Photo by Kandukuru Nagarjun, Flickr CC

This post was created in collaboration with the Minnesota Journalism Center.

Technology has its share of perks and benefits. Past articles on The Society Pages demonstrate how artificial intelligence and technology can help enhance journalism and curb trafficking and trolling online — but scholars have also found technology has a dark side. Meredith Broussard calls it, “technochauvinism,” a belief that tech is always the solution to the world’s problems. It is a red flag, she says, because “there has never been, nor will there ever be, a technological innovation that moves us away from the essential problems of human nature.”
One of these problems is unequal access to the internet. On The Society Pages, we highlighted how access to the internet influences activism. Other research shows how access to the internet influences various societal practices including predictive policing, real estate markets, affordable housing, social services and medical care. For example, predictive policing is a developing area of inquiry. This practice has come under scrutiny for its lack of transparency and potential to assign inaccurate risk scores to individuals that may become a victim or offender in a violent crime, which can lead to the overpolicing of already marginalized areas.
Scholars have also discovered that blue-chip companies, including Google, produce search results that marginalize underrepresented populations. Further, there is fear that algorithms are writing people out of jobs. While algorithms do have the potential to write people out of jobs, different fields may experience this to various degrees. This may be true for professions including paralegals: Up to 69 percent of paralegals’ time could be automated. In the journalistic profession, reporters and editors are in better shape due to their ability to animate algorithms to their advantage: As a human-centered process, algorithms have the potential to increase reporting outputs with less human effort. But algorithms aren’t neutral — they are produced by people, and they have the potential to reproduce marginalization.
Photo shows a crowd of people holding signs. The sign in focus is green and says "Missing Murdered" and shows photos of Indigenous women.
Photo by JMacPherson, Flickr CC

A historic inquiry into missing and murdered women in Canada has determined that the nation committed genocide against Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people. The violence stems from a long history of colonial and patriarchal violence, according to the report’s authors. Moreover, they suggest that “persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses are the root cause behind Canada’s staggering rates of violence” still today. Recent sociological research shows that the heightened risk of violence faced by Indigenous women in Canada is also deeply entwined with social stigmatization, poverty, and the lingering impacts of reservations on housing and schools.

With racism and colonization, Indigenous women in Canada have long been labelled as promiscuous, immoral, and sexually available. Today, these stereotypes contribute to victim-blaming and a lack of attention to cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people. More specifically, law enforcement regularly dismisses reports of missing women and girls as runaways or partiers and, with the media, use these stereotypes to blame these women for making bad choices that contribute to their own victimization.
Yet many women who hitchhike
do so for social and material reasons. Ever since the creation of reservations, these women face barriers to transportation and mobility. Such challenges are only exacerbated by poverty and homelessness. For Indigenous women and girls in other words, hitchhiking a logical, even necessary form of travel.
Then, there is also the
problem of violence committed by law enforcement officers themselves. Even when publicized (as one egregious such case from 2011 was) police officers rarely face prosecution — further reinforcing the idea that Indigenous women and girls can be exploited with impunity. These abuses of power are part of systemic injustices in the criminal justice system, from denial of medical care while incarcerated to jury acquittals in murder trials

Prime Minister Trudeau has assured the Canadian public that his government will take action in response to this report. But with a history of abuse and broken promises, it should not be surprising that many Indigenous people are skeptical that anything will really change.

For in-depth reporting on more of these cases, listen to the CBC podcast, Missing & Murdered.

LGBT Celebration at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. Photo by Elvert Barnes, Flickr CC

Originally published on June 29, 2018.

In the United States, tension between religious institutions and the LGBT community persists, even after the legalization of same-sex marriage. While some faith groups are becoming open and affirming, the recent Supreme Court decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and stories of LGBTQIA+ exclusion at religiously-affiliated institutions like Hope College and Wheaton College show continued conflict between religion and sexuality, even in an era when Americans have become more accepting of same-sex relationships. Social science research shows that these challenges continue, but it also demonstrates how people don’t always have to choose between faith and being faithful to who they are.

Religious institutions are clearly changing. Even churches without formal welcoming statements often accept LGBT members, sometimes in contrast to the policies of their national organizations. At the same time, queer students are both learning to navigate their identities on religious campuses, and engaging in direct activism to create more welcoming and inclusive organizations.
Some people who are queer and religious experience tension between their identities, especially when they feel family members, faith leaders, or friends want them to choose one or the other. But other people work out all kinds of ways to be both religious and queer at the same time, from different doctrinal interpretations to forging their own communities.
Photo of cricket players in white uniforms holding their arms in the air to signal for an appeal
Players appeal for a wicket. Photo by Nic Redhead, Wikimedia Commons CC

“Kaaaaach it!”
“Bowled ‘im!”
“Wadda wrong’un!”

Americans may scratch their heads at these expressions, but a large body of international sports fans relishes those words. England and Wales are currently hosting the Cricket World Cup, the 12th edition of the tournament that began in 1975; ten national teams who have made it past qualifiers are slogging it out to lift the trophy. Social scientists around the world have studied cricket — as with many sports, a social science perspective on cricket shows that the pitch and stumps reside at a complex intersection of globalization, postcolonialism, boundaries, and identity.

Cricket is a global sport based on institutional and organizational processes as well as broader patterns of cultural and national identity. The centuries-old sport started in the United Kingdom and has since spread into a worldwide, modernized phenomenon, complete with fireworks, cheerleaders, and sophisticated analytics. An international network of cricketing organizations, athletes, broadcasting companies, sponsors, and state actors bring the game to its large, global audience.
In several countries, cricket’s growth has been shaped by the dilemmas, challenges, and sticky wickets of decolonization. In these countries, cricket has played an important role in building new cultural and national identities; social scientists explain that the popularization of cricket is both a cause and consequence of broader change. South Asian nations today are key players and decision-makers in the international cricketing world, which reverse-sweeps conventional logic that white countries hold greater global power.
The cricket field can also tell us a lot about race, belonging, and hierarchy. A classic in the social science of sport, C.L.R. James’ Beyond the Boundary uses his tales playing cricket to highlight status, exclusion, prejudice, and inequality within a social world shaped by racism, colonialism, and resistance. For example, he describes how team selection in cricket was shaped by skin-color rather than skill. Today, James’ ideas still influence scholars who study cricket as relevant to race, group boundaries, and social movements. Some researchers have studied anti-racist activism and the pursuit of equitable cricket representation in countries grappling with racial inequality. Others have shown that cricket offers an avenue of legitimization for marginalized and underrepresented groups in such nations.

Unfortunately, many issues of exclusion and marginalization still exist in the cricketing world today, both within and across different nations. As cricket continues to grow, globalize, and gather, such issues will hopefully be firmly driven outta here from the middle of the bat.

For an explanation of cricket terms, visit this ESPN glossary.

Photo by Fred:, Flickr CC

Originally published June 22, 2018.

The 2017 critically-acclaimed documentary Check It depicts the lives of a group gay and transgender youth from Washington D.C., who create a gang to help protect themselves from bullying and violence in their community. Although the film claims that the Check It group is “the only gay gang documented in America, maybe even the world,” evidence suggests that gay gang members may be more common. While research on crime typically portrays gang members as predominantly heterosexual men of color, such visions of gang life have overlooked the experiences of gay gang members. Recent scholarship attempts to incorporate LGBT voices into our understandings of gangs and violence, and move past the often one-sided depictions of LGBT people as victims of hate crimes.

Although researchers have been studying the hate crime victimization of gay men, and to a lesser extent other LGBT identities, they often limit queer experiences as passive or lacking agency. Evidence suggests that various intersections of a LGBT person’s identity including race, class, and gender identity, influence both their likelihood of being victims of hate crimes and their perceptions of the harmful impacts of the victimization experience itself. Scholars also critique hate crime politics and legislation for treating queer violence as individualized and abnormal, rather than highlighting the systematic ways that LGBT people are oppressed and excluded in mainstream society that facilitates this violence.
We know far less about how LGBTQ individuals participate in gang activity and violence. New investigations into gay gang members challenges heteronormative assumptions about participation in violent crime. This work, spearheaded by sociologist Vanessa R. Panfil, demonstrates how these gay men must reconcile their sexuality in an overtly masculine and homophobic gang culture. Panfil shows that while some of her participants participated in predominantly straight or mixed-sexuality gangs, others were part of queer friendship networks that created their own — and self-defined as — “gangs” in order to protect themselves from discrimination, bullying, and violence in their neighborhoods, much like the friends in Check It.

“Queering” criminal behavior breaks down inaccurate understandings of how violence operates. Among gay gang members, it isn’t just about untethered masculinity. LGBT perspectives highlight how binaries such as “victim” and “perpetrator,” and even the very idea of what constitutes a “gang,”  are often superfluous, inaccurate, and stigmatizing. Incorporating queer voices into studies of criminal behavior and punishment helps to disentangle how the various intersections of identities shape criminal behavior and criminalization.

A brown hand holds a pipe with a clear liquid flowing from it.
Photo by CIAT, Flickr CC

Research on “environmental racism” discusses how non-white communities more frequently reside in areas that are environmentally unclean, polluted, or hazardous — often a direct consequence of other racial inequalities. We at The SocietyPages have written about this phenomenon before, but recent research shows that the consequences of climate change have added new dimensions to these dynamics.

Climate change and shifting weather patterns pose issues at large, but racial minorities are more likely to bear the brunt of adverse effects related to climate change. As existing racial inequalities are often linked to neighborhood and place, climate change threatens those who are already at risk of adverse health outcomes due to discrepancies in income, education, and more. In essence, the impacts of climate change are more likely to be felt among poorer, non-white communities.
Internationally, climate change has greatly impacted farming, fishing, and other economic activities in developing countries. This has particularly affected poorer, disadvantaged communities in non-white countries, that are more at risk for weakening agricultural yields and devastating super-storms linked to climate change. Researchers now use terms like, “environmental migration” or “climate change induced migration,” to capture the ways migration becomes the best adaptive strategy to the changing climate. Unfortunately, the places they move to are sometimes far from welcoming; racism and prejudice often shape their new lives after climate change induced migration.

Climate change thus poses greater challenges for poorer, non-white communities both in the United States and globally. As adverse environmental factors continue, it is important to think about how the intersection of social and natural forces “turns up the heat” on racial inequality.

Graphic shows three images stacked on top of each other. On the top, a person dressed in an orange jumpsuit sits behind bars, while a child stands outside the cell. In the next, the same person in the orange jumpsuit but there is an adult with the child. In the third, the child is grown up and there is another adult there too.
Prison Policy Initiative Photo Blog, Flickr CC

The rising number of people in prison and jail has had a dramatic impact on families and children in the United States. By 2012, nearly 2.6 million children had a parent in prison or jail. Parental imprisonment has many harmful impacts on children, including childhood development and cognition, drug abuse, educational success, and childhood homelessness. Although in some cases the incarceration of a parent is necessary to protect the best interests of the child, the “incarceration ledger” — or the complex ways incarceration impacts lives  — is generally negative for kids.

One way parental imprisonment negatively impacts families is by removing a source of income. When incarcerated parents are the key economic support to their family, their absence means a loss of resources. The remaining caregiver may experience significant financial strains, and may  have less time to supervise and provide guidance for their children. Children thus may lose both economic and emotional support due to the absence of a family provider. Even when incarcerated fathers do not contribute to family support, their incarceration can still result in financial pressures on their relatives, who have to pay for significant court costs, transportation for visits, and phone calls to prison.
Studies find that children who have experienced parental incarceration are also at risk of many negative mental health outcomes including depression, PTSD, anxiety, and behavioral problems. However, these negative mental health effects may not apply to every case of parental incarceration. Research demonstrates that the incarceration of a father is associated with increased physical aggression for boys, but this association does not hold for boys whose father was incarcerated for a crime of violence or who were abusive to their mothers. Other research suggests that paternal incarceration is connected to higher levels of behavioral problems in children, but this was limited to children who lived with their father prior to his incarceration.   
The massive growth in parental incarceration is also tied to racial inequality among children. While 1 in 25 white children born in 1990 are at risk of experiencing parental imprisonment, the rate for black children is 1 in 4. These disparities contribute to racial inequality in childhood homelesness, infant mortality, child behavioral and mental health, cognitive development, and educational achievement.

As many state policymakers and criminal justice practitioners consider how best to curb prison and jail populations, these actors must consider the serious challenges for the children and family of those who are incarcerated.

Photo of Elizabeth Warren speaking at a podium. There is a large sign next to her about how students afford college.
Photo by Senate Democrats, Flickr CC

Elizabeth Warren released an ambitious plan for free college and student loan relief on April 22.  Among a Democratic primary field that is increasingly embracing free college as the standard, Warren’s plan stood out for including $50,000 of debt relief for all individuals with current student debt, expanding what we mean by the cost of attendance, creating a fund for HBCUs, and (eventually) banning for-profit colleges from receiving federal funds. The plan also stood out in another way: centering sociological, justice-oriented research. Inequality and education are topics with a lot of good work from sociologists, but it is worth highlighting three sociologists who influenced Warren’s proposal: Louise Seamster, Tressie McMillan Cottom, and Sara Goldrick-Rab.

Warren notes that student loan debt is a racial equality issue. She specifically cites analysis done by a team at Brandeis University, including sociologist Louise Seamster, that finds that households with lower levels of education and families of color benefit more from Warren’s plan. Dr. Seamster’s recent article in Contexts, “Black Debt, White Debt,” demonstrates how debt often functions differently for black and white families. White Americans can take advantage of forms of debt like home mortgages, student loans, and business loans that later result in increased wealth and can be used to establish creditworthiness for future financial interactions. In contrast, municipals fines and fees or predatory student loans are more likely to be carried by black Americans. These forms of debt have high interest rates, poor terms, and hurt future wealth and creditworthiness more than they help.

Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Lower Ed also highlighted disparate impacts of student loan debt on black Americans, as well as the centrality of inequality for the American economy and the effects of for-profit colleges. Her work demonstrates how for-profit colleges target low-income students and students of color Dr. Cottom has also testified in front of Congress on for-profit colleges and the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Warren’s free-college-for-all position leans heavily on researchers such as Sara Goldrick-Rab, one of the most active scholars and advocates for low-income college students. Dr. Goldrick-Rab advocates for meeting the basic needs of students as they pursue their education, especially in recognizing the costs beyond tuition that students face. Paying the Price demonstrates how it is money, not will or desire, that gets in the way of students on financial aid trying to finish a degree.

Louise Seamster, Tressie McMillan Cottom, and Sara Goldrick-Rab are exemplars of how sociological research can shape public policy and of how research and activism can push for a more equitable world.

Photo of a sign that read "Apartment for Rent" on a glass door. You can see stairs through the door and there is a phone number written below the sign.
Photo by Simon Law, Flickr CC

Sociologist Matthew Desmond’s popular book, Evicted brought to light just how precarious housing can be for someone living in poverty in the United States, but there’s far more to the challenges than money alone. One important and under-appreciated aspect of housing insecurity involves health, and sociologists have shown that the relationships between health and housing are more complicated than you might imagine.

On the one hand, a health crisis can propel a whole family into housing hardship. For instance, one study found that when one member of a household experiences a drastic change in health, the household is much more likely to miss a utility payment. And once they miss that payment, they are less likely to be able to recover the next year, pushing the household further into economic disadvantage.

But the relationship also goes the other way around: Health often suffers following housing precarity. People who have experienced some kind of housing insecurity — getting behind on rent payments, moving for cost of housing, experiencing homelessness — were more likely to report anxiety and depression than those who had not experienced housing insecurity. One particular study showed that evicted mothers were more likely to report depression and poor health for themselves and their children when compared to mothers who were not evicted.

More positively, getting access to housing while already experiencing housing insecurity can have health benefits. For instance, children who lived in public housing had better mental health outcomes than those who were still on the waiting list.

Policy makers and community organizations can utilize social science research on health and housing to improve housing security in the future.

Photo by Office of Congresswoman Katherine Harris, Wikimedia Commons

This post was created in collaboration with the Minnesota Journalism Center.

Recent estimates from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and Walk Free Foundation found that more than 40 million people are in modern slavery. The ILO has valued human trafficking as a $150 billion industry, with $99 billion coming from commercial sexual exploitation. Prostitution and trafficking are both illegal in America (except for several counties in the state of Nevada where prostitution is legal), but the two terms are often conflated. With regard to terminology: When one is coerced or forced into selling themselves for sex, it is a form of trafficking, and those who enter the regulated sex industry voluntarily are deemed sex workers.

The “normalization” of sex work worldwide is still in flux. Scholars divide the international community into two camps with regard to this issue: abolitionist feminists, who believe both voluntary and involuntary prostitution and sex work is exploitative; and human rights feminists, who de-link prostitution/sex work and trafficking by arguing that some adult women and men are in prostitution/sex work voluntarily and should not be considered victims, and only those who are forced or coerced to be prostitutes or sex workers should be considered trafficking victims.
Scholars demonstrate that NGO coverage of trafficking often portrays “ideal victim” and “ideal perpetrator” stereotypes that don’t always reflect the truth about who is subject to trafficking worldwide. Further, journalistic coverage of trafficking is often written through the lens of “episodic” frames that provide personal narratives but lack trend statistics, quotes from experts, or social forces at play in perpetuating demand for trafficking worldwide.
As anti-trafficking campaigns evolve in the Digital Age, technology also plays an integral role in efforts to curb demand and address supply that flows through social media networks and the Internet. Initiatives — including research about online demand for sex and working partnerships between social scientists, law enforcement, and anti-trafficking NGOs — are shaping the future of anti-trafficking efforts worldwide.