Black Lives Matter march for Tania Harris. Photo by Fibonacci Blue, Flickr CC

Research shows that poor communities of color are policed more extensively than other areas, and heavy policing  can substantially alter people’s behavior and identities. Some research indicates that individuals avoid formal institutions (e.g., schools, hospitals), while other research suggests that individuals interpret the increased criminal justice contact as racialized injustice and become more involved in activism. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent to Adult Heath, Brianna Remster and Rory Kramer investigate community members’ varied responses to police contact.

Remster and Kramer found support for both avoidance of formal institutions and increased activism. People with more contact with the criminal justice system were more likely to avoid institutions — contact decreased the likelihood of receiving medical care and banking for members of all racial groups. Although the avoidance response applied to all races across contexts, avoidance tended to be stronger in predominantly minority communities. The researchers also found support for the activism hypothesis — individuals who had been stopped by police were more likely to take an activist role, which was measured by political rally attendance and whether individuals contacted government officials. In other words, after police contact individuals may withdraw for fear of further criminal justice contact, but they may also be inspired to protest unequal policing practices. 

This research also reveals the far-reaching presence and effects of modern surveillance across many contexts. Although the impacts of aggressive policing may be stronger in some neighborhoods, the impacts were not limited to poor minority communities. People across a variety of contexts respond to increases in criminal justice contact through avoidance and activism. Overall, the findings show that criminal justice contact can alter social life in more than one way beyond the moment of arrest.

Photo of protesters holding a sign that says, “Proud Iranian + Muslim.” Photo by Alisdare Hickson, Flickr CC

Social scientists have long considered how negative stereotypes about racial and ethnic minorities relate to Americans’ opinions about state policies, such as social spending, education, and the criminal justice system. Recent research by Joseph Baker, David Cañarte, and L. Edward Day in The Sociological Quarterly examines a similar but distinct set of attitudes: “xenophobia” — a fear of outsiders or people from different places. This study indicates that xenophobia may be a strong predictor of whether whites support punitiveness in the criminal justice system.

Using data from the Chapman Survey of American Fears, a nationally representative dataset, Baker and colleagues study the relationship between racial attitudes, xenophobia, and attitudes towards punitiveness in the criminal justice system. They measure what participants think of members of specific racial minority groups, as well as several dimensions of anti-immigrant attitudes. In addition, they consider a number of control variables that could affect this relationship, including sociodemographic, political, ideological, and religious characteristics.

Baker and colleagues find that whites’ xenophobic attitudes more strongly predict their punitive attitudes than whites’ attitudes towards blacks or Hispanics. In fact, their analysis suggests that xenophobia is one of the strongest predictors of whites’ punitive attitudes — it even helped explain whites’ punitiveness within categories like political ideology. Furthermore, Baker and colleagues find that the association between xenophobic attitudes and punitiveness is stronger among whites than it is for blacks and Hispanics. Baker and colleagues describe how their results speak to the salience of immigration, anti-immigrant-attitudes, and political ideology in the 2016 presidential election, thus illustrating that a general fear of the “other” affects support for political policies.

Pride Parade in Kyiv 2017. Photo by Arrideo Photography, Flickr CC

At the international level, the advancement of sexual minorities’ rights often result from advocacy by broad international human rights groups, like Amnesty International, or from international organizations specializing in LGBT issues. In a recent study, Kristopher Velasco investigated which of these two types of organizations is more effective at influencing the national adoption of progressive LGBT policies.

To measure the success of LGBT causes at the national level, Velasco created a LGBT Policy Index of national laws that impact people with different sexual orientations, gender identities, or who engage in same-gender sexual practices. The Index is higher in countries that have enacted bans on employment discrimination, established hate-crimes protections, or legalized same-sex unions. Velasco then gathered data from 156 countries for the period between 1991 and 2015 . The study compares the relationship between the Index and the global emergence of human rights international organizations and LGBT international organizations, as well as the overall effect of the mounting global support for LGBT rights.

Velasco finds that the LGBT Policy Index has dramatically risen since 1990. For example, bans on employment discrimination increased from less than 1% of countries in 1991 to over 32% in 2015. Velasco also finds that the emergence of national LGBT policies is significantly associated with the global emergence of organizations specifically concerned with LGBT rights, and it was not significantly associated with the presence of broader international human rights organizations. In addition, the positive effect of LGBT international organizations increases when considering the mounting support for LGBT rights in the global context. For instance, as the United Nations expresses growing concern to sexual orientation and gender identity, political leaders are more likely to adopt progressive LGBT policies.

In short, globalization and mobilization of international organizations — especially those concerned with particular issues — play a key role in whether nations adopt LGBT-friendly policies.

Photo by Scripps National Spelling Bee, Flickr CC

Research shows that Asian-American immigrants’ children are often successful in school. Some researchers suggest that Asian-Americans’ cultural or religious beliefs drive this success, while others suggest Asian-American immigrants promote their children’s education because many Asian-American parents themselves are highly educated. There is more to this picture, however. In a recent article in The Sociological Quarterly, Pawan Dhingra explores how Asian-American parents use the need to be competitive and successful in the modern world to frame educational choices. For these Asian-American families, prioritizing educational and extracurricular activities is an active choice made in their children’s interest.

Dhingra uses focus groups and interviews with 60 Indian-American parents who emphasize their children’s education and have experienced economic success in America. He focuses on families “who participate in academic competition (e.g., spelling bees) and after-school mathematics classes, for enrichment.” All participants immigrated to the United States, and had annual family incomes of over $100,000, at least one spouse with a professional degree, and homes located in middle-class and upper-middle class suburbs.

Dhingra asks these parents why they encourage their children to pursue education and participate in extracurriculars. Many highlight the need to be competitive in the modern world, and they state that education is the best way for their children to maximize their chances of success as opposed to other activities, such as arts or sports. Parents stated that while sports might be an option for other families’ children, their own children would be better off focusing on academics. These findings demonstrate that Asian-American immigrants’ emphasis on education cannot be reduced to culture or family education — it is also driven by a conscious awareness of the need to be competitive in today’s world.  

Punk pop-art. Photo by Mihai Bojin, Flickr CC

Counter-culture movements like punk have gone global, but that doesn’t mean they look the same across the world. Bands like the Ramones long defined the U.S. punk scene, while recent scholarly work documented the emergence of Muslim punk rock. In new research, Paula Guerra investigates the distinct, local elements of of the punk movement in Portugal by examining the DIY (do-it-yourself) elements of Portuguese punk, which emphasize small-scale or handmade production of fashion and merchandise. These elements show how the rise of Portuguese punk included both participation in an interconnected “world culture” after years of isolation, as well as a youth counterculture resistance to the growth of capitalism.

In Portugal, the punk movement caught steam in the 1970s during a democratic shift that followed decades of fascism. Guerra conducted interviews with individuals who participated in this punk movement, speaking with over 200 fans, musicians, and producers or distributors of music, art, and clothing. Guerra then assessed what punk meant to the participants. Most commonly, they saw punk as resistance. Others desired to move past resistance into the reconstruction of society entirely. In this sense, DIY serves as a physical example of their desire to create a new, more authentic world. The production of punk products, like homemade belts or band merchandise, physically represents their counter-culture, anti-capitalist message.

Guerra’s findings about Portuguese punk provide deeper insight into a post-revolutionary context while challenging assumptions about counterculture. Local manufacturing of punk merchandise helped industry grow after decades of fascist isolationist policy, while also serving as a way to resist capitalism as economic systems shifted. In other words, Guerra captures how movements are simultaneously global and local — though they might appear to be primarily global at first — emphasizing the need for comparative understandings to expose unique, localized elements of resistance.

Headstones in a Cemetery. Photo by Bart Everson, Flickr CC

The expansion of the U.S. criminal justice system is often justified in the name of public safety. While incarceration does have crime-reducing capabilities, it also has numerous negative effects, such as decreased likelihood of employment and other “collateral consequences” for those incarcerated. Thus, it’s hard to say whether incarceration does more good than harm. This is a tricky question to answer, as the outcomes of incarceration are often hard to compare. However, Michael Light and Joey Marshall use a bevy of administrative panel data to compare whether incarceration saves more lives through reducing homicides than it costs lives through increases in infant mortality.

Overall, they find that the incarceration rate both decreases the homicide rate and also increases the infant mortality rate. The authors estimate that the “net benefit” of incarceration is much smaller when the mortality costs are taken into account. In other words, there seems to be a very weak or even non-existent return on incarceration when considering mortality. Thus, while it appears that incarceration does indeed “save lives,” incarceration also causes deaths, muddying the picture of the benefits of imprisonment. This research challenges claims that increased imprisonment will greatly enhance public safety and human well-being, and gives a glimpse into the varying effects the criminal justice system can have.

Graffiti on a dumpster in Minneapolis, MN. Photo by De Andre’ T. Beadle

Graffiti is common in urban spaces. Some city residents view it as art, many are apathetic, and others think it as a major nuisance that must be dealt with. Researchers often frame graffiti as either a form of vandalism that facilitates more disorder and crime or as acts of resistance. In recent research, however, Theo Kindynis argues that graffiti is a much more complex subculture, and graffiti creation is a social and symbolic practice that both shapes and is shaped by urban spaces.

Kindynis draws from three years of ethnographic research among graffiti writers in London. Most of his participants identified as “bombers,” and many were well known to local authorities as “serious graffiti vandals.” Some had even served jail time for graffiti writing. Graffiti writers’ main goal is to achieve subcultural status by “getting their name up” throughout the city, by placing their graffiti in every district and public transit line in the metro. The most important form of graffiti to writers is the “tag” or the bombers’ personal signature of letters, often alongside other embellishments like arrows, crowns, or RIP in remembrance of a deceased writer. The bombers in Kindynis’ research see their work as much more than simply “scribbles and scrawls.” According to one participant, writing often has “energy” or “presence” that is representative of each writer’s personal style and background. In other words, tags and other forms of graffiti are important subcultural symbols.

Tracks, and especially subway cars, are the most prized canvas for bombers in London, and the British Transport Police (BTP) respond by cracking down on graffiti crews there. Kindynis argues that this tough approach had some unintended consequences, and actually led to more destructive practices when graffiti writers retaliated with practices like etching, scratching, and using paint thinner. So on one hand, graffiti offers bombers a new way of envisioning their social surroundings — including their own language and alternative histories of urban space development and transformation, while on the other hand, graffiti tends to be at odds with social control in urban spaces and thus faces constant threat. 

Beer Tap at a Bar. Photo by Ted Bigham, Flickr CC

The gender gap in alcohol consumption is narrowing — research suggests women now drink just as much as men. This change may be partially attributed to declining prices or targeted efforts by alcohol companies to market their products to women. But just because women are drinking more, doesn’t mean that alcohol is marketed equally, especially when it comes to beer. New research finds that consumers consider certain beers masculine and others feminine,  and women often face stigma when choosing a beer, while men rarely do.

The author first analyzed references to gender and beer on 50 beer blogs, then surveyed 93 people at craft beer bars near New York City. She asked participants what they think of when they hear “feminine beer” or “masculine beer” and what kind of people they associate with each term. Both men and women agreed that feminine beer is light or flavored, while masculine beer is strong and heavy. Following this logic, fruit beers or coffee-flavored beers are feminine, and IPAs and unflavored lagers are masculine. While men are typically thought to have more knowledge about beer, female participants used technical terms and craft beer jargon about taste profiles and beer categories far more often than the male participants.

However, the way men and women view beer consumers differed considerably. For example, female participants praised women who prefer masculine beer (“she’s a badass bitch”), while men tended to sexualize women who prefer masculine beer. Some men thought it made women sexier, while others thought it made women too much like “a dude.” Participants did not scrutinize men’s choice of beers. They agreed that if a man orders a feminine beer he’s making an informed choice, but if a woman orders it, she knows nothing about beer. In other words, “any beer can be the right beer when men are consumers,” but women lose no matter what beer they choose.

Photo by US Department of Education, Flickr CC

In a scene familiar to today’s teachers, several students in the classroom are glued to their screens: one is posting to social media, one is playing a computer game, and another is hacking their way past the school’s protective firewall with the skills they perfected from years of interaction with the Internet. Are these students wasting class time or honing the skills that will make them a future tech millionaire? New research from Matthew Rafalow finds that teachers answer that question differently based on the social class and race makeup of the school. Schools that serve primarily White, more privileged students see “digital play” such as video games, social media, and website or video production as building digital competencies that are central to success, while schools that serve larger Latino or Asian populations view digital play as irrelevant or a distraction from learning.

Based on observations of three technology-rich Bay Area middle schools, Rafalow examined whether the skills students develop through digital play are considered cultural capital — skills, habits, and dispositions that that can be traded for success in school and work. Although digital play can lead to skills like finding information online, communicating with others, and producing digital media, classed and raced stereotypes about educational needs and future work prospects affect whether teachers recognize those skills in their students. In other words, Rafalow examined whether teachers reward, ignore, or punish students for digital play in the classroom.

Rafalow found three distinct approaches across the schools. At the first school — a public middle school that largely serves middle-class Asian students — teachers viewed digital play as threatening to their traditional educational practices because it distracted students from “real” learning. Further, teachers believed students comfortable with digital skills could hack standardized tests that had been given electronically. At the second school — a public middle school that largely serves working-class Latino students — teachers discounted any skills that students brought into the classroom through their years of digital play. Instead, teachers thought introducing their students to website design and programming was a more important part of preparing them for 21st century working-class jobs. In contrast, at the third school — a private, largely White middle school — teachers praised skills students developed through digital play as crucial to job success and built a curriculum that further encouraged expression and experimentation online.

The ways teachers in this study approached digital play provide a clear example of how raced and classed expectations of students’ futures determine the range of appropriate classroom behavior.

Photo by Bob, Flickr CC

While we often think of marriage as a commitment to one partner forever, second marriage is not uncommon. Even so, the pool of potential partners may be different for those never married than it is for those ready to say “I do” for round two. In new research, Zhenchao Qian and Daniel T. Lichter investigate how martial history and marital status influence someone’s chances of finding a spouse.

The researchers use American Community Survey data from 2008-2014 to compare partner-selection patterns for different-sex first marriages, remarriages, and mixed-order marriages (one person marrying for the first time and the other remarrying). They look at partner race, ethnicity, age, nativity, children from previous relationships, education, and income. Then, they compare those traits with those of a fictional potential partner to predict the probability that the actual partnership will happen compared to the fictional one. Based on whether the actual or fictional match is more likely to happen, the researchers can better understand what traits are most valuable in the marriage market.

Gender and marital history influence who gets to be the most selective when choosing a partner for marriage. Never married people have the best chances of marrying partners with valued traits like high educational attainment and higher income. Comparatively, previously married people — particularly women — find themselves at a disadvantage. They have fewer choices of partners to marry than those looking to tie the knot for the first time. This results in never married people with valued characteristics like high socioeconomic status beating out others with previous marriages in finding new partners, which include both never married and previously married partners. Previously married women fare worse than previously married men do, resulting in more single women in the United States than single men.

This research shows that having no previous marriage is a valuable trait in the marriage market, meaning that it makes a person desirable to others. Not only does this desirability mean more choices for a never married person, it also allows that person to be more selective in actually choosing a suitable partner. In other words, these people get to have their wedding cake, and eat it, too.