Monthly Archives: December 2009

Reality television and the valorization of “rowdy, raunchy women”

RealHousewivesOCVALaunchApr09

In a recent LA Times diatribe, writer David Kronke instantly reveals his disgust for women within the current slew of reality programming. He writes, “It has become a ubiquitous formula: Round up a gaggle of pert and perky girls who haven’t spent much time considering the world around them and who don’t play well with others, and follow their antics with camera crews. Invariably, they’ll say tings that betray a hilariously stunted worldview. Invariably, they’ll offend anyone with a modicum of decorum.” Kronke’s article critiques shows such as The Girls Next Door, Real Housewives, Bad Girls Club and Bridezillas, highlighting the fact that the majority of these “rowdy, raunchy women” are looking for attention, confrontation, and fame. Using interviews from professors and psychiatrists, Kronke adamantly works to illustrate the notion that the women of reality shows are located within a formulaic, desperate genre and that their attention-seeking behavior is beyond problematic. While Kronke’s concern for the direction and phenomenon of reality television is well taken, it seemed as though something was missing. (more…)

Editor’s Highlights: Diversity in the Diaspora

800px-Somalia_DiasporaIn the media they produce, diasporized communities express both the cultural practices they share with others from the same origin and their differences from host cultures.  Harindranath’s December 2009 article in the Race and Ethnicity section of Sociology Compass critically explores research of media and diasporized communities to reveal paths for future research that will allow for a better sociological knowledge of diasporas.  He begins by examining literatures on the politics of creating identity in a diaspora and the meaning of the term diaspora.  A review of studies of media production and consumption reveal weaknesses in existing scholarship:  the homogenization of the diaspora, a reliance on national boundaries, and an uninterrogated analysis of space.  Harindranath also critiques studies of audience, particularly assumptions about ethnicity and race and the absence of other factors such as class.  To understand diasporas that are diverse along many vectors–race, ethnicity, class, education, or gender–studies of transnational migrants must critically examine existing methodologies and epistemologies.

square-eye R. Harindranath on Translating Tradition: The Poetics and Politics of Diasporic Media

Where’s the Money in Prosumption: Predictions for 2010

by pj.rey

A recent article in the New York Times, “Experts Predict 2010 the Year for Social Media ROI” summarizes a Trendspotting.com report entitled “TrendsSpotting’s 2010 Social Media Influencers – Trend Predictions in 140 Characters.”  The Trendspotting.com post identifies six trends to look out for in social media over the coming year: “Mobile, Location, Transparency, Measurement, ROI, [and] Privacy.”  The Times article focuses, particularly, on return on investment.  The articles reports three strategies for garnering profit from user-generated content (i.e., prospecting, stewardship, and advocacy) but fails to provide much analysis.  Viewing the proliferation of user-generated content from a sociological perspective, I’d like to consider the prospects for these three strategies.

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Religion, Abortion, and the Law in the United States

George_Tiller_Vigil_Boston_MA

If one’s religion teaches that abortion is murder, is the believer then obligated to stop abortions from happening, by any means necessary? Today, a Kansas judge decided that this is not a viable defense strategy under the law. On May 31, Kansas resident Scott Roeder is accused of shooting and killing Dr. George Tiller.

Roeder had wished to use something that has been termed the “necessity defense,” which would justify using lethal force. Although the judge’s reasoning for not allowing the defense is not spelled out, a guess would be that it would open the door for other potential killers to use such a defense. Also this week, an Oklahoma judge temporarily blocked the implementation of a new law that would require women to answer a number of demographic and relationship questions, the answers to which would be posted on a publicly-accessible website. Critics argue that, while the information is ostensibly anonymous, those living in small towns could be identified.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for anti-abortion advocates to use laws to advance their agendas. With the separation of church and state in the U.S., they must use other tactics. In the murder case, the judge likely did not wish to set a pro-murder precedent. In the Oklahoma case, the information was supposedly going to be used to identify those populations at risk for unwanted pregnancies. Yet anyone familiar with ethical social science methodologies would never gather information that would cause potential harm to human subjects (in this case, identification and negative outcomes that could result).

square-eyeRead More




square-eyeUnraveling Religious Worldviews: The Relationship between Images of God and Political Ideology in a Cross-Cultural Analysis by Paul Froese and Christopher Bader

Economic Growth Despite Global Downturn

Map of China Courtesy of Central Intelligence Agency

Map of China Courtesy of Central Intelligence Agency

China aims to experience 8% economic growth in 2010, even after accounting for the global downturn. Since Beijing has targeted 8% economic growth in the past several years and has reached its goal each year, analysts consider China’s target as reasonable.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects China to exceed its goal, experiencing at least 9% economic growth in 2010. Meanwhile, the IMF only expects India to grow by 6.4%, Canada by 2.1%, Japan by 1.7%, the United States by 1.5%, and the United Kingdom and France by 0.9%.

China expects to experience economic growth because of implemented government stimulus measures and increased industrial production. Minister of Industry and Information Technology Li Yizhong states: “Based on the central government’s target for around 8% economic growth, we’re aiming for around 11% growth in industrial output.” Since industrial output increased 19.2% in the previous year, it is possible for industrial input to increase 11% this year.

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facebook's message of empowerment

Users logged into Facebook this week to find various messages from the company telling them of changes in the way they will share their information. While the company frames all of this as putting users in “control” of their own data, it strikes me that this is more about empowering the company than the users. Users are given more opportunity to share more information with more people, creating more of the data that Facebook profits from.

Whether you care if Facebook profits from all of this or not, it is important to identify the rhetorical strategy: to accumulate more data that Facebook ultimately controls and owns by telling its users that they are increasingly in control.

As CEO Mark Zuckerberg states that you have more control of your data, he is simultaneously allowing you to share more by changing the defaults that users rarely deviate from. Now more information such as as your name, profile picture, gender, networks, friend list, and any pages you are a fan of are publicly available to anyone on the Internet rather than just with your friends. See: Facebook’s Privacy Upgrade Recommends I Be Less Private. Further, Zuckerberg is not mentioning that he still owns this data and is poised to profit from it.

Unlike other posts on this topic, this is not an argument that Facebook dupes us into sharing too much. The mass exhibitionism and voyeurism in our current moment runs much too deep -often contrary to capitalist goals. Instead, one should simply read Facebook’s insidious message of “empowerment” with a skeptical eye.

Finally, we can describe this strategy as an outcome of the new more weightless prosumer capitalism. Prosumer because we simultaneously consume and produce nearly all of the content on Facebook. Weightless (as I’ve previously argued for, using Bauman’s terms) because we-the-laborers are unpaid and are given the product for free. Thus, capitalism is hardly distinguishable as such, increasingly hidden by the rhetoric of user-empowerment. Facebook is letting our mass exhibitionism spread, lubricating social interactions as well as they can, and cashing in on the data we supposedly “control”. ~nathan

The New Facebook Privacy Settings: A How-To

Secrecy and New Religious Movements: Concealment, Surveillance, and Privacy in a New Age of Information

Indigeneous Authenticity and Video Cameras

Notions of authenticity and modernity are often challenged by indigenous groups.  The Ya’kuana and the Sanema of Venezuela (see article below) use microphones to record birdsongs, the Yanomami of Brazil have learned how to use video equipment to document their own cultural traditions and ceremonies, and the Runakuna of the Peruvian Highlands adopt Western urban clothing in their ventures into the cities.  Often with indigenous groups there is an underlying current of Edward Said’s Orientalism, the Other.  The traditions, languages, clothing, and religions associated with indigenous groups are held to standards of authenticity and purity that surpass reality.  There are critics both within and outside of indigenous groups that claim that the use of such technology or the adoption of non-indigenous clothing are signs of inauthenticity.  These issues raise serious questions about when, where, and why and how we hold others to such strict measures.  Further, what does it mean to be authentic and perhaps most importantly, why are technological advancements off-limits to particular populations?

Such a process of Othering reveals a deep pattern of Othering, a discriminatory symbolic dimension over the use and ownership of modernity and of the articulation of an identity.

NY Times, “Clinging to the Forest Despite Chaos”

Edward Said in the Blackwell Dictionary of Culture and Critical Theory

The New Faces of Welfare: Overcoming the Stigma of State Assistance

Despite last week’s promising government figures showing a decline in the American unemployment rate, “Welfare and Citizenship: The Effects of Government Assistance on Young Adults’ Civic Participation,” serves as a reminder to social scientists that with every great social shift (such as the global economic downturn) we must re-examine our premises. The article, which relies heavily on data collected between 1996 and 2000, argues that declining civic participation can be causally linked to welfare participation. The authors echoed the concern that, “[d]eclinging voter turnout rates, an increase in single-issue, self-interested politics, and a retreat from associational ties and community involvement, among other trends, have signaled to many the weakening of American democracy.” This decline, they postulate, can be attributed, in part, to social assistance programs that bear stigma. (more…)

Protesters Challenge Skeptics: The Earth is Round and Climate Change is Real

The United Nations Climate Change Conference is taking place in Copenhagen from December 7th to 18th. Prior to the start of the conference, members of an action group, Stop Climate Chaos, organized demonstrations encouraging world leaders to advance a world climate change agreement. Around the world, people participated in these demonstrations including 40,000 people in London, 7,000 people in Glasgow, and many more in Belfast. Members of another action group, Camp for Climate Change, organized a 48-hour-long protest in Trafalgar Square in London. Protesters explained that they wanted to illuminate the influence of the “political and economic system” on climate change. At these protests, people declared several demands, one of which called for core nations to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown contended that the majority of people believed scientific evidence for human-made global warming. He hoped that world leaders at the conference would be able to convince skeptics: “There’s a flat earth group over the evidence, if I may say so, that exists about climate change, and we’ve got to show them that the scientific evidence is strong.” He also explained: “The public need to be angry about the extent to which we have not taken action sufficiently as a world until now, and they’ve got to then see that the first climate change agreement is not only necessary, it’s absolutely essential.”

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George Ritzer Guest Post – Consuming America: What Have We Done to Ourselves?

By: George Ritzer

Distinguished University Professor, University of Maryland

800px-Manufaktura_galeria_handlowa_nocą_Łódź

(Note: The Following comments were prepared for a symposium sponsored by the Center on Religion and Culture, September 15, 2009.)

Let me begin by quarreling with the title of this discussion. I think it is certainly a good idea to focus on consumption because: (1) of its enormous importance in the developed world; (2) it is not going away even with the current recession; and (3) it reflects a willingness to move beyond our traditional, and now outdated, focus on production. However, a discussion of consumption in the U.S. cannot be divorced from issues relating to production, including the decline in the U.S. and the rise elsewhere in the world, especially Asia, in production. Further, we need to realize than an artificial distinction is being made between consumption and production. These two processes have always been combined in the process of prosumption and that phenomenon has increased greatly in recent years with the growth of systems (e.g., fast food restaurants, ATMs) that rely on putting consumers to work (producing) and, most importantly on the Internet, especially Web 2.0 sites (e.g. Facebook, Wikipedia, blogs) where the consumer is also the producer of the content on those sites (vs. Web 1.0 sites such as Yahoo where the content is created by the producer).

I would also quarrel with a focus on America in a global age in which nation-states, including the U.S., are of declining importance. This is true in the realm of consumption in the sense that what is consumed in the U.S. cannot be separated from what is produced elsewhere in the world (especially China), as well as what is not being consumed by many (“the bottom billion”) in many parts of the world. Hyperconsumption in the U.S. (and other countries such as Great Britain where the level of consumer debt is higher than in the U.S.) and its relationship to under-consumption in the less developed world is a global issue and needs to be discussed in that context.

450px-NYSESecurity

Then there is the question: What have we done to ourselves? What do we mean by ourselves? It could be Americans in general, but that is too broad a category since most of the upper class has not hurt itself, or suffered very much (Bernie Madoff and many of his clients are exceptions) and many in the lower class cannot be seen as playing a large enough role in consumer society to be hurt by its decline (although they have been hurt, and hurt the most, by the larger economic decline). Thus, the implication of this is that the main focus in this should be on the consumption of the vast American middle class (itself far too broad a category). However, to focus on the middle class, to blame it for its current predicament (high levels of consumption, indebtedness, foreclosure, etc.) is in many ways to “blame the victims”. In saying this, I am not saying the middle class is innocent; that it didn’t play a significant role in creating its own economic problems (greed manifested in too much consumption and debt; naivete about the problems they were creating for themselves). However, we need to look to the larger global and national forces that contributed mightily to the problems of the middle class (and to those of the U.S. in general). Let me enumerate at least some of them:

1-Cheap products.

a-For decades the US market has been inundated with cheap products (e.g. shiny electronic gadgets from Asia) that are often far more expensive in their countries of origin. These have proven hard, even foolish, to resist. As many have demonstrated, most recently Ellen Shell (2009) in Cheap, there is a high cost to low price (an idea most often associated with Wal-Mart) and one of those costs is its role in spurring hyperconsumption.

b- Then there is the seemingly low priced (but nonetheless highly profitable) industrial food that increasingly dominates our supermarket shelves and lies at the heart of the success of fast food restaurants, as well as higher-end restaurant chains. Inexpensive industrial food also has the same high costs, as well as its devastating effect on the health of consumers (obesity, diabetes, especially in children).

2-Easy, even fraudulent, credit. Given the events leading up to the Great Recession, I needn’t belabor the excesses and abuses of the mortgage and credit (and debit) card companies which lured millions of American consumers into high levels of debt for which they should never have qualified and that they had no way of ever repaying.

Las_Vegas_2006-01-20

3-The billions, probably trillions, of dollars all invested by all sorts of companies have to make products alluring, even impossible to resist. Marketing and advertising are the obvious villains (see the TV series, “Mad Men”) here, but then there are those who build our spectacular contemporary “cathedrals of consumption” (Las Vegas casino-hotels, Disney World, cruise ships [the new Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas which can accommodate 6,000 passengers], mega-malls [e.g. the problem-plagued Xanadu in the Meadowlands across the river from New York City]) in order to lure consumers to them and then structure them in such a way that consumers are led, usually unwittingly, in the direction of hyperconsumption.

4-We must not forget the role played by the US government (and others) in inducing Americans, especially those in the middle class, to consume.

a-Long-running tax breaks such as deductions for mortgage payments (interest, taxes) that help fuel home-building and -buying.

b-Post 9/11 pronouncements by New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and President George Bush that we needed to get out and shop (and Robert Reich’s response asking when it had become our public duty to consume -of course, it had and that responsibility continues).

c-Pronouncements and policies after the onset of the Great Recession and to this day including:
-Stimulus packages, 2008 tax rebates, as well as fears about the latter that people would save the money and not spend it on consumption
-Worry over the continuing unwillingness to consume and the increase in the savings rate (after decades worrying about our minuscule savings rate)
-Cash for clunkers; $8,000 rebates for first time home buyers, etc.

d-Fundamental contradiction: the government abhors, critiques the causes of the Great Recession (at least publicly)- especially hyperconsumption, hyperdebt- but it cannot countenance a smaller economy, lower growth, lower tax revenues, etc. The government feels the need to stimulate the economy in general, and consumption in particular, leading to at least the eventual possibility of renewed hyperconsumption, hyperdebt.

a-Return to an agricultural age? Not likely for many reasons- not enough money, profit in it; not enough jobs in an era of industrial agriculture.

b-Return to an industrial age? Not likely since most of our once-successful “smokestack industries” are dead or dying; they are too expensive to rebuild; other parts of the world have huge leads in these industries, especially technologically; we would need to pay our “new” industrial workers wages that approach those in the less developed world; etc.

c-(Return to) the age of services? Services are still important, but declining in at least some areas in the US (e.g. call centers, radiology) as a result of outsourcing; also traceable to recent declines in consumption since many service jobs (“McJobs”) related to consumption.

Shopping-mall

d-Lack of alternatives above brings us back to consumption (70% of US economy; importance of Consumer Confidence Index [CCI] vs. Producer Price Index [CCI]; from GM to Wal-Mart, Nike) as route to economic success in the U.S. (other alternatives? alternative energy; Green products, processes):

1-Can we buy enough consumer-related services from one another to make for a prosperous economy?

2-Is our economy really helped by buying more cheap (sometimes dangerous, unhealthy) products from China, etc?

3-Can we, or any economy, consume ourselves to affluence? It now seems clear that pre-2007 many mainly consumed themselves into the illusion of affluence.

A Likely Future Scenario:

a- Our global economic position after WW II (advantages in production) and after 1970- or 1950s and the “Consumer Republic”(advantages in consumption; rise of consumer society) were both unsustainable

b-The US will need to adapt to a relatively smaller economy (lower wages; less hyper-, conspicuous-, consumption)

c-A global redistribution of wealth (OPEC, China, India, Brazil, etc.) is underway

d-Greater global economic equality is welcome (easy for me to say), although new inequalities are arising (e.g., oil-producing states)

Hope?

a-Creative Destruction- something new to arise on the base of the wreckage (empty auto factories, strip malls, big-box stores) of production and consumption in the U.S.

b-Comparative advantages in the US- creativity, ingenuity, innovative use of compressions of space and time, increases in speed,

Will We See a Change in Values (e.g. hyperconsumption, hyperdebt)?

There are positive movements in the direction of a change in values (voluntary simplicity, Slow Food), but I’m never optimistic about values changing on their own, especially in consumption which arguably became our “religion” (with its “cathedrals of consumption”). However, to the degree that they are forced to change, they are more likely to change as a result of larger structural changes. They will change as a result of the structural changes discussed here (e.g. global redistribution of wealth), but those with vested interests in hyper-consumption, -debt (the U.S. government, producers, consumers, banks) will oppose such changes (and who, what is strong enough to oppose successfully such a confluence of powerful actors?).

enchant1

George Ritzer is Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland.  He has chaired the American Sociological Association’s Section on Theoretical Sociology, as well as the Section on Organizations and Occupations, and is the first Chair of the section-in-formation on Global and Transnational Sociology. His books include The McDonaldization of Society (5th ed., 2008), Enchanting a Disenchanted World (2nd ed. 2005), and The Globalization of Nothing 2 (2nd ed., 2007). His most recent book is Globalization: A Basic Text (Blackwell, 2010). He is currently working on The Outsourcing of Everything (with Craig Lair, Oxford, forthcoming). He was founding editor of the Journal of Consumer Culture. His books have been translated into over twenty languages, with over a dozen translations of The McDonaldization of Society alone.

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