Category Archives: Communication and Media

Obama’s Initiative for Young Men of Color & the Rhetoric of Individual Responsibility

[By Pete Souza (White House Flickr Account) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

A few weeks ago, President Obama announced a new initiative designed to increase opportunities for young Black and Latino men. Acknowledging that Black and Latino men lag behind other groups in educational achievement and employment, while outnumbering white men in jails and prisons, at first glance, the President’s “My Brother’s Keeper” campaign seems like a much needed and timely project. However, when examining Obama’s rhetoric more closely, the initiative falls short of addressing the root causes and structural reasons for racial disparities in the US and instead perpetuates a neoliberal language of individual responsibility.


The Rapist’s Voice




**Warning: This posting contains content some readers may find disturbing.

Recently, a student told me about a 2012 Reddit thread where a Reddit user invited rapists to tell their stories and the motives behind their sexual assault(s).  Although the posts and all comments connected to the post were eventually deleted, the thread sparked heated debates not only on Reddit but on Jezebel and in the Huffington Post. And despite the site’s attempt to remove the content of the thread, it took me less than fifteen minutes find a large section of the postings and comments in the Museum of Reddit.

My initial reaction to this content was disgust and outrage.  I was concerned about the way a forum like this could re-victimize survivors and even validate sexual assault.  I was not the only one who found the thread dangerous.  A psychiatrist responded to the thread arguing that a forum like Reddit’s can be a trigger for rapists and would be rapists.


Introducing Digital Sociology



For its emerging practitioners, Digital Sociology is an ambitious and exciting new development. The ‘digital’ in its name is intentionally vague. It signifies anything that involves the transmission of 0s and 1s so includes everything from the Web,  to the Internet of Things,  to downloadable music, to devices that capture our heart rate: they are all within Digital Sociology’s scope.  Digital Sociology is attempting to exploit all the opportunities digital technology can offer. Simultaneously, Digital Sociology plans to continue sociology’s tradition of critical engagement with technology; temper some of the unrestrained rhetoric that attends digital innovation. However, it aims to achieve this in a way that avoids interdisciplinary friction.

These are just some of the questions Digital Sociology asks – questions that could be crucial to the future of sociology:

  • How can digital technology enhance the job of research? For example, has there ever been a more flexible and convenient ethnographic data capture device than the iPhone?
  • How can digital technology amplify sociological voices; particularly beyond the academy? For example, blogs such as The Sociological Imagination, Discover Society as well as, of course, The Sociological Lens are taking pioneering sociology to a new, non-specialist, albeit English-speaking,  global audience.
  • How can sociology work with other disciplines to achieve new insights? For example, what are the new methods; particularly those being developed within disciplines such as computer and network science, that sociologists can put to inventive use?  Sociology confronts some of society’s most profound and seemingly insoluble problems; in this respect, has digital technology improved sociology’s repertoire of instruments and data sources?

However, perhaps most crucial to Digital Sociology is an epistemological position it shares with its affiliate discipline Web Science.  That is technology, from its visual design to its embedded algorithms; no matter how asocial, logical it appears to be, bares the imprint of people’s norms, values and intentions. Inversely, technology can alter the way we think of ourselves and each other.   Digital Sociology attempts to unravel this complex, mutually sustaining relationship.

If all or any of this interests you please see @BSADigitalSoc on Twitter and for further information. There will also be a series of Digital Sociology sessions at the British Sociological Association’s Annual Conference.

The Spectacle and Politics of Globalized Sports

The Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo

This month the 22nd Winter Olympic Games began in Sochi, Russia. The spectacle of the event has captivated persons from around the world to tune into watch their favorite sport or favorite athletes. Russia spent over $50 billion to prepare for the Olympics by building hotels, roads, stadiums, and to bring in artificial snow into the Southern resort town.  The Sochi Olympics are the first mega-sporting event to occur this year, but will likely be trumped by the upcoming World Cup in Brazil over the summer. Brazil’s price tag for hosting the World Cup is considerable less at around $9 billion dollars. Nonetheless, the cost of both of these events and the emphasis by the respective countries to show the world the capabilities of their nation reveal the increasing globalization of these world sporting events. The Olympics and the World Cup are two global sports spectacles that have considerable cultural and economic ramifications, and are a product of intense politicking to bring the events to one’s national home.


The Myth of the ‘Skills Gap’ and the Attack on (Higher) Education

By movie studio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

In January, President Obama became the latest in a long list of politicians and high profile public figures in taking a shot at academic disciplines perceived to be ‘useless’ from a labor market perspective. Talking about manufacturing and job training, Obama (who has since apologized for his remarks) said: “I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.” This attack on disciplines, fields and degrees that do not tie in directly to what is perceived to be the workplace of today and tomorrow are nothing new. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory made similar, albeit much more explicit and vicious, remarks about higher education just last year, lashing out against the (inter)discipline of women’s and gender studies: “If you want to take gender studies that’s fine. Go to a private school, and take it. But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.” These and similar remarks point to two related notions that dominate in the debate about (higher) education: 1. The idea of a “skills gap” – that is the idea that workers and college graduates do not possess the right skills to fill vacant jobs in growing economic sectors. And 2. The idea that some academic disciplines are simply useless pursuits, as they do not help graduates secure employment. But do these ideas have empirical ground?


From the defining issue of our era to “green crap” – the transformation of climate change discourse in the UK.



As the saying goes ‘the jury’s in’; human activity is causing global temperatures to rise unnaturally and catastrophically quickly. The IPCC’s international panel of more than 800 scientists compiled over 9,200 peer-reviewed research papers to reach this verdict.  As a result, we are said to be initiating a mass extinction event analogous to one that annihilated the dinosaurs. Yet, climate change, once a totemic issue for politicians attempting to appear progressive, is becoming one of their marginal concerns.  For example, David Cameron, when he was working to detoxify the Conservative Party, went dog-sleighing in the Artic to signify his green credentials and commitment to address global warming. In the new era of perpetual austerity he has deprioritised the environment; Downing Street appointed a climate sceptic as Enviroment Secretary and reportedly recently referred to environmental levies as ‘green crap’.

Politicians in precarious states of power are notoriously sensitive to a construct known as ‘public opinion’. Public opinion is an analogue, shape-shifting beast only temporarily captured by various combinations of: opinion polls, newspaper columns, phone-ins, Tweets, blogs, emails, petitions, TV vox-pops, and whatever people in power imagine it is. Climate change’s deprioritisation reflects the reality politicians are not under pressure from public opinion to address it. There is probably a variety of complex psychological, sociological, economic, and political reasons that could tell us how and why how we’re arrived at point. I am going to suggest some reasons for this shift by applying Foucault to my PhD research data. (more…)

Speech, Identity, and Losing the Accent



The voice has not often been addressed as a specific subject for sociological analysis, despite affecting and representing a great range of highly sociological topics such as social stratification and identity, amongst many others. Taking the voice as an object of study can be incredibly illuminative, as trends in the way we speak are a clear indicator of wider social changes, as well as being highly applicable to social theory.

I started thinking about this after hearing a radio programme on the BBC, that discussed the ways in which accents have changed over the last 60 years, particularly in broadcasting. The two (white, middle-aged, female) presenters were listening back to historical tapes of themselves and were laughing, both embarrassed at how ‘posh’ (upper class) they had sounded. Interestingly, neither of them seemed to have noticed that they still sounded fairly ‘posh’, as many broadcasters are, but listening back to programmes from the BBC it is clear that the overall tone of accents being heard on the radio has changed dramatically. Regional and working class accents are more commonly found, and the tone and timbre of  ’higher-class’ accents (also known as the Queen’s English) are less desired. The story goes that when Radio 5 Live was launched in 1994, an editor asked one of the female broadcasters if she could “lower her voice a social class or two” so as to make it more palatable for the wider audience. (more…)

Everyday Deviancy and the Web


Since the credit crunch of 2008, and the global financial crisis swept around the world, a new rogue’s gallery of folk devils have been the focus of media opprobrium. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has ceased to talk about ‘Broken Britain’, how everyone is ‘in it together’ and of the laissez-faire, small government ideology epitomised by the ‘big society’. Perhaps this is because the discourse sounds too hypocritical even for a politician to espouse. As jobs are lost, wages decline and the cost of living rises, the media has found a new set of folk devils to vilify, and the public to boo and hiss at. These include tax dodging millionaires, bankers engaging in a casino of shady deals and rigging interest rates, politicians fiddling expenses and associating with people involved in a criminal conspiracy of hacking phones to get the jump on other media rivals.  Even the summer riots in 2011 in the UK could only hold the headlines for a short while before the media engaged in a form of self-cannibalisation with the Leveson Inquiry into the ethics of the print media. It is no wonder; therefore, that deviancy is once again emerging as an important theory to consider within criminology after a period of disregard. This is evident with the re-emergence of the York Deviancy Conference in 2011 and the continued development of cultural criminology (Ferrell, Hayward and Young 2009). However, set between the polar extremes of the usual folk devils of feral kids and the corruption of the powerful elite is a forgotten group. What about people engaged in online deviant behaviours – everyday actions which are too nuanced and accepted to be deemed criminal, such as downloading or purchasing items that are outside of regulation or counterfeit, like medicine? Analysing such behaviours through a deviant lens can make transparent that which the Web renders opaque and shift our attention to the way that the Web has helped create novel forms of deviancy. (more…)

Heavy Metal Music and Sociological Imagination Duex: Just Add Religion and Stir?

Source: Jacob Sauer

Source: Jacob Sauer

This weekend I drove from Chicago to New York.  By hour six I couldn’t stand my playlists and begin scanning through local radio stations.  I was startled by the number of times I’d find a really great hard rock or heavy metal song and realize 15 to 60 seconds into the song that I was listening to a Christian radio station.  Once again, I began thinking of heavy metal as tool for examining intersecting social issues – religion, popular culture, gender, class, race, and ethnicity. 

On the surface, heavy metal music and conservative Christianity are situated on opposite ends of a cultural morals-and-values spectrum.  Heavy metal has been known to celebrate and glamorize explicit sex, defiance, aggression, violence and alcohol or drug use (Gore 1987; Walser 1993:139).  In comparison, modern conservative Christians often see themselves in absolute contrast to the sex-drugs-party world.  By embracing a code of strict, absolute and unchanging moral standards conservative Christians often view themselves as free from an egotistic, libidinous and morally pernicious mainstream society (Smith 1998:131).  However, despite the obvious confliction of values that often exist between heavy metal culture and Christianity, there are places where hard-core music and a conservative faith overlap. (more…)

£1984: the cost of consumer surveillance? The future of facial recognition technologies

How close are we to the dystopian world outlined in 1984? Following on from my colleague bschaefer’s article ‘Volunteering for surveillance: Consumerism, fear of crime, and the loss of privacy’, this article discusses the latest challenges to our consumer privacy rights.

The concept of surveillance raises significant social questions, especially in relation to how far technologies constitute an unacceptable degree of intrusion into our private lives. This week Tesco announced their plans to introduce targeted advertising through facial recognition technologies to all 450 of its UK based petrol stations. The OptimEyes screen, developed by Lord Alan Sugar’s company Amscreen, scans the eyes of customers to determine specified categories of age and gender before running tailored advertisements. Although most of us in advanced western states are already subject to a vast array of data collection fuelled by the desire to obtain our interconnected life experiences information.  This latest attempt to monitor and influence our consumer behaviour automatically sets a number of alarm bells ringing, namely to do with the social issues of surveillance, in particular power relations, spaces, and categorisations. (more…)