Monthly Archives: February 2010

Editor’s Highlights: Immigrant youths negotiating conflicting norms

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Macintosh.

Living in and between two normative contexts, second generation immigrant youths experience normative conflict.  In the February 2010 edition of Sociology Compass, Giguère, Lalonde and Lou explore how second generation immigrant youth of Canada respond to normative conflict regarding their intimate relationships.

Actions of immigrant youths occur within two normative frameworks: the heritage culture and the mainstream culture.  Recent immigrants to Canada tend to be from Eastern cultures that reject individualism, which can conflict with the mainstream Western culture.  Norm acquisition is different for second generation youth, who have limited experiences of their heritage culture as compared to their parents.  Frame-switching and situated identity allow the youth to negotiate two normative frameworks in many situations.  However, this is not the case when selecting partners for intimate relationships.  Here the family’s heritage-based norms and society’s mainstream norms cannot be selectively applied and the gap between them produces conflict.  Giguère, Lalonde and Lou explore the implications of this gap for second generation immigrant youths, given the importance of norms in social life.

Benjamin Giguère, Richard Lalonde and Evelina Lou on Living at the Crossroads of Cultural Worlds: The Experience of Normative Conflicts by Second Generation Immigrant Youth

Public Sociology vs the Anger Industry (or Why Lying Makes Michael Savage Richer)

Radioby pj.rey

Cast deep in recession and with unprecedented political polarization inside the halls of government, it’s no shock that the American public is angry.  Perhaps, this frustration is merely a byproduct of legislative and discursive gridlock.  Perhaps, however, this anger is better understood as the cause of such gridlock.  But if this anger is the cause and not merely a reaction to the current political situation, we must ask: Where has all this anger come from?  Has this recession really made life so miserable, or is something other than the economic well-being of the average American to blame?  Does someone stand to gain from all this anger?  Perhaps that someone (or, better, that institution) recognizes its own interest in the promotion of generic anger and is attempting to capitalize on it.

Mainstream media has become an anger industry.  I’m speaking, primarily, of the cable news revolution as well as the explosion of conservative talk radio in recent decades; however, other media have trended in this direction as well.  We’ve all heard the trope “if it bleeds it leads.”  Media personalities have realized that anger can be more profitably harnessed if they’re the ones doing the stabbing.  The way anger has become rationalized and manipulated by the media is not altogether different from the realization that wrestling was more profitable when it was staged and professionalized.  Yet, while professional wrestlers still have to be athletic, contemporary “journalists” no longer need to be well-researched.  Pundits only need to be provocative.  Each news cycle has become simple and formulaic: select an issue regardless of scope or public significance, arbitrarily take sides, fight, rinse, repeat.

(more…)

Italy’s cosmetic breast augmentation bill: Bio-power or pro-social response?

By Rachael Liberman

According to an article in Italian news agency ANSA, the Italian government sent a bill to Parliament on Monday that would ban cosmetic breast surgery for women under eighteen. Currently, those under eighteen need parental consent for breast augmentation, but under the proposed bill, procedures will be strictly prohibited unless the patient can offer a medical rationale. The article cites an informative study by Italian research agency SWG (the English version of this news article offers only acronyms) that offers various resulting percentages (methods not included): 39% of women say that an “abundant chest enhances self-esteem,” 36% of Italian girls under 18 are unhappy with the way they look, with 17% of girls concerned about their breasts. Further, the article states, “Health Undersecretary Francesca Martini, who drafted the bill, said that demand for such operations was increasing among girls bombarded by images in the media that made them feel inadequate.”

Due to language inadequacies, I am not able to analyze the SWG report or the bill that the Italian government sent. Additionally, I am approaching this from the social location of an “American,” so I may be missing some historical and cultural considerations of the Italian experience. However, this bill on cosmetic breast surgery raises some concerns about the politics of the body that  are not necessarily location-specific. First of all, who defines the “medical basis?” The caveat that a rationale needs to be provided indicates examination and judgment, both of which are subjective. Secondly, what about those women who want breast augmentation in order to feel more feminine? Now, it could be argued that femininity is oppressive or a social construction, but nonetheless, there are women (including those under eighteen) that want to “feel more like a woman.” Does mental health count? Lastly, isn’t prevention the best medicine? In other words, why not develop media education courses that teach young girls about body image? How does lawfully engaging with breast augmentation surgery curtail the larger issue: women’s discomfort with their bodies as a result of various normalizing practices (not limited to just media). (more…)

Stigma and the Associations between Mental Illness and Violence in the Media

On February 12th, Amy Bishop walked into a meeting of the Biology department at The University of Alabama, where she had recently been denied tenure, and murdered three colleagues. On February 18th, Joseph Stack flew a stolen plane into a building that housed, among other workplaces, a number of FBI offices in Austin, Texas.  He, too, killed several people. Both are tragic events. Both were acts committed by clearly violent individuals and are possibly related to emotional or psychological problems. While Bishop had a history of violence, most notably the likely murder of her own brother, Stack had never, according to friends, exhibited violent behavior, though he did leave behind a fair amount of angry, somewhat rambling communications on his Facebook page. The purpose of my mentioning these events is not to explicate the reasons for which this man and woman committed these crimes, nor to summarize the events themselves, but rather to suggest a trend in the manner in which these events, as examples of other violent crimes, were framed in the moments and days following by news sources. The discourse surrounding both of these events was of two “crazed,” “unstable” and ultimately frightening individuals. Because their behavior was seemingly irrational, terrifying and unexplainable through traditional explanations of deviant behavior, the discussion immediately became one about illness. Think of Thomas Szasz’s classic notion of residual deviance – deviance that cannot be otherwise explained is generally lumped into the category of mental illness. But what does this kind of lumping do to people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness? Labeling theory suggests that the connections we make between mental illness and violence have some quite detrimental and troubling consequences, the most basic of which is stigma.

Further, in the same month as these two crimes occurred, two Hollywood films, “Shutter Island” and “The Crazies” were released. Both films, especially the latter, portray “crazy” people and associated violent behavior - both the grossly innacurate description of illness as well as the association to violence are problematic. Otto Wahl reminded us, back in the 90′s in his groundbreaking book, Media Madness, that what we see in the media, how mental illness is depicted in print news, advertisements, TV news and films profoundly affects the way in which Americans see mental illness as something to be feared and even as inevitably tied to violence. Wahl suggests that movies like “Psycho” and advertisements for so-called “schizophrenic” lawn mowers shape the way we see people with mental illness and lead us to stigmatize them as violent, unpredictable and bad. In fact, as many studies have shown, there is approximately the same rate of violence in the mentally ill population as there is in the non-ill population. In other words, having a mental illness does not make an individual more prone to violent acts – it does, however, seem to draw an audience to the theaters or to CNN’s day-long coverage of the events described in the first paragraph. Experts were called in to assess the mental status of Bishop and Stack before we even had all the details of the events. And, if indeed either of these individuals had suffered from any type of mental illness, which we are sure to hear about in the near future, it will very likely take the blame for their violent behavior. Unfortunately, this makes it more likely that anyone else with said illness (whether it be depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia) will suffer the consequences of this particular way of seeing the given illness.

(more…)

The Social Construction of Drinking and Drunkeness

While Sociologists of Culture and feminist theorists among others, have long  emphasized the culturally contingent aspects of the construction of reality. A recent article about alcohol consumption in the New Yorker (see article below) illustrates not only this particular point but also draws attention to the ways in which these practices and seemingly “real” facts of social life are situated and structured.  In essence, we embody these practices in ways that (re)produce them as a reality that exists apart from or rather outside of us.  According to the authors of the study, “Persons learn about drunkenness what their societies import to them, and comporting themselves in consonance with these understandings, they become living confirmations of their society’s teachings.”

Such studies are reminders that the relationship between nature and nurture is dynamic and its consequences are both social and biological.  In other words, the prevalence of sexual assault and violence in conjunction with alcoholic consumption has little to do with hormones and “natural” urges and more to do with the cultural context in which such behavior has become expected and perhaps even physically enabled.  The social and cultural construction of reality is not merely a concept, it is a way of life that is dialectically engaged with our biology.

” Drinking Games,” The New Yorker

Chevron Contaminates Water Sources with Toxic Waste

Photo of the Amazon Rainforest Courtesy of Francisco Chaves

Indigenous people residing in Ecuador filed an environmental lawsuit against Chevron Corporation for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste in the Amazon rainforest between 1964 and 1990. The indigenous people argue that Chevron’s toxic waste disposal resulted in $27 billion worth of damages. For instance, evidence suggests that Chevron’s former oil drilling sites are contaminated with toxic byproducts that cause cancer. The indigenous people drink from water sources contaminated by these toxic byproducts.

Chevron hired twelve public relations firms to address the claims of the indigenous people. Undoubtedly, Chevron also hired the public relations firms to respond to organizations criticizing Chevron for engaging in unethical behavior. Some shareholders disapprove of Chevron’s response to the environmental lawsuit, which includes hiring Hill & Knowlton. Interestingly, this public relations firm represented the tobacco industry during its indictment about tobacco causing cancer.

Recently, the common theme of corporate irresponsibility became apparent. Chevron denied responsibility for its contaminants. Also in the news, Toyota Motor Corporation reluctantly announced a safety recall of several million vehicles with sticking gas pedals. If corporations engage in actions (i.e., dumping toxic waste in Chevron’s case; selling vehicles with faulty parts in Toyota’s case) that result in serious illnesses and injuries, then should they be held accountable? Or, more pointedly, should executives be held criminally responsible for the actions that they endorse while managing corporations? How can we influence executives to place the health and safety of human beings over the corporate bottom line?

Read More

“Economic Globalization: Corporations” By Peter Dicken

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

myth: physical books promote deep learning

by nathan jurgenson

The New York Times gathered experts to discuss the disappearance of the physical book, especially important in light of the announcement of the iPad media consumption device. The predictable narrative throughout the article is that the digital is trivial and the physical has more “depth.” I’m interested here in troubling this narrative. It goes well beyond this article. Bring up Twitter in certain circles and people will laugh, calling it trivial. Talk to someone over thirty about Facebook and you very well might get the same reaction. I discussed this trend previously on how unfair it is to quickly label discussions of politics on social networking sites as “slacktivism” (slacker+activism) simply because they are done online. Why do we belittle the digital as trivial when, as danah boyd points out, our everyday material world interactions are equally as trivial as what is posted online?

In the article, Matthew Kirschenbaum claims that the “stillness” of physical print is more conducive to “deep concentration.” Liz Gray agrees, arguing that people reading screens have lowered attention spans and less skill at engaging complex issues. Nicholas Carr states that physical books develop deep comprehension and learning because screens sacrifice single-mindedness and lead to shallow learning. William Powers also describes physicality as “deep” and claims it is “best” because it leads to more thinking. With the exception of Kirschenbaum’s point that the loss of depth might be of diminishing concern, this line of thought is deployed throughout the article without “deep” counterpoint or reflection.

Let’s trouble this. Perhaps digital learning lacks depth for these critics. This might be true for them becuase they developed their outlook in a world of physical books. However, new realities, such as the digitization of text, breed new ways of learning about and viewing the world. Those developing in today’s augmented world (that is, the massive blurring of the physical and digital that is occurring) will not lose the ability to focus or concentrate. The increased amount and access to information and communities of knowledge will be utilized in ways that the physical-only folks cannot (yet) comprehend. Historically, the development of the book, the telephone, and every other communications technology has faced similar claims about the loss of “depth.” With hindsight, we look back at these claims with amusement because we develop new ways of learning to best cope with and utilize new realities. The criticisms come from those who have not developed these new standpoints.

When faced with our new augmented reality, the reaction of the physical-only folks in the article is to claim that their outlook or standpoint is universally better. Thus (following Nietzsche, Foucault, Harding, etc.), these “trivial” and “deep” narratives are claims to power focused on the superiority of one way of learning the world at the expense of another. Let’s acknowledge and analyze these different outlooks instead of trying to universalize our own by claiming our perspective as fundamentally “deeper”, “better” and more true. Last, let’s ask who benefits from constructing digital learning as inherently deficient? ~nathan

Read More: “Do School Libraries Need Books?

Do School Libraries Need Books?

On the ethics and consequences of Project Prevention: When sterilization becomes a treatment option

By Rachael Liberman

Although the organization started in 1997, a recent BBC News article and Radio 4 interview have drawn attention to the highly controversial Project Prevention, a US-based non-profit that offers sterilization to drug addicts. In exchange for $300, “clients,” as the organization calls them, “consent” to  “long term contraception” or “long term sterilization” in order to prevent them from having children that they are “unable to care for.” According to the “Objective” page of Project Prevention’s website: “The main objective of Project Prevention is to reduce the number of substance exposed births to zero. In doing so, Project Prevention seeks to reduce the burden of this social problem on taxpayers, trim down social worker caseloads, and alleviate from our clients the burden of having children that will potentially be taken away.” Critics, including National Advocates for Pregnant Women, assert that using sterilization as a tool is similar to social engineering due to its privileging of certain populations for child rearing. Other critics feel that drug treatment is more effective. When interviewed by BBC News, Barbara Harris, the founder of the organization, stated, “So people tell me that I should be focusing on drug treatment not birth control but drug treatment is such a gamble, you know? Women go in there, they get off drugs, they go back on drugs but that doesn’t keep them from getting pregnant.” According to the BBC News article, Project Prevention has paid money out to 3,242 “clients,” 1,226 of which were permanently sterilized. (more…)

Questions about antidepressant efficacy: But is mild depression really depression at all?

A new and highly controversial article in the Journal of the American Medical Association addresses the possible ineffectiveness of antidepressant medications (Paxil and Imipramine) on people who suffer from mild forms of depression (a more complete summary from NPR below). The JAMA article, Antidepressant Drug Effects and Depression Severity, suggests that the population that has actually become the most common users of the antidepressant – those with mild or moderate symptoms of depression – are actually those who benefit the least, if at all, from the drugs. The study made front-page news across the country and was also immediately rebuked by psychiatrists, both with anecdotal experience from practice and by researchers and pharmaceutical companies who point out that this new report is not a clinical study, but rather an inconclusive meta-analysis of other studies (an article on the critics). While millions of Americans are prescribed these drugs every year, it is in fact true that the majority of people who take these drugs that have been around since the 80’s like Prozac and Paxil or newer drugs like Cymbalta and Pristiq are often not people with the most debilitating symptoms. If this new report is true, then it is critical that more studies address whether or not antidepressants help those with mild depression – otherwise, these drugs are simply serving to fill the wallets of pharmaceutical industry CEO’s.  Even if it is inaccurate because of its research design, this latest article still calls into question the efficacy of these drugs more generally, something researchers both within and outside psychiatry have questioned for years; there is long-standing evidence that, even though antidepressants work for some, they don’t work for everyone, they often stop working and cause many unpleasant side effects. While it is possible that there are biological explanations for the ineffectiveness of antidepressants and that with modification or improvement, they might be more useful, there are also alternative explanations, such as the possibility that mild depression is not really depression at all.

In short, from the psychiatric perspective, this study is a call to investigate whether those with milder forms of depression can benefit from these drugs, whether they should be on the drugs, whether over-medication is taking place and whether these drugs can be improved to treat milder forms of depression. There is a host of various issues that could be addressed from a sociological perspective (see my previous posts, The Debate Over The Depression Gene, and Creating or Identifying Mental Illness). We could, for instance, ask what it means that we are medicating mild symptoms of depression for our concepts of illness and suffering, or look at the role of big pharmaceutical companies in gearing advertisements towards the less severely ill. On the other hand, we could investigate the possible alleviation of suffering for people who would once have not been considered ill at all, or the possibility that these drugs are helping us to address unmet need for treatment. I would like to call attention, here, to a more general issue: the way in which many studies of antidepressant efficacy unknowingly yet quite starkly point to the need for more of a focus on the non-biological, social issues that affect the likelihood to become depressed (or anxious and certainly generally stressed). If there are non-biological roots of these symptoms, then perhaps non-biological treatments would also be more useful.

(more…)

Super Bowl Sunday: Football, Ads, and Mixed Messages

nmccoy1

Advertisement air time during Super Bowl Sunday has always been a coveted commodity.  Yet this seemingly trivial marketing dream has historically been used to display sexist ads, most notoriously by beer companies.  Nevermind the fact that Superbowl Sunday is also a time in which violence against women is particularly likely (see article below), we are also now apparently going to be subjected to anti-abortion messages, known as “pro-family messages.”

The abortion wars we see played out in such ideological ploys claim dualistic extremes: the celebration of life and family versus women’s choice and apparently a choice against life.  This false binary both masks the underlying issues that make abortion a viable option for some people and simultaneously reveals what it really means to celebrate ‘life’ and ‘family.’  Does speaking out about violence against women, domestic abuse, and overt sexism in advertising not qualify as a pro-family message?

Catherine MacKinnon, a prominent feminist legal scholar reminds us that framing the abortion debate in these terms serves the purpose of avoiding the structural and societal inequalities that many women face when it comes to contraception and sexual relations.  Birth control, religious beliefs, cultural practices, and sex itself are in fact areas of contestation and are always already situated within unequal gender relations.  As MaKinnon notes, arguing about whether abortion is life or death for the child forcloses discussion around the social, religious, economic, and political contexts in which sexual relations occur.

The debates surrounding advertisements during Super Bowl Sunday brought up by such controversial topics have failed to point out the inconsistencies and contradictions that are played out not just on tv, but rather on the bodies of women everywhere.

Domestic Violence on Super Bowl Sunday

CNN video on “Anti-abortion ad Uproar”

Catherine MacKinnon in the Blackwell Dictionary of Cultural and Critical Theory