class

Flashback Friday. 

Responding to critics who argue that poor people do not choose to eat healthy food because they’re ignorant or prefer unhealthy food, dietitian Ellyn Satter wrote a hierarchy of food needs. Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it illustrates Satter’s ideas as to the elements of food that matter first, second, and so on… starting at the bottom.

The graphic suggests that getting enough food to eat is the most important thing to people. Having food be acceptable (e.g., not rotten, something you are not allergic to) comes second. Once those two things are in place, people hope for reliable access to food and only then do they begin to worry about taste. If people have enough, acceptable, reliable, good-tasting food, then they seek out novel food experiences and begin to make choices as to what to eat for instrumental purposes (e.g., number of calories, nutritional balance).

As Michelle at The Fat Nutritionist writes, sometimes when a person chooses to eat nutritionally deficient or fattening foods, it is not because they are “stupid, ignorant, lazy, or just a bad, bad person who loves bad, bad food.”  Sometimes, it’s “because other needs come first.”

Originally posted in 2010; hat tip to Racialicious; cross-posted at Jezebel.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Flashback Friday.

During the colonial era, class-privileged citizens of colonizing nations would travel to colonized lands to, as I wrote in a previous post, “enjoy reveling in the seemingly bizarre and unfamiliar people and customs of these Other places…” Human beings, in other words, were among the objects of this tourism, along with gorgeous vistas and unfamiliar plants and animals.

Today many citizens of wealthy nations still yearn for “authentic” and “unique” travel experiences. It is somehow more prestigious to go where others do not. And human beings are still, often, the object of such tourism. This kind of travel, always ethically problematic, has become increasingly disruptive as fewer and fewer places are inaccessible and more and more people are able to afford to get there. For those humans identified as worthy of the tourist gaze, this may sometimes mean constant and overwhelming objectification.

A new documentary, Camera, Camera, documents the crushing weight of tourism in Luang Prabang, Laos, where monks make a traditional sacred procession each morning. Seth Mydans, reviewing the film, writes:

…this sacred ritual is now swarmed by scores of bustling tourists, some of whom lean in with cameras and flashes for closeups as the monks pad silently past.

Screenshot from Camera, Camera.

Frustrated, artist Nithakhong Somsanith says:

They come in buses. They look at the monks the same as a monkey, a buffalo. It is theater… Now the monks have no space to meditate, no space for quiet.

This clip from the documentary captures Somsanith’s concerns beautifully and hauntingly:

Originally posted in 2010.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Flashback Friday.

Adam Smith observed in his Lectures on Jurisprudence (1762) — a series of talks that he gave at the University of Glasgow — that national character plays a significant role in economic transactions: the Dutch, he said, are “more faithful to their word” and better at “performing agreements” than the English, and the English more faithful than the Scots.

In the past few months, I’ve observed a similar kind of cultural variation in a much more prosaic setting: the panhandling interaction.

If you’re from North America, as I am, you’ve probably seen people on the street requesting money from strangers using appeals such as “Homeless—Please Help” or “Homeless Veteran.”  There are a number of variations, but homelessness is the common theme in many cases.

Photo by Steve Baker.

Elsewhere in the world, panhandlers use quite different rationales—or what the great mid-century sociologist C. Wright Mills would call “vocabularies of motive.” Mills wasn’t interested in what actually motivated people—such as what psychologists would term “needs” or “drives”—but rather in the ideologically-charged terms they used to justify their actions to themselves and others. As he observed, some motives are more acceptable than others, and we can learn something about local cultures based on what passes for a “good reason.”

So it’s sociologically interesting that within the North American context, the concept of “home” has such resonance that the claim of “homelessness” is considered a compelling and sufficient motive for giving money to strangers. But while the need for shelter would seem universal, it’s rare to see a panhandler outside North America requesting a donation on the basis of homelessness.

In Germany, for example, one often finds people begging for trinkgeld—”drinking money.” And they’re not playing for laughs, as one sometimes finds in the US, when panhandlers give a wink and a nod to the stereotype that money given to beggars is only ever used to buy alcohol (or drugs). When a panhandler asks for “drinking money” in the US, it’s sort of an in-joke, or an attempt to appear disarmingly honest; based on the limited examples I’ve seen, this seems to jolly people up and get good results (i.e., quantities of cash).

But in Germany, drinking money is serious business. In the four years I lived in the Rhine Valley, I saw dozens of men (always men) on public transport and on the street, asking for “trinkgeld, bitte” in monotonous, dirge-like tones that seemed to express just how grim a fate it was to lack beer money. Equally surprising to me was the willingness of Germans to open their purses for this reason, as if it was a truth universally acknowledged that a man with empty pockets must be in want of a beer. In the interactions I witnessed, no one on either end of the transaction ever smiled.

Yet another vocabulary of motive can be found on the streets of Istanbul, where panhandlers often approach passers-by with a request for ekmek parası—Turkish for “bread money.” In perhaps 10 visits to Turkey in the last 3 years, I’ve never seen anyone on the street claiming to be homeless. Nor have I seen a cardboard sign of the kind so common in North America.

In all three settings, the vocabularies of motive among panhandlers have a common theme of need: for shelter, drink or food. What’s interesting is how each cultural setting changes the calculus about what kind of motive is most likely to bring in the cash. Perhaps it comes down to what each society views as among the basic human rights: in the US, shelter has a plausible claim to that status, but beer does not; whereas in Germany, it an appeal for trinkgeld succeeds as an appeal to common humanity and decency; in Turkey, hunger seems to trump all other claims.

Originally posted in 2010.

Brooke Harrington is Associate Professor of Economic Sociology at the Copenhagen Business School. She is the author of two books: Pop Finance: Investment Clubs and the New Investor Populism and Deception: From Ancient Empires to Internet Dating.  She is currently doing research on offshore banking and blogs at our fellow Society Pages blog, Economic Sociology.

This month sociologist Matthew Desmond won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Desmond’s book documents, in rich and depressing detail, what it’s like to try to pay rent as a low income earner and how easy it is to end up on the street. Eviction is not caused by personal “irresponsibility,” Desmond insists, it’s essentially “inevitable.”

Eviction is psychologically scarring, but it also throws families further into poverty, destabilizing their work and family lives, often stripping them of their few possessions, and costing money — all while enriching landlords.

Here’s 7 minutes from Desmond about his experience living among low income families and the lessons he learned:

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

4The Numbers

Some History

The Winners and the Losers

Tax Cultures

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Where you grow up is consequential. It plays a critical role in shaping who you are likely to become. Where you live affects your future earnings, how much education you’re likely to receive, how long you live, and much more.

Sociologists who study this are interested in the concentrated accumulations of specific types and qualities of capital (economic, cultural, social) found in abundance in certain locations, less in more, and virtually absent in some. And, as inequalities intersect with one another, marginalization tends to pile up. For instance, those areas of the U.S. that are disproportionately Black and Latino are also areas struggling economically (see Dustin A. Cable’s racial dot map of the U.S.). Similarly, those areas of the country with the least upward mobility are also areas with some of the highest proportions of households of people of color. And, perhaps not shockingly (although it should be), schools in these areas receive fewer resources and have lower outcomes for students.

How much education you receive is, in part, a result of where you grow up. Think about it: you’re be more likely to end up with at least a bachelor’s degree if you grow up in an area where almost everyone is at least college educated. It’s not a requirement, but it’s more likely. And, if you do and go on to live in a similar community and have children, your kids will benefit from you carrying on that cycle as well. Of course, this system of advantages works in reverse for communities with lower levels of educational attainment.

Recently, a geography professor, Kyle Walker, mapped educational attainment in the U.S. Inspired by Cable’s map of racial segregation, Walker visualizes educational inequality in the U.S. from a bird’s eye view. And when we compare Walker’s map of educational attainment to Cable’s map of racial segregation, you can see how inequalities tend to accumulate.

Below, I’ve displayed paired images of a selection of U.S. cities using both maps. In each image, the top map illustrates educational attainment and the bottom visualizes race.

  • On Walker’s map of educational attainment (top images in each pair), the colors indicate: less than high schoolhigh schoolsome collegebachelor’s degree, and graduate degree.
  • On Cable’s map of racial segregation (bottom images in each pair), the colors indicate: White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Other Race/Native American/Multi-Racial

So, one way of comparing the images below is to look at how the blue areas compare on each map of the same region.  

Below, you can see San Francisco, Berkeley, and San Jose, California in the same frame using Walker’s map of educational attainment (top) over Cable’s racial dot map (bottom).See how people are segregated by educational attainment (top image) and race (bottom image) in Chicago, Illinois:
Los Angeles, California:
New York City:
Detroit, Michigan:
Houston, Texas:
Compare regions of the U.S. examining Walker’s map with Cable’s racial dot map, you can see how racial and educational inequality intersect. While I only visualized cities above for comparison on both maps, if you examine Walker’s map of educational attainment, two broad trends with respect to segregation by educational attainment are easily visible:

  • Urban/rural divide–people with bachelors and graduate degrees tend to be clustered in cities and metropolitan areas.
  • Racial and economic inequalities–within metropolitan areas, you can see educational achievement segregation that both reflects and reinforces racial and economic segregation within the area (this is what you see above).

And, as research has shown, the levels of parents’ educational attainment within an area impacts the educational performances of the children living in that area as well. That’s how social reproduction happens. Sociologists are interested in how inequalities are passed on to subsequent generations. And it is sometimes hard to notice in your daily life because, as you can see above, we’re segregated from one another (by race, education, class, and more). And this segregation is one way interlocking inequalities persist.

Tristan Bridges, PhD is a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the co-editor of Exploring Masculinities: Identity, Inequality, Inequality, and Change with C.J. Pascoe and studies gender and sexual identity and inequality. You can follow him on Twitter here. Tristan also blogs regularly at Inequality by (Interior) Design.

The Women’s March in Washington had three times more people in attendance than did President Trump’s inauguration. Many have argued about the reasons for these numbers (see here, here, and here), and used them both individually and together to make claims about activism and political support. But something is missing from these conversations. In order to fully understand the differences in attendance at these events in D.C., and to avoid taking these numbers to mean something they do not, we must account for class and race.

Gender, education and race may have been the biggest rifts in voters this past presidential election, but class is part of this political shift. At least part of why people didn’t show up for President Trump’s inauguration in droves but did show up to the Women’s Marches is a story of class privilege and the cultural capital that comes with it. Upper middle class white women and urban dwellers from all classes had easy access to Women’s Marches, both in D.C. and around the country. Many of Trump’s voters would have had to fly to D.C. Because research shows that only about 50% of the population in the US flies each year, and because that tracks with income and education, Women’s March supporters may have been more likely to fly than Trump voters were. If we look at data from just the five counties with the largest vote share for Trump, we see that, except for Buchanan, Virginia, these locations present great travel distance. Further, President Trump received 4.1% of the vote in Washington, D.C., and lost in surrounding states by large percentages. As CNN points out, a trip to inauguration would be a long one for a critical mass of Trump supporters.

White voters from rural areas and those without a college education represent the largest demographics to turn out for Trump. Many of Trump’s supporters reside in more rural areas that are struggling economically. Cost and familiarity with travel, ease and options in taking time off of work, and geographic proximity to D.C. may have affected participation in Inauguration events. Sociologists talk about cultural capital—or the non-financial goods that help with social mobility beyond economic means. Such capital can include knowledge, skills, and education—things that are both material and symbolic. When Emily lived in rural Arkansas, many people she met had never left the state or in some cases even the county. Indeed, when she told a friend there that she flew home for Christmas and it cost $70, he was surprised that a plane ticket cost less than it did to fill up his truck, because he’d never flown before. Emily’s knowledge of air travel is a form of cultural capital, and one that could put her at an advantage in planning a trip to fly to Washington, D.C. for the March. There is an intimidation that comes from not having done that or been there before—your cultural capital can determine how well versed you are in navigating AirBnB and the slew of cheap flight websites that exist.

Why was the Women’s March so highly attended? Many have analyzed the mass turn-out in D.C., nationally, and internationally. For the first time, the Women’s March brought out highly educated, more affluent white women who have the forms of capital to plan and attend a weekend in D.C. Of course, there were many—millions, in fact—who did not go to D.C., but who showed support in sister marches around the country and globe. For many, their lack of attendance in D.C. could be due to the same barriers that perhaps inhibited many from attending the Inauguration. For others, their participation was possible because demographics likely to participate in Women’s Marches – LGBTQA+ folks and people of color – are more likely to reside in urban communities. But to compare these attendance rates without talking about class, and without talking about the mobilization of white women, muddies the realities of who is ready and willing to act at more local levels.

While the Women’s March may have kicked off a movement that has the tools in place for success, we need to remember that Trump’s path to success was unpredicted. To take his inauguration attendance numbers to mean that his initial supporters have changed their minds or that Trump has lost political support would be a potentially grave mistake. To take what is now the largest protest in U.S. history as evidence of mass, continued mobilization, that may also be inaccurate. White women are just starting to show up—will they continue to do so? In talking about the intersections of class and race, we remember who is able to mobilize and show support when, and we must bring these intersections to the fore in future conversations about mobilization and activism.

Sarah Diefendorf is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Washington. Her research centers on sexuality, gender, and evangelical religious groups. You can follow her on Twitter here.

Emily Kalah Gade is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of Washington. Her research centers on political violence, civil resistance and militancy.

Originally posted at the Contexts blog.

Among the many forces contributing to the surprising Trump election was the shift of many White working class voters to vote for the upstart candidate. For years, these working-class families had been hurting; their incomes stagnated, good jobs became hard to find, and their health suffered. More importantly, entire working-class communities declined. It was not just personal economic misfortune, it was a class.

The problems of the White working class were not unknown, but they were not often addressed very directly. Sometimes, the most common advice was they should get more training or send their kids to college – advice that could sound more like a middle-class put-down than a realistic policy addressing their problems. But, for the most part, the working class was just ignored, a neglect that made them ripe for Trump’s appeals. This neglect was a general cultural phenomenon; a Google ngram count of the phrase “working class” in American books shows a spike in the Depression Thirties and an even stronger growth from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. But after the mid-1970s, there is a steady decline, implying a lack of discussion just as their problems were growing.  The implicit message seemed to have been that their problems didn’t matter.

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U.S. sociology was not immune from this broader cultural trend. A count of the frequencies of “working class” in the titles or abstracts of articles in the American Journal of Sociology and the American Sociological Review shows a quite similar if even more dramatic pattern: rapid growth in the 1960s, peaking in the 1959-1969 period, a steady interest for the next two decades and then an abrupt decline beginning in the 1990s. These articles on the working class were not insignificant; even through the 21st century, the authors include a number of ASA presidents. But overall, working-class issues seem to have lost their salience, as if even American sociology was also telling them that they didn’t matter.

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Perhaps the Trump election, which was in part a symptom of this neglect, may also produce its cure. Election post-mortems in the media have focused more attention on the white working class than they have received in years.  Academe may soon follow.  Arlie Hochshild’s Strangers in Their Own Land, and, in political science, Katherine Cramer’s The Politics of Resentment, are encouraging signs. But Trump was certainly dangerous medicine for what ails our professional discourse.

Reeve Vanneman, PhD is in the sociology department at the University of Maryland.