The New York Times, Katrina displacement as of 9/23/2005.
The New York Times, Katrina displacement as of 9/23/2005. Click for original.

The New Yorker recently featured several sociologists in a piece about what has happened to residents of New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:

  • David Kirk, who studies neighborhood effects, focused on recidivism, or likelihood of ending up in prison again after release, based on whether individuals stayed in the same neighborhood or moved elsewhere. He found that those who returned to their former neighborhoods in New Orleans had a 60% recidivism rate compared to those who. While, historically African Americans have been more likely to move, often for economic mobility, since 1970 the pattern has flipped, and more African Americans tend to stay put.
  • Patrick Sharkey says that in recent decades white Americans more frequently engage in “contextual mobility,” or moves significant enough to change opportunities and circumstances. Instead of major moves, African-American families in urban areas tend to make more frequent, minor moves to places similar to their previous living arrangement.
  • According to Stefanie DeLuca, these moves are not voluntary. Rising rent, eviction, breakups, or changing in housing subsidies spark moves within the same areas—not the better schools or job opportunities that middle-class Americans cite as reasons to relocate.

Following the severe damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, going “home” wasn’t possible for many poor black families. As it turns out, those who had to leave found their new homes offered more opportunity:

  • Houston, Texas, has become a hot spot of upward mobility for those displaced by Katrina, Corina Graif found: “The fact that they were all of a sudden thrown out of that whirlpool gives them a chance to rethink what they do. It gives them a new option—a new metro area has more neighborhoods in better shape,” she says of the 700 mostly black women she tracked.

Sharkey cautions optimistic readers that relocation could become a game of cat and mouse. If too many poor people move into middle-class areas, the middle-class may move, taking some of the neighborhood’s higher resources and leaving new families in circumstances that mimic a minor move.

France & Ewing in South Minneapolis

A recent feature in the University of Minnesota’s UMNews report documents Rebecca Krinke’s most recent public art creation. Krinke, an associate professor in landscape architecture, explores how memories and emotion become attached to specific spatial locations. In doing so she blurs the line between geography, sociology, urban studies, emotional exploration, and art.

The map has turned into a sociology experiment of sorts and a sounding board for people’s emotions: hope and despair, contentment and anger, love and hate.

Krinke began with a giant laser-cut map of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Beginning in late July, Krinke started taking the map to public spaces in Minneapolis and St. Paul and inviting passersby to use the colored pencil of their choice—gold for joy and gray for pain (or both)—to express their memories of places.

The map soon was filled with color – some representing memories of excitement and wonder, others representing tragedy and grief.

One man was sharing his tale of overdosing on heroin in Minneapolis when another chimed in and said, “Yeah, that happened to me, too,” Krinke says. “And they looked at each other like, ‘Well, we made it.’”

Fortunately, the map still radiates more than its share of good times and golden memories. Of fish caught in Minneapolis lakes. Of trails hiked and biked over and over again. Of sports venues old and new.

The overwhelming reaction to the piece has inspired Krinke to look for ways to continue, and expand, the project. It also points to some sort of underlying desire to make public emotions that rarely see the light of day.

As artists and designers, “there’s a lot of potential here,” she adds. “Maybe we’re the witnesses. Maybe that’s why they like talking. It’s like testifying in a way. I guess [it’s] a deep fundamental human need to be heard.”

Early Light Toy Factory Shenzhen China

NPR explores why the familiar “Made in China” print may be less common in the future:

Factory workers demanding better wages and working conditions are hastening the eventual end of an era of cheap costs that helped make southern coastal China the world’s factory floor.

A series of strikes over the past two months have been a rude wakeup call for the many foreign companies that depend on China’s low costs to compete overseas, from makers of Christmas trees to manufacturers of gadgets like the iPad.

Where once low-tech factories and scant wages were welcomed in a China eager to escape isolation and poverty, workers are now demanding a bigger share of the profits. The government, meanwhile, is pushing foreign companies to make investments in areas it believes will create greater wealth for China, like high technology.

Or, perhaps, manufacturers will shift their operations to other areas of the country:

Given the intricate supply chains and logistics systems that have helped make southern China an export manufacturing powerhouse, such changes won’t be easy.

But for manufacturers looking to boost sales inside fast-growing China, shifting production to the inland areas where many migrant workers come from, and costs are lower, offers the most realistic alternative…

Massive investments in roads, railways and other infrastructure are reducing the isolation of the inland cities, part of a decade-old “Develop the West” strategy aimed at shrinking the huge, politically volatile gap in wealth between city dwellers and the country’s 600 million farmers.

Gambling that the unrest will not spill over from foreign-owned factories, China’s leaders are using the chance to push investment in regions that have lagged the country’s industrial boom.

One sociologist sees this as potentially a large-scale shift:

Many of today’s factory workers have higher ambitions than their parents, who generally saved their earnings from assembling toys and television sets for retirement in their rural hometowns. They are also choosier about wages and working conditions. “The conflicts are challenging the current set-up of low-wage, low-tech manufacturing, and may catalyze the transformation of China’s industrial sector,” said Yu Hai, a sociology professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University.

286_365_Count Me In
With political representation and federal funding at stake, Midwestern states are showing the highest Census response rates so far. According to the New York Times:

With Thursday dubbed Census Day — the day the questionnaires are meant to capture as a snapshot — South Dakota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, North Dakota and Iowa are ranked the top five states by federal officials, because they have the highest participation rates in the census so far. People can send in the forms until mid-April, but the Midwest’s cooperativeness might rightly worry other regions.

After all, the census guides the federal government on decisions with lasting impact — like how many representatives states will have in Congress and how much federal money they win for their roads.

But the high rates of participation in these rural states may have less to do with vying for power and resources and more to do with social norms and sensibilities.

Census officials said lots of social factors seemed to correlate to a community’s responsiveness (or silence) to the census mailings. Places where people stay put, for instance, often answer. In this town, most people said they had grown up here.

But some North Dakotans, where the state capital, Bismarck, had the nation’s fourth-highest response rate among larger cities as of Wednesday night, suggested a simpler answer. Perhaps it was the way of thinking around here — some combination, they said, of being practical, orderly, undistracted and mostly accepting of the rules, whatever they are. “We have a high degree of trust in our elected officials,” said Curt Stofferahn, a rural sociologist at the University of North Dakota, “and that carries over to times like these.”

The towns and cities the census described this week as having 100 percent participation rates are mostly tiny. How hard, some wondered, is it to get 50 responses from 50 people? And in Wolford, which officially has a 100 percent rate, plenty of people — perhaps more than 20 — are not included in that statistic because they hold post office boxes and have yet to receive forms.

By all appearances, these norms are being passed along to the next generation of rural residents.

At Wolford Public School, where 46 children from around the area attend kindergarten through 12th grade (the ninth grade is empty and only one child is in fourth grade), census leaflets, posters and stickers have been handed out in Wanda Follman’s class of 11 children.

Asked on Wednesday if their families had returned census forms yet, nearly all 11 shot their hands in the air. The children excitedly recited some of the questions from memory.

“I filled it out with my mom’s help,” said Kyle Yoder, the 8-year-old, who wore glasses and a serious face. “It was kind of easy.”

F1000011What could decorative rocks and park benches have to do with sociology? The San Francisco Chronicle suggests one possibility:

For Jeffrey Miller, landscape architecture is more than just plants, waterfalls and decorative rocks. For Miller, the founder of San Francisco’s Miller Company Landscape Architects, it’s about uniting living spaces and bringing people together.

“My impetus to be a landscape architect came out of a question – how to design social and public space so that there were better relationships between people,” he said. “It wasn’t a nature-based beginning, it came from more of a sociological perspective.”

Since forming Miller Company in 1980, the former sociology student and filmmaker has been involved with some of the more dramatically landscaped residential communities in the Bay Area.

Miller applies his sociological imagination to landscaping by envisioning public spaces as opportunities for social interaction and connection, especially in big cities.

Ultimately, Miller realizes that the outdoor space of a development is almost always larger than the interior space, and what you do with that is as important as creating comfortable living rooms and spacious kitchens.

“The largest space that we have with these projects is everything that’s outside of the buildings,” he said. “So the care and design of the world outside of buildings is tremendously important to the way we live, especially in urban places. This is kind of our public living room – what we have outside – and the more we can create sociable environments for communities coming together, the better social environment we’re going to have.”

parents' front yardThursday morning USA Today reported on a new findings from a study of the Pew Research Center’s survey data, which shows that Americans are feeling pulled closer to home. 

USA Today reports:

The majority of U.S.-born adults (56%) have not lived outside their birth state, suggests research out Wednesday, and of the 37% who have stayed in their hometown, three-quarters say the main reason is because they want to be near family. Fifteen percent have lived in four or more states.

Pew Research Center’s survey paints a vivid portrait about how Americans feel about their hometowns at a time when geographic mobility is at the lowest levels since the government began keeping statistics in 1948. Pew cites government that data shows 13.2% moved from 2006 to 2007, down from a high of 21.2% in 1951. Census figures to be released in 2009 confirm the trend, showing a dip to 11.9%.

The sociological commentary…

Duke University sociologist Angela O’Rand says economic uncertainty causes people to dig in where they are, making them less likely to risk moving. “Family provides in an uncertain world some level of safety and certainty,” O’Rand says.

A reader of the Crawler recently brought to my attention a report from the World Health Organization (WHO) about health inequalies around the world. This Crawler fan also pointed out that sociologists are becoming increasingly concerned with problems of health inequality, as illustrated in a 2007 Annual Review of Sociology article (Volume 33, Number 1) by Kathryn Neckerman and Florencia Torche titled, “Inequality: Causes and Consequences,” which highlights this trend in the discipline. 

The WHO report, from the Commission on Social Determinants of Health, is titled “Closing the Gap in a Generation.”  From the World Health Organization:

What is the Commission on Social Determinants of Health?
The Commission on Social Determinants of Health (CSDH) is a global network of policy makers, researchers and civil society organizations brought together by the World Health Organization (WHO) to give support in tackling the social causes of poor health and avoidable health inequalities (health inequities).

What was it expected to do?
The CSDH had a three year directive to gather and review evidence on what needs to be done to reduce health inequalities within and between countries and to report its recommendations for action to the Director-General of WHO. Building partnerships with countries committed to comprehensive, cross-government action to tackle health inequalities was integral to this. Experts were brought together to gather evidence, and civil society organizations also participated in the process.

Read more about the Commission on Social Determinants of Health. 

As sociologists study these inequalities, the opportunities for collaboration and the development of policy proposals and program initiatives seems limitless, but there is work to be done in the U.S. as well. 

Health inequalities are not limited to the wide disparities between countries described in the WHO report, but can also be present within countries, even the United States. An article published by the Independent (UK) this summer reports:

The United States of America is becoming less united by the day. A 30-year gap now exists in the average life expectancy between Mississippi, in the Deep South, and Connecticut, in prosperous New England. Huge disparities have also opened up in income, health and education depending on where people live in the US, according to a report published yesterday.

The American Human Development Index has applied to the US an aid agency approach to measuring well-being – more familiar to observers of the Third World – with shocking results. The US finds itself ranked 42nd in global life expectancy and 34th in survival of infants to age. Suicide and murder are among the top 15 causes of death and although the US is home to just 5 per cent of the global population it accounts for 24 per cent of the world’s prisoners.

…Despite the fact that the US spends roughly $5.2bn (£2.6bn) every day on health care, more per capita than any other nation in the world, Americans live shorter lives than citizens of every western European and Nordic country, bar Denmark..

Check out these interactive maps from the American Human Development Project — the group who published the report referenced in the article above.

COLOrfuL CaNvaS OvEr thE Dark CitY...

The Economic Times reports on a new study from Riley Dunlap and Richard York published in the summer issue of The Sociological Quarterly. The study suggests that poor nations ARE conscious of the need to protect the environment “notwithstanding assumptions that they are too preoccupied to do so.” 

Riley E Dunlap of Oklahoma State University and Richard York of Oregon University compared results from four large cross-national surveys, each conducted in several dozen nations ranging with differing economic statuses. Results showed that citizens of poorer nations were equally if not more concerned about the environment compared to citizens in wealthier countries. The citizens of the poorer nations were supportive of efforts to solve environmental problems. The authors believe that previous studies failed to recognise that environmental problems are often a threat to material welfare and not just quality of life. 

The study’s authors assert: “Our results suggest that well-designed policies to promote sustainable development will have more appeal to citizens of poor nations than is often assumed.”

The latest issue of Newsweek surveys a number of recent economic studies which suggest that economic growth may have a great deal to do with attitudes of a nation’s people. Newsweek writer Stefan Theil writes,

Much of the worldwide economic and political debate these days circle around ensuring continued growth—which, it’s hoped, will help various countries escape the global downturn, create more jobs and finance the rising cost of social services. What the conversation overlooks is that it turns out some countries might not want to grow.

These recent studies have been best summarized by Meinhard Miegel, of the think tank Denwerk Zukunft, who found that “while two thirds of Germans favor economic growth in principle, only about a sixth of them are willing to work for it. The rest value leisure, safety and early retirement over work and achievement. Given these attitudes, says Miegel, the popular idea that a low-birthrate country like Germany can grow its way out of the rising costs associated with an aging population ‘is reckless and built on sand.'”

But where does Weber come in? Theil continues…

Miegel might be unduly pessimistic, but he is part of a growing movement of experts who argue that economic growth is actually dependent on a state of mind. In fact, the idea goes back to Max Weber, the German sociologist who argued more than a century ago that England’s Protestant work ethic gave rise to modern capitalism. Today’s Weberians aren’t sociologists wielding historical arguments, however, but economists, pollsters and biologists working with actual numbers and data sets. Their interest in how personal attitudes might affect growth is part of the broader reinvention of economics, in which the classical view—that people make rational choices in a world of perfect information—is coming under increased scrutiny. The movement also reflects rising concern over whether growth can be increased—especially now with the ugly specter of stagflation in large parts of the globe.

Economists now claim Weber as their own…sociologists don’t work with ‘actual numbers and data sets?’

Read on.

Discussions about inequality and access to the internet are one thing, but if you look only at people who already have access, are there differences in online behavior? Eszter Hargittai found that race, ethnicity and education level predict whether young people are more likely to use the social networking site MySpace or its competitor Facebook.

TechCrunch points to a study by Hitwise (a marketing company that tracks internet usage) that suggests class, geography and other factors shape whether people use Google or Yahoo! as their search engine of choice:


They include “lifestyle” indicators like “Urban Essence,” “American Diversity” and “Small-town Contentment” that I’m not sure how to react to, and of course, as a private consulting company, it’s not like they’re giving their data away here for social scientists to scrutinize. (Though I admittedly have no idea what it would take to get the data…I got impatient with their website very quickly!) Nonetheless, pretty interesting.