Monthly Archives: August 2010

Facebook Places and the Augmentation of Reality

You probably have heard about Facebook Places, a feature that brings the site up to speed with other location-sharing services like Foursquare and Gowalla that allow users to document where they are, as well as potentially who they are with and other comments about that location.

The term “augmented reality” is often used to describe the layering of digital information onto the physical world [examples of where it is now, and where it might be going]. However, I have argued that augmented reality can also refer to our digital profiles becoming increasingly implicated with the material world. If the early days of the web were about going online as anyone you wanted to be, today, our Facebook profiles are more anchored in the reality of those we know in the physical world -and now are further enmeshed with physicality given these new location-based services.

New technologies –most prominently the sensor-packed smartphone– make possible our cyborg-like lives in an increasingly augmented reality [theorist Donna Haraway is especially important here]. More than just the augmentation of our digital profiles with physical-world information, we should also think about the ways in which digital documentation impacts our everyday, offline lives. With documentation in mind, do we alter our behaviors? Is it possible that we might experience a place differently when we are documenting it using a service like Facebook Places? Might we even change what place we go to? Or asked differently, to what degree can the tail of digital documentation come to wag the dog of lived experience? ~nathanjurgenson.com

Sociology Podcast: Managing a Co-Editorship

Brian Donovan and Bill Staples, the current co-editors of The Sociological Quarterly, discuss their methods for successfully managing the workload and relationship of a co-editorship.

Listen to the Podcast here.

[c/o Wiley-Blackwell Sociology Editors Forum 2010]

If a depression begets depression, will the concept of mental illness be altered?

For the last several decades, depression rates have been on the rise at a rapid pace. At the same time, the economy was in a boom. Socioeconomic status is a variable that has been shown over and over again to affect the likelihood to experience depression; there is an inverse relationship between income/wealth and depression. If the economy was better a few years ago and depression rates were up, it is imperative that we think about what is happening and may happen in the future, as the economy has plunged and unemployment has risen to levels unseen in decades. With the economy struggling, with nearly 1/10 Americans unemployed (by official statistics – the numbers are likely much higher), it is necessary for Americans think about the ramifications for mental health of the looming economic crisis. According to MSNBC, first time jobless claims jumped by 12,000 last month and we know unemployment is certainly not a boon for mental health.

One question to ask is: to what extent will depression (or anxiety, for that matter) actually increase because of the recession (or depression as some suggest we are in)? In other words, how many new diagnoses of this impairing condition will be directly related to these jobless claims, unemployment status and general downturn of the economy? But another equally important line of thinking, especially for sociologists, is about what will happen to “depression,” as a diagnostic category, if the economy begins to affect so many people that much of the American population seems disordered in some way?

When the economy is good, those who are depressed because of unemployment or poverty are considered disordered, even if they are responding to a normal, stressful social situation – or position in the social structure. However, what happens when increasingly large numbers of people are “disordered” because of that same situation? It’s no longer a social anomaly, or residual deviance. Now, it’s actually normal. Will we be diagnosing and likely medicating large quantities of the population for symptoms related to the stress of home foreclosure, unemployment and poverty more broadly? Or, will it become more normal and acceptable to experience symptoms of sadness because of socioeconomic status or economic distress, as increasing numbers of people experience these problems? These are important questions to investigate, both because of the distress associated with increased experience of depression and because of the problems associated with diagnosing illness where it does not truly exist – the over-inflation of illness estimates and the over-prescribing of medications, just to name two.

Of course, there are myriad factors to consider here. One other is the price of treatment and medication for mental illness. Generally, wealthier people get the best mental health treatment. It is usually not the people who actually need help the most that get good treatment – or any treatment at all, for that matter. If this is the case, then we might assume that a great deal of the people who are unemployed, underemployed, losing their homes and in general economic ruin, will not necessarily be the ones who seek (or are able to search out) help for depression. If this is the case, then we might actually see a decrease in the rates of depression, as people who might once have been able to afford help for a mild form of depression may not be able to seek help for more intense symptoms. And, the population that is likely to still be employed (minus some wall street execs) are the people who can afford treatment. They are not affected by the economic crisis in the same way.

Jobless Filings at Highest Point Since November

Depression, in The Blackwell Dictionary of Modern Social Thought

Come as you are: The social experiences of sexual identity and mental health

On August 4, Federal Judge Vaughn R. Walker struck down California’s ban on same sex marriage ruling that the prohibition violated the right to equal protection as afforded by the United States Constitution.  Judge Walker went to great lengths to lodge his ruling in an extensive review of the facts presented. Ultimately, he determined,

“Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.”

Walker also noted, “Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.”

Proposition 8 as well as the military policy of “Don’t ask don’t tell,” has kept the debate over the equal rights and protections of individuals who are gay or lesbian a contentious topic for political debate. The dialog generally centers around the acceptance or rejection of gays and lesbians within the U.S. legal system and society as a whole. However, very rarely during these debates is serious public attention given to the implications of these conversations the adolescence and young adults who are beginning to become sensitive to their own sexuality. (more…)

When the American entertainment industry and Haitian politics collide: The case of Wyclef Jean and his potential presidency

By Rachael Liberman

Now that Wyclef Jean has officially announced his bid for president of Haiti, serious questioning has (temporarily) replaced snap skepticism in an attempt to understand the recording artists’ motives, plans and eligibility. While Jean’s “Open Letter” offered a characterization of his emotional investment, a recent interview with Rolling Stone offers more campaign-specific clues. According to a report posted on the magazine’s website today (10 August): “Jean says ‘the number one problem in Haiti is corruption,’ and in addition to repairing the nation’s infrastructure, he would make it a priority to move all of the earthquake-displaced citizens out of their makeshift tent cities and into ‘agrarian villages’ that will provide basic necessities like food, water and shelter. Jean also foresees a solution for the unemployment problem. ‘With everything going on in Haiti right now, the contracts that will be coming in within the next six months to a year, you should be able to put a population to work right now’.” The FAQ section of his campaign website offers additional outlines for change on issues such as education and poverty, but it refrains from any concrete political plans. Citing Nelson Mandela as a significant influence, Jean is running as a non-partisan “neutral” candidate under the “Viv Ansamn” (“Live Together”) party, which is primarily interested in hearing multiple points of view rather than staunchly sticking to one ideological perspective.

Unfortunately, however, Jean’s successes within American capitalism as a recording artist and his participation (founder) with the Yele Haiti Foundation after the earthquake (which is under scrutiny for financial misconduct) aren’t winning over the Haitian population. The LA Times reports that even though most of the younger population supports him, older residents are confused due to the fact that he doesn’t speak their language, is not a politician and has not lived in Haiti since he was a child. In an LA Times article titled, “Can Wyclef Jean Save Haiti?” Joe Mozingo quotes several residents that are less than thrilled with the bid. Mozingo writes: “Jean, 39, might need to do more convincing among members of the intellectual and political class, many of whom are skeptical that he could legally qualify as a candidate, much less govern this country. ’First, he doesn’t know how the state works,’ said Laennec Hurbon, a prominent Haitian sociologist. ‘He hasn’t any knowledge of the political parties. This is not a good thing for democracy in Haiti.” In addition, American celebrities (Jean’s colleagues) have been outspoken regarding Jean’s recent political activity. During a CNN interview, Sean Penn stated: “This is somebody who’s going to receive an enormous amount of support from the United States, and I have to say I’m very suspicious of it, simply because he, as an ambassador at large, has been virtually silent. For those of us in Haiti, he has been a non-presence.” And Jean’s former Fugees bandmate and Haitian native, Pras Michel, recently spoke out against Jean, stating that he “wasn’t the right type of leader to help the poverty- and earthquake-ravaged country of Haiti,” according to MTV.com. (more…)

Implicit Issues in Predicting the Future?

http://www.rvandersteeg.nl/

Sociologists are paying increasing attention to the future, both in terms of our predictive abilities and simply in terms of theorizing about the future and it’s role in the present world. Network theory, for instance, is not only a theory of the present but one that allows for predictions about interaction and resources in the future. The article. below, describes a sociology of the future in the context of technology but what struck me most was the final sentence, which is as follows: “[a]s social scientists begin to weave their own accounts of futures, attention should be paid to the politics of such rendering.” This, I would argue, may be one of the central consequences and problems associated with predictive power – in fact, with both accurate and inaccurate prediction.

While studies of the future are fascinating and open the door to a wide array of new potential avenues of inquiry in sociology, I wonder what the risks involved are. For instance, DNA testing, which is a new form of predicting the future, can tell us (not all together accurately) if we’ll develop certain kinds of cancer, about the health of unborn children and is even being used (though not formally yet) to determine whether people have criminal propensities or propensities toward mental illness. While we can certainly see the potential good here, the political ramifications and the consequences of misuse are wide-ranging. If we know we’ll develop cancer, are we then responsible for it if we don’t exercise more often or change our diet? If we know we are likely to develop depression or bipolar disorder but we don’t take the available medicines when we experience early symptoms, are we irresponsible? What does it mean for people’s roles in their own future if we are able to make these kinds of predictions? And what does it mean for sociology and sociologists if we, too, delve into research and theory on the future?

If, for instance, we predict that discrimination is likely to become worse in a give environment or, for that matter, any other dangerous or “bad” outcome is likely to happen, are we then responsible if we can’t do something to prevent it. In other words,  I wonder what the political fallout for sociologists will be if prediction becomes a central part of the discipline and also what our moral responsibility to stay out of predicting the future should be. Ultimately, I wonder, can we predict the future or describe possible outcomes in the future (some of this we do already, especially with statistical modeling) without being responsible in some way for those predictions or what may come of them? And does this implicitly make us a more political discipline?

The Sociology of the Future

DNA Test May Speed Colon Cancer Diagnosis