Artwork: Sumi Perera RE (2015) 'White Collar' []
Artwork: Sumi Perera RE (2015) ‘White Collar’ []

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...

By Museo de la Educación - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
By Museo de la Educación – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Officials need to be held responsible for recognizing and acknowledging systems of inequality and injustice within their organizations. As leaders, as deans, as CEOs, as presidents, as the heads of operations for companies, educational institutions, governments, etc. individuals and teams of individuals holding leadership positions should be held accountable for the systems of inequality that are allowed to persists under their leadership. A now infamous example of such an instance is the University of Missouri’s former president Timothy Wolfe. Wolfe’s resignation came from the culmination of inaction from a series of events that promoted racial inequality on his campus. It was not until the university faced extreme financial obligations from an impending fine did Wolfe finally resign as opposed to resigning for the reasons initially called for which was the recognition of racial prejudices and overt discriminatory acts that were happening throughout the campus. more...

Members of the 86th Airlift Wing base honor guard conduct a flag-folding ceremony during the Ramstein Honor Guard Appreciation Day, Sept. 11, 2009, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.   (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Charity Barrett)
Members of the 86th Airlift Wing base honor guard conduct a flag-folding ceremony during the Ramstein Honor Guard Appreciation Day, Sept. 11, 2009, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Charity Barrett)

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs handles the claims, benefits, and memorial services for veterans as well as provide services for their spouses and dependents. However a long-standing problem with this office is the expected turn around with claims processing that often leaves many veterans and their families without adequate healthcare or other benefit support. Given the debate in the United States with the Affordable Care Act and its comparability to other Western Hemisphere countries that have initiated universal healthcare, the U.S, Department of Veteran Affairs offers juxtaposition to U.S. healthcare and other countries’ initiatives as well. With the public support for the troops in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) wars it seems there should be an equal amount of support for veterans’ benefits and policy implementing access to said benefits. more...

Photo by Nathan Keay, (c) MCA Chicago: William Kentridge (1995-96), 'Drawing for the film History of the Main Complain'
Photo by Nathan Keay, (c) MCA Chicago: William Kentridge (1995-96), ‘Drawing for the film History of the Main Complaint’

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 book Between 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.


"Natural Afro American Hair" by AveryScott - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
“Natural Afro American Hair” by AveryScott – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

The term “natural hair” is used in the African American community to differentiate between hair that has been left in its natural state and hair which has been permed (which is to permanently straighten the hair follicle with chemicals). African American hair in its natural state appears tightly coiled or kinky and is often socially stigmatized. Social stigmas are any idea that individuals associate with negative connotations. Many individuals would agree that hair is a prevailing symbol of one’s self and self-expression, contributing much stake towards one’s identity. As social norms change over time, so do the effects of symbols that an individual imposes on their social reality; as a consequence of being symbolic in society, hair speaks to a person’s status, power, beauty and beliefs (Bellinger 2007). Hair speaks to one’s character and is representative of their status in society. Hair is also a measure of beauty and how one styles their hair affects one’s level of beauty in society more...


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 Lens here) 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...

(Photo from Flickr user thisisbossi)
(Photo from Flickr user thisisbossi)

I recently came across an article on my Facebook feed about high school senior Ronald Nelson, who was accepted into all 8 ivy league colleges (among other highly competitive schools). The article discussed how, despite this amazing opportunity for Nelson to attend arguably one of the better colleges in the nation, he ultimately chose to attend University of Alabama (which is still a decent school). According to Business Insider, “After some thought and consideration of all the schools’ offers, Nelson decided it wouldn’t be worth the financial strain to use this money on his undergraduate education.”

Talk about the rising costs and burden of affording college is everywhere. The Wall Street Journal just announced that the graduating class of 2014 has the highest student debt in history, with the average student owing $33,000 after college. So for Nelson, attending a less competitive school that offered him a full ride scholarship was a strategy, as he plans on attending graduate school (where that debt only accumulates…). Seems like a smart choice, right?

Not according to Sociologists of Education who study and believe in undermatching theory.


By ENERGY.GOV (Delphi Automotive Systems) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By ENERGY.GOV (Delphi Automotive Systems) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In early April, 2015, a self-driving car completed a 9 day cross country tour from San Francisco to New York City.  During the 9 day adventure, the car was fully automated for 99% of the trip – relying on its humans only to enter and exit the interstates.  The Audi car supported technology made by Delphi which uses a combination of advanced features already on the market including collision mitigation, integrated radar and camera systems, forward collision and lane departure warning.  While the company certainly used the trip to promote its products the more pressing purpose was to collect data – a lot of data – more than 3 terabytes of data over the nine days (about 30% of what’s on record at the Library of Congress) because the car’s technology needs to learn. more...

Photo by: Lori Stamm, used with expressed permission of photographer
Photo by: Lori Stamm, used with expressed permission of photographer

I am a traditional parent and I began my parenting journey while in graduate school.  I am traditional in that boring two-parent household, two incomes, one dog, two children and a whole mess of bills, kind of way.  What makes us interesting however is how we partner in our parenting and household maintenance.  I know, I know – what’s new or progressive about being partners, isn’t that more of the same old style?  Not quite.  I’m serious when I say we are parenting as equals and it mattered A LOT to my work/life balance while earning a PhD.


 Graduate Student Advice Month

Picture from:


Nobody really knows what is like to do a PhD until they do one. I am half way through mine and I still only half know what it is like to do one very specific PhD: my own. Everyone’s experience is unique to their own research topic, their own field site and their own personality, but many of the challenges, pressures and anxieties we encounter are more similar than we realise. We all seem to spend most of our time oscillating between contradictory emotions (hope and despair, enthusiasm and exhaustion, excitement and frustration), hoping that eventually all of this turmoil might (miraculously) become something worthy of calling a thesis.

I wouldn’t really call the following five things ‘advice’, and they are by no means a description of how I have been approaching my own research so far. At best, they are a few things that I now know I need to keep reminding myself of, and that other researchers might be able to identify with. more...