prefer to take a more punitive approach to crime.

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square-eye41Healing Victims and Offenders and Reducing Crime: A Critical Assessment of Restorative Justice Practice and Theory

“Cerebral Celebrities” – Coming Down to Earth

thinkingstatue by ishein1

“It takes tremendous courage to think for yourself and examine yourself, this Socratic imperative requires courage.”  This quote is taken from the trailer of the second documentary from Astra Taylor and is spoken by Cornel West in the back of Taylor’s car.  Taylor’s first film, Zizek, was a documentary in which the ‘intellectual rock star’, Slavoj Zizek, is shadowed on his lecture circuit.  Taylor’s new film “Examined Life”, set to open in New York City, once again attempts to bring the erudite musings of social thinkers into the gaze of the public.  This documentary includes interviews from eight of the world’s foremost and exemplary social commentators (Kwame Anthony Appiah, Judith Butler, Michael Hardt, Martha Nussbaum, Avital Ronell, Peter Singer, Cornel West, and Slavoj Zizek).  Though the film perhaps falsely conflates intellectualism with progressive political views, a thread in its fabric is Marx’s 11th Thesis on Feuerbach. This thesis states “philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.”  The leitmotif of this film is Marx’s sentiment.  Too often have our greatest thinkers been isolated and removed from the very individuals, collectives and environments they claim to elucidate.  This film dislocates the philosopher from the safety of their ivory tower and places them in the trenches, or more specifically in the back of a car, on Fifth Avenue or in a waste disposal site.  The interviews take place with the public sphere in mind.  In order for the dialogue of these academics to escape the boundaries of their own limited spaces and circles, bombastic language is avoided and context is provided.  If, what Marx suggested one hundred and sixty years ago should be the telos of academics, then films like these, even if they only dip their feet in the ocean, create a space in which social critique can effect change.  Academics must be willing to take center stage touching ground ‘in the real’ and thus possibly transforming what it means to be a social analyst.                 

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 square-eye35Watch Trailer

 

“I Missed the Joke”: Race, Rupert Murdoch, and the NAACP

YouTube Preview Image

by NickieWild

Last week, a very racially charged cartoon appeared in the New York Post, featuring a couple of police officers having killed a chimpanzee, with the caption, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.” The cartoon was supposedly a somewhat weak joke about an animal that attacked a woman, and was shot by police in Connecticut, linked tenuously with commentary of a sort about President Obama’s economic plan. Civil rights leaders weren’t laughing. In fact, Al Sharpton as well as the NAACP have called for the resignation of the cartoonist and the editor who defended it. They believe that the cartoon was not only racist, as African Americans have historically been disparaged by comparing them with apes and monkeys, but was also “an invitation to assassination” of the president. Defenders of the cartoon have appealed to free speech rights, or have stated that the cartoon had nothing to do with the president. Needless to say, protests and calls for a boycott continue.

Some commentators have seen a more structural factor at play in this incident: the lack of Black voices in decision-making capacities on editorial boards and in news rooms in America. Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP appeared on the cable show “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” on Monday, and the two discussed this issue. As the New York Post is owned by Rupert Murdoch, issues of consolidation of media ownership have also come to the forefront, since Murdoch (who owns multiple media outlets in major cities the world over) needed an F.C.C. waiver to own a television station in the same city where he also owns a daily newspaper. Sharpton’s civil rights activist organization, the National Action Network, is calling for this waiver to be revoked. As Ben Bagdikian wrote about in his book The Media Monopoly, first published in 1983, consolidation of media ownership puts fewer and fewer voices in charge of distributing information and opinions in the mass media. When media crosses the invisible line that divides opinionated commentary from that which causes outrage, these issues are thrown into the spotlight again.

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square-eye32You Must Be Joking: The Sociological Critique of Humour and Comic Media by Sharon Lockyer  and Michael Pickering

To Sell or Not to Sell

by bmckernan

A battle is looming within the video game industry between video game developers and video game retail outlets. Over the last decade, the trading in of used video games for store credit has become an increasingly popular activity for a significant portion of the gaming world. For many gamers, trading in their old games for store credit is the only way they can afford to continue to pursue their video game hobby, while on the retail side the selling of used games has become an increasingly vital source of revenue. For example, it is estimated that used video game sales accounted for 23% of Gamestop’s revenue (one of the largest video game retail outlets in America) in 2008, for a total of $2 billion. However, in recent months many video game developers have issued some critical statements in regards to the “resale” market, arguing that the buying and selling of used games accounts for potentially billions of dollars in lost revenue.

The manner in which this dispute has taken place provides an interesting site for sociological analysis. In response to industry criticism, many retail stores have gone on the defensive, pointing out the importance of the “resale” market for many gamers, noting that the resale of games actually encourages gamers to purchase new games. On the other hand, video game developers have been experimenting with a variety of means to potentially limit the sale of previously owned games, from offering free downloadable content that only registered users can experience to blocking off the final chapter of certain games to players who purchased the game used.

From a sociological perspective, perhaps the most interesting aspect of this debate is how it touches upon the larger debate of digital rights and digital ownership. In defending their attempts to limit the resale market, many game publishers have implied that similar to other software packages, consumers who purchase games are actually only buying the license to play a game, and do not in fact physically own a copy of the game they purchased. Under this interpretation, the game publisher still retains ownership of the game and can thus legally forbid its reselling. Such a relationship is very similar to the “user license agreement” many software companies have been utilizing for years now. While such measures have not yet been taken in the gaming industry, the manner this conflict is ultimately settled may prove to have a wider societal impact than simply the reshaping of the gaming industry.

Dwayne Winseck “The State of Media Ownership and Media Markets”

The Facebook Privacy Fiasco of 2009

by nathan jurgenson

266px-facebooksvgAll over the news the past few days has been the outing of Facebook for changing its terms of service so that it could keep its user’s data for whatever it pleased for as long as it pleased. Even if the user deleted their account. Next came the vast uproar to this move followed by Facebook’s backtracking, arguing that the wording was harsher than what they would actually do in practice. Under continued pressure, however, Facebook backed down and reverted its terms of service to its previous state before this fiasco.

What the articles I link to above do not highlight is the fact that Facebook always had your data (if you are a user), and continues to have your data. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg says that users “own and control their information”, but what do the terms “own” and “control” mean with respect to Facebook and other similar sites?

The fact remains that Facebook is a company that still hoards its users’ personal information in an attempt to make money. They are building a database -a digital goldmine- from the entirety of one’s profile. In fact, just about everything one does on Facebook is a cell in this ever-expanding database of our lives, identities, and social networks. What real ‘control’ do we have? In what ways do we ‘own’ our data? And perhaps most importantly, in what ways does Facebook own our data? Facebook clearly owns the profit-potential from our online social networking labor. This is a point made before, and all of the events of the past couple of weeks have not changed this. ~nathan

square-eye32 Read More: Facebook Withdraws Changes in Data Use

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The Intersecting Roles of Consumer and Producer: A Critical Perspective on Co-production, Co-creation and Prosumption

The Nation in the Global Economy

nmccoy1

globeIn the era of globalization, the predominant discourse emphasizes the subordination of nation states’ interests to transnational corporations and bodies.  According to globalization scholars such as Philip McMichael, a virtual discursive space has been constructed in which responsibility for economic and political decisions and crises are not only shared but simultaneously avoided.  The global economy has become the catchall culprit, hero, and future of any number of international and domestic incidents.  In this context, the recent announcement by the Swiss bank, USB, that it would reveal the names of thousands of Americans holding offshore accounts (see NY Times article) serves as a reminder that the power of the nation state is alive and well.  Though the ability of the nation state to assert itself it based on its relative standing in the world, the fact that the United States Internal Revenue Service was able to bear sufficient pressure on Swiss Banks to expose this “secret” information illustrates some shortcomings in globalization discourse.  One such problem is that globalization in its transnational/global economy form is a discursive space that depends upon ideological maintenance as well as nation state involvement.  Secondly, the nation state is still an active agent in any global network due to legal structures, civil society networks, and political compliance.  Only by understanding globalization in its discursive form can we see the possibility for change and agency.

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  NY Times

 

square-eye30 Blackwell Companion to Globalization

Race and Distrust in a Texas Town

800px-downtown_wylieby theoryforthemasses

The killing of a young black man in Paris, Texas last September reignited racial tensions in the community, tensions which federal mediators have recently been dispatched to resolve. The victim, Brandon McClelland, was run over and dragged by a pickup truck driven by two white men with whom McClelland was friends. Despite this reported friendship, some community members remain suspicious. Paris has a longstanding history of racial violence and conflict, and the killing is reminiscent of the James Byrd Jr. slaying in Jasper, Texas in 1998. Moreover, Paris is residentially segregated into largely white suburbs and largely black housing projects. This segregation is reflected in both the racial make-up and quality of area schools. Given these circumstances, it should come as no surprise that suspicion and distrust are mainstays in the community.

The concept of a “racial project” put forth by sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant can be used to explore the ongoing racial tensions in Paris. According to Omi and Winant, racial projects involve the simultaneous interpretation of racial dynamics and redistribution of social resources. This process links the meanings people attach to race to the structural experiences of race, and it can happen on both the macro and micro levels. The experience of racism by blacks in the United States can be understood, both historically and currently, as a racial project wherein suspicion and distrust are fostered. Whether or not the McClelland murder was an accident may be known only to his killers. The larger issues that his slaying brings forth, however, are a reminder that the matter of race is far from being resolved.

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square-eye25 C. Knowles on race

Awards Season

81st Academy Awards

81st Academy Awards

Later this week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is scheduled to hold their 81st Academy Awards in Hollywood, California.  While the Oscars is the premiere awards ceremony for the United States film industry, in recent years a variety of other awards ceremonies have begun to proliferate across the calendar to recognize members of the film industry in a variety of similar categories to the Oscars.

Recently, sociologist Joel Best has written an article describing the proliferation of awards in society ranging from professional awards found in disciplines like Sociology to the Oscars to community awards for the “best” of something in a particular community.

81st Annual Academy Awards

81st Annual Academy Awards

 

Prize Proliferation

Joel Best describes “prize proliferation.”

Books: Globalization & Introduction to Statistics

by Bookblogger

lechnerGlobalization by Frank J. Lechner

Written in a lively and accessible style, this book shows how globalization affects everyday experience, creates new institutions, and presents new challenges.

 

With many examples, Lechner describes how the process unfolds in a wide range of fields, from sports and media to law and religion. While sketching the outlines of a world society in the making, the book also demonstrates that globalization is inherently diverse and contentious. In this concise analysis of a complex subject, Lechner presents some of the best work in the social sciences in clear and readable fashion.

 

 

 

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dietz1Introduction to Social Statistics

The Logic of Statistical Reasoning

by Thomas Dietz & Linda Kalof

 

Why are some countries more likely than others to participate in environmental treaties? Why do some people feel animals have rights while others feel animals can be treated as objects? Why do some US states have high homicide rates while in others the occurrence of a homicide is very rare?

 

With a relaxed and conversational writing style, ongoing examples, and complete exercises, this book shows how quantitative methods can help us to understand social questions and contemporary issues. The book focuses on three strategies to help students master statistics: use of models throughout; repetition with variation to underpin pedagogy; and emphasis on the tools most commonly used in contemporary research.

 

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