This week the California Supreme Court upheld the ban on same-sex marriage (see article below). This ruling has reignited political, ideological, and religious disputes over the meaning of marriage. Much less discussed in the media is the tension between movements based on achieving same-sex marriage (typically lesbian and gay politics) and movements of queer politics. While there are certainly overlaps between these identity-driven positions, queer politics tends to emphasize the need to challenge heteronormative norms and institutions as well as to de-essentialize sexuality claims. Within this frame, queer politics would seek to disrupt or (re)define what a committed relationship could look like.
In accordance with Chantal Mouffe’s concept of a radical democratic citizenship, the emphasis is not on a particular identity but rather on working against an essentialization of an identity. This combination of the rights of the individual with the pluralistic public asserts that the individual and the collective need not be articulated as dichotomous and that the crucial aspect of political community is the nature of the relationship, the form of the identification between and among individuals. To this end, the primary relations must be centered on the very democratic principles of citizenship upon which the community is built and from which it draws its own legitimacy. There is in some sense a relation or a common purpose among individuals that acknowledges a set of norms or conditions that led to the collective action. Using the notion of a radical democratic citizenship directed towards the California ruling may help to garner support across gay and lesbian and queer movements.
Blackwell Reference to Political Sociology
Yesterday, President Obama announced that Judge Sonia Sotomayor would be his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. It seemed evident from the time that Justice Souter announced his retirement that the next nominee would be a woman. The Court is historically unbalanced in terms of gender as well as race. If her nomination is confirmed Sotomayor will only be the third woman to ever serve the court.
Last year was a tough one for women in politics. Both Hilliary Clinton and Sarah Palin were presented as caricatures and critiqued in a way that the male candidates were not. With the nomination of Sotomayor less than 24 hours old, this sort of anti-women politicking has already begun. As a woman seemed the obvious choice from the start, there wasn’t much discussion with regard to why it is so important to have balanced representation between the sexes.
In “Gender and the State”, R. W. Connell explains that gender is embedded in the history and the structure of the state. It is a fundamental component in the institutionalization of gender in society while simultaneously being constituted by gender relations. Connell points out that it can be found in the division of labor, organizational culture, symbolic systems, and patterns of hostility. He does not seem to think, however, that this highly institutionalized state gender identity is a fixed constant. Connell writes, “Gender effects are not mechanisms, fixed in their character by essential traits of men and women. No such traits exist. Gender effects are produced by social practice.” In this way, it is of particular importance that the Supreme Court sees equal representation of both men and women. Not because women have an intrinsically different style of thought or governance particular to there sex but rather that many different perspectives from the full range and diversity of genders may begin the weave themselves into the fabric of the state.
Read the Article at the Washington Post
Read “Gender and the State” at Blackwell Reference Online
Although Iran has been known to censor internet sites based upon “moral” objections to content, political censorship is prevalent as well. However, Iranians account for over 50% of all internet users in the Middle East, with over a third of their population being connected. As in most other countries, the net is a youth-driven phenomenon, and the popularity of Facebook in Iran has grown accordingly. Mir Hussein Moussavi, a moderate challenger to the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has many supporters on Facebook. Information on rallies is often distributed this way. Thus, it is no surprise that last week, monitoring groups reported that the Iranian government blocked access to Facebook.
What is surprising is that this decision was reversed this week. When questioned about the block recently in media interviews, Ahmadinejad said he didn’t know why it had happened, and would look into it. While Iran claims to be a democracy, the government frequently bans demonstrations; however, it cannot disallow the existence of opposition candidates. Social movement theorists argue that social networking sites, such as Facebook, are becoming key to the success of social movements, since they are difficult to restrict while keeping the appearance of the free flow of information.
Social Movements and New Media by Brian D. Loader
A recent article in Newsweek on new scientific advancements in understanding autism provides a seemingly Foucauldian account on the event. The story is reporting on breaking news from the medical community that scientists have identified human gene variants that may account for up to 15% of all autism cases. If true, scientists may be able to develop prenatal tests to identify cases of autism and thus intervene much earlier to help those suffering from the disease. However, rather than detail the specifics of this potential medical breakthrough, the article in Newsweek instead focuses on the reaction to this news by Ari Ne’eman, a “neurodiversity” activist diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome.
A U.S. Federal Appeals court recently upheld a 2006 landmark ruling that found top tobacco companies guilty of racketeering and fraud. The companies were found to have deceived the public about the dangers of smoking by using misleading labels such as “low tar”, “light”, and “mild”, on cigarette boxes. Manufacturers have since been required to change the way they market their cigarettes.
The mass perception of smoking has gradually evolved from social acceptance to socially and morally unacceptable. This moral imperative serves to act as a regulatory function in society, for example in controlling public spaces. Governments have responded to changes in societal values through legislation, such as banning smoking in virtually all buildings in some US states and Canadian provinces.
Although societies have made many gains in reducing the amount of tobacco users and thus contributing to healthier citizens and environments, we fail to consider what Marie-Rachelle Narcisse et al. call the social patterning of smoking practices. They note that although tobacco consumption has declined over the past 20 years, new emerging patterns of smoking practices have emerged subsequently. It is of utmost importance to consider the multifaceted links with socioeconomic inequalities and gender-specific smoking patterns. In further understanding these patterns, I continue to question whether smoking is simply an individual bad habit or a consequence of socially patterned inequalities. If it is primarily the latter, we need to begin considering addressing the issue in other ways than simply changing advertising requirements.
Marie-Rachelle Narcisse et al.
The critical theorists argue that the progress of modernity actually serves as a source of domination and dehumynization. One can see the validity of this theoretical perspective when thinking about the global issue of humyn trafficking. The deputy director of International Organization for Migration announced that there is an estimated 600,000 to four million people trafficked annually.
Last week the UN General Assembly met to discuss the possibility of creating a “global plan of action” to end humyn trafficking. The majority present supported the idea of collective action concerning the issue, but the representative from the United States was quoted stating, “We believe that the U.N. is already effectively leading the fight against global trafficking.” One has to question how “effectively” is operationalized in light of the above stastistics. To read more about the meeting, please see the link below.
In a recently published article in Sociology Compass, Limoncelli reviews what is known about humyn trafficking including critiques of anti-trafficking efforts and argues for ” a transnational sociological framework” in an effort to move theory and research on humyn trafficking forward. To learn what the last decade of research on humyn trafficking has found and learn more about the transnational sociological framework Limoncelli suggests, please see the link below.
RIGHTS: Few Govts Serious About Human Trafficking, U.N. Finds / Matthew Berger
Human Trafficking: Globalization, Exploitation, and Transnational Sociology / Stephanie A. Limoncelli
What happens if some people decided to take control, in different ways, of their own images taken in public space by the millions of CCTV, by becoming conscientious actors and protagonists of the never ending film of the city (in London, there are more that half million of CCTV, 1 every 14 citizens)? What if some people started reclaiming, under the Data Protection Act, their own ‘performances’? To the extent, for instance, of making a music video, or an art installation? Or even a youth community project in alternative media practices thanks to ‘video sniffing’, that is, the hacking of loose digital videos from unencrypted cameras and their remixing. With a bit of poetry, we might even think to drifting through the policed city following the unpredictable waves of ethereal signals (a la Surrealists).
Media commentators are quick at condemning the increasing practice as illegal, but this is at very least a gray area: who does my picture, captured in public space, belong to? Whatever the techniques, it seems clear to me that what is at stake here is the narrative of CCTV as uncomplicated and self-evident. On the other hand, media and criminologists (alongside the expanding industry of the digital surveillance systems) make no mistake on the goals of this unprecedented mapping coverage of the urban population: the ideological and politicized program of urban restructuring must go on in the name of a “safer” public space.
Mike Raco on gentrification (psu.edu free pdf)
Hille Koskela on video-surveillance (psu.edu free pdf)
In the United States, many citizens do not have health insurance. Some people cannot afford health insurance. A recent CNN article explains that other people are unable to obtain health insurance because they have pre-existing medical conditions.
People that have group insurance plans are able to receive health care coverage even with pre-existing conditions. However, some people do not have group insurance plans because their employers do not provide health insurance, they are self-employed, or they are unable to work. These people have to apply for individual insurance plans. Twenty-one percent of people who apply for individual insurance plans are rejected, charged higher premiums for insurance plans including coverage for their pre-existing conditions, or offered insurance plans excluding coverage for their pre-existing conditions.
The health insurance industry’s trade association created a proposal to reform health care, which promises to guarantee coverage for people with pre-existing conditions provided that the United States government requires its citizens to purchase health insurance. As sociologists, we should question: If the United States government implements these suggested health care reforms, who stands to benefit and who stands to lose?
The status of refugees, as Giorgio Agamben asserts, is predicated on an articulation of what constitutes the human. What the refugee challenges or makes visible is not only that human rights are not naturally given but also that what is human is not naturally given. If we are constituted and defined through the sovereign as Agamben argues, whose power is based on the ability to determine inclusion and exclusion, then our humanity is bounded solely by the authority and legitimacy and extension thereof acted on by that sovereign power. In essence, out ability to be human is not based on birth alone but rather on a power that articulates and names that birth as legitimate.
The refugee highlights the relationship of modern biopolitics to what counts as a human. The case of refugees: political, economic, and social in nature, challenges a national social imaginary both in its commitment to international relationships as well as its own boundaries of inclusion and exclusion. In other words, what counts as a human and in what context?
A recent dispute between Peru and Bolivia (see article below) illustrates the complex nature of the status of refugees. Similarly, we see that the United States often defines certain refugees as human while others are not, they are left to live in the status of the excluded, the state of exception.
NY Times article
On Tuesday, May 12, two women attempted, in the face of almost certain failure, to become the first same sex-couple in Russia to legally marry. LGBT rights activists, as well as the gay community in Russia, have been met with antipathy and hostility in the past so, it came as little surprise to the two when their request was denied. Not only have activists been violently attacked, according to the New York Times, state officials have assigned the gay community blame for the spread of HIV. Instead of receiving a marriage license yesterday, the couples’ attention was directed to Article 12 of the family codex, which specifically articulates that marriage is only legally sanctioned between a man and a woman. The pair will be appealing the outcome.
One might ask why, in the face of such antagonism, these women would make such a bold statement of political protest. However, this move was not meant to serve as one isolated statement but rather as the pretext to a much bigger effort on the part of LGBT rights activists in Russia. They were helping to construct the political opportunity for a protest set to take place in Moscow on Saturday in conjunction with the Eurovision final, which will take place in the same city. The two women, along with many others, are employing protest politics to combat the state’s influence on an area of the social life not historically seen as political. While the LGBT community of Russia is not likely to achieve legal equality through this one collective action, there is still much they can hope to achieve. David S. Meyer explains, “Movement activists aspire to change not only specific policies but also broad cultural and institutional structures; they therefore can affect far more than their explicitly articulated targets.” So, while policy changes may still be a long way off for Moscow, the participants in such protests are taking major strides in the transformation of the Russian social and political culture.
Link to the story in the New York Times
Link to Blackwell Reference Online: Protest and Political Process by David S. Meyer