By Pearson Scott Foresman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
What’s in a job title? If an academic came on the radio, TV or wrote a piece in a newspaper, would their title as a ‘sociologist’, ‘political scientist’, or ‘economist’ make a difference to the credence afforded to them? Of course it would. Economists trump the lot. Before he or she (it’s usually ‘he’) has uttered a word, an Economist appears more professional, more impressive, schooled in the hard science of trade and finance, rather than the wishy-washy relativists of the ‘soft’ social sciences like er… me.
Policy-makers and the media listen to economists, and the policy prescriptions they offer often have far-reaching social, political and even environmental implications. Economists know that unlike they will get an audience, as shown last week when Thomas Piketty, Ha-joon Chang and 75 other economists wrote an open letter to George Osborne last week, criticising his policy to bury Keynesian economics forever by banning future governments from ever running budget deficits. It made the news in a way that 77 sociologists never would.
The prominence of economists in policy-making and in the media is of interest to me because it might help explain our obsession with GDP growth. We hear politicians talk about ‘going for growth’, or aspiring to a ‘growth-based recovery’. Growth wins elections, growth keeps governments in power. We rarely question it, but there are reasons to be sceptical about our obsession with it. Last year’s report by the IMF, suggesting that inequality is bad for growth and more unequal economies are more prone to booms and busts, caused quite a stir mainly due to the fact that it was written by respected economists and played into the idea that growth is always the goal. Anti-poverty charity Oxfam welcomed the report, saying it shows “extreme inequality is damaging not only because it is morally unacceptable, but it’s bad economics”, also echoing esteemed economist Joseph Stiglitz’s view that despite strong average GDP growth in the United States since the 1980s, incomes have not increased for the vast majority of Americans. Take-home messages: Inequality is bad for growth, and the benefits of growth often only reach the few, not the many. (more…)
The issue of politics and social media is a contentious one. I have had discussions with lifelong friends where they have made it very clear that, in their view, social media should be just that, social. For them there is no place for politics in online platforms such as Facebook but I have to disagree. Over the years that I have had a Facebook account I have accrued over 600 ‘friends.’ I know that just a handful of them are real friends (in the traditional sense of the word) but they are people that I have met through my various studies, jobs, homes and travels. Who hasn’t seen and liked endless selfies, travel photos, pictures of children, puppies, weddings etc, as well as pages for club nights, bands, even businesses? I know I have, and I also know I am guilty of sharing almost all of the above.
My question, then, is this – why is it acceptable to use Facebook (other social media platforms are available) to celebrate, discuss or bemoan every aspect of our lives other than politics? (more…)
By VerTego at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
On paper, it had all the makings of a perfect scandal – tax evasion aided by a household-name bank, the prime minister dishing out jobs to his City friends, bankers dishing out parcels of untraceable banknotes
to account holders in Zurich. But, somehow, the story of HSBC’s Swiss banking arm’s ‘dodgy’
dealings let the genie out of the lamp ever-so-briefly, only for it to be sucked it again in no time at all. That particular scandal of money and politics passed after a few days’ headlines, only for another one
to replace it.
So what happened there? Are we so used to the 1% taking advantage of us that it’s no longer news-worthy? Are we becoming so ADHD as media-consumers that journalists have to give us a fresh fix of hate and outrage every few days? Or, as Charlie Brooker argues, are financial news stories just a bit dull? (more…)
*This is a guest post, written by Jo Byrne
Casual work and debt
According to a recent report by TUC, one in twelve people in Britain are in precarious employment with figures rising by 61.8% for men and 35.6% for women since 2008. That means that 1 in 12 people are living a life of economic insecurity, and, at this time of year, it also means that thousands of parents or grandparents will be uncertain if they can afford to buy gifts for their families at Christmas. Yet the pressure to consume (to eat, drink and be merry!) is so great that many will begin the new year in unmanageable debt, often as the result of short term payday loans: typically the only form of credit available to the most economically vulnerable in society.
I am lucky. In my adult life I have never been out of work for a significant period of time. But a few years ago, just before Christmas, I found myself jobless and desperate. I had returned from living abroad stone broke and up to my eyeballs in debt. I signed on for Job Seeker’s Allowance, which at the time (2010) was around £65 per week, and despite the fact that I was living a very modest life in a shared house, I was not able to make ends meet. Though I am grateful for the help I received from the government at that time, the amount of money provided is simply not sufficient to live with any real quality of life. In fact, according to a report by The European Council, it is not even enough to survive. While I was looking for work, I went further and further into my overdraft and using my ‘emergency’ credit card became a regular occurrence.
Fortunately, before things got too desperate, I received a call from a friend who had a senior position in a local call centre offering me a temp job over the Christmas period. (more…)
The boundary demarcating literature and anthropology seems to be porous; frequently subject to incursions but nonetheless heavily policed. Two decades ago, in the midst of the ‘Science Wars‘, Stephen Reyna suggested rather unflatteringly that “the literary anthropologist’s final product appears to be her or his impressions of Others’ gossip.” For now, the tables seem to have turned. Very few anthropologists or sociologists interested in money, finance and accounting can have carried out their inquiries without encountering the work of Mary Poovey, a Professor of English. The anthropologist Jane Cowan has emphasized the extent to which novels can “speak to socio-historical-political analysis,” acting as a spur to research, while an upcoming conference at the University of Kent plans to explore how far Science Fiction can be used as a tool of anthropological analysis. So, this week, in the final installment for the ‘Capital Ideas’ mini-series, the subject is the treatment of kinship, capital and inequality in John Lanchester’s 2012 novel, Capital. (more…)
There are now free tools available, such as Node XL, which, at unprecedented speeds and scales allow us access, harvest, and analyse the traces of people’s (often transgressive) thoughts, opinions and behaviours on Twitter. Since it combines the grand scale and generalisability of methods such as national surveys with the granularity and detail of close textual analysis, ethnography, or participant observation (Driscoll & Walker, 2014, p1746), Twitter analysis seemingly represents the holy grail of research methods. Existing research into misogyny on Twitter for example shows feminism is as indispensable as ever. There is, however, an increasingly important role for sociology to address technologically mediated symbolic violence like this. (more…)
Source: Nathan Rupert (SD) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Finally, it’s almost summer. And as the weather gets better, more and more social life in my neighborhood shifts outside to the street. As I was sitting at my desk the other day, I noticed two kids playing in the street, a boy of maybe 10 years and a girl, maybe 8. The boy was practicing his basketball skills, dribbling the ball between his legs, moving backwards, sidewards, spinning around, all while keeping perfect control over the ball. The girl on the other hand was listening to music and practicing dance moves from the latest music video (needles to say, both kids were far more skillful in their respective activity than I ever will be). Then something interesting happened: The kids started teaching each other their respective activities. And while the boy did quite a good job of learning the girl’s dance moves, the girl struggled when it came to dribbling the basketball: Whereas before as she was dancing, she was able to move extremely smoothly and elegantly, now her body became stiff. Her eyes fixated on the ball so as not to lose control, her upper body moved up and down parallel to her hand awkwardly and in a very choppy way; and she kept losing the ball repeatedly after every dozen or so dribbles. Is this little anecdote proof then that girls are just naturally less adept at ball games than boys [spoiler alert: it’s not]?
By Richard Smith from Bowen Island, Canada (Chicago Marathon – the start) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Last week marked the first installment of the Boston Marathon after the horrible terrorist acts of 2013. Although the world-renowned event will forever be linked to these atrocities, there are also acts of positive social change linked to its. Most famously, the 1967 Boston Marathon saw Kathrine Switzer become the first woman to enter the race as a numbered runner (there had actually been other women run the race unofficially before) by registering as “KV Switzer”. Her run and the attempt by a race official to remove her from the race show how sports can become an arena of progressive social change. Moreover, the history of marathon running over the past half century can also serve as a teaching tool to challenge myths about the supposed fundamental differences between men and women.
A side-event at the 2012 meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Attribution: Silje Bergum Kinsten/norden.org via Wikimedia Commons
The Huffington Post recently ran an article by Juliana Carlson, Assistant Professor of Social Welfare at the University of Kansas and member of the Mobilizing Men in Violence Prevention research collaboration, on the topic of men’s global engagement in the prevention of violence against women and girls. She argues that “men and boys have been largely relegated to the sidelines of violence preventions efforts” but that a growing movement “aims to create structural change by engaging boys and men in conversations about equality, gender expectations, family health, fatherhood, and the concrete, positive roles they can and do play, such as sharing caregiving and being a role model for younger generations.” The proliferation of NGOs doing this crucial work with men and boys extends well beyond the prevention of violence against women and may signal a larger shift in human rights and global development discourse. (more…)
[By Pete Souza (White House Flickr Account) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]
A few weeks ago, President Obama announced a new initiative
designed to increase opportunities for young Black and Latino men. Acknowledging that Black and Latino men lag behind other groups in educational achievement and employment, while outnumbering white men in jails and prisons, at first glance, the President’s “My Brother’s Keeper
” campaign seems like a much needed and timely project. However, when examining Obama’s rhetoric more closely, the initiative falls short of addressing the root causes and structural reasons for racial disparities in the US and instead perpetuates a neoliberal language of individual responsibility.