Aside from disliking huge crowds, there are many reasons why I decided not to attend the Women’s March this upcoming Saturday (January 21st, 2017). This inauguration is scary and telling of times to come. It has been a while since I have been this scared, especially after moving to a red state. Up until now, I have been steadfast in my sociological training. Many professors tell budding sociologists they need to be (p)olitical as opposed to (P)olitical because objectivity is key to being a great sociologist. With the upcoming inauguration and our soon to be president, I decided to be (P)olitical for once. I had, originally, decided to march with everyone to show my solidarity and subjectivity as a person. Besides, the mantra of silence indicates your allegiance with the oppressor has haunted me (Lorde 1984). Yet, after thinking, probably too much, and mulling over the implications of attending such a protest, I decided to remain (p)olitical and write this instead. more...
Artwork: Sumi Perera RE (2015) ‘White Collar’ [http://www.sumi-perera.com/]
In a 2014 review article for Sociology Compass, David Jancsics outlined a ‘minimal consensus’ on what constitutes corruption, drawn from his survey of literature on corruption in sociology, economics, organizational studies, political science and anthropology. The four poles of this consensus, Jancsics suggests, are that corruption is the “informal/illegal and secret exchange of formally allocated resources”; that “at least one corrupt party has to have formal membership/affiliation or at least a contractual relation with the organization from which the resources are extracted”; that corruption happens between “two or more corrupt parties” (distinguishing it from fraud or theft where there may be only one criminal party); and that “a corrupt act is always a deviation from social rules or expectations of some kind.” But the most widely cited definitions of corruption to be found in anti-corruption policy frameworks – see for instance the UK’s Anti-Corruption Plan – are those given by the World Bank (“the abuse of public office for private gain”) and Transparency International (“the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”). These definitions perhaps fall most clearly into Jancsics’ first pole (the informal allocation of formal resources). For both organizations, however, there is an explicit emphasis on corruption as something that occurs in the public sector. Here, the archetypal corrupt act is the taking of bribes by government officials, in a manner that distorts the functioning of the state, so “enabling leaders to benefit at the expense of the public good”.
With the UK hosting an Anti-Corruption Summit in London next week, and in the wake of the Panama Papers affair, corruption is again in the spotlight. Cameron has attempted to present the UK as world leaders in tackling tax evasion and tax avoidance. To this end he has cited the UK’s commitment to establishing a central registry of company beneficial ownership, and the introduction of the world’s strictest Anti-Bribery legislation (which criminalizes the failure to prevent a bribe being paid to a UK corporation operating anywhere in the world). Leaving aside for a moment the fact that, as Richard Murphy recently pointed out, Companies House has not received any new resources to support the creation of a register of beneficial ownership, it is quite clear that these moves remain for the most part wedded to the idea that corruption consists of the informal exchange of formally allocated resources – or the distortion of state functions as a result of public sector officials accepting bribes. What of the last pole in Jancsics’ consensus definition of corruption, the idea that a corrupt act is always a deviation from social rules or expectations of some kind? On these broader sociological grounds, the UK seems to be less of a world leader. more...
I was recently asked to contribute to a piece on derivatives for an economics education website – with the brief being to explain why derivatives ‘matter in daily life’ for readers with no presumed or particular interest in finance. So far, I confess, I’ve not found it particularly easy. Derivatives are a funny kind of sociological object. We’ve almost all heard of them; many will have a sense that they (or some particular use of them) were implicated in the 2008 financial crisis; and it is reasonably likely that some of us will have come across one of the countless news items (or visualizations) that asks, along with sociologist Elena Esposito: “What is sold and bought in financial markets that move a mass of capital exceeding by 20 times the entire world GDP, which then clearly does not refer to the goods?” Such news items frequently earn the ire of derivatives enthusiasts, who are keen to point out that the ‘notional value’ of the world’s outstanding derivatives is not a proper measure of the market value of outstanding derivatives (see also here and here). The notional value, they would argue, refers to the ‘face value’ of the underlying asset from which the derivative ‘derives’ its value. But the amounts for which derivatives change hands can be fairly detached from the face value of the underlying asset*. And besides, as this article for Global Finance magazine points out, since “the parties to a derivative contract are seldom required to pay out the full value of the asset”, the notional amount outstanding does not reflect the “actual risk” that traders take.
If anything, this is likely to trouble the observer even further: How is it possible that derivatives derive their value from an underlying asset, but don’t have to pay the full value of that asset – or, in the case of most exchange-traded commodities futures, don’t have to deliver the underlying asset? As Mazen Labban points out in this brilliant Geoforum article, only 2-3% of the sweet crude futures traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange were settled for actual delivery in 2002. How can you enter into a contract to buy an asset at a set price on a given day (the value of the contract being derived from the value of the underlying asset), but not have to deliver that underlying asset when the contract matures? The simple answer is that exposure to derivatives trades are now frequently ‘netted out’ between the firms who trade them. But accounting for this state of affairs in historical and sociological terms is a little less straightforward.
For some of the earliest sociological and anthropological commentators on derivatives, Edward LiPuma and Benjamin Lee, the ascent of derivatives (especially currency derivatives) since the 1970s represents a shift in ‘the globalizing process’. more...
Much academic literature has been written about behaviour change. The traditional, ‘common-sense’ view is that attitudes precede behaviours, as stated in Azjen’s Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB). This model has influenced policy-makers to seek to change citizens’ behaviour by simply providing information or providing feedback about the impacts of behaviour – on outcomes like our health, personal finances, the wellbeing of others, or the environment – and then hoping that enlightened citizens will do the rest.
But this ‘ABC’ model of behaviour change (Attitudes->Behaviour->Change) model has come under criticism because, in reality, we often see a gap between what people think or say they should do, and what they actuallydo. This attitude-behaviour gap is sometimes explained by Social Practice theorists who highlight the ‘stickiness’ of practices (the ways we eat, work, travel, take holidays, socialise etc) which are slow to change, due to complex cultural or technological barriers. more...
Writing for the Guardian’s Comment is Free blog yesterday, David Graeber warned that we may be heading towards yet another crisis of the kind we saw in 2007–08. In his Comment, Graeber takes to task George Osborne’s 2015 Mansion House speech (or rather the logic underpinning it), in which Osborne made a commitment to run a budget surplus in ‘normal times’, much to the consternation of dozens of academic economists. It seems that the utterly misleading and moralizing analogies so frequently made between well–disciplined householders ‘tightening their belts’ when times are tough, and the national government cutting its spending to pay down its debts – part of the mythos termed ‘mediamacro’ by Oxford macroeconomist Simon Wren-Lewis – simply won’t go away. And yet, as Graeber shows, “the less the government is in debt, the more everyone else is…If the government reduces its debt, everyone else has to go into debt in exactly that proportion in order to balance their own budgets.” Everyone cannot simultaneously ‘balance their budgets’ and continue to interact, because all money is debt, as the Bank of England ‘revealed’ in January 2014: “Rather than banks receiving deposits when households save and then lending them out, bank lending creates deposits.”
Similarly, at last week’s launch of his new bookBetween Debt and the Devil, Lord Adair Turner, who took over the Financial Services Authority as the 2007–08 crisis began to unfold, suggested that the UK has reached a position in which our debts are not being paid down, but simply shuffled back–and–forth between the public and private sectors – though the vast majority of ‘private sector’ lending is going into a game of property speculation played by the wealthiest, at the expense of the most vulnerable. For those seeking to make sociological sense of this scenario, the recent work of Stefano Sgambati, at the University of Naples Federico II, provides one of the most powerful pathways to making political and theoretical sense of money, debt and finance in the modern economy.
News coverage of protests and the activists which engage in them forms into patterns; media tends to highlight the extreme, irrational, angry, and violent segments of collective action (Corrigall-Brown and Wilkes 2012; Winter and Klaehn 2005). We can turn to the recent example of the Black Lives Matter movement shown shouting down presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Why does the nature of news media depictions of activists’ emotional expressions matter? Evoking the wrong emotion in the public can alienate potential supporters. In the United States emotion and rationality are still often treated as dichotomous and mutually exclusive perspectives (Goodwin, Jasper, and Polletta 2001). Being classified as overly emotional or having the improper emotional response can undermine activist attempts to be considered legitimate in the eyes of the public.
Doubtless I am not alone among the contributors to Sociology Lens in having been exposed, during my first year as an undergraduate, to an array of foundational thinkers in sociology (and anthropology) who present human history as a movement away from ‘traditional’, ‘face–to–face’ or ‘kinship–based’ societies, towards those in which interaction and identity is less relational, and more individualized. Such theorizing is not only limited to the classical sociologists who wrote in the 1900s, like Ferdinand Tönnies and Émile Durkheim; it resurfaces again in the sociology of the 1990s. In the writings of Anthony Giddens, “the self” is seen less as a product of interactions and relations with others, and more as a matter of individual “self–fashioning.” Or, as Giddens (now Baron Giddens) wrote in 1991, “in the context of a post–traditional order, the self becomes a reflexive project” (p. 32).
And yet, this literature on individualization and self–fashioning as the signature mode of existence in ‘modernity’, associated not only with Giddens but also with Ulrich Beck and Zygmunt Bauman, becomes increasingly difficult to square with the ongoing proliferation of apparently ‘social’ measures and projects: from ‘social enterprise’ or ‘social business’ and ‘social return on investment’, to the even more ubiquitous social media platforms and social marketing initiatives. In the UK, the National Centre for Social Marketing describes social marketing as an approach that uses behavioural economics (see Roger Tyers’ post for Sociology Lenshere) to change behaviour for the benefit of “society as a whole.” Similarly, the UK’s national body for social enterprise describes such enterprises as businesses that “trade to tackle social problems…when they profit, society profits.” And the New Economics Foundation’s vision of social return on investment tools are described as alternatives to conventional cost–benefit analysis, which “does not consider anything beyond simple costs and price.” Social return on investment tools thus incorporate “social factors” when accounting for the value generated by an investment. more...
Today is the last day of the American Sociology Association’s annual meeting. In honor of this year’s theme Sexualities in the Social World, I wanted to bring attention to the troubling trend of murders of transgender women. First, I introduce what little data exists about the experiences of trans women. Then I consider three existing groups of social movement activists that could act as allies to the transgender community and the presence of barriers which might inhibit the building of coalitions aimed toward stopping these deaths.
There is a dearth of reliable statistics on the murder of trans women. Thankfully, organizations which serve the transgender population and their allies in the academy have embarked upon a mission to attempt to fill this gap. To date only one national study has been conducted; the National Transgender Discrimination Survey was spear-headed by the National LGBTQ Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality. This study found transgender women experience disturbingly high rates of violence and assault. In 2013, 72% of all victims of murder motivated by anti-LGBTQ sentiment were transgender women.
Currently the National Center for Transgender Equality is distributing the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey (USTS). (Editor’s note: if you are a transgender person who is interested in participating you can find the survey here!) However, the time investment which a massive undertaking of this type demands means for the near future we will continue to operate without a full understanding of who constitutes the transgender population and the conditions of their lives.
Due to a dearth of scientific studies on the topic, the responsibility of data collection has fallen on activists and sympathetic media outlets. The LGBTQ periodical The Advocate has recorded the dates and circumstances of the murders of trans women killed in 2015. The publication has strived to preserve these deceased women’s lives by including their photographs and short biographies. As of August 18th, 17 trans women have been murdered in 2015 alone.
For the first time in the history of FIFA’s 2015 Women’s World Cup, the competition is being played on artificial turf. Consequently coverage leading up to the first match between home team Canada and China tended to focus less on predicting outcomes of the game and more on the material of the pitch. Players and their supporters raised objections in an effort to express discontent and to attempt to change FIFA’s new and to-many-puzzling policy much like a social movement might engage in framing. This comparison is appropriate because a hierarchal, non-democratic institution handed down the policy, leaving no built-in space for discussion or recourse. Appealing for change in this instance is very much like petitioning a government.
Framing theory is a dominant thread of social movement research that may help us understand how the players and others who advocated in their stead approached challenging FIFA’s decree. Collective action frames name a problem (“diagnostic framing”) and endorse a particular solution (“prognostic framing”) but they also serve to mobilize the affected and their sympathizers (“motivation framing”)(Snow and Benford 1988). I will argue those who have questioned FIFA’s turf decision have employed all three of these strategies to varying degrees of success.
First we must identify who has petitioned for change. Abby Wambach, illustrious forward of the reigning champions and holder of the international record for goals scored of any gender, has lead the charge but she is flanked by teammates and members of rival squads alike. Sports journalists have been vocal and male allies from a variety of backgrounds have raised objections as well-Tom Hanks, Kobe Bryant, and Tim Howard among them. There is also a precedent for understanding sports as “space for politics” in which soccer fans have agitated for changes they would like to see implemented.
In general, the women’s framing has taken a shotgun style approach-throw everything at the wall and see what will stick-but three frames which combine empirical evidence and appeals to emotions have been consistently employed.. The first two-legalistic unfairness and undue predictability in game play-have been predominantly raised by affected players while the third-potential for injuries-is popular with both players and external parties.
Last fall, a group of women players representing at least a dozen countries attempted to sue FIFA in the Human Rights Tribune of Ontario for alleged violations Canada’s Human Rights Code which guarantees equal access to facilities . The legal suit represents claimants’ attempts to classify the decision to play on turf as a symptom of gender inequality targeting women. The second frame blends with the third at the edges. Turf requires a different style of play due to the inability to anticipate the way the ball will bounce compared to grass fields. This unpredictability has also lead to women being more reserved for fear of destroying the resource that enables them to play the game- their bodies.
Numerous sports journalists, medical professionals and players have highlighted the increased potential for injuries. Sydney LeRoux Dwyer, another forward for the United States’ team, posted a graphic picture to Twitter displaying her resulting injuries.
Collective action frames are not pre-packaged beliefs but meanings and narratives produced over time that tie together facts, assumptions, and intent. Social movement actors and organizations-or in this instance, women soccer players and their sympathizers-make framing choices-both deliberately and incidentally-that affect how they present their claims about reality, particularly what they identify as their locus for change and their beliefs about how to secure it. Any singular conception of a problem that is presented is interwoven with assumptions about the origin and nature of the conflict, which can preclude the applicability, marketability, and even identification of potential solutions. In this instance, for example, the perception that playing on turf disproportionately affects one gender guided the players’ decisions to pursue legal action. Moreover, the latter two frames are undergirded by assumptions that sporting competitions should be fair and minimize harm to their participants.
Borrowing from extant cultural scripts with which audiences are already acquainted can be one means of garnering credibility and salience (Spillman 1995). Conversely, previously conditioned scripts may also act as a barrier if social movement claims counter existing assumptions. Accordingly, the relative powerlessness of individual women soccer players, cultural norms that diminish the value of women athletes relative to men athletes, the United States’ lack of national investment in the sport, and the few other professional options available for women players could prevent the success of their framing efforts. To boycott FIFA’s decision by abstaining from playing in the World Cup, as was suggested in the wake of the failed lawsuit, would be to forfeit the rare time and energy devoted to women’s soccer on the international stage. Furthermore, while one’s role obviously affects one’s perspective on the turf, but it may also impact audience reception of claims. While many seem receptive to criticisms of FIFA’s decision, plenty of Twitter commentary suggests otherwise, casting outspoken women players as ‘whiny babies’ who should ‘man up.’
Despite the popularity of framing attempts, their multiple approaches to framing were unsuccessful in changing the turf for this year’s Women’s World Cup. The legal suit was rejected and FIFA held firm. Unlike in the past when sports teams have attempted to procure public funds to implement changes perceived as necessary, several private companies have offered to pay to install grass. FIFA claims their reticence to change was because Canada’s original bid for the Women’s 2015 World Cup specified field turf. FIFA’s recalcitrance may be an issue of the absence of a financial incentive. As of June 14, the 2015 Women’s World Cup had seen a 30% increase in ticket sales from the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany.
Recent revelations of rampant corruption in FIFA’s operations may provide a political opportunity to prevent turf from being relied upon in the future. On one hand, FIFA officials’ impropriety reflects poorly on the organization as a whole and casts doubt on their internal calculus. Their decision-making processes being called into question in one realm could generate a public relations kerfuffle that discourages the organization from making contested decisions in the future. On the other hand, the hubbub surrounding the men’s 2022 World Cup to be held in Qatar may deflect attention away from the issue women players have furiously tried to make central. If FIFA’s poor management does not spark change for future Women’s World Cups, the outcome of this year’s competition may serve as a lesson. If major outliers are removed, this World Cup’s games have averaged half a goal less from 2011. For a sport notoriously beleaguered by long periods of inaction, declines in exciting plays may be a relevant future consideration for its governing body.
Snow, David A., and Robert D. Benford.1988. “Ideology, Frame Resonance, and Participant Mobilization.” International Social Movement Research 1(1): 197-217.
Spillman, Lyn. 1995. “Culture, Social Structures, and Discursive Fields.” Current Perspectives in Social Theory. 15(1): 129-154.
I will never forget my first Pride. I was living in New York City for the summer working as an intern at the Human Rights Watch. The office, last minute, decided to join the parade with people from the office and their families marching with signs regarding LGBT human rights issues. I got to carry the HRW banner (pictured above, I’m on the right) that read clearly “Tyranny has a Witness.” How many people can actually say their first Pride was one that you got to be in the parade, let alone in New York City? The whole parade we walked the behind a float with drag queens that had “It’s Raining Men” on repeat. I’ll never forget watching the people on the sides, decked out in rainbow flags from head to toe, and a few protesters with signs. When we got to Christopher Street, the home of Stonewall Inn, the crowd thickened with hoards of people waiting to party the night away. Being in that parade was electrifying. Being part of an event that celebrated diversity and human rights and my (not then out) self is something I will never forget.
But what is forgotten throughout Pride month is the history of the LGBT rights movement and why we celebrate. (Hint: it’s not about marriage equality). What is lost amongst the corporate sponsorship is the message of visible difference in the street, marching to take back our space and to celebrate ourselves and to celebrate being different. What is erased is the diversity within the LGBT community, along with the white-washing, patriarchal, and homonormative reduction of a group of individuals to a singular community. While my post today is not meant to retell the entire history of the LGBT rights movement, it is important to know that it doesn’t begin with Stonewall. So then, why do we always attribute that last Sunday in June to the riots that served as a “shot heard around the world?” Is the original tradition of Pride dead?
Sociology Lens aims to offer a lively and informative venue for faculty, graduate students and the wider public to discuss current issues in sociology. The site is a companion to the online review journal, Sociology Compass.