My PhD research is about changing people’s behaviour – how to make people lead better, greener, more sustainable lives. A key part of my outlook is how insights from so-called ‘Nudge’ theory might be used to foster change in individuals. Who better to use as an individual case study, than myself?
The basic premise of Nudge is that we can improve people’s behaviour not just through the old-fashioned interventions of the State like taxing things or making things illegal: ‘shoving’ people to comply; but by subtly ‘nudging’ people to make better choices, whilst still allowing them the freedom to make bad ones. The book titled ‘Nudge’ by Sunstein and Thaler has become a bestseller since it was published in 2008, and Nudge (also known by its fancier academic name of ‘Libertarian Paternalism’) has quickly become a mainstream policy discourse in many western countries. In the UK’s coalition government it seems to have found an especially receptive audience.
I recently stumbled upon a unique analysis of the construction of social reality. In Avery Gordon’s Ghostly Matters, haunting is a method of sociological research. She argues, “To study social life one must confront the ghostly aspects of it” (7). Ghostly Matters is her attempt to understand the complexities of social life through an analysis of the hauntings surrounding Sabina Spielrein, the desaparecido of Argentina and the lingering impact of racial slavery during the Reconstruction period in the United States. Her book might be a conceptual call within the field of sociology to understand that which it represses, but her approach is truly interdisciplinary, in that she seeks to create a something “that belongs to no one” (ibid).
In a recent Sociology Lens post, Markus Gerke detailed the problem associated with President Obama’s rhetoric of individual responsibility for increasing opportunities for Latino and Black men. One component to President Obama’s initiative is to increase educational opportunities for these populations and Gerke correctly notes that the focus on individual responsibility ignores the structural barriers that limit these populations. Research suggests that a major factor in the educational achievement gap is the presence of the school-to-prison pipeline and the punishment of minority students at greater rates than white students. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Education notes that 5 percent of white students in the United States are suspended compared to 16 percent of black students. Furthermore, researchers have documented racial disparities in school punishment for over 40 years with African-Americans accounting for 34 percent of suspensions nationwide, despite making up only 17 percent of the population (Browne, 2003).
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.
When I picked my friend’s nine year old daughter up from school last week the first thing she said to me was, “We had to do something really weird in class today. The teacher paired all the girls with a boy and we had to be a married couple.” It turns out the teacher was having her students work on writing dialogue and since it was right before Valentine’s Day she thought it would be cute for them to write dialogue about love and marriage.
“Not all girls want to marry a boy. It was so lame,” my friend’s daughter told me. ‘Lame’ was not really the word that came to my mind; I was more thinking about heteronormativity and how it is reproduced through our social institutions.
In case you were the only person who didn’t realise, last Friday was Valentine’s Day. I hate Valentine’s. Its’ ever increasing prevalence, its’ cloying, creeping appearance that infiltrates perfectly normal looking things and makes them red or pink, and the way the world suddenly becomes full of people perpetually and disgustingly in love, or stressed, or miserable and alone, or a combination of all three. If I sound bitter, please know it is definitely intentional. I am bitter, but not for the reason you’d think. (more…)
“When I am growing up…we girls, big and little, have at our command four languages to express desire before all that is left for us is sighs and moans: French for secret missives; Arabic for our stifled aspirations towards God-the-Father, the God of the religions of the Book; Lybico-Berber which takes us back to the pagan idols-mother-gods-of pre-Islamic Mecca. The fourth language, for all females, young or old, cloistered or half-emancipated remains that of the body” (Djebar 1985, 180).
You may have noticed that a photo of a Black man doing his daughter’s hair was plastered all over Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds last month. That man, Doyin Richards, runs a blog, Daddy Doin’ Work, about his experiences raising his two daughters. But, unlike most of the posts from his blog, this photo went viral. When the photo appeared all over social media, it was paired with a quote from his blog. “I have a dream that people will view a picture like this and not think it’s such a big deal.” Despite his desire for the photo to be seen as not a big deal, Richards continues to receive a great deal of attention simply for being a Black father. (more…)
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…)