Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Hate Crime Statistics Report – Gender-Motivated Violence

Editor’s note: This post has been reprinted with permission of the author. The original can be found on the University of Missouri-Kansas City Department of Criminal Justice and Criminolgy Blog: http://umkccjc.blogspot.com/2011/12/hate-crime-statistics-report-gender.html.

By Dr. Jessica Hodge

As someone who studies hate crimes and teaches a class about the subject, I find myself anticipating every year the release of the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics report.[1] In this report, the FBI provides a variety of statistics involving the types of hate crime incidences that occurred during the previous year, and the number of hate crime offenders and victims that were involved in these offenses. The statistics included within this report are the numbers submitted to the FBI from police agencies across the country. While these numbers do provide a national picture of the number and types of hate crime offenses that took place during the previous year, the FBI’s report is far from accurate. For example, not all police agencies across the country regularly report statistics to the FBI, and even with the agencies that do report statistics to the FBI, not all of these will include their hate crime statistics. Another problem with the FBI’s numbers is that most crimes go unreported to law enforcement and thus are not included within the final total. This occurs for a variety of reasons, but in the context of hate crimes, victims are often reluctant to report incidences for fear of retaliation or further victimization by the offender(s) or by police officers. This is substantiated by the fact that advocacy groups, such as the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project,[2] describe significantly higher numbers within their own reports since victims of hate crimes often feel more secure going to these organizations for assistance.

Once and Future Anarchism

Anarchism has made fleeting appearances in several media outlets in the last couple of months, and the Occupy Wall Street protests seem largely responsible for those appearances. Before about two weeks ago, I understood anarchism to advocate a lack of any authority (and I incorrectly assumed this meant an absence of social order), and I had some vague association between anarchism, violence, and labor unions in the 1920s. But anarchism and its history is far more complicated, and far more interesting as a series of social movements, as an approach to social order, and as a study in the origins and development of ideas.

Part of the misunderstanding of anarchism may stem from the great diversity of both thought and practice that falls into the category of anarchism. Anarchist thought spans a continuum from extreme individualist versions, which stem from a philosophy of the complete sovereignty of the individual and her property over the state or groups and communities, and resembles what we think of as libertarianism, to social variants. (Individualist anarchism is mainly theoretical in the sense that it has rarely been part of anarchist social movements.) In social versions of anarchy, individual freedom depends on equality, community and mutual aid. Private property, as the source of inequality, is undesirable, and decisions should be made democratically. Versions of (and nomenclature for) anarchism have proliferated: anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-capitalism, anarcho-communism, anarcha-feminism, anarcho-naturism, Christian anarchism, post-left anarchism. (For explanations of each of these, try here.)

The main principle, however, is an opposition to centrally governed, state-based societies in favor of non-hierarchical voluntary association. In one of its most utopian formulations, Emma Goldman argued in Anarchism and Other Essays that “Anarchism stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals for the purpose of producing real social wealth; an order that will guarantee to every human being free access to the earth and full enjoyment of the necessities of life, according to individual desires, tastes, and inclinations.” Different types of anarchists have historically disagree on the tactics that should be employed toward social change: many advocate non-violent forms of resistance, while others support coercion through violence or propaganda. As Drake Bennett writes, a central tenet of modern anarchism is that “revolutionary movements relying on coercion of any kind only result in repressive societies.”

Reporters covering Occupy Wall Street have observed anarchist thought and principles in the protest. In a recent essay in The New York Review of Books, Michael Greenberg related his interactions with some of the organizers he met at Zuccotti Park. Some of the these organizers, he observed, seemed guided toward a kind of faith and optimism, part of which “seemed to derive from the fact that anarchism, as they loosely conceived of it, had hardly been tried. It offered a process of mutual cooperation, not ideologies or even fixed goals.” Occupy Wall Street’s General Assembly structure, which lacks hierarchy among participants and is based on consensus decision making, draws on principles of anarchism.

And media attention to the role of David Graeber, an academic anthropologist and anarchist activist who recently published a expansive history of debt, in the organization of the protests, and in discussions of Occupy Wall Street, have highlighted anarchist thought as well. (For his dissertation, Graeber studied a rural community in Madagascar that the central government abandoned in the aftermath of IMF-imposed spending cuts. Graeber found that the community of 10,000 created an egalitarian social system governed by consensus.)

Regardless of whether you think the philosophical basis of anarchism is valuable, for many people, anarchism necessarily fails in the execution. As Bennett reports in his article on Graeber, economist Tyler Cowen found Graeber’s recent work on the history of debt persuasive. Anarchism however, makes less sense to Cowen, who “sees little alternative to the modern state. ‘Look at Somalia. If there’s a vacuum, something has to fill it.’” Graeber acknowledges such a sentiment: “’Most people don’t think anarchism is a bad idea. They think it’s insane’…Yeah, sure it would be great not to have prisons and police and hierarchical structures of authority, but everybody would just start killing each other. That wouldn’t work, right?’ Graeber’s father, however, had seen it work. ‘So it wasn’t insane. I was never brought up to think it was insane.’”

When I first visited Occupy Wall Street in September, I was struck by how much energy went into sustaining the community itself as opposed to developing strategic plans, or formulating policy recommendations. But understanding the threads of anarchism present in the OWS protests (though, of course, not everyone in the core of the protests are anarchists), helped me understand that at least for some participants in OWS, the entire goal was to create an egalitarian community governed by consensus in part as a demonstration that such a thing was possible and preferable. Formulating policy recommendations for the state to act on does not make sense in an anarchist framework: policies are state tools for action. If you do not believe the state should organize social life, then proposing tools for the state are not even in the realm of consideration.

In my next post, I’ll discuss more of the history of anarchism in social movements, the forms of social organization advocated by anarchism as a replacement for the state, and what a sociological account of ideas can tell us about the philosophy behind anarchism.

More about anarchism and individualist anarchism.

 

Image by arimoore.

 

Occupy’s Mic Check: A Tactic to Disrupt Power, Not Free Speech

President Obama receives the script from his recent Mic Checking

Author’s Note: This piece was originally posted to Sociology Lens on December 10th. On December 13th, the piece was temporarily removed and I was asked to make revisions to make more explicit the conventional sociological themes in this piece. This request was made as the result of pressure from a senior professor who deemed this piece too “polemical” and not “sociological.” While I and many others in the discipline have epistemological objections to very concept of value-free social science, and thus view with suspicion any implication that sociology can be separated from politics, I agreed to make revisions, because I think that argument in this piece important and can only be strengthened by further reference to the social theory canon. The downside is that the post is now less accessible to a popular audience than it was originally intended to be, so I have archived a copy of the original here. Finally, I must note that, while examining power is, perhaps, the oldest and most important task of sociology, it is (and has always been) political by nature.

A recent news piece for Inside Higher Ed reports on several instances where students have disrupted public presentations by conservative academics, activists, or politicians. The students used “the human microphone”—i.e., a practice of amplifying a speaker’s voice by having many people repeat the speaker’s words in unison—to offer counterpoints to the arguments being made by the presenter. The article’s author, Allie Grasgreen, asserts that the mic checking the conservative presenters is tantamount to “censorship.” This assertion shares the logic of what Karl Rove demanded when he was mic checked at John Hopkins:

If you believe in free speech and you have a chance to show it… if you believe in the right of the First Amendment to free speech… then you demonstrate it by shutting up and waiting until the Q&A session… line up behind the mic…

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But Grasgreen and Rove both miss the point. Occupiers are trying to demonstrate—through the very performance of this act—that “free speech” is not evenly distributed. The point is that only the 1% ever find themselves at the podium. The 99% are left to fill the seats in the audience, and, if they are lucky, they may have the chance to do as Rove commands and line up behind the mic for a few brief seconds in the spotlight. This is, of course, because the opportunity to speak and to be heard is inextricable from issues of wealth and power. The few who hold these assets in abundance have more purchasing power in the attention economy. K Street is nothing if not an industrialized machine for converting money and power into speech that will be heard. Sure, we all may have “free speech,” but as George Orwell quipped in Animal Farm “some animals are more equal than others.” (more…)

Words of the Year: Questions for “Assembled Experts” and Those Whose Expertise Those Assembled Experts Need…

“Oh, I hate that,” my colleague moaned, leaning on the hay- in “hate” with a weary sigh. The that in question was a grammatical construction I had not encountered in my previous TESOL experiences: from as a noun, linked to a country of origin on the other side of a being verb. My from is…Bolivia, El Salvador, Peru, Guatemala. “I don’t know where they get it from,” my colleague continued. “It’s not like they ever heard it from a native speaker.” And there our conversation ended. The native speakers had spoken, and they never did say My from is.

At the time, I was 24 years old. And I was then, and am still, White, middle class, and privileged with access to credentials, to a career I loved and identified with, and to a car to get me to and from it all. I stood in front of students, many of whom were decades my senior, many of whom worked multiple jobs, many of whom rode multiple buses to get to those jobs and even more buses to get to our class. Many of them communicated in multiple languages, including English, which they learned by listening to and engaging with people. What they needed from our class was support in, and practice with, the codes of the written English language.
As semesters went on, I cavalierly kept on asking the question that elicited the my-from-is answer – a question that was all too simple for me: Where are you from? And with the unwitting ease that comes from privilege, I would model the grammatical response: “I am from North Carolina.” But in the rest of my everyday life as a professional, credentialed native speaker, I could be from North Carolina, and all that that entails in terms of accent, word choice, rhythm. Many of my students had lived in the vicinity of our DC metro area school far longer than I had. They had families here—children, grandchildren – friends, co-workers, religious communities. They were of this place and of the places they had been before. And to say “my country is…” necessitated a choice between country of origin and country of residence – a choice that may have felt like a false one. Their “from” was something multiple and hybrid and complex – too personal to fit into a prepositional phrase. Grammar bends for identity.

I’m thinking about this now because this is the time of year when there never seems to be a shortage of declarations about what exactly has defined the past twelve months. For example, news blogs declare whose words count as the year’s “best essays“; linguists and other “assembled experts” hunt for a “word of the year.”

But whose words make it to these lists? And whose ideas and experiences represented within them? Whose creativity do they recognize, and whose do they pass over? I write these as real questions – questions that I hope  others might want to launch a conversation from

Occupy What?

Since the Occupy movement began in September, my sociological imagination has been churning with questions. I initially thought: Is this the beginning of a revolution, or is it an anti-tea party left wing group? But most of all, I wondered more broadly: What is it? Seemingly, I am not the only one in the realm of confusion. The Occupy Movement has been criticized for not being a cohesive movement. It has likewise been lauded as unstructured, lacking of a clear agenda, and a disjointed group of “lazy, unemployed” people. In all reality, the list could go on with the criticisms. It behooved me to ask my students and colleagues what they believed the movement was meant to represent. While I was met with different responses, I was most commonly told that the protesters are an impassioned group of people: “The 1%” who have taken it upon themselves to speak on behalf of the 99% that are fed up with exploitative, economic meltdowns which are the fault of the big banks.” Many respondents were fed up with the fact that when the rich make “mistakes” they do not get prison; they get bailed out (see Jeffrey Reiman’s, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison). Underneath the surface, both the movement and public perceptions of it are  multi-faceted and complex. My next move, therefore was to continue this line of questioning at the movement itself.

(more…)

Teachable Moments?: The Case of Penn State

I’ve read a lot about the shocking revelation that a former coach at Penn State allegedly molested up to 8 boys and raped at least one.  The story is all the more shocking given the grand jury testimony that points to a possible cover up by Penn State officials.  Indeed, media coverage of who knew what and when has almost eclipsed coverage of the original alleged crimes.  Two Penn State administrators were charged with perjury and amid the outrage the University board fired the University President and long-time football coach Joe Paterno.

Like every scandal or tragedy, news reporters have called this a teachable moment.  Here I want to consider how such a case is teachable for sociologists.  I am somewhat hesitant about these kinds of events.  After all, one case does not make a social trend or constitute the kind of empirical evidence from which sociologists make claims about society.  In addition, social claims do not automatically predict or explain single incidents.  Indeed, I consistently remind students that to make such assumptions is a misuse of sociology.  So, after spending the semester explaining the sociological imagination how can I use a single case as a teachable moment? (more…)