Monthly Archives: April 2011

Media practice analysis and the evaluation of cultural impact: Misconnections as missed opportunities

In a new study from the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California, it was revealed that women are both underrepresented and sexualized in the mainstream motion picture industry. The study, headed by Dr. Stacy L. Smith and Marc Choueiti, evaluated 100 films released in 2008 though survey and content analysis methodology and focused on the gender of all speaking characters, behind-the-scenes employees, and the hypersexualization of on-screen characters. Overall, their findings show that only 32.8 percent of speaking characters were female, 8 percent of directors were female (i.e., 92% were male), 13.6 percent were writers, and 19.1 percent of producers were females. Lastly, the findings report that females, especially 13- to 20-year olds, are sexualized on screen through sexually revealing attire, partial nudity, and an emphasis on a small waist and physical attractiveness. In their conclusion, Smith and Choueiti report that, “Our findings reveal that motion picture content is sending two consistent and troubling messages to viewers. The first is that females are of lesser value than are males. This is evidenced by their on screen presences and the lack of employment opportunities behind-the-camera. The second is that females are more likely than males to be valued for their appearance.”

While these findings work to substantiate the concern over both the symbolic annihilation of women in media (both in front and behind the camera) and the sexualization of young girls, this report does not directly address the question: Why do these findings matter? On page four of their report, the authors offer a slight mention of “effect,” but fail to elaborate on why these troublesome findings matter. In other words, how do these findings impact the industry, future constructions of media texts, and audience reception? They write, in reference to hypersexualization, “These findings are troubling given that repeated exposure to thin and sexy ideals may contribute to negative effects in some viewers and reinforce patterns of lookism in the entertainment industry.” What are the negative effects? What is “lookism?” As media scholars continue to grapple with the question of “effects,” it would have been extremely helpful to gain insight to Smith and Choueiti’s understanding of how these findings will “effect” audiences and cultural practice. While these scholars most likely have a theoretical framework for effects and audience reception, it was lost in the pages of the available report. So the question remains: What do these findings tell us about media’s relationship to gender inequality? What do these findings tell us about the status of hypersexualization in the film industry? In the end, these findings are extremely important, but without support from a cultural analysis, remain couched as an “industry update” and miss out on an opportunity for a critique of gender inequality, the sexual division of labor, and the continued social sexualization of women at the societal and cultural level.

Sexualised culture and young people’s sexual health: A cause for concern? By Clare Bale (Sociology Compass)

Another Two Cents on England (and Crawley): Masculinity, Culture, and Tucson

As is often the case with graduate students, I just spent several months in a dissertation-induced haze and only recently had a chance to go through the latest issues of Gender & Society. Among these was the February 2011 issue that included a symposium on Paula England’s 2010 article on the “uneven/stalled gender revolution.” England’s over-reliance on the structural and institutional aspects of gender was underscored by several savvy pieces of Sociology, including a response by Sara Crawley that emphasizes the cultural and micro-level pieces of the puzzle. Crawley takes England and other scholars to task for the assumption that institutionally-derived identity frames (such as mother, principal, or senator) are more specific and organized than those identities not bound directly to a single institution (i.e. race, class, gender, sexuality, subculture—or, “cultural identities”). The latter identity projects may be more diffuse but are arguably omni-relevant: their meaning is embedded in all social action.

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Immigration and the Limits of the Criminal Justice System

Candidate Barack Obama promised to enact immigration reform in his first term.  That promise is almost certain to go unfulfilled.  The result of years of heated debate has been deadlock between two seemingly irreconcilable positions.  On one hand, many in congress support a “path to citizenship” for undocumented workers and increased legal immigration.  On the other, a substantial number argue for greater border enforcement, mass deportation, and decreased immigration.  While the status quo has virtually no vocal support, systems create entrenched interest no matter how much everyone claims to despise that system.  Furthermore, the deadlock may have entrenched a dominant discursive framework that impedes reform. (more…)

Second Video Abstract Available! – “Older Workers: The ‘Unavoidable Obligation’ of Extending Our Working Lives?”

Older Workers: The ‘Unavoidable Obligation’ of Extending Our Working Lives?
Sarah Vickerstaff

VIDEO ABSTRACT:

ARTICLE ABSTRACT:

Older workers are becoming an increasing topic of research interest and policy concern as the populations of Europe, the United States and many other countries age. Some commentators argue that living longer means that there will be an ‘unavoidable obligation’ to work for longer as well. This article considers the reasons for concern about an ageing workforce. It then looks at the different literatures, which seek to research and understand the position of older workers. It provides a snapshot of the work that those over 50 years of age in the UK currently do and poses the question of whether we want to work for longer or whether a culture of early retirement prevails. It concludes by arguing for a more fine grained understanding of the composition of the older worker cohort, differentiated by class, gender and race and for more research on flexible work, gradual retirement and managing health at work.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE!

The Black Keys: Keeping It Real

Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, from Wikimedia Commons

The Black Keys are one of the most familiar bands in rock music right now. In addition to being popular and well-liked in indie rock and hipster circles, their moody sound is ubiquitously present in an array of TV ads (like Zales and Cadillac) and film (Twilight Saga: Eclipse) soundtracks. In a recent Fresh Air episode (January 31, 2011) host Terry Gross asks the two members of The Black Keys, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, if they had been accused of “selling out” as a result of their willingness to allow their music to be used in the hocking of commercial products like underwear or big budget vampire films. What struck me as Sociologically interesting in this question is the assumption that The Black Keys, as opposed to Sting or Katy Perry, should experience the commercialization of their music as problematic.

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First Video Abstract Available! – “Isn’t Every Crime a Hate Crime?: The Case for Hate Crime Laws”

Isn’t Every Crime a Hate Crime?: The Case for Hate Crime Laws
Randy Blazak

VIDEO ABSTRACT:

ARTICLE ABSTRACT:

The process to create hate crime laws in the United States has wrestled with the core issues of freedom of speech and greater harm. This article looks at the evolution of bias crime laws, culminating with President Obama’s signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009. The constitutionality of the laws is ‘discussed and suggestions for sociological research are made. Four elements of hate crime laws are discussed; criminality, intent, perception, and protected statuses. The logic of hate crime laws is based on the argument that hate crimes are a form of terrorism, designed to intimidate large groups of people. Readers should be familiar with the basic case for the existence of such laws.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE!

Beautiful and Pointless?

David Orr half-smiled at me from the pages of the New York Times Book Review this morning. In his dark blue button down shirt, head cocked sympathetically to the side, wire-rimmed glasses gracefully seated at the bottom of a long forehead, this man has clearly selected an author photo of himself that represents his belief in the power of ideas. His own, surely, and those of others so long as they are expressed in poetry. But Orr’s new book Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry bears a title that says volumes about how he sees those ideas. They’re “pointless.” They’re just pretty. Addictively pretty, apparently. Pretty enough to obsess over. Pretty enough to love, even if it never makes a  “point.” Which begs the question: what the heck is a “point”? And who gets to decide when one is made?

Ideas for Orr apparently get to float around outside of everyday social practices. And because ideas are so detached, he figures, they must just be beautiful and pointless. Perhaps Orr should have engaged in discussions with poetry lovers whose experiences were different than his own. People whose experiences with poetry had nothing to do with luxuriating in the beautiful and the pointless.

Poetry is not a luxury. The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives. It is within this light that we form those ideas by which we pursue our magic and make it realized. This is poetry as illumination, for it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are, until the poem, nameless and formless-about to be birthed, but already felt. That distillation of experience from which true poetry springs births thought as dream births concept, as feeling births idea, as knowledge births (precedes) understanding.

Audre Lorde, from Sister Outsider (1984)

Poetry is not a luxury, Audre Lorde writes, but how can someone like David Orr, whose economic and social access to “art supplies” (or at least to folks who recognize, either through his intellectual-looking picture or his publicly stated delight in “beautiful and pointless” ideas, that his creative work, his thought-work, is stuff of value) conceive of the real, material inequalities around whose knowledge “counts” that make poetry necessary. Not just the poetry that goes in great collections or chapbooks or  coffee-shop goers’ Moleskins, but the stuff through which real people who don’t have the luxury of Orr’s social position share the knowledge that they create.

As Lorde observes, poetry can be written on scraps of paper, in dark pantries, between double work shifts, or on the bus. It can emerge in conversation. It can be  spoken but never written, yet repeated again and again across contexts and across differences. Or spoken once, and never again, but the knowledge shared knowledge that shapes whole ways of knowing, ways of seeing the world. Poetry does not require reams of paper (like, say, a book defending poetry would). Nor does it require long leaves of absence from work and daily life in order to complete a manuscript for publication. Poetry is an art form that cuts across material inequalities and enables, encourages the very human and humanizing act of sharing knowledge.

And in just about one sentence, Audre Lord moves us beyond the whole problematic of another man whose author photos bear a striking similarity to Orr’s: here I’m thinking of Michel Foucault and his anxiety over the repressive power of “the gaze”. Lorde writes: “As we learn to bear the intimacy of scrutiny and to flourish within it, as we learn to use the products of that scrutiny for power within our living, those fears which rule our lives and form our silences begin to lose their control over us” (1984: 36). Poetry is where those silences can be broken.

 

 

 

Institutional Racism, Political framing, and Spending cuts

Institutional racism is one of the key concepts sociology professors try to impart to students.  Institutional racism refers to systemic processes which perpetuate racial inequality even in the absence of racial prejudice and intentional individual-level discrimination.  The concept helps students understand how decisions made in the past affects present-day inequality and furthermore that present-day decisions do not take place in a race-neutral realm.  Examining how institutions function discourages the use of anecdotal evidence and encourages students to employ a social-level analysis to social phenomena like racial inequality.

While I spend a great deal of time disabusing my students of the notion that a hidden bigot is hiding behind every racially unequal outcome, I remind them that institutional racism is not racism on autopilot.  In a recent article entitled, “The Neglected Social Psychology of Institutional Racism,” Tim J. Berard explored the concept of institutional racism and urged sociologists to consider the micro-social foundations of institutional racism.  While racism is not an individual-level phenomenon, racism does happen at the micro-social level.  In other words, since racism operates both as structure and as culture, the interpersonal level helps form shared ideas and regularize practices.

I found myself thinking about institutional racism and its social psychology as I followed the US budget negotiations.  Most politicians, and the American public, support “government spending cuts” – or at least the rhetoric.  However, a recent New York Times article highlighted Republican congressional representatives who voice strong support in favor of deep spending cuts but are fighting to preserve federal money for their districts.  Their behavior closely mirrors the American public, who favor “spending cuts” but don’t favor cutting much specific spending. The seemingly contradictory behavior of Republicans has been called hypocrisy, while statements of voters have been blamed on ignorance.  Most Americans overestimate the size of programs they want to cut and underestimate, or in some cases are unaware of government’s role in those programs they favor.  This patterned misunderstanding hardly seems coincidental.  Instead, it is more likely that the negative framing of government spending relies on the perception of who benefits from government spending. (more…)

New issue of Sociology Compass out now! (Vol 5, Issue 4)

 

 

 

Sociology Compass

© Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Volume 5, Issue 4 Page 244 – 310

The latest issue of Sociology Compass is available on Wiley Online Library

 

Crime & Deviance

Isn’t Every Crime a Hate Crime?: The Case for Hate Crime Laws (pages 244–255)
Randy Blazak
Article first published online: 3 APR 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00364.x

Culture

Delete, Restart, or Rewind? Post-1989 Public Memory Work in East-Central Europe (pages 256–272)
Susan C. Pearce
Article first published online: 3 APR 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00358.x

Organisations & Work

Reworking Postfordism: Labor Process Versus Employment Relations (pages 273–286)
Matt Vidal
Article first published online: 3 APR 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00366.x

Science & Medicine

The Sociology of Neuroethics: Expectational Discourses and the Rise of a New Discipline (pages 287–297)
Caragh Brosnan
Article first published online: 3 APR 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00365.x

Social Psychology & Family

Sociological Perspectives on Addiction (pages 298–310)
Darin Weinberg
Article first published online: 3 APR 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00363.x

 

Whose Rights: Human Rights and Human Agency in the context of Humanitarian Intervention

In what seems to be a dramatic shift in foreign policy, the France has found itself involved militarily in three wars. French forces are currently engaged in Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, and Afghanistan. All three interventions are purported to be in the name of peace and security. According to the New York Times, “Mr. Sarkozy and his government have emphasized that they are using military force in the name of the United Nations, not out of any colonial impulse, with the aim of saving lives.” These military actions are justified by the “responsibility to protect” – an idea enshrined in UN Security Council resolutions of 1973 and 1975 which are viewed as precedents for authorizing military responses to humanitarian crises.

There is little doubt that the idea of foreign military intervention on the grounds of humanitarian action is precarious and the body of international law surrounding this fairly modern concept is complex. The right or responsibility to protect or R2P comes with legal, tactical, and moral arguments which is why the global community is currently witnessing a measured, if not hesitant international response to civil war unfolding in Libya. However, for all the complexities that feed into the decision making process for foreign state actors considering intervention on humanitarian grounds, how intervention shapes the ownership of human rights weighs far less heavily than tactical concerns.

In an article recently published by the International Political Sociology journal, the author, Arjun Chowdhury encourages his readers to examine human rights in the context of humanitarian intervention. In his article, “’The Giver or the Recipient?’: The Peculiar Ownership of Human Rights,” Chowdhury outlines what he sees to be two paradoxes of human rights. He outlines these paradoxes as such:

  1. “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts the right of individuals and groups to be spared the excesses of state power but still requires some mechanism of enforcement.”
  2. “The universality of human rights runs up against the countervailing norm of state sovereignty, or the recognition by states of a particular state’s right to noninterference in domestic affairs.”

Chowdhury asserts that these paradoxes necessarily involve not only the sort of reaction to abuses that  we have seen the international community undertake in previous weeks but also a long-term commitment to state-building so that such rights claims have a sustainable recourse.

Ultimately, Chowdhury views this evolution of human rights as part and parcel to state-building rather than a protest against the state as potentially dangerous. He explains, “When states use the language of human rights, they appropriate human rights and deny others the ability to claim human rights for themselves.” The author goes on to assert that human rights must represent freedom as an ideal not freedom as form of organization and regulation. The distinction may seem semantic at best and at worst the sort of theorizing that is completely out of touch with the realities “on the ground” but Chowdhury makes this principled defense in hopes that human rights can be used in way that allows the claimant to construct their own world rather than fall under predetermined regulations under the auspicious of pre-determined rights.

Naturally, in times of mass atrocity and brutal violence, questions of political agency will take a back seat and it can be well argued that they should. However, the questions raised by Chowdhury are interesting ones and ought to be a part of the broader longer term conversations about how as an international community we wish to politically evolve our rights and responsibilities.

Read “France’s Role in Three Conflicts Displays a More Muscular Policy” in the New York Times

Read “”The Giver or the Recipient?”: The Peculiar Ownership of Human Rights” in International Political Sociology