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Photo Source: https://pixabay.com/en/people-crowded-steps-walking-692005/

For LGBTQ people, public space is fraught with potential dangers, harassment, and discrimination. Over the past few months I have been researching how LGBTQ people learn to navigate space and its political implications.

Public space is the stage in which the sociopolitical plays out. How people present themselves and how people respond to such presentations is inherently a political struggle. Noting that gender is part of our performance is important to analyzing gender as a political act, as well as a potentially subversive threat to gender norms.

For LGBTQ people, performing their selves in public space is potentially threatening. Hate crimes against LGBTQ people often are predicated on a number of factors such as public displays of affection, non-normative gender performances, and “queer” signifiers. For LGBTQ people, navigating public space is loaded with political implications. First, social policing from others poses a real threat to ones well being, and second that transgressing gender in the public space is a way to create visibility for LGBTQ people. How LGBTQ people enact themselves in public requires a particular calculation between self-expression, political subversion, and the threat of social policing.

The concept of “passing” is particularly important, yet dubious for LGBTQ people. Being able to “pass” as heterosexual, cisgendered, and normative poses a number of advantages to navigating space. To an extent, LGBTQ people might manage their outward appearances and behavior to “pass” as normative. However, for many LGBTQ people this is not such a simple concept. Self-censorship and monitoring can lead to internalized homophobia, shame, and lack of self-esteem for LGBTQ people. It’s also particularly detrimental to non-heterosexual relationships in its limitation of where couples can go and where affection can be enacted.

Dominant conceptions of gender can be problematic for those who do not fit into them. Men may face stigma for being seen as effeminate. Women who are already at risk for sexual assault may be more at risk if their non-heterosexuality is seen as threatening to hegemony. Anyone who enacts non-normative gender expression may face particular negative attention and violence from those who seek to eradicate their difference.

For trans women of color, public space can be very difficult. Since trans women of color face disproportionate rates of murder, harassment, and incarceration, public space can be extremely dangerous. Though all LGBTQ people may face harassment, transwomen of color are often labeled by others as “mentally unstable,” “deviant,” and “radicals.” The intersections of oppression transwomen may face can make public life a difficulty. The matrix of oppressions and stigmas faced by people carrying multiple stigmatized and stereotyped identities makes achieving fulfillment and safety a much more difficult and inaccessible civic right.

“Safe spaces” for LGBTQ people may be difficult to come by. Often, physical markers such as flags, slogans and names that signify tolerance are all employed by spaces to to demonstrate they are safe, or perhaps, safer spaces. The Internet has created a new method of disseminating information about where “safe spaces” are. Information about where LGBTQ people can go for recreation, recourses, and comfort has become easier, although still imperfect.

All the above is a problem, not just for individuals but also for the community. The importance of being able to find and create community is contingent on one’s ability to be open, safe, and free to express oneself. Going forwards in the future, the LGBTQ community will have to pay attention to this issue, in the interest of preserving culture, well being, and interpersonal relationships. Not merely must public policy change to reflect this need, but our culture must change to accommodate the community.

That public space is inherently a political space means that power dynamics are always in play. And while identification of spaces and personal strategies for safety are important in the short term, an important political project might be to make spaces safer for all LGBTQ people regardless of how adept they are at “passing” or “navigating” spaces. I believe one of the most pertinent political projects for LGBTQ people should be an attention to public space. The creation of safety for LGBTQ people is an issue of overlooked importance, particularly for those of multiple oppressed identities.

 

For more information visit:

http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/hate-crimes-and-violence-against-lgbt-people

http://www.advocate.com/crime/2014/12/09/us-1-5-reported-hate-crimes-target-gay-or-bi-victims

http://www.avp.org/storage/documents/Training%20and%20TA%20Center/FORGE_Trans_People_Police_Incarceration_Facts.pdf

 

Booker Dabydeen

On Tuesday, Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings was awarded the Man Booker Prize for 2015 at the City of London’s Guildhall (an institution about which I wrote for Sociology Lens last year). James’ book is an imagined retelling of the attempt made on Bob Marley’s life in 1976, and the first novel by a Jamaican writer to win the Prize, which now comes with a £50,000 cheque, having been introduced with a purse of £5,000 in 1969. Jamaican poet Kei Miller has suggested that James’ win heralds a new era in Caribbean writing, rejecting the apparent choice between the poles of ‘sacred’ reverence and gentle, mocking ‘satire’ that seem to have characterized Caribbean fiction to date. This new era, argues Miller, is one propelled by “a new generation of writers who had all the resources of creolised Englishes and the uncanny stories that they witnessed first-hand growing up on the islands, but who would also gain other, technical, resources from taking creative writing courses across the world and forming a community with other writers.” And here, in James’ win, and Miller’s response to it, can be found all that has, perhaps surprisingly, made the Booker Prize a favourite topic not only of literature professors, but of sociologists and management scholars too.

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"Natural Afro American Hair" by AveryScott - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Natural_Afro_American_Hair.jpg#/media/File:Natural_Afro_American_Hair.jpg
“Natural Afro American Hair” by AveryScott – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Natural_Afro_American_Hair.jpg#/media/File:Natural_Afro_American_Hair.jpg

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...

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Source: https://pixabay.com/en/anger-angry-bad-isolated-dangerous-18615/

 

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.

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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...

 

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(Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Igualtat_de_sexes.svg)

 

One of sociology’s main critiques revolves around neoliberalism, and its implications on everyday life in a capitalistic society. Yet, individuals do not comprehend what these implications are for those who identify as LGBTQ. As of recently, there are a plethora of articles illustrating some of the consequences that occur in this new neoliberal society. For example, John P. Elia and Gust A. Yep stated in their article, “Sexualities and Genders in an Age of Neoterrorism:” more...

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Photo Credit: Unsplash (Public Domain)

There have been innumerable pieces dedicated towards labeling the millennial generation with negative qualities. The generation is usually targeted with the following complaints:

  1. Narcissistic
  2. Entitled
  3. Apathetic
  4. Immature

I think these arguments have been poorly constructed. They’re often more symptomatic of a fear of what is new. I will explore these four critiques and offer what about them actually makes millennials an interesting, unique and a positive generation. One that is capable of making changes to the world around them.

  1. Narcissistic: In Defense of the Selfie

There is the supposition that millennials are narcissists, self-obsessed enough to post pictures of themselves, about the minutiae of their activities, and endlessly seeking to accrue “likes” from others. What’s not talked about is the possibility of radical self-affirmation that millennial are exploring through the internet as a medium. Yes, social media prompts us to document ourselves. Why is this so bad? In a sense, sharing ourselves, our interests, our activities, our feelings, and our image enables new possibilities for individuals to create community. Considering that adolescents (particularly women) are likely to suffer from lower self-esteem, one’s choice to explore their own self-image, to craft how we see our selves and project this to others, as well as affirm our friends’ and family’s own projected selves offers a new type of self-authorship. When a friend posts a picture of themselves, has a moment of positivity towards their own appearance, and when others lend support to this, I find it difficult to find that insidious, selfish, or terrible.

  1. Entitled: In Defense of Our Work

Millennials are supposedly lazy. Older generations accuse them of being non-self-starters, unable to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and find jobs in a job market that is not flourishing or receptive to a new generation attempting to move in. But considering how many millennials move into the job market only to find themselves taking unpaid internships, jobs bellow their skill level, or flatly unemployable says more about our society than it does our generation. There are social forces at work, and the naivety of assuming self-reliance is outdated, narrow minded, and socially unaware.

  1. Apathetic: In Defense of Our Efforts

Millennials are not apathetic. Our engagement with the Internet has opened us up to new ideas. That social movements like #BlackLivesMatter have taken off on the much derided social medium of twitter is symptomatic of something entirely different. Our generation has participated in new social movements, ones that are entirely contingent on the utilization of new technology. To discount it is to discount the work of many millennial activists who have been doing work to make the world better and kinder.

  1. Immature: In Defense of Our Potential

There is a type of binary thinking that is applied to younger generations. If they watch silly Reality TV Shows and do silly dances, isn’t it a sign that behind it all they’re really immature? Unable to grow up? I think this is a profound generalization. Pop culture has always had disposable, and easily derided aspects of it gives older generations the impression that the world is burning. But to view our collective interest in Kim Kardashian as symptomatic of a deep cultural malaise is incredibly cynical. Is it somehow not possible, are we not able to have the perspective to view pop culture as non-specific to millennials? Pop culture has constantly been derided by older generations who find themselves lost in today’s world. The good news? This has happened for time immemorial for generation upon generation. We will not go down in history for the ephemeral aesthetics, the fashion trends or other minute details. Millennials have more potential than that, more heart than they’re given credit for and have the ability to make changes using the technology they’re so seamlessly integrated in.

In summation, it’s easy to write off an entire generation for aspects that are trivial. It’s much harder to explore the positive side: to see millennials as possessing unique capabilities and harnessing them for good, or to see a group of marginalized people taking charge of their narratives via the much dismissed “social network” sites that are more opportunity than calamity. Millennials have so much to bring to the table, and it’s time for us as a culture to take stock of that.

Further Reading:
“Why You Shouldn’t Ignore The Millennial Generation” in Huffington Post
Why You Can’t Ignore Millennials” in Forbes Magazine


Corbyn on the front bench of the House of Commons for his first PMQs.

Yesterday I had to pinch myself when I saw Jeremy Corbyn on the front benches of the House of Commons, facing David Cameron as the leader of the British Labour party. Corbyn is the man who has spent all of his adult lifetime on the fringes of mainstream politics, an unapologetic socialist campaigner who has fought many of the battles of the left: against South African apartheid and Thatcherite deindustrialisation in the 1980s, against the introduction of university tuition fees in the late 1990s, against the invasion of Iraq in the 2000s, against government austerity since 2010, and, like me, a lifelong campaigner against nuclear weapons. Since becoming an MP in 1983, Corbyn’s been a member of the awkward squad on the far-left of the Labour party, someone who could usually be ignored by his old bosses Blair, Brown and Miliband.

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"BritishMuseumReadingroom" by Riccardo Cambiassi from London, United Kingdom - BlogWalk - British Museum + Power Law. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
BritishMuseumReadingroom” by Riccardo Cambiassi from London, United Kingdom – BlogWalk – British Museum + Power Law. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Being a WOC (Woman of Color) or MOC (Man of Color) in a graduate program is a unique experience. The opportunities made available to you become a great resource for networking, strengthening a skillset, and producing valuable research that provides a unique contribution to your field. Some departments offer grants to their graduate students while some pay for tuition waivers, however some students are left to fend for their own sources of funding. During this period of learning to become a graduate student and all that the title entails, it can become difficult for one to navigate. While the majority of graduate students have to go through an adjustment period, there are certain adjustments that graduate students who hold a minority status have to deal with that many students who meet the requirements of being a member of a dominant status group do not have to experience. While many scholarships and awards are available and designed to seek out minority students, it is still the case that the majority of scholarships go to White students. Similarly on the receiving end, many MOC faculty, and especially WOC faculty consistently receive lower student evaluations and retention rates from their universities of employ (Pittman 2010). These statistics are the result of various interactions that have taken place over time that some would describe as the consequence of racial microaggressions.

Racial microaggressions are derogatory and negative insults or interactions that occur on a day-to-day basis against a specific person or racial group. These insults can be overt or covert but the result is an active form of racism that serves to perpetuate beliefs, ideas, and prescribed stereotypes about racial groups. Given that it has become less socially acceptable to display overt forms of racism, covert displays of microaggressions serve to single-out, disadvantage, or invalidate a person of a specific racial group; even if the intent of the microagression is unintentional, the result is the same. more...


By PierreSelim (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I look at you across the train carriage. I can see the clothes you wear, I can guess the car you drive, possibly take a stab at the house you live in. In my arrogance, I think I’ve got you down. Then you get your phone out and start pushing buttons and swiping around. I can now only see your facial expressions for any clue whatsoever as to what you’re looking at, who you might be messaging, what you might be buying, which newspaper you’re checking. Financial Times or Vice? Candy Crush Saga or Tinder? I can only wonder.

The space between you and the screen is your space. We talk a lot about how we live in a surveillance society, but actually we can now live more secretive and discreet lives than ever. The presentation of the self is far more complicated in a world when we spend significant parts of our time online, not presenting ourselves to anyone much. The websites we visit, the products we buy, the stuff we read, is very much our own business.

We can, of course, leave big clues to all this by sharing and posting stuff on social media, but it appears people are doing this less and less. Last year saw a 9% decline in facebook users, according to GlobalWebIndex (GWI), a research firm that claims to run the largest ongoing study into digital consumption to date.

Many people seem bored of the idea of advertising their every move online. According to the GWI research, around 40% of Facebook users said they had “browsed their newsfeed for updates without posting or commenting on anything” in the last month. We are becoming passive lurkers more than active contributors online. Maybe this reticence is a reaction to the increasing suspicion that our every move online is being monitored by… well, you name it.

Post-Snowden, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google, Facebook, my bank, the companies who made the apps I use, the NSA, ISIS hackers, bored geeks and con-artists, ANYONE, if they were so inclined, could work out my entire life history since about 1998, when I opened my first email account with yahoo. Maybe the knowledge that big brother might be listening is making us say less. Or maybe the novelty of social media is just getting a bit old.

An article in Forbes, citing the GWI research, claims that “Facebook has become more of a passive hub for underlying social connections than a place to actively share our thoughts. And with so many checking Facebook on their smartphones, they’ll often only check in for short periods anyway, leaving little time to do more than browse and maybe “like” a photo or two.”

But to that man sat next to you on the train, or your friends, or even your spouse, most of what we do online is our own business. Maybe we are “being watched by google”, but as long as the people we know are in the dark about our online behaviour, then we are safe from social disapproval, from nosiness, from the pull and drag of social norms, from the shock or disgust of our peers. Who cares if I spend all day looking at immature cartoons, kitten vines, youtube video nasties, or questionable pornography, when there’s no-one there to question it? Within certain limits of blatant illegality (sharing child porn) or suspicious behaviour (following ISIS on twitter), we’ll probably get away with anything.

I thought of this as I read of the top twenty books downloaded on amazon, which people can read on their kindle or tablet, and the big difference between this list of ‘guilty pleasures’ and Waterstones’ top-selling paper books of the year. Popular e-books include Fifty Shades of Grey, a few Mills and Boon romance titles and four (four!) adult colouring books.  Waterstones’ list includes more highbrow authors like Colm Tóíbin and Ian McEwan.

The implication is that we buy intelligent paperbacks to show off the front cover to the passenger sitting opposite us, but then download ebooks to indulge our more urges – reading about food, romance, and er… colouring in – safe from the sneering of our peers who can only see the generic grey underside of our Kindle.


By Mia5793 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Badisha, writing in the Guardian says we’re “like American winos, hiding our cheap, nasty, yet oh-so-satisfying liquor in brown paper bags – or the dead grey plastic of a Kindle…We pay for hardback editions of thoughtful, exquisitely written meditations on something or other, which took years to write. But they only take a few seconds to shelve and forget. What we really respond to is the old kiss-kiss-bang-bang, the thrill of the penny dreadful, the glitter of the music hall, the big-screen swoon.”

This thought is interesting to sociologists because the power of social norms is a fundamental tenet of the entire discipline. Remove or at least dilute that power by shrinking our consumption space to that between our eyes and the screen, and the social world starts to look very different.

On the one hand, this might be empowering: minimising the space for social disapproval; reducing the scope for the judgements of others; making conspicuous consumption less… conspicuous. On the other hand, aren’t social norms the ‘invisible hand’ that maintain a functional and cohesive society? What happens when we reduce the power of social norms, and allow ourselves free reign to indulge our every desire in that ‘private’ space between user and screen?

@RogerTyersUK