Category Archives: Political, Economic and Urban Sociology

Nudge yourself better: how to become your own Choice Architect.

switch

By: Adam Gault
Collection: OJO Images
http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/

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.

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The Crimean War of Signatures

 

Source: ft.com

 

On March 18, Vladimir Putin signs a treaty with his Crimean counterpart Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov to welcome Crimea into the Russian Federation after the referendum on March 16.

On March 20, Obama signs an executive order to impose sanctions on senior officials of the Russian government as well as an additional agreement allowing sanctions on ‘key sectors of the Russian economy’.

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Philip Seymour Hoffman, the prevalence of heroin and the experience of homeless drug users

Source: http://www.emcdda.europa.eu

 

Just about four weeks ago the public was shocked: Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his New York apartment. But what most people talked about after the first trauma was not only that the world had lost a great actor. It was the needle in Hoffman’s arm.

Hoffman had suffered from drug and alcohol problems earlier in his life. The public knew about that. Most people, however, believed him clean for the last 23 years. Hoffman himself was in fact not reluctant to talk about his addiction in more straightforward and honest ways. As he told the Guardian in 2011:

“I know, deep down, I still look at the idea of drinking with the same ferocity that I did back then. It’s still pretty tangible. I had no interest in drinking in moderation. And I still don’t. Just because all that time’s passed doesn’t mean maybe it was just a phase.” (more…)

Fly me to the Moon: Aviation: past, present, and future

By Yamaguchi Yoshiaki from Japan [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

This year marks one century of commercial flying. On New Year’s Day in 1914, a large crowd gathered in St.Petersburg, Florida, as an airboat named ‘Benoist’ (after its creator, Thomas Benoist), took to the sky for a 23-minute flight over the Tampa Bay, carrying a single passenger (Abram Pheil, who won his $400 ticket in an auction). This maiden flight soon became a regular route, thus marking aviation’s birth as a viable industry. In the following decades, transnational routes, jet engines and global airlines became fixtures of modern life.

What a difference a century makes. Today, 52 aircraft take off every minute, and an incredible half a million people are in the air above us at any one time. Flying now facilitates family visits, holidays, business and academic conferences, and freight trade; it’s made the world smaller, and the global economy bigger. (more…)

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.

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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?

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West Virginia Chemical Spill as State-Corporate Crime

West Virginia citizens wait in line to retrieve clean water.

West Virginia citizens wait in line to retrieve clean water.

On January 9, 2014 government officials in West Virginia discovered that over 7,500 gallons of chemicals used to clean coal had leaked out of a Freedom Industries’ chemical facility and into the nearby Elk River. The location of the leaking storage facilities was just upriver from the largest treatment facility in West Virginia affecting over 300,000 residents throughout the state. Immediately discovering the leak, government officials notified the residents of Charleston and surrounding areas to stop using tap water. The government warned against water usage for drinking, cooking, and bathing. The chemicals spilled caused skin irritation, nausea, vomiting, and wheezing to several residents. (more…)

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

david-cameron-green-crap

Source: http://politicalscrapbook.net/2013/11/david-cameron-get-rid-of-all-the-green-crap/

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…)

Catching “Affluenza:” The role of money in Criminal Justice

Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2013/12/ethan_couch_affluenza_defense_critique_of_the_psychology_of_no_consequences.html

Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2013/12/ethan_couch_affluenza_defense_critique_of_the_psychology_of_no_consequences.html

The prosecution of 16 year old Ethan Couch has garnered considerable media attention in the past two weeks. Couch was accused of killing four pedestrians while high on valium and under the influence of alcohol. With a truck full of friends, Couch crashed into a group of pedestrians. The outcry from this case is twofold. First, Couch’s defense attorney argued that he could not be held fully responsible for his actions because he suffered from “affluenza.” Second, this defense worked and Couch was found guilty but only sentenced to 10 years under correctional probation. Couch, 16, was sentenced to 10 years under correctional probation for his actions. Couch never denied his actions, rather his defense argued that Couch’s dysfunctional upbringing was the reason for his actions and he deserves therapy over incarceration.  (more…)

Holiday Giving: The role of Charity in Capitalism

Black Friday shoppers at WalMart

Black Friday shoppers at WalMart

The holiday season is officially upon us as thousands of individuals woke up early on this Black Friday to score the best deals of the season. This time of year brings joy to the hearts of many, but also exposes one of the greatest contradictions in American society. Along with the excitement of holiday shopping and purchasing a 50 inch TV for half-price, this time of year is also supposed to be about giving. From Thanksgiving through Christmas more people volunteer and donate food and/or money than any other time of year. In 2012, to combat the popularity of consumption during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, more and more people are participating in Giving Tuesday (the day after Cyber Monday), a day to give to those in need. While we can certainly see the merits and benefits of giving a toy to a child who has none or a coat to someone who is cold, we should also ask ourselves why charity is needed in the first place and why charity is so intimately linked with consumption. (more…)