On Tuesday, Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings was awarded the Man Booker Prize for 2015 at the City of London’s Guildhall (an institution about which I wrote for Sociology Lens last year). James’ book is an imagined retelling of the attempt made on Bob Marley’s life in 1976, and the first novel by a Jamaican writer to win the Prize, which now comes with a £50,000 cheque, having been introduced with a purse of £5,000 in 1969. Jamaican poet Kei Miller has suggested that James’ win heralds a new era in Caribbean writing, rejecting the apparent choice between the poles of ‘sacred’ reverence and gentle, mocking ‘satire’ that seem to have characterized Caribbean fiction to date. This new era, argues Miller, is one propelled by “a new generation of writers who had all the resources of creolised Englishes and the uncanny stories that they witnessed first-hand growing up on the islands, but who would also gain other, technical, resources from taking creative writing courses across the world and forming a community with other writers.” And here, in James’ win, and Miller’s response to it, can be found all that has, perhaps surprisingly, made the Booker Prize a favourite topic not only of literature professors, but of sociologists and management scholars too.
The term “natural hair” is used in the African American community to differentiate between hair that has been left in its natural state and hair which has been permed (which is to permanently straighten the hair follicle with chemicals). African American hair in its natural state appears tightly coiled or kinky and is often socially stigmatized. Social stigmas are any idea that individuals associate with negative connotations. Many individuals would agree that hair is a prevailing symbol of one’s self and self-expression, contributing much stake towards one’s identity. As social norms change over time, so do the effects of symbols that an individual imposes on their social reality; as a consequence of being symbolic in society, hair speaks to a person’s status, power, beauty and beliefs (Bellinger 2007). Hair speaks to one’s character and is representative of their status in society. Hair is also a measure of beauty and how one styles their hair affects one’s level of beauty in society more...
One of sociology’s main critiques revolves around neoliberalism, and its implications on everyday life in a capitalistic society. Yet, individuals do not comprehend what these implications are for those who identify as LGBTQ. As of recently, there are a plethora of articles illustrating some of the consequences that occur in this new neoliberal society. For example, John P. Elia and Gust A. Yep stated in their article, “Sexualities and Genders in an Age of Neoterrorism:” more...
I look at you across the train carriage. I can see the clothes you wear, I can guess the car you drive, possibly take a stab at the house you live in. In my arrogance, I think I’ve got you down. Then you get your phone out and start pushing buttons and swiping around. I can now only see your facial expressions for any clue whatsoever as to what you’re looking at, who you might be messaging, what you might be buying, which newspaper you’re checking. Financial Times or Vice? Candy Crush Saga or Tinder? I can only wonder.
The space between you and the screen is your space. We talk a lot about how we live in a surveillance society, but actually we can now live more secretive and discreet lives than ever. The presentation of the self is far more complicated in a world when we spend significant parts of our time online, not presenting ourselves to anyone much. The websites we visit, the products we buy, the stuff we read, is very much our own business.
We can, of course, leave big clues to all this by sharing and posting stuff on social media, but it appears people are doing this less and less. Last year saw a 9% decline in facebook users, according to GlobalWebIndex (GWI), a research firm that claims to run the largest ongoing study into digital consumption to date.
Many people seem bored of the idea of advertising their every move online. According to the GWI research, around 40% of Facebook users said they had “browsed their newsfeed for updates without posting or commenting on anything” in the last month. We are becoming passive lurkers more than active contributors online. Maybe this reticence is a reaction to the increasing suspicion that our every move online is being monitored by… well, you name it.
Post-Snowden, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google, Facebook, my bank, the companies who made the apps I use, the NSA, ISIS hackers, bored geeks and con-artists, ANYONE, if they were so inclined, could work out my entire life history since about 1998, when I opened my first email account with yahoo. Maybe the knowledge that big brother might be listening is making us say less. Or maybe the novelty of social media is just getting a bit old.
An article in Forbes, citing the GWI research, claims that “Facebook has become more of a passive hub for underlying social connections than a place to actively share our thoughts. And with so many checking Facebook on their smartphones, they’ll often only check in for short periods anyway, leaving little time to do more than browse and maybe “like” a photo or two.”
But to that man sat next to you on the train, or your friends, or even your spouse, most of what we do online is our own business. Maybe we are “being watched by google”, but as long as the people we know are in the dark about our online behaviour, then we are safe from social disapproval, from nosiness, from the pull and drag of social norms, from the shock or disgust of our peers. Who cares if I spend all day looking at immature cartoons, kitten vines, youtube video nasties, or questionable pornography, when there’s no-one there to question it? Within certain limits of blatant illegality (sharing child porn) or suspicious behaviour (following ISIS on twitter), we’ll probably get away with anything.
I thought of this as I read of the top twenty books downloaded on amazon, which people can read on their kindle or tablet, and the big difference between this list of ‘guilty pleasures’ and Waterstones’ top-selling paper books of the year. Popular e-books include Fifty Shades of Grey, a few Mills and Boon romance titles and four (four!) adult colouring books. Waterstones’ list includes more highbrow authors like Colm Tóíbin and Ian McEwan.
The implication is that we buy intelligent paperbacks to show off the front cover to the passenger sitting opposite us, but then download ebooks to indulge our more urges – reading about food, romance, and er… colouring in – safe from the sneering of our peers who can only see the generic grey underside of our Kindle.
Badisha, writing in the Guardian says we’re “like American winos, hiding our cheap, nasty, yet oh-so-satisfying liquor in brown paper bags – or the dead grey plastic of a Kindle…We pay for hardback editions of thoughtful, exquisitely written meditations on something or other, which took years to write. But they only take a few seconds to shelve and forget. What we really respond to is the old kiss-kiss-bang-bang, the thrill of the penny dreadful, the glitter of the music hall, the big-screen swoon.”
This thought is interesting to sociologists because the power of social norms is a fundamental tenet of the entire discipline. Remove or at least dilute that power by shrinking our consumption space to that between our eyes and the screen, and the social world starts to look very different.
On the one hand, this might be empowering: minimising the space for social disapproval; reducing the scope for the judgements of others; making conspicuous consumption less… conspicuous. On the other hand, aren’t social norms the ‘invisible hand’ that maintain a functional and cohesive society? What happens when we reduce the power of social norms, and allow ourselves free reign to indulge our every desire in that ‘private’ space between user and screen?
One of the main ideologies of religion, which Ninian Smart has pointed out, is that of the ethical, and legal dimension. Smart states, “the law which a tradition or subtradition incorporates into its fabric can be called the ethical dimension of religion” (Smart 18; 1998). History has proved how social customs, usually stemming from religious ideologies, tend to become laws, and govern social norms. When thinking about American society, society claims there is a separation between the Church, and the State: but, this is not true. With most presidential elections, society can see how a presidential candidate’s religious affiliations, or views on certain topics, such as abortion and others, are pertinent to the voter’s candidate choice. Although, this ethical and legal dimension may be the primary example to view religion and sexuality, most people neglect to view the other dimensions in which religion governs sexuality. more...
Do you remember your sex education during your youth? Did you even have sex education?
My school district (a local, public school district composing of four small townships) contracted out our sex education through Catholic Charities, which would come into health classes and teach “sex ed.” (Note: I am very conscientious of using quotations around my experience of “sex ed” because it wasn’t real sexual education, but rather, (heteronormative) abstinence only education.) We started having exposure to sex ed as early as sixth grade, but the “real” sex ed really started in eighth to ninth grade. Boys and girls were separated in two different rooms to talk about their own bodies separately, and would come together where they (at least in my interpretation) tried to scare us into submission.
Amandla Stenberg, an activist and an individual who has considerable reach amongst the masses used her platform as an actress to speak out against cultural appropriation when she responded to a post on the Instagram of a celebrity teen socialite in early July. Many replies to Stenberg’s response of the original poster demeaned Amandla for making an argument about race as many bystanders were convinced that the original Instagram post was meant to be a fun fashion statement. The subsequent comments have a false sense of logic behind them however, and it is clear that most responders did not understand the argument that Amandla was making. This argument was further convoluted given that is was a response to the derogatory hashtag #whitegirlsdoitbetter; a twitter hashtag meant to spread hate and racism by implying that women of color are unworthy. Her reply has since been deleted but I would argue that Amandla’s reply has everything to do with race, fashion, and hair, all which comprise culture. She later posted another reply which provides more detail about black femininity and cultural appropriation. A person stating that her original reply is about anything less is simply blind to the structures of power and dominance that are at play and is the reason why these issues will continue to be perpetuated so long as their diminishment is condoned by overarching forces such as mass media.
Cultural hegemony is the control of culture through domination of social groups via social institutions. Simply put cultural hegemony is a type of hegemony that serves to police society in a way that is unnoticeable to the dominant group and is perpetuated as the parameters of what to think and how to think about it. Most importantly cultural hegemony serves the interests of the hegemony, the dominant class. When discussing race in America the dominant class refers to White people and minority groups of races and ethnicities are considered subordinate groups. While it is a fact that not all White people have the power and means to establish and carry out this dominance, it is true that all White people benefit from being a part of this dominant class. Culture is comprised of many things to include race, gender, religion, sexuality, class, etc. I aim to focus on race and gender as these are the topics that are at the root of Amandla’s Instagram reply which became viral. more...
Sexuality is, still, something seen as taboo, and deemed not appropriate for everyday conversation. Society assumes men and women will marry, procreate, and in time, create their own family: where their children will repeat the process. However, people do not always adhere to the model: some will live within the “deviant” parts of society. There are people who identify as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender, Queer), SM (Sadomasochism), and many more. One identity, out of the plethora, that many people have problematized is the identity of SM. Those who participate in the SM scene proscribe SM as their primary identity. Previously, there has not much research done on the SM community: but, that has changed. more...
In patriarchal societies, men tend to take advantage of their power, and privilege. This privilege comes so easily because it is invisible to them, which makes men blind to their control over society. Besides, the concept of privilege is based on its omnipresent invisibility. The affordances of privilege cost many people, more so women, relegation to the outliers of society, and nearly incapable of controlling power. At times, certain men have an inclination to enforce, and monopolize, on their power in the workplace; i.e. make sexual propositions, or sexual innuendos, at their female-identified coworkers. The majority of sexual harassment cases stem from the workplace, so what happens when these situations happen in the general public? Furthermore, what happens when sexual harassment, whether physical, or verbal, occur between those of the same gender?
The concept of the “closet,” linguistically, served as the foundation, and means, to identify as a homosexual, or LGBTQ. Within her text, The Epistemology of the Closet, Kosofsky Sedgwick offers numerous ways to define the “closet.” However, there are two definitions pertinent to our understanding of the “closet.” The first definition of the “closet” is described as, “a room for privacy or retirement” (Kosofsky Sedgwick, 2008d: 65) and the second, more appealing, definition of the “closet” has an added word before it: “skeleton in the closet (or cupboard): a private or concealed trouble in one’s house or circumstances, ever present, and ever liable to come into view” (Kosofsky Sedgwick, 2008e: 65). To have something, or to be, in the “closet” points out something that is hidden or kept private from others, never to be discerned. It, also, points to a power relation, or antagonism, between sexualities, and sexuality known as knowledge. Currently, it is common for individuals of the LGBTQ community to ask one another if they are “out of the closet.” Yet, to ask someone if they are “out of the closet” is to pry into their secret: they are asked to elucidate, or bring to life, the sexual identity one feels they must hide and fear. more...