Watch the live webcast of Noam Chomsky’s ICA 2011 Closing Plenary session on Monday 30th May at 12pm EDT!

Democracy, the Media, and the Responsibility of Scholars

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Larry Gross, U of Southern California, USA

Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

Linguist Noam Chomsky is a trenchant critic of the mass media, which he tackled memorably in his 1988 book with Ed Herman, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. In the years since its publication Chomsky has continued to subject the media to the same critical scrutiny with which he has relentlessly analyzed and criticized the actions of nation states and corporations. In this session Chomsky will address the present state of the media and the threats to democracy posed by the corporate control of mainstream media. He will also discuss the landscape of information in the public interest in the age of the Internet, as blogs and now Wikileaks change the terms of engagement. Finally, he will address the responsibilities of intellectuals, scholars, and academics to participate in the struggle for true freedom of expression and information that is a precondition for the survival of democracy.


Watch the live webcast of the ICA 2011 Opening Plenary session today from 6pm EDT!

“Communication as the Discipline of the 21st Century”

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Larry Gross, U of Southern California, USA

Craig Calhoun, SSRC/ New York U, USA

Susan J. Douglas, U of Michigan, USA Sonia Livingstone, London School of Economics, UNITED KINGDOM John Durham Peters, U of Iowa, USA Joseph N. Cappella, U of Pennsylvania, USA Georgette Wang, National Chengchi U, TAIWAN

The 20th century witnessed the immense impact of communication technologies, from the spread of sound recording, motion pictures and radio as world-wide phenomena to the emergence of television as a dominant influence in nearly every institution, to the explosion of the Internet at the turn of the new century. If it once was possible, as many in the academy did and some still do, to view communication studies as peripheral to the central mission and focus of the academic universe, that is no longer a defensible position. Today, any credible model of the liberal arts must recognize the centrality of communication for any responsible educational program. In this plenary session, Craig Calhoun will address the contributions that communication scholarship can make to our understanding of the world today. Five distinguished communication scholars will then comment in response.


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If you asked Americans to pick which political party they considered pro-immigration and which one they considered anti-immigration most would agree that the Republican Party is anti-immigration and the Democratic Party is pro-immigration.  Like abortion politics, this does not mean that every Democrat is pro-immigration and every Republican anti-immigration.  Still, the divide between the parties appears to be growing starker as voters either sort themselves into parties due to their stance on immigration or solidify their stances on immigration as a result of their party affiliation.  While many of us may take this alignment for granted, founders of the anti-immigration movement did not see this party alignment as inevitable and such an institutional arrangement was not deliberate.  Instead, the current situation, I believe, points to the outsized role racialized politics play in the American political system. more...

A careful understanding of epigenetic mechanisms allows sociologists to include a new biological perspective into research designs – when it is incorporated carefully and not used casually or blindly as a deus ex machina explanatory device that is.

Epigenetics provides us with one of several “mechanisms by which social influences become embodied” (Kuzawa and Sweet 2008: 2). A promising place for sociologists to enter into this research or use it fruitfully is to examine how social environments and inequalities become embodied as epigenetic imprints, altering gene expression and consequently affecting a wide array of health outcomes. Additionally, while mapping the epigenome, epigeneticists are exploring differences in the plasticity of particular alleles at various points in the lifecourse. Could the inclusion of epigenetic biomarkers in sociological work allow for the separation of early life events from cumulative ones?

These mechanistic stories are bound to be messy, but such feedback loops and the enmeshment of social and biological processes are inescapable. With the knowledge and technology available today, we are far beyond oversimplified nature versus nurture debates. Many biologists who do epigenetic work realize that in order to get a complete, complex mapping of these mechanisms, the social needs to be included. These biologists view sociological and cultural variables as more of a signal rather than just contextual noise. Sociologists should not only collaborate with such researchers, but also help shape what these projects look like.

Further, sociologists should be aware of developing epigenetic discourse and how it is being received in the media. Over the past year or so, non-scientific magazines from Time to Newsweek have picked up on epigenetic findings, publishing articles for the general public on the topic. However, not all of this reporting clearly emphasizes epigenetics’ softening of geneticization’s hard line determinism. Further, some of it mistakenly over-emphasizes our agency in the changing of our own and our future generations’ genetic code. Sociologists should be aware of such reporting, lest it follow the route of the powerful, persuasive, and pervasive hold the narrative of geneticization has in everyday, non-scientific talk (Chaufan 2007) – especially since general understandings of genetic findings often easily allow genetics to take the stage as a deus ex machina of causal efficacy despite findings that clearly prove otherwise.

What is Epigenetics?


Controlling Your Genes


DNA: How You Can Control Your Genes, Destiny

Ghost in Our Genes


In his newest book, Elijah Anderson turns his micro-sociological attention to those places in the modern US city that foster racial understanding and harmony. In The Cosmopolitan Canopy Anderson claims that a pluralistic embrace of social difference is supported most readily by the titular “canopies” that he explores in contemporary Philadelphia. Over the span of an astounding thirty years of observation, Anderson attempts to convey an image of how people “live race” (xvi) in ways that challenge old forms of inequality.





Sociology Compass

© Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Volume 5, Issue 5 Page 311 – 398

The latest issue of Sociology Compass is available on Wiley Online Library



Rethinking Gender and Violence: Agency, Heterogeneity, and Intersectionality (pages 311–322)
S.J. Creek and Jennifer L. Dunn
Article first published online: 2 MAY 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00360.x

Race & Ethnicity

Navigating a Hostile Terrain: Refugees and Human Rights in Southeast Asia (pages 323–335)
Pei Palmgren
Article first published online: 2 MAY 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00367.x


African-American Women and Suicide: A Review and Critique of the Literature (pages 336–350)
Kamesha Spates
Article first published online: 2 MAY 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00372.x

Science & Medicine

A Sociological Alternative to the Psychiatric Conceptualization of Mental Suffering (pages 351–363)
Dena T. Smith
Article first published online: 2 MAY 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00369.x

Social Movements

Transnational Linkages and Movement Communities (pages 364–375)
Anna-Liisa Aunio and Suzanne Staggenborg
Article first published online: 2 MAY 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2009.00249.x

Social Stratification

Lone Mother-led Families: Exemplifying the Structuring of Social Inequality (pages 376–391)
Lea Caragata and Sara J. Cumming
Article first published online: 2 MAY 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00368.x

Teaching & Learning Guide

Teaching and Learning Guide for: Isn’t Every Crime a Hate Crime? The Case for Hate Crime Laws (pages 392–394)
Randy Blazak
Article first published online: 2 MAY 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00370.x


Teaching and Learning Guide for: Sociology and Human Rights in the Post Development Era (pages 395–398)
Mark Frezzo
Article first published online: 2 MAY 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00371.x


In January of 2010, the New York Civil Liberties Union, along with the national ACLU and law firm Dorsey & Whitney, filed a class action lawsuit against the City of New York, for NYPD School Safety division practices of seizing and arresting middle and high school children. In particular, the NYPD officers allegedly arrested students for minor, non-criminal activities, handcuffed students and locked them in seclusion rooms without teacher or parental consent, and took students to hospitals for psychiatric evaluations, again without teacher or parental consent.

The ongoing case epitomizes a phenomenon that has proliferated in the last two decades, according to professors Paul Hirschfield and Katarzyna Celinska in their January 2011 review in Sociology Compass: the criminalization of school discipline. In the late 1970s, there were reportedly fewer than 100 police officers in schools; by 2007, almost 70 percent of schools had security guards and/or police officers (Dinkes et al. 2009), despite the fact that rates of school violence have been declining since the early 1990s (see, for example, graphs here). There is no consensus among scholars about what, exactly, constitutes the criminalization of discipline in schools; studies examine the use of “zero tolerance” policies, school police or resource officers, metal detectors, drug sweeps and surveillance cameras.

Hirschfield and Celinska focus in particular on evidence regarding the social distribution of such practices, the causes underlying such a transformation in disciplining students at school, and the effects of the transformation. (Throughout, they note that the empirical evidence regarding the criminalization of discipline is far behind theoretical formulations of the issue.) There is mixed evidence regarding which types of schools are more likely to use criminalized discipline. Urban, suburban and rural schools all use police and surveillance cameras, and suburban school police are more likely to be armed, and to conduct lockdowns and drug sweeps. One qualitative study of four schools found that arrests were standard only at the most privileged of the schools. Regardless of the percentage of non-white students across the four schools, black students within those schools were more likely to be suspected and monitored, in part because they did not have powerful parents to protect them.

Other evidence, however, suggests that urban schools with large non-white populations have greater rates of criminalized disciplinary practices. For example, urban schools constitute only 15 percent of middle and high schools nationwide, but comprise 75 percent of schools that carry out daily metal detector scans of students. Another study found that the percentage of black students in a school was the only predictor of the use of “extreme disciplinary measures” (Welch and Payne 2010). In a parallel finding, Torres and Stefkovich (2009) observe that schools with small minority student populations have lower rates of criminalization of discipline.

The authors point to two theoretical traditions to explain the origins of such practices in schools: a social fear account—that criminalization of schools is a social and political response to fears about school crime, and a social and political structure account—that changing macro-structural features have contributed to the growth of such practices. This latter account argues that industrial decline and its associated population movement to the suburbs left certain areas with concentrated poverty and greater youth violence. At the same time, the explosion of mass incarceration (see Bruce Western’s Punishment and Inequality in America– a selection of which is here— or Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow) changed the political calculus around the distribution of resources. Hirschfield (2008) argues that it was advantageous for legislators to funnel money into the penal industry, mostly located in rural areas, which left urban schools with fewer resources. This left less money for non-criminalized types of behavioral control, including more teachers and better facilities. Hirschfield (2008) also notes that the growth of the criminal justice profession around mass incarceration promoted school criminalization, as these professionals peddled their wares—both advice and technology—to schools.

While the empirical evidence regarding the effect of criminalization on school climate is rather sparse, there are plenty of reasons to think that these practices weaken community at a school by placing authority in the hands of police who often do not understand nor care about students’ problems, eroding student trust. One study finds that schools with criminalized disciplinary measures have lower attendance rates than similar schools without those measures (Brady et al. 2007). Students often see zero tolerance policies as unfair, as they fail to provide due process or they are unevenly enforced, which may highlight social divisions within a school. Zero tolerance policies may have the effect of teaching students that they have few rights, and they have little recourse if those rights are violated. On the other hand, a number of studies find that student often welcome more policing, as some students are so disruptive that they significantly impede learning.

Paradoxically, the trend of state anti-bullying legislation may not help the situation. Many of these laws include extremely punitive measures against both students who harass other students (heavy on the use of suspensions and expulsions) and against schools who fail to adequately curb bullying (the New Jersey law is an especially punitive one). There are exceptions; the New York anti-bullying law, the Dignity for All Students Act, attempts to limit the amount of police involvement in punishment, and acknowledges the importance of emotional and psychological help for both the subjects of harassment and the perpetrators. (And, as more and more studies are pointing out, the line between these two is often not clear; an example.) The lawsuit and this legislation is part of the ACLU’s program challenging what they call the “School-to-Prison Pipeline.” The criminalization of discipline may not only participate in this pipeline, but it may obscure the boundaries between these two institutions.

Beyond Fear: Sociological Perspectives on the Criminalization of School Discipline

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It is only hours since President Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden, resulting in celebrations across the United States (in the streets, on Facebook and elsewhere). I want to point the Sociological Lens at this spontaneous and widespread cultural celebration not to argue that it is wrong or right to cheer for death, but to ask, in these first few hours, why. Beyond the obvious points surrounding Bin Laden’s involvement with the events on September 11th, 2001, I think he symbolized much more. Ultimately, what people are cheering about is the momentary return of the familiar black-and-white world of good and evil that we understand.

Gidden’s and others have discussed how our modern world is becoming increasignly unknowable and Bauman discusses ethics based on some universal good and evil as out of date. Gone are the days of World War II where we went to war against the “bad guys” and when you killed them you won. September 11th, 2001 sparked a “war on terror,” a war on an ideology rather than a country, that has been unending and unclear. It is also unclear for many why we went to Iraq -a conflict that has dragged on without clear objectivies and metrics for victory. About all the United States as a country could agree on is that Osama bin Laden is a bad guy and should be captured and/or killed, but even this dragged on for years with many wondering if we would ever capture him. This all creates a listless feeling of confusion about war and geopolitics that upsets Americans used to the Hollywood version: we know who is good and evil and the winner is clear.

This pent up confusion was cathartically relieved last night when the news broke. The world finally succumbed to the movie script where there is a bad guy and there is some clear result. However, this brief moment of clarity will pass and we will quickly move back into a world where geopolitics is confusing, winning and losing won’t be clear and neither will be just who we are fighting and why. After Bin Laden, who will be the new symbol to ground our naive presumption that the world, who is good and who is evil, is simple and knowable? more...