politics

Photo by Joka Madruga, Flickr CC

Following food shortages and civil unrest in Venezuela, President Trump has vocalized the possibility of US military intervention in the South American country, and has also taken steps to impose harsh sanctions on Venezuela as part of a general critique of Venezuela’s President Maduro. In an article in The News Observer, Tulane sociologist David Smilde explains how the costs and benefits of sanctions aren’t just economic, they are also social  — a large part of the Venezuealan story involves Maduro’s supporters’ ability to rally the general populace against perceived enemies. From the article:

David Smilde, a Tulane University sociologist who has spent decades researching Venezuela, said blanket economic sanctions that cut off the government’s cash flow and hurt the population are likely to strengthen Maduro in the short-term.

“They would bolster his discourse that Venezuela is the target of an economic war,” said Smilde.

However … action from an increasingly concerned international community represents the best chance of reining in Maduro, he added.

Photo by Mark Dixon, Flickr CC

Americans’ views on race and racism have changed in many ways from those during the Civil Rights movement in the Jim Crow era. Today, most Americans agree that racism is not acceptable, and social norms have generally dictated that racist ideologies should not be part of the mainstream of American culture. Social norms are supported by institutions and leaders, however, and recent controversies over organized white supremacist groups call their stability into question. In The New York Times’ Upshot blog, sociologists Tina Fetner and Sarah Sobieraj describe how quickly these norms can change, especially amid criticism that the Trump administration has been slow to condemn white supremacist groups. From Fetner:

“It’s not because all of a sudden there is more racism now than there was a few weeks ago. It’s that the absolute condemnation of those most abhorrent views is crumbling away…”

And from the article:

“When norms of acceptable behavior and speech start to shift, it can disturb the shared beliefs, values and symbols that make up our culture.”

Leaders and institutions have the power to respond to controversy or to ignore it. Either way, their actions can change whether ideas appear to be part of the mainstream or the fringes of a society.

Photo by United Soybean Board, Flickr CC

As the Senate vote on the American Healthcare Act quickly approaches, many concerns remain among Americans as to what this repeal and/or replacement of Obamacare entails. Drawing from University of Vermont sociologist Shoshanah Inwood’s research, a recent article from Vermont Public Radio suggests that healthcare affordability is a top concern among farmers concerned about the viability of their business.

In 2017, Inwood conducted a survey with more than 1,000 farmers from 10 states. Her findings indicate that 23 percent of the farmers surveyed bought a plan on the health exchange marketplace. Nationally, nearly three-quarters of farmers live with a household member who has an outside job to contribute additional income and healthcare benefits. Farmers are also older—the average national age is 58—so they face a heightened risk of increased premiums.

As Inwood’s survey findings demonstrate, more than half of farmers surveyed stated that they “are not confident they could pay the costs of a major illness such as a heart attack, cancer or loss of limb without going into debt.” Farmers’ appear to be so unsettled by healthcare prices that 74 percent in Inwood’s survey takers indicated that the U.S. Department of Agriculture should advocate for their health concerns in national policy discussions. Thus, the shaky future of healthcare costs looms large over the future of agriculture in the U.S. Inwood states,

“And with all of the pressures that are already existing on farm businesses, and with many operating on very razor-thin margins, health insurance could become the straw that breaks the camel’s back…There’s an opportunity to talk about how do farmers fit into national health insurance policy, but also what mean for the 2018 farm bill coming up.”

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski, Flickr CC

Since his time in office, President Trump has put in place a travel ban on Muslim immigrants from seven different nations in the Middle East, has increased the number of border agents at the Mexican border, and has high hopes of building a new wall at the US-Mexican border.  Despite all of this attention being paid to immigrants, Trump has yet to fully address the issue of businesses and individuals who keep hiring illegal immigrants. A recent article in the Huffington Post looks to sociologist Tanya Golash-Boza to explain this disconnect. 

In her research, Golash-Boza explains that Trump dumping more resources into border patrol is a complete waste of resources, as the average border agent apprehends about only two people a month. She states, “it’s like pouring money into a sieve…They’re mostly just sitting there.”

Golash-Boza has written extensively on the “immigration industrial complex,” which refers to the revolving door of business practices, law enforcement tactics, and cheap labor from immigrants of color. Businesses hire illegal immigrants and pay them a cheaper wage, but before they can make a respectable income, the immigrants are dismissed or reported to law enforcement (where border patrol, prison systems, and local law enforcement all benefit). Meanwhile, businesses simply replenish this cheap labor force with new immigrants.  

For more on the immigration industrial complex, check out this TROT on for profit prisons and immigrant detention rates. 

Photo by Francis Storr, Flickr CC

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently suggested that panhandlers are scamming well-meaning passersby. In a recent article from The Conversation, Columbia economist Brendan O’Flaherty and CUNY sociologist Gwendolyn Dordick describe their research on panhandling in downtown Manhattan. In doing so, they provide important context to the Mayor’s concerns and propose an unconventional solution.

O’Flaherty and Dordick’s findings suggest that there is not a huge spike in panhandling following increases in pedestrian traffic during different times of the day, indicating that the people panhandling are not targeting the busiest times with the highest potential for cash. This would indicate that notions of people dressing up in costumes to go scam innocent pedestrians out of their money is overstated. In other words, the research suggests that people panhandling actually need the money. The researchers explain,

“We also counted the number of people who panhandle at a time in downtown Manhattan. Teaming up with some of our students, we found an average of eight to ten panhandlers actively asking for donations at any given time during peak summer hours. Despite de Blasio’s concerns, that’s not a lot, considering that this small area generates as much economic activity as the state of Wyoming and includes some of the world’s richest pedestrians.”

Of course, de Blasio is far from the first person to suggest that people looking for alms on the street are up to something sinister or are going to great lengths to deceive others and make a quick buck. In response, O’Flaherty and Dordick offer an intriguing new approach: credentials for panhandlers. In order to receive these credentials, which would be easily displayed by the panhandlers and verifiable by pedestrians, someone would have to work with non-profits or other groups to prove that they need them.

“These worn items would include ID numbers that potential donors could verify, and a system could be established to report counterfeits. These ID numbers might also make way for cashless panhandlingas Sweden now allows, and they might also assist in reporting and discouraging ‘aggressive panhandling.'”

Such a policy would likely cause a stir from both sides of the aisle, as it would simultaneously expand bureaucracy while policing the poor. Nevertheless, it does raise the question of what it means to live in a society where we often donate to charities, churches, or political organizations but are quick to accuse panhandlers of just pretending to be poor.

Photo by Steve Baker, Flickr CC

The 2018 mid-term elections are seeing more women than ever before expressing interest and taking steps to run for office. Some people suggest that this is the result of Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump, as well as a response to the numerous ways that President Trump has been criticized for his sexist behavior. One might think that this means that women will vote for female candidates in droves, but sociologists Leah Ruppanner of University of Melbourne and Kelsy Kretschmer of Oregon Sate University, along with political scientist Christopher Stout of Oregon State University, caution against such sweeping predictions in a recent article for RawStory.  

Using data from the American Election study to describe relationships between marriage and behavior at the polls, the researchers find that white and Latina women who are married are less likely to see their own fates as tied to that of other women. By contrast, single white and Latina women, and black women in general, are more likely to see themselves and other women as interconnected. As a result, women who are married and feel less connected to other women are more likely to vote for conservatives, while single women and those who feel more connected to other women are more likely to vote for liberals. The researchers explain,

“Some married women perceive advances for women, such as lawsuits to mitigate pay discrimination, as coming at the expense of their male partners. In part, this captures the shift in married women’s alliances from the individual to the marital union. Women who depend on their own income are more supportive of feminist issues such as abortion, sexual behavior, gender roles and family responsibilities, which widens the political gap between single and married women.”

They discuss how marriage has been shown to alter people’s behaviors and beliefs, and they suggest that married women can think less about women’s issues such as abortion and gender norms than single women do. However, an important caveat to their findings is that they did not observe significant differences between married and single black women. The researchers warn,

“Don’t assume that married women will connect to other women based on a notion of shared womanhood. Rather, feminist messages of discrimination and sexism may be more compelling to women who shoulder disproportionate levels of inequality, poverty and job insecurity – single, divorced and black women.”

Photo by Alex Indigo, Flickr CC

As described in an article from The Miami Herald, a recent video from the inside of a doctor’s clinic in Ontario has gone viral. In it, a woman can be seeing yelling at hospital staff, patients, and visitors, demanding that she her son sees a “white doctor without brown teeth.” In the video, the woman insists on a white doctor “who speaks English,” and gets upset when others confront her over this discriminatory attitude; in fact, she claims that people there are attacking her for being white rather than because of her behavior.

Sociologist Cheryl Teelucksingh of Ryerson University told the Herald that everyday racism like this is starting to become more common in Canada. In the current political climate, people feel more emboldened to assert their whiteness in public spaces. For nonwhite professionals, this presents a difficult situation in which they have to prove their credentials, education, and training for high-skilled jobs more than white professionals would. Teelucksingh explains,

“I think people are feeling that there’s a little bit more space now to question who’s in positions of power, who’s actually getting the jobs, those sorts of things.”

Photo by Helen Alfvegren, Flickr CC

Veganism is a common practice in countries like France, Israel, and the U.S., and a recent article in Harvard Magazine looked to Nina Gheihman to detail how recent shifts in rhetoric surrounding veganism are taking place in each of these countries. Gheihman—a vegan herself and president of the Harvard Vegan Society—describes how the narratives and norms associated with veganism are culturally specific and constantly evolving. 

In the U.S., Gheihman describes, veganism was originally rooted in activism and debates surrounding animal rights, particularly in the face of modern agricultural practices and the worsening conditions for livestock. These ideas have shifted, however, and now veganism in the U.S. is promoted not just for animal rights’ sake, but as a healthier lifestyle choice in general. This has meant a noticeable shift away from debates about the ethical treatment of animals towards conversations about health and the body. Furthermore, we are seeing a transformation of the images associated with veganism, including messages of veganism as macho and masculine. Consider that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady—a prominent vegan himself—is involved with a meal-order shipment service that mails vegan meals to your home; this service, known as Purple Carrot, advertises better physical performance on the football field as one of the benefits of the vegan diet.

Gheihman finds that the meanings of and motivations for veganism are different across the globe, and her research promises to uncover some of the ways veganism has evolved in different contexts. 

Photo by ResistFromDay1, Flickr CC

Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, the presence of social movements and protests has grown substantially. Most notable among this phenomenon have been large marches, such as the Women’s March and the March for Science. And according to an article in the Washington Post, these movements are showing no signs of slowing.    

Sociologist Dana Fisher, Director of the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland, investigates what has motivated people to more actively participate in democracy.  In the article, she explains that this shift to more collective and vocal action is to ensure people are heard, especially in light of the current administration.  According to Fisher,

“Most people used to be content to vote every four years and then disengage from politics … but many Americans no longer feel like their concerns are being heard just by voting.”

The protests have also been more ethnically diverse than is typical, and Fisher’s research shows that the rates of bachelor’s degrees among the protesters is higher than the general US population. Perhaps the most significant shift is the variety of issues in which participants are protesting. At the Women’s March, 60 percent said they were protesting for women’s rights, 36 percent indicated they were there for the environment, and 35 percent for racial justice. Fisher explains,  

“Since the inauguration … the resistance has become the umbrella for a suite of issues that used to have their own individual movements … They are not just coming out for the one issue that is their big issue. They have a much more intersectional sense of an identity as an activist.”

An actual Black Lives Matter protest. Photo by Johnny Silvercloud, Flickr CC

A few weeks ago, Pepsi released an advertisement with Kendall Jenner wherein the young celebrity takes a stroll through a crowded protest, sodas in hand. The commercial received a lot of criticism and was taken off the air almost immediately. In an article in The Ubyssey, University of British Columbia sociologist Rimal Wilkes describes some of the issues with the commercial, particularly how it misrepresents the nature of protests.

To begin with, the commercial sports a diverse set of protesters, but that makes it difficult to imagine what exactly they’re protesting — Racial inequality? Environmental issues? Furthermore, the crowd in the ad looks like people who are quite privileged, which goes against what protest is about. As Wilkes explains, Kendall Jenner—as a famous fashion persona—is unlikely to share in the same risks or dangers associated with protesting or the issues which drive it. Wilkes explains, 

“It’s too overtly politically correct. The diversity doesn’t look right … This ad is about protest as a way of expressing coolness. Those aren’t the people we should be celebrating. We should celebrate the people who are putting in so much work and whose lives are on the line.”

Further, an advertisement like Pepsi’s glorifies a pro-capitalist corporation and ethos, which also goes against most protest and resistance mentalities. Wilkes argues,

“I can’t think of too many [protest] movements that are pro-capitalist. Real young people in a real protest simply wouldn’t rally around a product like the way they do in this ad. Pepsi’s goal, then, is about branding. They want you to think, ‘I’m like these people! I’m young and good looking and cool!’ … This kind of insidious branding is everywhere. This commercial is getting picked on, but there’s an element of randomness to that. This isn’t the first commercial to have problematic representation.”