Capital Ideas: Settling Accounts in Delhi


The first two posts for this ‘Capital Ideas’ series were organised around Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, a work of economic sociology unusually attentive to the relationship (rarely made explicit) between kinship, capital and inequality. This week I turn to Capital: A Portrait of Twenty-First Century Delhi, by the British novelist Rana Dasgupta, continuing my exploration of the treatment of merit and inheritance in three contemporary bestsellers (one academic, one journalistic, and one fictional). Certainly, Dasgupta’s has not been afforded quite the celebrity (or recognition in the business and financial press) as Piketty’s similarly-titled book. Nonetheless, his Capital is the product of an effortlessly deployed sociological imagination, which conveyed Dasgupta along through the phantasmagoric world of Delhi’s elite business families, shaped by the destructive transformation of Delhi ‘from Walled City to World City‘. (more…)

“Who Are you Calling Entitled?” : The Problem with Lazy Millennials


In a recent Sociology Compass article, Dr Elisabeth Kelan draws attention to common uses of the concept of ‘Generations’ and points out that despite being a useful and commonly used concept for Psychology, it has not been widely drawn upon in the Sociological literature. This is surprising, as she notes, because it is so often used in more mainstream writing, media and culture, particularly to describe the characteristics of certain demographics of people. In reference to Dr Kelan’s work, the concept of generation can provide insight into how organizations can best treat their employees, by using their generation as a lens to understand their motivations, preferences and behaviors. Knowing what generation someone is in can be extremely helpful for our understandings of how people behave in certain ways.


Why the Fracking “Haves” Come Out Ahead

Senior UD 027

Photograph taken by Joanne Koehler.

This is a guest post by Jamie Longazel and Joanne Koehler.  Jamie is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work at the University of Dayton.  Joanne is a recent graduate of the University of Dayton, receiving degrees in Sociology and Criminal Justice Studies.

There is an interesting and potentially important fracking case going on New Mexico right now. The Mora County Commissioners passed the Community Water Rights and Local Self-Government Ordinance, making it illegal for gas and oil companies to extract hydrocarbons within county limits. The ordinance, which has been dubbed “The Mother of all Anti-Fracking Tools,” has not surprisingly been challenged in court. Claimants, who most notably include Royal Dutch Shell, one of the largest oil companies in the world, suggest the measure violates their right to corporate personhood, controversially affirmed recently in the Citizens United case.

Other municipalities have banned fracking within city limits, often by tweaking zoning laws. What makes this case unique is that it is situated at the county level, effectively banning the practice not just within city limits, where fracking rarely takes place anyway, but across mass swaths of potentially ‘frackable’ land.

From an environmental perspective, the Mora County ordinance is impressively bold. It goes so far as to establish “a local bill of rights for Mora County that protects the natural sources of water from damage related to the extraction of oil, natural gas, or other hydrocarbons.”

From a sociolegal perspective, the ordinance helps to level the playing field. With Mora County residents standing together as a collective and being represented by an experienced litigating group (specifically, the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund), they stand a better chance of having their voices heard and resources protected than others in situations where companies run freely from door to door wooing landowners with offers they often cannot refuse. (more…)

The joy of Absence and the Digital Detox

I just came back from a week in Greece. I’m not here to brag, but it was pretty damn great. One of the best things about it was that I hardly used my phone. I couldn’t. Out on the scrubland hills on the island of Levkas, my friend’s mother’s villa does get some limited internet access, but it’s expensive and patchy, so I just didn’t bother using it at all. No email, no facebook, no twitter, no whatsapp, no news, no Sociology Lens! It was like stepping back in time. The only thing I used my phone for was playing music whilst reading lots of books and soaking up the sun (Okay, small brag there).

Unfortunately, my phone had a little accident involving a car door and a cracked screen, so when I got back to a rainy Manchester airport and all the other surnburnt Brits were turning on their phones to check their messages outside Arrivals, I couldn’t do the same. I must admit, I felt smartphone jealousy. Whilst I was in Greece it felt good, it felt right to not use my phone, but back in the UK – my place of work, of friends, of study, of home – it felt strange, like something was missing, like I was missing out. (more…)

Don’t Quote Me On This!

Here is a photo I took of an elderly woman in Jandiayacu. She is one of very few people (possible only five remaining) who speak and have a deep knowledge of the Sapara Language. The knowledge of Sapara people is not written down; it is an oral tradition that has been recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.


I am not going to cite, quote or reference anyone in this post, and I wonder if that will change the opinion of those who read it. Does citing someone else make what I write more valid, more accurate or more valuable? Citation and referencing are an important part of academic writing; it is a painstaking, laborious and often frustrating process that is, unfortunately, unavoidable. Of course, I understand why it is necessary. When communicating ideas or concepts it is useful to use citations to provide signposts to our readers should they want to know about something in more depth or detail. It is also important when we are talking about ‘facts’, particularly historic occurrences, statistics or things people have (supposedly) said. But there is another side to this practice that is more of a burden on the writer than it ought to be. (more…)

Holding Up the Women Who Hold Up Half the Sky




Recently, Netflix added the widely acclaimed documentary Half the Sky to its online streaming library.  The film, inspired by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn book of the same name, follows six American celebrities as they travel throughout Asia and Africa addressing some of the health care, educational, and economic issues that oppress women and girls across the globe. Throughout the film, the viewer clearly sees the impact women and girls of the developing world have on both Kristof and the celebrity activists who join him in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Vietnam, Somaliland, India, and Kenya.

What is even more striking is the difference between the lives of the women featured in film and the actresses visiting from the West.  At one point Kristof and actress Olivia Wilde are interviewing a former sex worker living in Kenya who is struggling to come up with the money needed to pay for her son’s tuition.  When Kristof asks her what she will do if she cannot raise the money needed the woman simply relies that she will not eat.  The conversation moves forward to other issues in the woman’s life and the viewer never finds out if the woman was able to pay her son’s tuition.


Capital Ideas: Enriching Economic Sociology (Part 2)


In my previous post for the ‘Capital Ideas’ mini-series, I outlined the basic premise of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Centurythat we are approaching a situation whereby a substantial European elite seems likely to receive an inheritance larger than the lifetime earnings of the bottom half of that same population. The post ended with a brief discussion of Timothy Johnson’s interesting but troubling critique of Piketty, which rests on the notion that capitalism is based on reciprocity rather than growth. Johnson has made some interesting attempts to rescue the Fundamental Theorem of Asset Pricing (the ‘unifying proposition’ of modern finance) from the world of calculating, consequentialist ethics, and has reimagined it in terms of ‘balanced reciprocity’ in Marshall Sahlins’ sense. Johnson’s hopeful (if structurally naive) notion of a financial capitalism that is based on reciprocity brings to mind Bruno Latour and Michel Callon’s approach to treating gifts and capital “symmetrically,” such that the structures of capitalism disappear: “one should not believe in [capitalism]…happily for us, it does not exist!” When Latour and Callon speak of a symmetry between gifts and capital, they claim that both ‘disinterested’ gift exchanges, and ‘interested’ transactions in capitalist markets rely upon “interdictions [disruptions] of calculation” (p. 11): gift exchanges disrupt calculation when participants are not allowed (or refuse) to calculate, while market transactions disrupt calculation by always refusing to ‘internalize’ all possible ‘externalities‘ into the participants’ calculative framework. Latour and Callon’s piece is perhaps the first manifesto for the sociological sub-discipline known as the ‘social studies of finance.’ Callon, and to a lesser extent Latour, have had a significant influence on the researchers carving out this ever-growing field of inquiry, one which has produced fascinating insights into the production of prices, the derivation of values and the coordination of agency within financial markets. (more…)

Speaking Globe-ish

An ESL Classroom. Somewhere. By Tallersperlallengua (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

I recently took a break from my PhD to work as an ESL teacher in a summer school in Northern England. As well as making a welcome change from my studies to a very different working and living environment for a month, it also made me reflect on language and the linguistic hegemony which English continues to enjoy around the world. On the one hand, I’m slightly uncomfortable with the way which English has become the dominant world language, allowing people like me access to certain jobs just because of where we were born and the language we were born with. On the other, I am often struck by how one ‘global’ language brings people together. In academia, where English is the default language, we see this all the time. At my summer school, it was a pleasant (and rather cute) sight to hear Russian, Kuwaiti, Chinese and Spanish teenagers all using English to chat to each other, play games, and build friendships.


Going Out of My Mind in Jandiayacu


The Airstrip in Jandiayacu

This is a photo I took in July, 2014, during my fieldwork in Jandiayacu. Jandiayacu is a Sapara community in the Amazonian region of Ecuador. It is accessible only by plane or a difficult journey on foot and by canoe, which takes several days.  (click for full size image)


So often we talk about being rational, making decisions based on established facts and existing knowledge, as if it is, and should be, the aim of all people at all times. Ways of being or knowing that sit outside of accepted knowledge can open a person up to being dismissed, discredited or ridiculed, particularly in the academic world. Anybody who knows me knows that I am a somewhat methodical and ‘rational’ person (most of the time). I love questions and puzzles and finding answers, and I struggle with things being disorganised, chaotic or inefficient. This is probably why I have found beginning my research with the Sapara nation, an Indigenous people here in Ecuador, so difficult. (more…)

Damaged Discussions?

In 2008, I read a book by Adina Nack, Damaged Goods? Women Living With Incurable Sexually Transmitted Diseases. At the time I was blown away by a text that focused on the study of chronic, non-fatal sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at a time when the majority of research on gender and STIs focused on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States and abroad. Nack’s study examined the ways in which women diagnosed the issue of non-fatal, chronic, sexually transmitted infections managed the stigma and ultimately came to terms with their sexual selves.

The fact that estimates from the CDC in 1998 suggested three out of every four sexually active adults in the United States have human papillomavirus infections (HPV) and one out of five sexually active adults in the United States has genital herpes suggested to me that an examination of these STIs warranted significantly more attention than they had been given in studies of both sexualities and medical sociology at the time of Nack’s research (Nack 2014). Yet, few scholars have added to the work produced by Nack in the first decade of the 21st century.