Monthly Archives: March 2009

Earth Hour as Social Protest?

by socanonymous

The upcoming WWF Earth Hour campaign (Saturday 28th) expects millions of people around the world to participate by shutting off their lights for an hour.  Given the variability of issues within the broad umbrella term “environmental movement”, does the simple act of turning off our lights for an hour make a significant contribution to the reduction of climate change?  It is likely that this event is more symbolic of a global urgency to unite for a single cause.  Which raises the question, does this global initiative reduce the entire environmental movement to one simple issue?  Surely, environmentalists would argue that a number of environment-related problems exist including climate change, air pollution, water pollution, and effects on wildlife.  The difficulty in framing and mobilizing support for environmental issues is that there are too many seemingly distinct issues.  Large corporate industrial waste polluters can soften their image as the bad guy by participating in the event, but ultimately their contributions of one hour of energy conservation does little to protect the environment.

[polldaddy poll=1495207]

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square-eye29 Social Movement Identity

Rehabilitation: The Cheaper Option?

holloway_prisonby paulabowles

A recent discussion between Erwin James and Jonathon Aitken draws attention once more to the apparent incompatibility between prison and rehabilitation. As both James and Aitken are former prisoners, it is perhaps understandable that they have strong feelings about imprisonment.

During their discussion James and Aitken touch on issues of honesty, recidivism, education as well as the cost of imprisonment. At the heart of their discussion is the realisation that even in the twenty first century it would seem that there is no real consensus as to what prisons are actually supposed to achieve. It appears that despite the great wealth of research carried out into imprisonment and recidivism, including such authors as Foucault, Ignatieff, Martinson, Cavadino and Dignan, the political will to rehabilitate offenders is often lacking.

What perhaps sets this particular discussion apart is its novel focus on the economics of rehabilitation. Possibly, Britain beset by recession may find a new impetus to explore rehabilitation in a more meaningful way. As Jonathon Aitken points out:

“If rehabilitation reduces reoffending, you have two bonuses: you save money and, perhaps more importantly, communities will start to feel safer.”

square-eye28Read More

 

square-eye29Doreen Anderson-Facile on Basic Challenges to Prisoner Reentry

Authentic Reproduction

olive_garden_times_squareby ishein1

It was only a few weeks ago when I saw an Olive Garden Restaurant advertisement depicting its culinary school in Tuscany.  It utilized this image to support its claim that the restaurant provides an authentic Italian dining experience.  Wary of the veracity of this advertisement’s culinary school postulations, I researched the said school.  As it turns out, the Olive Garden did indeed open a culinary school in Tuscany.  This is an attempt by the Olive Garden to put its ‘money’ where its advertising image is.   This opens up a plethora of interesting questions for sociologists interested in authenticity. 

Authenticity for the consumer of a text is often ineffable.  Furthermore, the text in question, whether it is a work of art, piece of music or as in this case a gastronomic experience, often is assumed to have an ontological quality, which designates its authenticity.  The opposite end of this spectrum is demonstrated by the Frankfurt school’s polemics against popular culture and its characteristic of mass dissemination.  The Frankfurt school suggests that the moment a text is mass-produced it losses its authenticity.  It is highly possible that similar recurrent characteristics can be observed within authentic texts, however to suggest that authenticity is inherent in a particular text without considering its contingency upon historical, cultural and individual context is naïve.  Thus, the Olive Garden, a chain restaurant subject to institutional isomorphism, in which each restaurant is a mimic of their successful model in order to create consistency and constancy, must also remain transient and fluid to truly sustain an image of authenticity. 

No matter how far fetched the claim of authenticity may appear, its protean nature is an important concern for business models and image control.  The case of the Olive Garden demonstrates the paradox between mass production and a unique singularity.  Within this dialectic a struggle for authenticity occurs.  The Olive Garden and other chain restaurants must navigate this tightrope.  Dining is a text, which consists of more than just sustenance to its consumers.  It is a multifaceted experience, which consists of aesthetics and cuisine that individuals take and make meaning from.      

square-eye26 Read More

 

square-eye27 Michael B. Beverland on Brand Authenticity

britannica is putting customers to work

by nathan jurgenson

600px-wikipedia-logo1The very idea of Wikipedia -the open-source encyclopedia that anyone with an internet connection can edit- has sparked many discussions about knowledge construction, such as the politics behind truth, the social construction of knowledge, the tyranny of epistemic expertism or populism, and so on. In these discussions, the Encyclopedia Britannica is often posed as the antithesis to Wikipedia. So it came as big news earlier this year that the Encyclopedia Britannica, the model of old-school expertism, is going to begin to allow user-generated content.

Users will be able to write new content, which then goes to one of the thousands of paid Britannica editors to accept/edit/reject. Ideally, Britannica wants new edits to appear on their site within twenty minutes and are planned to be incorporated into subsequent print editions.

Outside of the debates regarding knowledge production mentioned above, there is another point to be made here: Britannica is a for-profit model in contrast to the not-for-profit status of Wikipedia. There has been no indication on the part of Britannica to pay users who make good edits. The underlying point is much the same as can be made regarding “our” free labor that we donate to Facebook: that, simply, Britannica is trying to improve its costly operation and its profit-potential with unpaid user-labor. Britannica has, in part, “crowdsourced” production to its consumers, highlighting the highly efficient business model of turning consumers into unpaid “prosumers” (those that consume that which they produce). A further discussion might begin with asking how has Jimmy Wales and Wikipedia also profited from the prosumer business model (for example, by “branding” the Wikipedia name)? This will be a topic for a later post. ~nathan

square-eye32 Read More: Britannica reaches out to the web

 

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

Look for a Guest Post by George Ritzer

Just a quick notice:

Look for a Guest Post from George Ritzer on April 15th right here on the Sociology Lens blog. The post,  titled “Are Today’s Globalized Cathedrals of Consumption Tomorrow’s Global Dinosaurs?”, deals with the recent transition from hyper- to declining-consumption.  ~nathan

Mediated Domestic Violence: Is the New Visibility Short Lived?

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by NickieWild

The media in the United States, especially television, re-discovers the severity of violence against women when a highly visible image or story occurs. The latest incident, involving singers Chris Brown and Rihanna, has been extensively covered on local, national, and cable news, and talk shows like Oprah and Dr. Phil. However, as academic writers on the subject have noted, the media continually “rediscover” this problem in response to a specific incident that is either particularly horrific (such as the case of Laci Peterson) or involves a celebrity.

A Public Service Announcement by the group dosomething.org reenacting the alleged incident between the musicians is the latest facet of the story to gain media attention. Is it too graphic? Does it violate the legal rights of the accused, who is innocent until proven guilty? Will it help young people realize the severity of the problem? While these questions are important, larger questions go unasked. The media, which tends to focus on specifics, often encourages victim-blaming by over-examining the culpability of the victim. What did she do to provoke this?, they ask. Since the media is where issues are routinely debated in the public sphere, a greater focus on structural causes of domestic violence is necessary to truly solve the problem.

square-eye24 Chris Brown-Rihanna Incident Inspires Teen PSA

 

square-eye25 A Companion to Gender Studies: Domestic Violence by Madelaine Adelman

Racism in a Video Game?

By bmckernan

During the spring of 2008, a heated debate emerged within the video game community over what some considered to be the presence of racist imagery in a trailer for the latest installment of the popular video game franchise Resident Evil. As a franchise, Resident Evil has generally been well received by the gaming community, with many of its games garnering both critical acclaim and commercial success. As a series, Resident Evil is known for combining a rich narrative with innovative gameplay that usually consists of navigating a small group of protagonists through zombie-infested locales, ranging from fictionalized American cities to Spanish villages. However, it was the developers’ decision to switch the setting to Africa for the fifth installment which led certain gaming journalists to express concern over the game’s potential racist overtones. Game journalists and fans took to the web to either defend those who originally expressed concern or the game’s developers, with the ensuing debate growing so large that it eventually made its way outside of the confines of the gaming community and recently received coverage in both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal on the subject.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/16/arts/16evil.html?_r=4 NY Times article on Resident Evil 5

 

square-eye22 WSJ article on Resident Evil 5

 

square-eye22Margaret Hunter’s “The Persistent Problem of Colorism”

 

 

 

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Gendering HIV/AIDS Discourse

nmccoy1

aids_is_commons_in_africaPope Benedict’s recent visit to Africa (see BBC article below) included comments on the AIDS epidemic that has disproportionately affected Africans worldwide.  While staying true to Catholic doctrine and its teachings on abstinence, his insistence that condoms are both ineffective against the spread of HIV/AIDS and can in fact increase the rate of contamination further diminish the gendered aspects of this problem.  The fact that condoms are a cheap and accessible form of birth control has been overshadowed by these forms of inflammatory discussions. What is not articulated is the way in which women are particularly  more vulnerable to the disease, the cultural problems associated with women  asking husbands to wear condoms, the lack of legal protection for women refusing sexual relations in marriage, and an account of rape.  The Pope, like many other leaders and medical experts have failed to interrogate the particularly gendered and racialized aspects of the spread of HIV/AIDS.  This dominant ideological conversation of the disease being spread through one night stands, drug use, irresponsible sex, and homosexuality  only serves to make women and other marginal groups simultaneously vulnerable and invisible.  Foucault’s work on discourse and sexuality highlights the ways that power organizes, controls, and administers bodies in particular ways, making them subject and object of investigation and discipline.

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  The Pope in Africa

 

square-eye21  Black Companion to Michel Foucault

(Untold) Storytelling

immigrants_1951by theoryforthemasses

Immigrants’ stories of sacrifice and (re)settlement are often overshadowed by statistics about demographics like educational attainment, income, and family size; the stories themselves remain untold. A recent New York Times article explores the impact of these stories on the children of immigrant families. Each year sociologist and Hunter College professor Nancy Foner teaches a class entitled “The Peopling of New York” wherein she asks students to interview a close relative about recent family history. Given that many of Foner’s students are children of immigrant parents, the stories they collect often involve accounts of immigration and the sacrifices it entailed. Students are surprised to learn these stories, and many develop a new appreciation and gratitude for the sacrifices their parents made. Understanding the reasons why these stories are pushed aside upon arrival, and the effects of their telling, may have important implications for understanding the processes of both assimilation and identity formation for immigrants and their children alike.

square-eye22Read More

 

square-eye23Carola Suárez-Orozco on immigrant families

Commodification of Life's Necessities

By rbobbitt

800px-desierto_atacama2

Considered to be one of the driest regions in the world, Quillagua, Chile sees very little rainfall and depends heavily on the local river to provide the sustenance needed in order to survive. However, this has drastically changed due to the privatization of water by local mining companies, private businesses, and large agribusinesses. This has left but a trickle of water for residents to use, with what is left over being heavily polluted. Entire towns are being left without water, as the population dwindles downward as people move to different areas where they have better access to basic needs.

This commodification of the environment has been clearly articulated by Karl Polanyi in his seminal work The Great Transformation.  Polanyi develops the notion of fictitious commodities, where the human body, the environment, and labor are commodified into entities that may be freely bought and sold. According to Polanyi, this is a necessary development in order to have a truly free market. However, this commodification is based on a false premise, that in the case of Chile, the land may be owned and treated as a product of man. In actuality land is simply another name for nature – something human beings cannot truly own and call a product of themselves.


 square-eye17  New York Times Article on privatization of water in Chile

    

square-eye19 Journal article on privatization in Chile