Big Data refers to the enormous amount of information now possessed by companies, that we offer up in our day-to-day lives. In Google searches, Facebook wall posts, or any purchase we are contributing to the vast amount of data, and allowing companies to make predictions about how we will behave. The use of patterning, statistical analysis and algorithms give these companies a perceived ability to ‘predict the future’; ranging from suggesting future purchases to tracking the flu virus through Internet searches. Cheerleaders of this phenomenon (for example Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier 2013) see it is an extremely useful tool that will revolutionise our lives, unequivocally for the better. An opposing view comes from Evgeny Morozov (amongst others) who criticises ‘technological solutionism’ (Morozov 2013) arguing that these benefits are over-stated, and blind us to imbedded structural issues that cannot be solved by ‘more’ data. Whilst there is not space in this blog post to explore these views in full, the debate raises a consideration for Sociology: are there methodological issues with using Big Data, and what are the implications for the social sciences? (more…)
Last fall, like any good teacher of the sociology of gender, I introduced my class to the patterns of gender bias in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). My students were not shocked by the observation that few women enter these fields in college. In fact, one of my students raised her hand and explained the bias first hand. She was a computer science major, enrolled in a computer science course held in the same lecture hall in the time block before our class. She would see the composition of the classroom change as one course ended and the other began: mostly men would leave the computer science class, and then relatively equal numbers of men and women entered the sociology of gender class. My class discussed many ways to eliminate the gender bias in STEM fields, including high school level interventions to enable girls to excel in these majors. This is why I was so excited to open the New York Times this week and read an article about Girls Who Code, an organization that teaches computer code to high school girls in order to prepare them for a college major in computer science. (more…)
In recent years, there has been a push for research to focus on prisoner reintegration. In response, researchers have begun investigating a number of important topics such as how to use theory to inform policy and practice, how to determine which prison programs work best to aid in reintegration, how to minimize the impact children face from having an incarcerated parent, how to acknowledge the important link that exists between sentencing and release, and how to take a holistic yet individualized approach when it comes to prisoner reentry. In this post, I will briefly summarize five recent research articles that deal with prisoner reintegration before briefly discussing which directions appear to be especially promising. (more…)
Hanauer discusses the perceived wisdom or false premise that tax cuts for the rich creates jobs.
The History Channel’s miniseries, The Bible, has been lauded by some and scrutinized by others. Recently, some have raised questions about the show’s portrayal of the Satan, specifically the striking resemblance between the character and President Barack Obama (you can read a commentary at the HuffPost). The show’s producers have called the claims “utter nonsense” and insisted that actor Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni’s long record working on religious film sets made him an obvious choice for the role.
I’m no mind-reader and won’t speculate whether the producers intended any connection between Pres. Obama and the devil. I’ve raised this little controversy for another purpose, to demonstrate a long-standing film tradition of racializing villains. From spy flicks and action blockbusters to children’s animated movies and faith-based media, evil is often embodied by dark-skinned characters. Think about it—who are the bad guys in James Bond movies? What stands out about the animated character, Jafar, in Disney’s Aladdin? And what can we say about the Devil in the History Channel’s The Bible, especially compared to the heroic characters? They are all highly racialized depictions of racial/ethnic Others. They draw on nasty stereotypes designed to make us fearful. They are shown as morally corrupt and physically unattractive. Jafar, for example, conforms to ethnic stereotypes much more than Aladdin or Jasmine, both of whom could easily pass (in white westerners’ imaginations) as well-tanned Americans if not for their desert setting.
Edward Said famously wrote about this representational tactic in his book Orientalism (you can watch a documentary about Orientalism, featuring Said, called On Orientalism, on YouTube). Said explains that Orientalism is a patterned way of representing Arabs and Muslims as a unified cultural group (despite the fact that the terms aren’t synonymous, that Muslims live in many places outside the Arab world, and that “Arab” is used to describe individuals from many different backgrounds), less civilized than white Europeans or Americans, and capable of terrible things; in other words, Orientalism is a discourse that presents Arabs/Muslims as a dangerous threat. Not limited to specific media, Orientalism surrounds us and, from an early age, inculcates us with a particular way of understanding the Arab world. It gives us a specific language that governs how we conceive of Arab people and naturalizes our stereotypes. The Arab is a terrorist; the Arab is patriarchal—these terrible generalizations make sense and seem real in an Orientalist framework. (more…)
Within the last thirty years the presence of adolescent offenders tried in criminal court has become increasingly commonplace. Scholars critical of this growing phenomenon have documented that the number of youth transferred to adult (criminal) court has gradually risen since the mid-1970s. Whilst the ability to transfer young offenders from the juvenile to adult court has long been an option, recent literature notes that the emergence of legislation facilitating the transfer of youth offenders to criminal court is a microcosm of a “penal turn” in criminal justice practices (Kupchik 2010). That is, laws that expanded the ability to transfer youth to adult court fit within a larger social, cultural, and political movement which sought to “get tough” on crime. (more…)
Increasingly, a great deal of media coverage and public discussion focuses on the growing number of women in senior corporate positions. Women such as Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, and Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, have become renowned public figures whose success is held as an example of how far women have come in their struggle for gender equality. They are seen to have shattered the glass ceiling.
Whilst this success shouldn’t be belittled, there remain problems with the media’s portrayal of these senior women as well as the criticism of their decisions and practices that outpaces those directed at their male counterparts. The hyper-visibility of these women and the attention surrounding their success have created high (feminist) expectations and heavy criticism when they fall short. This raises the question: Why do we assume that as successful and powerful women, they stand for gender equality? Why do we imbue these women with role model status, and how helpful is it to do so? (more…)
Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, has created quite the buzz in the media, drawing accolades and criticism from widespread analysts, academics, feminists, business people, journalists, etc. Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, contends that the norms of femininity prevent women from gaining success in the workplace. While insufficient work and family policies are obstacles for women, one major, often overlooked, barrier is the rigid boundaries of masculinity and femininity, which hinder men’s participation in family and relationships and women’s drive in the workplace. Sandberg encourages women to “lean in” to their own success, to work hard and to defy the norms that hold them back.
While some praise Sandberg’s strong business sense and work ethic, others criticize her claim that women are their own biggest obstacles to success in the workplace. As a sociologist and a feminist, I am skeptical about her assertion that women hinder their own progress. In addition to a cultural shift in ideas about women’s leadership and business skills, we need stronger work and family policies. However, I am intrigued by her claim that cultural norms about masculinity and femininity are a major part of individual work and family issues. This seems like an obvious claim, yet a hard problem to solve. How do we change cultural ideas about what men and women can and should achieve in the workplace and in the home? (more…)
Source: Gordon Incorporated
Over the past 400 years, the Western criminal justice system (CJS) has greatly evolved. Like virtually all social institutions, its evolution has been highly impacted by the wider social environment. Along with the arrival of new technologies, philosophies, and aspirations, the Western CJS has altered its policies and practices. One very important change that has taken place over the past few centuries has been the birth of the modern prison system. Strongly inspired by factors related to capitalism, the prison system has continuously oscillated between focusing on incapacitation, deterrence, rehabilitation, and retribution. Beyond economic reasons, part of this fluctuation has taken place because of the West’s increasing desire to punish offenders mentally as opposed to physically as well as its vacillating theories regarding the true “nature of man.” In response to such ideas, it is important to consider exactly where and how the modern prison was born as well as what factors contributed to its creation. (more…)
A photo of my best friend and me
A recent article in Marie Claire magazine caught my eye. The title asks, “Are girlfriends the new husbands?” As the article explains, young adult women are increasingly turning to best friends for the kind of support that one might expect only from a romantic partner. As they choose to remain single later into life, women’s best friends become intimate partners (though not sexual ones). Cohabitation, “family” vacations, even some type of co-parenting between best friends is becoming more common. I should note, the article doesn’t discuss race, sexuality, class or any of the other intersecting social categories that affect women’s lives, so we cannot make sweeping generalizations, but among an abstract category of 20- to 30-something year old women, the nature of friendship appears to be changing. And I’d like to argue that this change is a good one. (more…)