Monthly Archives: August 2009

Light capitalism, prize economics, and the prosumer

by bmckernan

A few months ago, Sociology Lens news editor Nathan Jurgenson posted an intriguing article entitled “Facebook, the transumer, and liquid capitalism.” Among the interesting concepts that Jurgenson addresses and illuminates include Bauman’s notion of “light” or “weightless” capitalism as well as “prosumers.” Some recent events in American mass media and popular culture further illustrate these significant insights.

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Finding Environmental “Political Tender”: Expressing Forest Loss in Terms of Bank Crises and Babies in Greenhouse Gas Emissions

by ESMinihan

1_Rubel_KreuzkroeteSociety is faced with a fundamental difficulty when prioritizing how, and if, to address issues related to environmental quality: determining the value of environmental “goods and services” such as biodiversity, habitat, and carbon sequestration.  Even when there is consensus amongst stakeholders that all these natural services are important, given there are no explicit markets for such goods revealing a price in common units, determining which issue should receive public attention (and funds) may depend on how the value of each service is estimated and communicated.

The prominence of climate change in the political sphere relative to other concerns is investigated by environment correspondent for the BBC, Richard Black in Hijacked by Climate Change? Biodiversity is not in the forefront, according to economist Pavan Sukhdev, because “climate change is already occupying mind space and heart space,” suggesting even the most shocking figures coming out of non-market valuation research on ecosystem services may not be sufficient to advance the biodiversity agenda without also appealing to our sociological imagination.

Population growth, framed as a contributor to stress on natural resources and environmental quality, may be absent from the public debate because it is all too good at activating our imagination.  In Black’s article Jonathan Porrit, a former government advisor, suggests discussing population makes people uncomfortable because it raises issues about religion, culture, and male dominance.

Square-eye The Economics of Environment and Natural Resources


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Population Issues by Margaret Pabst Battin in A Companion to Bioethics


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Applying Social Psychology to the Study of Environmental Concern and Environmental      Worldviews: Contributions from the Social Representations Approach by Paula Castro

The Hidden Costs of Cheap Foods

Cheeseburgerby smteixeirapoit

In the United States, the agricultural industry produces massive quantities of cheap foods such as meats and grains. Although meats and grains are monetarily inexpensive, they have hidden costs to the environment, animals, and humans.

Americans spend less money per calorie than ever before. But, what’s wrong with purchasing and consuming cheap foods? Although farmers are producing more calories than in the past, they are tending to produce more unhealthy calories because of the types of foods that the government subsidizes.

Mainstream farming not only contributes to obesity, but also encourages the use of chemicals that degrade the environment. For example, the fertilizers applied on crops sometimes create run-off killing fish, thereby reducing people’s ability to consume high protein sources.

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The G8 protests and the logically inconsistent foundations of neoclassical economics

G8_2009_logoThis post has moved to http://williampaulbell.wordpress.com/2009/08/29/the-g8-protests-and-the-logically-inconsistent-foundations-of-neoclassical-economics/

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‘Is your email really necessary?’

Mobile_phone_evolutionby paulabowles

In order to read (and of course create) this post requires access to the internet, an option that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. However, for many of us, the internet – as well as mobile phones – has already become essential to modern living. Hamish McRae of The Independent raises the interesting topic of social etiquette, suggesting that although; we may be familiar with the technology we have yet to agree on the rules that should govern acceptable use.

McRae argues that because technology is constantly evolving, and we are constantly learning how to use the equipment, there is very little opportunity to really think about the way in which we should best incorporate this into human relationships. He also insists that until we resolve these questions, we will continue to work inefficiently, that is against the technology, rather than with it. Ultimately, it would seem that we need to decide the purpose of e-mails, texts and the like, rather than using the capability simply because it is available.

Square-eyeRead more

 

Square-eyeScott W. Campbell and Yong Jin Park on the ‘Social Implications of Mobile Telephony: The Rise of Personal Communication Society’

When the private becomes so very public: The case of Caster Semenya

South-Africas-Caster-Seme-001 By Rachael Liberman

As the controversy surrounding 18-year-old  Caster Semenya’s gender (note the incorrect usage of “gender” as opposed to “sex”) verification test continues to raise questions about racism and sexism, issues of humiliation and trauma have surfaced as well. London’s The Guardian quoted Leonard Chuene, head of Athletics South Africa, as saying, “If gender tests have to take place, they should have been done quietly. It is a taboo subject. How can a girl live with this stigma? By going public on these tests, the IAFF (International Association of Athletics Foundation) has let down this young child, and I will fight tooth and nail to protect her.” While organizations like the African National Congress and Athletics South Africa continue to speak out against the test, which takes weeks to process, Samenya’s voice has been noticeably absent from news coverage.

This makes sense when one considers her private, yet public situation. Semenya became under suspicion when she drastically improved her 800 meter time from 2 minutes and 8 seconds at the IAFF world junior championships in Poland last July to 1 minute and 55.45 seconds last week in Berlin – transforming her unknown status to senior world champion. That being said, the speculation regarding her “gender” (not sex) began before she won this latest race in Berlin. (more…)

Health care and emotions – the politics of preaching

donkeyBy Dena T. Smith

Since his inauguration, President Obama has used just about every forum possible to stress the need for health care reform. We’ve heard the pragmatic arguments: in the current system, we spend too much money on treatment rather than focusing on preventative care or that all the power is in the hands of private interests inflates costs. And we’ve also heard plenty of opposition to government intervention from the right. Two Tuesdays ago, I wrote about the need for the president and health care reformers to frame changes to the system in a way that people would feel motivated to create and/or support reform. I discussed what role altruism could have in this process (click here to go to the post). To re-cap, in the framework of classic theories of altruistic behavior, if people are to support an overhaul of the American health care system (as a helping behavior), they have to feel compelled to act and that the costs of the act would need to be minimal compared to the benefits of change. In other words, wanting to help combined with a bit of self-interest are the necessary cocktail.  In the last few weeks, especially given the failure of the pragmatic (generally economic) approaches in convincing both congress and the public to change the system, the President and his team of health care reformers have locked in on emotions more intensely than ever before. One way in which they hope to activate people’s emotional responses is by swaying religious leaders to publicly emphasize the values of their respective faiths that might potentially push congregants to support government intervention in and alterations to the health care system.

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culture de-jamming

by nathan jurgenson

Stencil_disneywarThe old point that capitalism subsumes everything -even that which is precisely meant to be anti- or non-capitalistic- has been exemplified recently by corporations jamming the culture jammers by co-opting the jammer’s strategies.

Culture jamming follows the Situationist (prominently, Guy Debord) tradition of challenging the status quo, including political and corporate structures. However, even these anti-capitalistic actions have been and still are co-opted and put to work under capitalism. This is nothing new. Previous literature tackled the commodification of resistance. The Punk aesthetic was quickly subsumed by the logic of corporate fashion (e.g., this magazine[.pdf] sold back the punk aesthetic). And today, one can clearly see the commodification of hippy culture in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco.

obamvertisingBut it is the very recent examples that motivate this post. I previously wrote about Pepsi’s advertising campaign that mimicked Obama’s political campaign, including the street-art theme that draws directly from the culture-jamming and Situationist playbooks. Starbucks has also pasted advertisements in urban areas that look like street art, an art form that typically stands against such corporate invasions of the public aesthetic.

As was poignantly discussed on this blog last week by NickieWild, Starbucks has gone even further down the route of what I call culture de-jamming (i.e., corporations jamming the culture jammers by commodifying their resistance to commodification). Starbucks sent people to observe local coffee shops to best create the first “inspired by Starbucks” store, rustic décor and all [pictures]. Sans the Starbucks logo, the store allows you to walk in and play your own music, attend organized poetry readings and so on. Interestingly, this follows precisely the trend George Ritzer laid out in Enchanting a Disenchanted World, arguing that Starbucks is attempting to create enchantment, which will ultimately fail because disenchantment follows in the very rationalization and reproduction of the ‘local coffee shop.’

More recent examples of culture de-jamming include corporate-organized “flashmobs”, another tool taken from culture jammer’s, this time used for corporate ends (note that Wikipedians claim that the gathering cannot be considered a flashmob if it is corporate). Examples include A&E’s “Hammer Pants” mob and video and T-Mobile’s large dancing mob at the Liverpool Street Station in London. The latter example also explores how consumers are in part producers (that is, prosumers) of this culture de-jamming, making this jamming of the culture jammers even more insidious. Can the logic capitalism really co-opt the very nature of resistance, or will resistance just take on new forms moving forward?

~nathan

square-eye32 When Consumers Help, Ads Are Free

square-eye32 Branding Consultants as Cultural Intermediaries by Liz Moor

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Economic Remedies for Discrimination?

hVotingwomenOne of the most popular (and frankly, easiest) methods of confronting issues of violence and discrimination among women and children has been financial assistance.  In the recent special article in the New York Times, “women” are categorically viewed as the great moral challenge of the 21st century (see article below).  Apart from the inherently problematic nature of presenting women as a monolithic and undifferentiated category, there is a more fundamental issue at stake.  Attention to issues of discrimination, physical and sexual abuse, and other forms of social, economic, and political violence cannot be addressed solely through financial means.

Theorist Nancy Hanrahan articulates the need for difference to be understood as political struggles articulated through the terrain of culture.  Gender difference as one example, is instantiated through multiple levels of culture and connected to political domains and is always situated temporally. This framework sees difference materialized in the symbolic order, the institutional order, and at the level of experience in time.

When money is used to mediate difference, it does not have a trickle down effect.  Rather, difference must be dealt with on all three levels of culture as situated in particular political and temporal contexts.  While creating micro loans and financial institutions for women may ameliorate some aspects of women’s lives, these methods do not necessarily restructure symbolic, cultural, and institutional realities.

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NY Times, “Saving the World’s Women”

Square-eye Hanrahan in Blackwell Companion to Sociology of Culture

Racism, the Holy Ghost and 12-stepping

Crosses on three crosses hill, Lake Como

by enteringthewhirlpool

1.) There is a conjecture that the decline of organized religion in Western societies has not led to more rational modes of thought, but rather to a disaggregation of magical thinking as people find other ways to express the innately human religious impulse. This may manifest itself, for example, through belief in horoscopes. In fact, according to a recent survey in the UK, belief in ghosts is now much higher than it was in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

2.) The recent incident in the U.S. involving the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates of Harvard University led to discussion of whether race was a motivating factor in the arrest. In the absence of any direct evidence of racism it was assumed by many that race must be a factor in any interaction between men of different races.

What links the paragraphs above? Well, some sociologists claim that racism, like the God of the Christian faith, is inside you whether you know it or not. In this spirit, Eileen O’Brien distinguishes two types of people who are opposed to racism: the selectively race cognizant, who oppose overt racism which they perceive outside of themselves; and the reflexively race cognizant, who “spend a great deal of energy analyzing their personal relationships and how they can reduce the racism they may unintentionally perpetuate in those relationships, both intraracial and interracial”.

Considering such a categorization, it may be of value to consider some forms of racial awareness as sharing some characteristics of religious movements: there are initiates who engage in self-contemplation and so find “the truth”, and there are outsiders who are unaware of the racism within themselves and “may resort to defensiveness” when asked to look for it.

Furthermore, according to O’Brien, some antiracist organizations hold discussion groups with “white participants emerging referring to themselves as ‘recovering racists’, borrowing from the Alcoholics Anonymous idea that one can transition into a process of unlearning racism, but that people cannot be suddenly ‘cured’ of the racism in one short period that they have socialized into for their entire lifetimes.” There are strong elements of spirituality in Alcoholics
Anonymous programmes, with several of the “12 steps” referring to the powerlessness of the agent concerned and his acknowledgement of his dependence on God, as he understands Him. The link between antiracism/racial awareness and religious thinking may well warrant further exploration.

square-eyeRead More: Henry Louis Gates arrest.

square-eyeRead More: BBC News – survey of beliefs in the supernatural.

square-eyeFrom Antiracism to Antiracisms by Eileen O’Brien