Monthly Archives: April 2010

NHS Heroin: A “Cure” for Crime?

The General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing [RCN], Peter Carter, has called for the prescription of the (currently illegal) drug heroin to be prescribed on the National Health Service [NHS]. Although, not the first to suggest this radical approach to problematic drug (mis)use, his intervention at this particular juncture raises questions. Given the upcoming UK General Election (6 May 2010), as well as the recent controversies surrounding the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs [ACMD], Carter’s comments appear somewhat provocative.

Despite evidence to suggest the success of trials (undertaken in London, Brighton and Darlington) – crime cut by 66% and 75% of those involved showing significantly reduced drug use – reactions to Carter’s comments have been diverse. If Peter Carter is correct and an extension of the scheme would continue to cut crime and improve opportunities for drug users to receive help with their addictions, it would seem a logical step. However, given the dichotomy as to whether drug (mis)use is seen as a criminal justice, or a medical matter, it is perhaps unsurprising that many people may feel uncomfortable with the idea of funding such therapy on the NHS. Either way given the role Peter Carter undertakes for the RCN, his positive endorsement for the scheme can only help to broaden the debate.

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Eric L. Jensen on Adult Drug Treatment Courts: A Review

Imaginary Numbers

Article one, section two of the United States Constitution states “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons,…The actual Enumeration shall be made …within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.” Thus, every decade an arguably rudimentary head count is taken across the country to determine state-by-state appointments to the House of Representatives, electoral districts, and appropriation of federal funds.

However, an occurrence of such regularity is not without controversy. Because the stakes are so high, and the possibility of achieving a completely accurate count is so low, debate rages on. The 2010 Census is no exception to this rule.

While the public is reminded by the advertizing blitz that “Everyone Counts” that question remains partially unanswered. And furthermore, what does it mean  not to count? The Constitution’s original text read “excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons” should be tallied. Of course this was later altered by the 14th Amendment but the truth remains that not all individuals who inhabited the Country were originally considered worthy of enumeration and some question whether or not this is still partially true. (more…)

Falling into a convenient “trap”: When parenting, body image and confusion collide

By Rachael Liberman

In a recent New York Times Magazine article, titled “The Fat Trap,” Contributing Writer Peggy Orenstein problematizes the role that parenting has on daughters, eating habits and body image. She writes, “Parents, then, are left in quandary, worrying about both the perils of obesity and those of anorexia. How can you simultaneously encourage your daughter to watch her size and accept her body?” Orenstein then admits that when she knew she was having a daughter, she suggested that her husband take control of the feeding regiment. She confesses, “It’s not that I’m extreme; it’s just that like most – heck all – of the women I know, my relationship to food, to my weight, to my body is … complicated. I did not want to pass that pathology on to my daughter.” After citing statistics on the increasing condition of child obesity (Centers for Disease Control) as well as the presence of girls and disordered behavior while trying to lose weight (The Journal of Adolescent Health), Orenstein stresses that, “At best, weight is a delicate territory between mothers and their girls.”

In the end, Orenstein tells readers that she decided to actively “model” healthy eating habits and exercise instead of police her daughter’s behavior. However, the article ends with an abrupt reminder that parenting is not the only source of knowledge production regarding eating and body image. She writes, “Still, my daughter lives in the world. She watches Disney movies. She plays with Barbies. So although I was saddened, I was hardly surprised one day when, at six years old, she looked at me, frowned and said, ‘Mama, don’t get f-a-t, O.K.? At least, I thought, she didn’t hear it from me.” Where are we to go from here? Is Orenstein content with body image messages as long as she isn’t the culprit? Is the troubled, fear-based relationship between mothers and daughters the real story here? How do gender politics factor into this discussion? Interestingly, Orenstein opens up an encouraging discussion on eating, body image and the relationship between mothers and daughters only to ultimately surrender to commercial pop culture (including television, advertising, etc.) as a force that will undoubtedly undo her modeling technique. (more…)

What is “taste”? : The changing nature of Kosher food comsupmtion

According to a recent New York Times article (see below), the consumption of Kosher foods is expanding; the market for these products once mostly consumed for religious reasons has widened well beyond the Jewish community – certainly to a much wider audience than Jews who abide by the laws of Kosher eating. While, historically, kosher foods were uniquely consumed by the Jewish community, health reasons have become a driving force behind the expansion of the market. For instance, the Times reports:

“According to the market research survey, 62 percent of people who buy kosher foods do so for quality reasons, while 51 percent say they buy kosher for its “general healthfulness.” About one-third say they buy kosher because they think food safety standards are better than with traditional supermarket foods. Only 15 percent of respondents say they buy kosher food because of religious rules” (Karren Barrow, nytimes.com).

As we can see quite clearly, the smallest percentage of people consuming kosher foods do so for religious reasons. This provides us with a nice example of how a cultural (e.g. religious) phenomenon can be co-opted by other groups and even society at large.  It gives us a little insight into what “taste” actually is – or how people come to have preferences for certain items, whether they be food or other consumer items. In other words, the purchasing of this kind of product has become a trend – much as buying green products has.

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The Queer Politics of Chatroulette

Chatroulette has swept the the nation.  I say “swept” because, like many things on the Internet, the novelty and hype surrounding chatroulette is proving ephemeral.  That’s not to say that chatroulette is going away any time soon.  In fact, we should expect Internet culture to continue to produce new opportunities for the random interactions at the heart of the chatroulette experience.  Fellow Sociology Lens commentator Nathan Jurgenson not unfairly described chatroulette as a “downright capricious and aleatory experience.”

Perhaps the most contentious and reported aspect of chatroulette is the regular frequency with which one encounters people engaged in sexually explicit activities, particularly men masturbating.  Clearly somewhat tongue-in-cheek, Casey Neistat, producer of the video embedded here, divides chatroulette users into three categories: “boys,” “girls,” and “perverts.”  While I don’t want to directly criticize this wonderfully made mini-documentary, I think it is good launching point for a discussion about the ways in which the norms and values of Internet culture may be transforming human sexuality. (more…)

Scientific Research or Illegal Operation?

The Yushin Maru No.2 catcher ship attempts to transfer minke whales to the Nisshin Maru factory ship, leaving a trail of blood in the water. © Kate Davison/Greenpeace

Scientists used genetic analyses to connect meat from sushi restaurants in the United States and South Korea to whales captured under the Japanese whaling program. According to the scientists, the Japanese engaged in illegal trade of endangered species.

Although an international moratorium prohibiting commercial whaling was established in 1986, an exception enabled Japan to slaughter hundreds of whales per year for the purposes of “scientific research”. Using the disguise of “scientific research”, the Japanese captured whales that were in danger of extinction and then sold the whale meat on the world market.

This month, the United States Delegation to the International Whaling Commission considers whether to permit commercial whaling quotas in Japan, Iceland, and Norway. Wendy Elliott from the World Wildlife Fund explains: “Essentially what the compromise would do is allow commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean. This is a designated whale sanctuary, it’s one of the key places in the world for whales – if there is one place on earth where whales should be protected it is there.”


Environmental sociologists should encourage the International Whaling Commission to strengthen the international moratorium on commercial whaling and to reject commercial whaling quotas. Environmental sociologists also should collaborate with organizations, such as Greenpeace, that are actively combating the proposal on commercial whaling quotas.

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web 1.5: the web is not getting flatter

As media became truly massive in the middle of the 20th century, many theorists discussed the degree to which individuals are powerless -e.g., McLuhan’s famous “the medium is the message.” In the last decades, the pendulum of dystopian versus utopian thinking about technology has swung far into the other direction. Now, we hear much about the power of the individual, how “information wants to be free” and, opposed to powerful media structures, how the world has become “flat.” The story is that the top-down Internet was “1.0” and now we have a user-generated “Web 2.0”. The numbering suggests the linear march of increasing democratization and decreasing corporate control.

The pendulum has swung too far.

I have tried to argue elsewhere (here and here and here) that Web 1.0 and 2.0 both exist today, sometimes in conflict, other times facilitating each other. On this blog, I have noted that sometimes “information wants to be expensive” and how the iPad marks a return to the top-down as opposed to the bottom up. Zeynep Tufekci and I have a paper under (single blind) review that discusses the iPad as the return of old media and consumer society by way of Apple’s Disney-like closed system.

Steven Johnson recently wrote a powerful op-ed in the New York Times titled “Rethinking the Gospel of the Web” that makes a similar argument. He portrays Apple’s closed system as incredibly innovative, stating that “sometimes, if you get the conditions right, a walled garden can turn into a rain forest.”

Opposed to the current orgy of writing about the powerful agent/consumer, Free, democratization, revolutionary potential, flat worlds and so on, let’s remember how structures and top-down corporate control remain important:

  • access is still unequal
  • how people use the web is unequal, something I’ve discussed as the post-structural digital divide
  • the “revolutions” of Wikipedia or open source are basically knowledge or software being produced by a few white men to now being produced by a few more white men (revolutionary this is not)

This world is not flat, and if the success of Apple is any indication, it is not getting any flatter. ~nathan

Sex Offender Rehabilitation via Friendship

Bob Howard of the BBC has recently published an article looking at a scheme to combat sex offender recidivism. Originating in Canada, friendship circles are ‘based on the premise that while some offenders have friends and family to return to when they come out of prison, others have not and the more isolated they are, the more likely they are to re-offend’. Throughout the article, Sarah from London talks about her experiences as a volunteer for the child protection charity The Lucy Faithfull Foundation

Given the emotive nature of the crimes these particular offenders have been found guilty of, it is unsurprising that Sarah admits to some trepidation and concern prior to volunteering for the scheme. However, taking into account the positive results reported by Canada (currently a reduction in reoffending of 70%) it would appear to be more effective than traditional and arguably, more punitive methods.

Perhaps understandably, the scheme is not without its critics. For example Peter Saunders of the National Association of People Abused in Childhood suggests that electronic tagging would be a more appropriate response. Judging by the angry public comments which invariably follow any news story on the rehabilitation of sex offenders (this one included) it would seem that supporters of this scheme will have their work cut out.

Kelly M. Socia Jr and Janet P. Stamatel on ‘Assumptions and Evidence Behind Sex Offender Laws: Registration, Community Notification, and Residence Restrictions’

Chas Critcher on ‘Moral Panic Analysis: Past, Present and Future’

Fake proms and the stabilization of heterosexuality

By Rachael Liberman

If the normalizing laws against gay marriage weren’t enough of a reminder that heterosexuality is being “threatened” in the United States, the case of Constance McMillen and her “prom saga” appears to discredit any naive notion that homosexuality is widely accepted. McMillen, a lesbian-identified teenager living in Mississippi, was initially denied admittance to her high school prom due to her otherwise “abnormal” sexual orientation. After taking the matter to a federal court (along with the ACLU), she was allowed access and attended what she thought was the reinstated “official” high school prom, and only later discovered that she had been sent to a prom simulation (seven students attended, including two with mental disabilities), while the rest of her colleagues were enjoying a covert, parent-sponsored private prom in a lesbian-free zone. She told The Advocate: “They had two proms and I was only invited to one of them. The one that I went to had seven people there, and everyone went to the other one I wasn’t invited to.” Aside from the details of this elaborate plan and how it was carried out, this situation highlights the disturbing lengths that schools, parents, and students will go to preserve both heterosexuality and the ritual of the high school prom, or, heterosexual courtship and performance.

This “prom saga” illustrates a point that Judith Butler famously makes in her foundational essay, “Imitation and Gender Insubordination”: the notion that heterosexuality is perpetually “at risk” and that work needs to be done in order to normalize compulsory heterosexuality and situate other sexualities on the margins. She writes, “That heterosexuality is always in the act of elaborating itself is evidence that it is perpetually at risk, that is, that it ‘knows’ its own possibility of becoming undone: hence, its compulsion to repeat which is at once a foreclosure of that which threatens its coherence.” In this case, McMillen’s lesbian identification was a “threat” to the normalized heterosexuality of her high school, and drastic measures (elaborate “fake prom” ruse) had to be enacted in order to situate (stabilize) heterosexuality as “acceptable” and neutralize the threat of homosexuality. Interestingly, while legislature is typically on the disciplinary, to use a Foucauldian term, side of policing homosexuality, this time the judge ruled in favor of an individual that was facing discrimination. What is disturbing, however (among other issues), is that so many individuals – parents, teenagers, etc. – orchestrated this diversionary scheme and have the Facebook pictures to prove it.

Building Boxes and Policing Boundaries: De(Constructing) Intersexuality, Transgender and Bisexuality

Judith Butler from The Blackwell Companion to Major Contemporary Social Theorists

Decennial Census Deemed Offensive and Outdated

President Barack Obama Completing the Decennial Census

The United States Census Bureau administered its Decennial Census of the population. Recently, CNN News highlighted controversy regarding the 2010 Census Short Form. Americans voiced concerns about item nine, which questioned about respondent’s race. Americans were especially troubled by the answer choice “Black, African American, or Negro”.

Americans raised numerous questions about the item on race. Is the inclusion of the term “Negro” offensive? Is the term outdated? According to the Census Bureau, research indicated that a segment of the population currently self-identifies as “Negro”. Nevertheless, the Census Bureau acknowledged that the term is considered offensive and outdated by many Americans. As a result, the Census Bureau is considering removing the term from future surveys.

Additionally, Americans pondered whether the Census Bureau should eliminate the item on race. In the CNN News video below, Christian Lander emphasized the importance of including the item on race: “To say something like ‘I don’t see color’ is ridiculous. That’s like saying you don’t recognize that this person has a heritage: that this person has a different experience.”

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