By Runner1616 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Runner1616 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

The depiction of crime in fictional mass media occurs differently for people depending on the color of their skin and what this color has come to symbolize in such a complex system of race, ethnicity, and stratification in the United States. 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.

more...


By AIGA. Uploaded to Commons by User:ChrisRuvolo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Like millions of others – possibly including yourself – I passed through several airports this summer (Remember summer?). But – perhaps unlike you – I obsess about airports, maybe because air travel forms a key part of my studies, or because I’m just something of an aero-geek. I mean, I was in the air cadets for two years as a teenager. But if you think about it, airports are strange, unique kinds of places. more...

Image: http://internet-map.net/
Image: http://internet-map.net/

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...


Picture used courtesy of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3099736/Holidaymakers-misery-boat-people-Syria-Afghanistan-seeking-asylum-set-migrant-camp-turn-popular-Greek-island-Kos-disgusting-hellhole.html

You have to hand it to the Daily Mail. Their writers have perfected the art of pressing people’s buttons; of making highly divisive clickbait, or, as my dad might’ve said, of stirring up sh*t. Last week’s article about British tourists in Greece being outraged by the influx of refugees coming from Turkey caused plenty of outrage and counter-outrage both online and in other parts of the British press. Even by its own standards of outrage, this was outrageously outrageous. Job well done Daily Mail.

The Mail highlighted the incongruous mix of outsiders that have been arriving on the island of Kos in recent weeks. One group are refugees from Syria and Afghanistan, who are seeking refuge in Europe from war, homelessness, and complete desperation back home. The other group are middle- or working-class white holiday-makers from the UK who go to Kos for sun, sea, booze and food. These two groups are not supposed to meet. This isn’t in the script. They might gaze upon at each other’s worlds briefly on TV or computer screens, but physical co-presence between these two worlds is not supposed to happen.  more...

student-panelThis article is making its way through my news feed again, despite the fact that it is more than 2 years old.  Fresh comments, fresh outrage from the community.  Students experiencing race-based standards give interviews on NPR about how these standards make them feel and think while they are inside the classroom.  To date my favorite casual observational comment about having different standards for different sets of students based on their race is, “based upon their race?  The only race is human”.  IF these standards a way for the public education policy to attempt to acknowledge the reality of racial differences then they are misunderstanding the way structural differences are reproduced.   Racism Without Racists, by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva tackles the topics of racism and social stratification through a paradoxical lens of how people see themselves as racialized beings. more...

OliverNetNeutrality

This weekend, a House oversight committee announced plans to investigate the Presidential influence over the Federal Communications Commission’s new proposal governing how broadband providers treat traffic on their networks.  This investigation is a response to the FCC Chairman’s proposal to subject broadband providers like Verizon, AT&T, Clearwire, and Comcast to regulations similar to those of other utility service companies.  According to an op-ed written by Tome Wheeler, the FCC Chairman, the regulations include “the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC”. more...

x6fugx
Meritocracy: a universally available golden escalator to a life of high status and luxury?

 

When Young (1970) conceived of the meritocracy it was a satirical device to draw attention to a possible dystopian future where everyone is stratified in concrete by their I.Q.: the sub-optimal intelligent condemned to a meaningless existence. The meaning of meritocracy has evolved (Allen 2011) to become a discursive device. Politicians from all major parties now clamour for the moral high ground by claiming making society more meritocratic is their political raison d’etre. The Deputy Prime Minister, for example said exactly that; “It’s the reason I do this job” (Clegg, 2012). Indeed meritocracy’s conceptual power is far reaching:

“Meritocracy as an abstract ideal is also a measure of progress, where more advanced societies are held to be those that are more meritocratic. They make fewer decisions based on prejudice and extend opportunity further. Meritocracy is sometimes used as a measure of corruption, where corrupt societies or corrupt institutions are thought to be those that disobey the formula: merit = ability + effort. Meritocratic societies are open and fair, non-meritocratic ones are obscure and underhand. Justice, social cohesion, progress, fairness and transparency, these are the timeless ideas upon which meritocracy is presumed to rest.” (Allen 2011, p2) more...

Bulletproof Coffee Pic

At a health food café in central London, I recently drank my first ‘Bulletproof Coffee,’  a surprisingly ingestible blend of espresso, butter and coconut oil which has a texture not dissimilar to yak butter tea. To be precise, Bulletproof® Coffee ought to be made with a blend of grass-fed butter, Upgraded™ coconut oil (from upgradedself.com) and low-toxin Bulletproof® Upgraded™ Coffee Beans. And it is indeed no coincidence that Bulletproof Coffee tastes a little like yak butter tea. Dave Asprey, the ‘Bulletproof Executive’ was struck with the inspiration he needed to develop the drink during a yak butter tea break on a climb of Tibet’s Mount Kailash. As for why I found it in a health food café – and why all the concern with the quality and composition of the ingredients? Well, Bulletproof Coffee enthusiasts overlap significantly with fans of the ‘paleo diet,‘ which is designed to imitate as far as possible the pre-neolithic dietary ecology to which our hunter-gatherer ancestors were adapted.

There is indeed some good anthropological evidence showing that diets of contemporary hunter-gatherers – including those that are high in animal fats – reduce the risk of chronic ‘diseases of civilization’ like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. There are however equally good reasons to question the notion that we and our food species ended our evolutionary relationship before the neolithic revolution. (And using studies of contemporary hunter-gatherer populations to make claims about ‘paleo’ lifestyles can easily slip into ahistorical retellings of what Adam Kuper terms the myth of primitive society.)  So what really intrigues (and frankly disturbs) me about Bulletproof Coffee is precisely the extent to which it comes wrapped up in a discourse that you might term ‘paleo-primitivism.’ In telling the story of Bulletproof Coffee’s origins, Dave Asprey marries his enthusiasm for the paleo diet with a depiction of Sherpas as ‘ubermen’ or ‘a race of Bulletproof genetic freaks.’ Asprey’s fascination with both yak butter tea and the genetics of the Tibetan ‘ubermen’ is presented on his website in terms of his interest in biohacking. The biohacking discourse surrounding Bulletproof Coffee seems to reveal quite neatly something about the idea of the ‘hacker’ that Brett Scott recently discussed in a piece for STIR Magazine. The figure of the hacker exemplifies collective possibilities for creative and mischievous subversion of contemporary capitalist organization – but it can also reflect an avowedly individualistic, masculine libertarian drive towards self-empowerment through those same stifling structures. more...

Jill Quadagno The Color of Welfare: How Racism Undermined The War on Poverty Eminent Scholar Florida State University
Jill Quadagno
The Color of Welfare: How Racism Undermined The War on Poverty
Eminent Scholar
Florida State University

In 1994 Jill Quadagno published The Color of Welfare: How Racism Undermined the War on Poverty.  To celebrate the 20th anniversary of this highly influential text, Dr. Quadagno did a series of media interviews two days.  She also graciously sat down with me for an informal chat about what she believes to be the lasting outcome of The War on Poverty. more...