Turin's Olympic Village in 2005, before the athletes arrived. Marco Scala, Flickr CC.
Turin’s Olympic Village in 2005, before the athletes arrived. Marco Scala, Flickr CC.

Ever wonder what happens to Olympic villages once the athletes and spectators leave? Some thrive, and some end up as ghost towns.

Turin, Italy’s village has taken an interesting turn. The city tried to make an international name for itself with the 2006 Olympic Winter Games. Sociologist Sergio Scamuzzi, a member of an academic Games-monitoring group called the Olympics and Mega Events Research Observatory, told the Guardian that the Olympics “gave an opportunity to the inhabitants to be proud of the city, of its capacity for innovation, its capacity to organise such a big event.” Soon after the games ended, however, the area was almost abandoned.

Today, Turin’s Olympic village hosts more than 1,000 refugees from over 30 countries. Many of these occupiers were migrant workers from African countries who found themselves out on the streets in 2013, when Italy’s Emergency North African program ended abruptly, and some still survive on seasonal labor farm jobs. The village now features a weekly pop-up medical clinic, common spaces for office and legal advice drop-ins, language classes, barber shops, restaurants, and stores. However, many of the buildings are overcrowded and falling apart. Plans to redevelop the area have been made, and eviction orders have been issued by the government.

The actual eviction of so many seems almost impossible, and residents continue their daily lives despite the threat. According to a resident formerly from Senegal, “For now it’s just words, no one knows what will happen.” In the meantime, an international community lives on in the dormitories and cafeterias that once hosted international athletics’ elite.

Photo by Thomas Galvez via flickr

Tunisia. Egypt. Libya. Yemen. Spain.  United States.  Many authors have claimed that protests in these and other countries can be seen as a worldwide movement against inequality.  And, recent New York Times articles add another pin on the world map of protest movements by covering recent protests in Wukan, China, over land seizures.  According to one article, protests in China are becoming increasingly common,

…a reflection of the widening income gap and deepening unhappiness with official corruption and an unresponsive legal system. But the clashes in Wukan, which first erupted in September, are unusual for their longevity — and for the brazenness of the villagers as they call attention to their frustrations. Despite the government’s best efforts to control social media outlets, such frustrations have only grown as millions of Chinese gain access to unofficial sources of information and use new tools to organize protests.

Public scenes of dissatisfaction are comparatively rare in China. But last year, there were as many as 180,000 outbursts of what sociologists call “mass incidents,” including strikes, sit-ins, rallies, and violent clashes.  (For comparison, in the mid-1990s, there were fewer than 10,000.)

People don’t have sufficient faith in legal procedures or the media and feel they have no redress when bad things are done to them,” said Martin K. Whyte, a Harvard sociologist who studies Chinese social trends.

Some of the protests are a response to worsening pollution, while others are a response to police brutality.  Much of the unrest, including in Wukan, is in response to the seizure of land by private developers or government officials.

The discontent in Wukan has been simmering for more than a decade. Residents say land seizures began in the late 1990s, when officials began selling off farmland for industrial parks and apartment complexes. Villagers say more than 1,000 acres have been seized and resold to developers in the past decade or so.  The residents’ ire exploded in September, when thousands of people took to the streets to protest the sale of a village-owned pig farm for luxury housing that netted the government $156 million.

The rest of the article gives more detail on the specific incidents in Wakun.  But, multiple recent new stories on protests in China posit that these events are not isolated and are instead connected across China.  And, to some, these protests are connected to others across borders and oceans as well.

The International Criminal Court (ICC)

We’ve all heard that there is no peace without justice and vice versa.  But, when policy makers and leaders discuss how to handle national and international conflicts, peace and justice are often pitted against each other.  Recently, the trial of Hosni Mubarak and the Internal Criminal Court’s opening hearings on Kenya have elicited many criticisms that prosecuting leaders who have grossly violated human rights will in fact undermine democracy and exacerbate conflict.  Political Scientist Kathryn Sikkink considers these claims in a New York Times Op-Ed.

Critics argue that the threat of prosecution leads dictators like Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya and Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan to entrench themselves in power rather than negotiate a transition to democracy. In El Salvador, where domestic courts have refused to extradite officers accused of murdering Jesuit priests 22 years ago, critics claim that such a prosecution would undermine stability and sovereignty.

But, Kathryn’s research provides evidence to question some of these concerns.

My research shows that transitional countries — those moving from authoritarian governments to democracy or from civil war to peace — where human rights prosecutions have taken place subsequently become less repressive than transitional countries without prosecutions, holding other factors constant.

Of 100 countries that underwent a transition from 1980 to 2004 (the period for which extensive data is available), 48 pursued at least one human rights prosecution, and 33 of those pursued two or more. Countries that have prosecuted former officials exhibit lower levels of torture, summary execution, forced disappearances and political imprisonment. Although civil war heightens repression, prosecutions in the context of civil war do not make the situation worse, as critics claim.

Kathryn believes that the possibility of punishment and disgrace deters future leaders from violating human rights.

From the final Nuremberg trials in 1949 until the 1970s, there was virtually no chance that heads of state and government officials would be held accountable for human rights violations. But in the last two decades, the likelihood of punishment has increased, and newly installed officials may be more cautious before deciding to murder or torture their political opponents.

So, while confronting the past may be painful and difficult, it could result in a better future.




Istanbul 2010 - A Panasonic Lumix TripFor many Istanbul stands as a symbol of success. It’s growing status as a ‘global city’ and a European Capital of Culture has attracted tourists, foreign investments, and massive development projects. Luis Gallo’s recent article in the Hürriyet Daily News provides a reminder that with development and prosperity there are rarely winners without losers.

[I]n the shadow of those skyscrapers, there is another Istanbul, a little-seen realm where the urban poor are coming face-to-face with the bulldozers clearing ground for the sparkling new city. The neighborhood of Sulukule, perhaps the world’s oldest Roma community, is already flattened, with just a few holdouts living amid the rubble.

This raises difficult questions as development continues.

With massive amounts of money, and the city’s international reputation, at stake, fierce debate is raging over the government’s “urban transformation” programs: They may be beautifying and enriching the city, but at what social cost?

Critics are quick to point to the increasing inequality that ‘success’ is bringing. Ozan Karaman, an urban-geography scholar from the University of Minnesota, explains

“Lack of representation will result in further marginalization of the urban poor and perhaps the emergence of a new type of poverty, in which the poor have no hope whatsoever for upward mobility and are in a state of permanent destitution.”

Tansel Korkmaz and Eda Ünlü-Yücesoy, professors of architectural design at Istanbul Bilgi University, argue that the government ignoring the plight of the poor is not simply an unexpected result of development. Instead, they claim that the government’s goal is to to hide the urban poor in 21st-century Istanbul.

“The following statement by Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan about the neighborhoods of the urban poor summarizes the essence of the official approach: ‘cancerous district[s] embedded within the city.’ Planning operations in Tarlabaşı, Fener-Balat and Sulukule are [intended] to move the urban poor to the outskirts of the city and to make available their inner-city locations for big construction companies for their fancy projects,” Korkmaz said.

Recently, in the rapidly changing Tophane neighborhood in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district, dozens of people attacked a crowd attending an opening of art galleries. The  violence is a sign that frustration over being displaced in the name of gentrification has finally boiled over and is likely not a one time occurrence.

Experts say clashes between newcomers and longtime residents could become more frequent if people feel they have no say in the transformation of their neighborhoods and believe they must resort to violence in order to make their voices heard.

Even with the increasing tension, Ozan Karaman manages to hold onto hope while remaining critical of the current development approach.

“Urban redevelopment projects should be executed in collaboration with citizens and residents, not despite them. There is no need to re-invent the wheel; there are plenty of models of community-based development that have been successful since the 1970s.”

Dora Suitcase and Backpack
As Dora the Explorer celebrates 10 years on the air, the LA Times comments on her broader social significance. The children’s show features a young Latina heroine who travels through the jungle with her friends, speaking some Spanish, and solving simple math and word problems.

The idea was to foster pride among Latino children and familiarity with Latino culture among English speakers, but only indirectly as part of an entertainment show.

“It was just about creating a show we thought kids would love,” said Chris Gifford, who created the series along with Valerie Walsh Valdes and Eric Weiner. “We didn’t begin to think how long it might go for.”

Dora, however, has grown much larger than these seemingly modest origins:

Amid these warm-hearted adventures, Dora became a pop-culture superstar, a lucrative franchise and a force that helped shift the globalized juvenile television landscape that has become increasingly multicultural and bilingual. Dora, in some eyes, also became a poster child for immigration and the target of anti-immigrant sentiment.

The animated series is now broadcast in more than 100 countries — it’s the No. 1-rated preschool show in many of them, including France — and dubbed in 30 languages, such as Russian, Mandarin and German, with Dora mostly teaching English (in some cases Spanish).

“What’s been innovative about the show is it wasn’t conceptualized or presented as a Latino-themed show,” said Chon Noriega, director of UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center. “It was an educational series for kids that happened to have a Latino girl as the lead character. And it didn’t shy away from having a character that spoke Spanish. That allowed it to do something that was very unique.”

Dora has gone on to enjoy considerable success, culturally and economically (generating more than $11 billion in retail sales alone).

“Dora isn’t just a show; she’s DVDs, clothes, lunchboxes,” said Karen Sternheimer, an associate professor of sociology at USC and author of “It’s Not the Media: The Truth About Pop Culture’s Influence on Children.” “Nickelodeon has been very savvy about getting their characters into kids’ lives through a number of different platforms. They’ve taken branding to another level.”

The main character wasn’t originally going to be Latina, but:

The idea for an ethnic rebirth sprang after Johnson [a Nickelodeon exec responsible for the program] attended an industry conference during which the underrepresentation of Latinos in media was discussed.

The 2000 census showed that Latino communities were the nation’s fastest growing — and the biggest five-year Latino age group is infants to preschoolers. Yet data have long shown that Latinos are underrepresented in prime-time TV: UCLA research found that 4% of prime-time’s regular characters in 2004 were Latino, while Latinos make up about 15% of the U.S. population.

For years, the main source for children’s multicultural TV was PBS’ “Sesame Street.” …Dora’s “success really reflects a change in the media environment for children over the years,” Sternheimer said. “It’s a great reflection of the shifting multicultural nature of our society.”

Since “Dora,” the children’s TV landscape has embraced diversity. PBS Kids revamped “Dragon Tales” in 2005 to include Enrique, who is Colombian. “Jay Jay the Jet Plane” has added a bilingual plane named Lina. “Dora” also launched a spinoff, “Go Diego Go,” starring Dora’s 8-year-old cousin, in 2005.

Sociologists are among the experts who consult for the show:

Schoolteachers, sociologists and historians are all brought in to advise on “Dora” episodes. More than 20 cultural consultants have worked on the show to make Dora’s world reflect a pan-Latino culture that’s not just tortillas and mariachi music, Johnson said. “It was important for us that Dora represented the idea that being multicultural was super cool,” she said.

Cortés, who’s serves as a cultural consultant on the show, said not giving Dora a specific heritage made that idea a reality. “Not knowing where she was from allowed her to be a source of pride for anyone of Latino background,” he said. “She’s more relatable if you don’t peg her down.”

So, is it all a rosy animated multicultural picture? A sociologist, per usual, complicates the story:

“The show definitely homogenizes the many different origin groups that are comprised within the Latino ethnicity,” said Jody Vallejo, an assistant professor of sociology at USC. “So Latino children are getting a very broad view of who they are. At the same time, it does allow people from those different origins to make her their own character, to take ownership. For non-Latinos who watch the show, it makes Latinos more relatable. It demonstrates that bilingualism is not that bad. But it makes it seem like Latinos come from a monolithic culture.”

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.

Swedish Dads, Skansen

The New York Times features an in-depth look at paternity leave in Sweden:

From trendy central Stockholm to this village in the rugged forest south of the Arctic Circle, 85 percent of Swedish fathers take parental leave. Those who don’t face questions from family, friends and colleagues. As other countries still tinker with maternity leave and women’s rights, Sweden may be a glimpse of the future.

Companies have come to expect employees to take leave irrespective of gender, and not to penalize fathers at promotion time. Women’s paychecks are benefiting and the shift in fathers’ roles is perceived as playing a part in lower divorce rates and increasing joint custody of children.

In perhaps the most striking example of social engineering, a new definition of masculinity is emerging.

“Many men no longer want to be identified just by their jobs,” said Bengt Westerberg, who long opposed quotas but as deputy prime minister phased in a first month of paternity leave in 1995. “Many women now expect their husbands to take at least some time off with the children.”

Birgitta Ohlsson, European affairs minister, put it this way: “Machos with dinosaur values don’t make the top-10 lists of attractive men in women’s magazines anymore.” …“Now men can have it all — a successful career and being a responsible daddy,” she added. “It’s a new kind of manly. It’s more wholesome.”

Of course, these policies are not without controversy and do come at a price. Sociologists, along with several other social scientists, weigh in:

The least enthusiastic [about paternity leave], in fact, are often mothers. In a 2003 survey by the Social Insurance Agency, the most commonly cited reason for not taking more paternity leave, after finances, was mother’s preference, said Ann-Zofie Duvander, a sociologist at Stockholm University who worked at the agency at the time.

Taxes account for 47 percent of gross domestic product, compared with 27 percent in the United States and 40 percent in the European Union overall. The public sector, famous for family-friendly perks, employs one in three workers, including half of all working women. Family benefits cost 3.3 percent of G.D.P., the highest in the world along with Denmark and France, said Willem Adema, senior economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Yet Sweden looks well balanced: at 2.1 percent and 40 percent of G.D.P., respectively, public deficit and debt levels are a fraction of those in most developed economies these days, testimony perhaps to fiscal management born of a banking crisis and recession in the 1990s. High productivity and political consensus keep the system going.

“There are remarkably few complaints,” said Linda Haas, a professor of sociology at Indiana University currently at the University of Goteborg. With full-time preschool guaranteed at a maximum of about $150 a month and leave paid at 80 percent of salary up to $3,330 a month, “people feel that they are getting their money’s worth.”

Despite the challenges that Sweden’s extended parental leave may present for some employers, the trend doesn’t shows signs of slowing:

But in a sign that the broader cultural shift has acquired a dynamic of its own, a survey by Ms. Haas and Philip Hwang, a psychology professor at Goteborg University, shows that 41 percent of companies reported in 2006 that they had made a formal decision to encourage fathers to take parental leave, up from only 2 percent in 1993.

Check out the rest of the article.

The Chicago Tribune reports on recent public violence in China:

A series of grisly attacks in China, including school stabbings, a courthouse shooting and a slashing rampage on a train, have forced the public and officials to confront what experts say is the long-hidden problem of spiraling violent crime.

Criminologists at home and abroad say violent incidents in China have long been underreported by police, but it’s becoming harder for authorities to stifle news about the worst cases when ordinary people are quick to spread information via mobile phones and the Internet.

Some criminologists and sociologists are skeptical about China’s official crime statistics:

According to official statistics, violent crime in China jumped 10 percent last year, with 5.3 million reported cases of homicide, robbery, and rape. It was the first time since 2001 that violent crime increased, said the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in its Chinese Rule of Law Blue Book released in February.

Experts like Pi Yiyun, a professor of criminology at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, are skeptical about those figures.

Pi said he doesn’t know what the actual rates are, but he doesn’t think it’s plausible that violent crime was falling between 2001 and 2008. He said provincial or county level officials, not the central government, are likely misreporting their data.

“Many local officials believe the crime rate is just a number that can be randomly modified,” he said. “They tend to cover up the truth and report a false number, because a high crime rate might affect their chance of being promoted.”

He said the big jump in 2009 could be an attempt to bring the figures closer in line with the real situation.

Borge Bakken, an expert on Chinese crime and professor of sociology at the University of Hong Kong, said his research indicates violence, particularly homicides, has been climbing since 1980.

“The real crime problem is much higher than the recorded official crime rates, and the police are well aware of that fact,” he said.

Social scientists weigh in on what underlying causes of the violence may be:

Experts say China’s problem is not a lack of police, high-tech security equipment or surveillance cameras, which are plentiful in the big cities, but simmering and widespread frustration over the growing wealth gap, corruption and too few legal channels for people who have grievances.

“Societies are pressure cookers — and Chinese society, arguably, is particularly high-pressure and has relatively few legitimate avenues for recourse and few legitimate ways to release intense psychological pressure,” said Harold Tanner, a professor of Chinese history at the University of North Texas. “The system as a whole, even when it is working more or less as designed, does not provide people with enough legitimate avenues for pursuit of justice.”

Pi, the Beijing criminology professor, said he considers the school attacks and the court killing similar examples of social anger boiling over into violence.

“We can’t just say those people were angry, lost control. They won’t do it for no reason, and we have to ask, ‘Where does that anger come from?'” Pi said. “The benefits of economic reform have been exhausted and now it’s a turning point. The wealth gap is widening, the unemployment problem and corruption are becoming more severe.”

Pi said the government needs to tackle all these issues but “most importantly, they must provide a proper channel for appeal.”

Read more.

western unionAccording to the Jamaica Gleaner, University of West Indies sociologist Claudette Crawford-Brown has identified a new phenomenon: Western Union children.  She said this is replacing “barrel children” in Jamaica:

Barrel children in the past were identified as those who did not have the physical presence of their parents, but were sent goodies through shipments from overseas.  The sociologist, however, said that the barrel-children phenomenon has been surpassed by parents who give their children remittances. The difference between the two is the amount of care involved.

“You don’t have the barrel children as I highlighted seven years ago, where you had parents sending children things in a barrel. We now have what you call ‘Western Union’ children, and these are children who are parented by cellphones and they are sent the money. However, when you have a barrel child, that mother goes into K-Mart or Wal-Mart and I see them and watch them and they say: ‘I wonder if this going fit Sasha’, and she takes out the shoes with the mark out on the paper and match it with the shoes, and say this will fit her, this will fit her. You know what that shows? Some amount of care,” she said.

There are consequences of these changes in long-distance care:

Crawford-Brown pointed out even with remittances and barrels, the absence of mother in a child’s life has the same impact on youths as the absence of fathers. She noted that the absence of parental guidance leaves these children vulnerable to negative influences, where many turn to violence and drugs to cope.

According to her, many of these children who receive money through remittances are not given proper guidance, thus the money they have access to can be used to purchase drugs or facilitate their participation in illicit activities.

The noted child advocate and sociologist said many behavioural problems shown among some children are as a result of the breakdown in the family and exposure to violence. Crawford-Brown also said that Jamaica needs to tackle apathy towards murder in the society, which has trickled down to children she has worked with.

Crawford-Brown’s research on “Western Union children” was also recently featured in a column in the Jamaica Observer.

U.S. Helicopter Delivers Relief Supplies in HaitiWhile drawing comparisons between Hurricane Katrina and the recent earthquake in Haiti may be tempting, sociologist Kathleen Tierney tells CNN why doing so is not such a good idea.

Like Katrina, the earthquake has produced effects of catastrophic proportions. Both events rank among the largest catastrophes ever experienced in the Western Hemisphere.

They both have resulted in large loss of life and immense human suffering and make the coordination of emergency resources extremely difficult. Ordinary citizens are left to fend for themselves in the wreckage. And as we saw in Katrina and see now in Haiti, residents of disaster-stricken areas are the true first responders.

The aftermath of such catastrophes brings more prolonged suffering and massive recovery challenges. People pay attention as the media cover them, but they turn their attention elsewhere when the cameras leave, even though many of the real challenges that victims and affected regions face emerge later. Like the Gulf region, Haiti will struggle for years and perhaps decades to rebuild and recover.

But there, the comparisons end.

The contrasts have much to do with the events’ impacts on a national versus regional scale.

Katrina did not flatten our nation’s capital or prevent national leaders from communicating with one another. Impacts were catastrophic in areas where Katrina struck, creating significant logistics problems, but the infrastructure of the rest of the nation was untouched. Also important, it was possible to issue warnings for Katrina, which enabled the vast majority of those who were at risk to evacuate to safety. The victims of the earthquake had no such warning.

In contrast, the earthquake in Haiti destroyed much of its capital, Port-au-Prince, and affected approximately one-third of the population of the entire country. The proportion of the nation’s population that has been killed, injured or left homeless is enormous. The facilities that could have assisted victims, such as hospitals, clinics and the UN headquarters for the nation, were destroyed or are not operational. Aftershocks, which will continue for weeks, months and perhaps even years, will do additional damage and further compound both rescue and relief efforts.

In addition, both disasters affected the poor and vulnerable, but again scale comes into play:

On almost all indicators of well-being — health, education, literacy, income — Haiti ranks very low. The nation has a long history of rule by dictators, political coups and savage violence. The capacity of Haiti’s series of governments to provide services to its people has been abysmal for most of its history.

In many ways, residents of Haiti faced a daily disaster even before the earthquake. These differences matter, and they should be kept in mind by those seeking to see parallels between the two catastrophes.