Ukraine has faced turbulent times over the past few weeks. The current crisis began in November when President Yanukovych rejected financial stabilization talks with the European Union and instead took a bailout from Moscow. Weeks of protests have culminated in the deaths of many protesters and parliament ousting President Viktor Yanukovych, who has fled the capital in Kiev. Elections will likely occur in May, and Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution which toppled Yanukovych a decade ago, is a strong candidate.

While the media spins the protests as a pro-democracy and pro-EU push against a corrupt government, only 43% of Ukranians actually wanted the EU deal, and Yanukovych was actually acting in the favor of the majority. Ukraine has been deeply divided since its independence in 1991. In the country’s east, the majority speak Russian as their first language, where they also have historical and cultural links to Russia. In the west, the Ukrainian-speaking majority would rather see their country identify with Europe and the EU than with Russia.

The conflict in Ukraine is not just an isolated protest against the president or his decision, it may signal a much larger divide in national identity.
Protest events don’t come out of nowhere. They serve as “switchmen” in the development of social movements, existing within a broader context shaped by culture and history.

For more on how sociologists study these kinds of social movements, check out this TSP roundtable.

After going years without an adequate form of gender recognition, Facebook users whose identities do not fit neatly into female-male binaries now have the option of selecting one of 50 options, including “androgynous,” “transgender,” “intersex” and “fluid.”  With an estimated 700,000 individuals in the US who identify as transgender, Facebook hopes that the expanded categories will help validate the gender identities of at least some of its users.

However, there is disagreement about the use of this kind of self-identification. Some seek broader public recognition while others view gender identification as futile.
Labeling categories of gender and sexual orientation may promote a “politics of containment” where society starts to decide who is and is not an “acceptable queer.”
On the other hand, by providing alternative options for gender identification state agencies and community-based service providers can expand access to services for people in poverty.
  • Dean Spade. 2006. “Compliance Is Gendered: Struggling for Gender Self-Determination in a Hostile Economy” in Transgender Rights edited by Paisley Currah, Richard M. Juang, and Shannon Price Minter. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

For more on the recognition of gender categories on Facebook and beyond, check out these recent pieces from Cyborgology and Contexts.

 

Despite being struck down in Kansas and vetoed in Arizona, proposed legislation granting businesses the right to refuse service to customers on the basis of their sexual orientation has been spreading across a number of states this week. As victories for gay rights leave conservative citizens looking for novel ways to fight back, the meaning of religious freedom is called into question. While the line between religious freedom and civil rights often seems like a matter of public opinion, both the enforcement of these laws—if any pass—and the fight against them face a number of institutional hurdles.

Religious and political factors have historically influenced attitudes towards gay marriage. Here’s how:
Public opinion may not be enough to change this kind of legislation, but controversy helps. State governments rely more on public conflict and issue salience as motives to act, and may be bad at protecting the LGBT population from job and housing discrimination “even when the public supports the pro-minority position.”
Moreover, how good is the “gaydar” at these religiously inclined businesses? Sexuality is learned and performed in a wide variety of social situations, and identifying patrons’ sexual orientation might pose more of a challenge than lawmakers think.

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Controversy continues to rage over the alleged “job-killing” effects of the Affordable Care Act and potential increases in the federal minimum wage. Kathleen Sebelius recently weighed in on the Congressional Budget Office’s report about the ACA, reminding us that the CBO’s “2 million jobs lost by 2017” figure comes from Americans cutting their work hours, not employers cutting their jobs to cover healthcare costs. With a new poll showing Americans think the job market is the number-one problem today, however, why would we see these trends? The ACA and a higher minimum wage may not be a job-killers—instead they remind us that employees can demand better working conditions.

We shouldn’t necessarily think of coverage programs in terms of “jobs lost.” Instead, giving employees affordable health coverage may actually free them from “job lock.” Economic research shows that benefit programs can give low-income workers the security and potential mobility to seek out better jobs.
While benefits can give employees the opportunity to quit, organizational characteristics like group job satisfaction and flexibility in the workplace also affect the likelihood that employees will want to quit.

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The recent death of Philip Seymour Hoffman has highlighted the resurgence of heroin use and overdoses in the US. Heroin use doubled between 2007 and 2012. Between 2006 and 2010, there was also a 45% increase in lethal overdoses, up to more than 3,000 deaths per year. The death toll continues to grow, and includes more than 80 deaths over the past few weeks as a result of heroin laced with fentanyl.

The rise in heroin use may be linked with the prevalent use of oxycontin and other opiate-based prescription drugs. The crackdown on illicit use of prescription opiates makes them more expensive, and more users have turned to heroin.
Anti-drug campaigns and moral panics in the media may actually have the unintended effect of promoting, not reducing, substance abuse. In fact, a minority of interviewed users reported seeking out the stronger batches of heroin reported in the media.
Solutions to these problems often focus more on treatment and harm-reduction than tough enforcement of drug laws.

For more on harm-reduction approaches, see this recent Public Criminology post.



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This weekend saw a verdict in the trial of Michael Dunn, accused of killing Florida teen Jordan Davis in 2012. The jury found Dunn guilty on three counts of attempted murder, but declared a mistrial on the murder charge for Davis’ death. According to reports from Al Jazeera America, Dunn’s attorney argued that “there were no signs Dunn was planning the shooting, only firing his gun when he saw Davis wielding a weapon from inside the vehicle and felt threatened.” However, Dunn is white and Davis was black and—with echoes of the George Zimmerman trial still fresh in public memory—supporters of the prosecution argue that shooting was racially motivated and premeditated.

In cases like these, the argument often breaks down to whether violence was racially-motivated or a “colorblind” act of self-defense. However, race structures all parts of the criminal justice system.

Self-defense isn’t as colorblind as we think. Research in social psychology shows that race affects the way we perceive and react to threatening situations.
These individual reactions aggregate into big social problems, where race and social class impact how jurors and law enforcement make decisions about policing and punishment.

For a more detailed summary of racial threat experiments, see Sociological Images’ coverage of this work during last year’s Zimmerman trial.

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Love is in the air this week, but not everyone in the music world has been feeling it lately. Macklemore’s performance of “Same Love” at the Grammy’s last month—as well as his win for best hip hop album and subsequent apology to Kendrick Lamar— drew a slew of comments from pop culture bloggers. For some, his music represents everything wrong with the privileged cultural appropriation of hip hop, but others thought the performance was an important illustration of how allies can contribute to movements for social justice.

So where is the proper place for allies in the world of identity politics? Should they spread the love, or stop hogging the spotlight?

When individuals speak from a position of privilege, they don’t risk a lot by advocating for change. Their perspectives may crowd out the voices of marginalized groups, or risk appropriating identities in a way that maintains privilege instead of challenging it.
On the other hand, allies can be an important strategic resource for marginalized groups at the social level, both by contributing material resources and changing the surrounding culture.
Either way, we have to realize that social movements are going to build up and break down identities, and thinking about allies helps us reflect critically on what it means to belong to a movement.



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Security breaches can be slippery slopes. Fortunately, Friday’s failed planejacking ended with the containment of a Ukranian passenger who, claiming there was a bomb on board, attempted to reroute a Pegasus Airlines flight to land in Sochi during the Olympic Opening Ceremony. This success corroborates the findings of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism:  given that there have been no consistent changes in number of terror attacks during the past five Games, efforts to reinforce Olympic security have generally been effective. However, with the number of terrorist attacks striking Russia skyrocketing from 50 in 2003 to 250 in 2010, public safety at the Sochi Olympics continues to be a top priority. Safety and surveillance measures taken by Olympic officials have been largely successful at mitigating increased risks, but we’re left wondering why sport mega events are targeted in the first place.

Does the “spectacularization” of the Olympics make the games an ideal arena for terror? A historical look at terrorist attacks on the Olympics sheds some light on potential risks facing host cities.
Social forces—such as  global economic conditions and professional network structures—shape the security and surveillance strategies at sport mega events. How do these strategies change as both security concerns and expenditure rise?

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Saturday Night Live has recently been criticized for lacking racial and gender diversity in both cast and crew. This is not a new problem, but the debate was reignited when Kenan Thompson, one of only two black cast members, stated in an interview that there were currently no black women on the show because “they never find ones that are ready”. Always quick to turn controversy into a joke, a recent SNL sketch had actress Kerry Washington playing a range of black women, mocking their own lack of diversity. Then, a little over a month ago, SNL hired Sasheer Zamata, the first black female cast member in five years. While the speed at which the show is addressing their lack of diversity is commendable, SNL’s diversity problem cannot be solved by a single hire, and the controversy illustrates that what gets deemed “entertaining” or “funny” is about more than the quality of the joke. In reality, deep-seated assumptions about race and gender strongly influence who shows up on your television screen every night.

Women face ongoing inequality in film and television production jobs, and while the rates of occupational segregation for women of color have fallen since the 1940s, their decline has stagnated since 2000.
However, even as minorities gain access to white-dominated mediums, they struggle to control the way their culture is portrayed and perceived, as the media often perpetuates inaccurate representations of minority groups.
The SNL controversy is one example of the much larger cultural norm of marginalizing and stereotyping black women, whose misrepresentation in American society is a problem that runs much deeper than their perceived sense of humor.

 

Well everyone, it looks like it’s that time of the year again! That time when men and women across the nation gather together in bars and living rooms to share in the great American pastime of…watching commercials? Of course, there’s that pro football game, too. But diehard fans know that the game breaks are where the real action is at. Corporations, it appears, also agree with this sentiment. Why else would they dole out around $4 million dollars for 30 seconds worth of ad time between plays? Given the Super Bowl’s chart-topping viewer ratings and its exorbitant costs for ad time, advertisers are willing to do all it takes to make their commercials leave a lasting impression. Yet, doing so is easier said than done. What kind of tactics have corporations used in the past?

Researchers argue that marketers are well aware of the male-centric bias of professional sports viewership and tend to focus products and ads that they think will appeal to them:
As times and demographics change, however, so do the ads. For instance, Super Bowl ads in the early-to-mid 2000s relied on the trope of men as “happy losers” as a way of attracting a wider audience:
In more recent years, though, researchers have noticed a backlash of sorts to the “happy loser” motif, with an increase in Super Bowl ads touting a supposed “crisis of masculinity”:
Which theme will prevail this year? Watch and find out!

 

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