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Achtergrond: Jay Huang (cc)
Foto: Ted Swedenburg (cc)

On the guns thing, I would just like to point out…

ANALYSE - Na het drama van Newtown is wapenbezit in de VS (uiteraard) weer een hot topic geworden. Er worden allerlei rationalisaties en oplossingen geroepen. SocProf kijkt naar de feiten.

This obvious set of facts:

See the differences? See the statistically significant correlation between homicide by firearms and ownership of firearms? See the massive difference between the United States and other developed countries?

Now, since last week, we have heard a whole bunch of rationalizations as to why this has nothing to do with guns. So, let me unpack some of these rationalizations.

Rationalization #1: violence is part of human nature.

If that were the case, the rates of violence between the United States and comparable countries would be, well, comparable. Heck, violence rates all over the world would be roughly at the same rate. There is nothing “natural” about violence. There is nothing genetic about it. It is not universal. To state that violence is universal and part of human nature fails to explain the scatterplot above.

Rationalization #2: If the killers had not used guns, they would have used something else (follows a long list of potential weapons).

Except, they did not, did they. These killer had access to these alternative weapons all along. So why did they pick guns? R#2 does not explain the choice of guns in the first place. The reason they picked guns was that guns are available relatively easily. They are also lethally effective (and a lot of  people pointed out that the Chinese attacker went after the same number of children with a knife and none of them died). And the kind of guns these killers chose were those that would provide them with great and easy means of piling up a solid body count.

The Visual Du Jour – Stealth Conflicts

Stealth conflict is, of course, a concept borrowed from Virgil Hawkins, denoting conflicts that are by and large ignored by Western media for a variety of reasons (as opposed to chosen conflicts). As a result, a stealth conflict, when it is not completely ignored, is often treated as impossible to explain, based on ancestral tribal rivalries that are so atavistic as impossible to stop (the underlying colonial racist logic is only thinly veiled here).

The most egregious example of stealt conflict is, of course, the conflict in the DRC but Somalia does not rank far behind. So, it is nice to see at least an attempt at explaining the sequence of events that led to a country without government and torn by conflicting parties:

It is a nice attempt but it is very light on content and quite simplified, which is a common problem when one designs infographics: striking the right balance between overloading the visual with information v. oversimplifying. But it is more attention than this conflict has received. Actually, most of the attention paid to Somalia has been on pirates because they kidnapped Westerners or threatened Western interests.

cc Flickr Photo, Africa Renewal


With Networked: The New Social Operating System, Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman offer a very readable introduction to networks and their social consequences. This is a book that aims to reach a larger audience beyond academic walls.

So, even though it extensively relies on research (quite a lot from Pew, unsurprisingly), it is not a tedious read at all as the data alternate with narratives and stories that facilitate comprehension. At the same time, the book is not full of jargon. It also seems that this book aims to convey the message that the sky is not falling because we are spending more time on Facebook and other social networking platforms.

No, we have not stop interacting face-to-face with each other (or should I write f2f, as the cool kids do). No, we are not bowling alone. No, we are turning into sociopathic recluse.

What the book explores is all the different ways in which social networking (and related technologies) have woven their way into our lives and reorganized and re-shaped some aspect of them, but not in the socially-disintegrating ways that the usual prophets of doom have been warning us against.

As a result, the book conveys a relatively optimistic perspective on networks without being totally on the cyber-utopian side. There is not much in the book about the “dark side” of networks. That is Evgeny Morozov‘s turf.

The Outsourced Self

I have long been a fan of Arlie Hochschild’s work ever since I read The Second Shift. I think she has been one of the most readable professional sociologists, combining great insights on gender, labor and family dynamics. Her book co-authored and co-edited with Barbara Ehrenreich, Global Woman, is a brilliant piece of work delineating the way globalization finds its way into family structures in the larger context of workplace changes. So, needless to say, I was eager to grab a copy of The Outsourced Self – Intimate Life in Market Times.

I have to say that I ended up a bit disappointed. As always, the book is very well written and very accessible to an audience broader than academics but there is only one idea in this book and it is contained in the title: the fact that individuals and families can now outsource to the market and the private sector a series of functions that used to be fulfilled by relatives, neighbors or community members.

[I read the book in Kindle edition hence the locations]

“The trend has accelerated particularly in the last forty years, a period when the market came to dominate American life as never before. Voices calling for larger market control— for deregulation, privatization, cuts to government services— grew louder. 15 Accordingly, many aspects of post-1970s American life slipped from the realms of community, commons, and government into the market. Prisons, parks, libraries, sectors of the armed forces, security services, schools, universities— these have moved, in full or part, into for-profit hands. The market, it is said, can do things better— even in the home.

Foto: Eric Heupel (cc)

Good job, bad job

Arne Kalleberg‘s Good Jobs, Bad Jobs: The Rise of Polarized and Precarious Employment Systems in the United States, 1970s to 2000s is a very clear and detailed examination of the evolution of the labor market in the United States over the past 40 years, deepening the precarization conceptual framework presented in his 2008 ASA presidential address.

“Work in America has undergone marked transformations in the past four decades. Globalization and deregulation have increased the amount of competition faced by American companies, provided greater opportunities for them to outsource work to lower-wage countries, and opened up new sources of workers through immigration. The growth of  a ‘new economy’ characterized by more knowledge-intensive work has been accompanied by the  accelerated pace of technological innovation and the continued expansion of service industries as the principal source of jobs. Political policies such as the replacement of welfare by workfare programs in the 1990s have made it essential for people to participate in paid employment at the same time that jobs have become more precarious. The labor force has become more diverse, with marked increases in the number of women, non-white, older, and immigrant workers, and growing divides between people with different amounts of education. Ideological changes have supported these structural changes, with shifts towards greater individualism and personal accountability for work and life replacing notions of collective responsibility.

These social, political, and economic forces have radically transformed the nature of employment relations and work in America. They have led to pervasive job insecurity, the growth of dual-earner families, and 24/7 schedules for many workers. More opportunities for entrepreneurship and good jobs have arisen for some, while others still only have access to low-wage and often dead-end jobs. These changes in have, in turn, magnified social problems such as poverty, work-family conflicts, political polarization, and disparities by race, ethnicity, and gender. The growing gap between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ jobs represents a dark side to the booming American economy of the 1980s and 1990s; it has contributed to a crisis for the middle class in the United States in the past decade.” (1)

Bowling Alone versus Woordspelletjes

The reason why social conservatives have declared a “culture war” is because their faulty understanding of society is that it rests on an imaginary conception of the family as the moral and economic pillar of society, based on patriarchal values and structure, a model that existed for a brief period of time and was the exception, not the traditional family. In reality, family structures vary and change based on larger structural factors such as the economy, technology and cultural factors as well. But, having posited this faulty model as the one and only that works and is functional for society, any variation is perceived as a dysfunction and deviance from the norm, especially if such variations challenges patriarchal ideas and structures.

And yet, these structures change for a variety of reasons that do not mean decline of the Western civilization.

Case 1: divorce legislation is social progress, as sociologist François de Singly notes here. For him (and as research has shown), divorce does not mean disruption or decetering of the notion of coupling but it does mean a right to say no and a right to end bad relationships if they do not satisfy the partners (one should always remember that low-divorce countries are usually countries where women do not have access to divorce and if they do, are placed at a monumental socioeconomic disadvantage, along with the stigma attached, thanks to religious conservatives). Therefore, it is not surprising that financially autonomous women are more likely to avail themselves of the opportunity. Progress! Divorce today is largely based on two individuals making decisions about their respective lives. There are heavy economic and financial consequences, but the real problem is the persistence inequalities between men and women that tend to be exacerbated by marriage. The more a couple has children, the more a man invests in his career, the more the wife’s career slows down and stalls. This is marriage costs mostly borne by women and that is largely hidden as long as the couple stays married and becomes highly visible when they get divorced.

Wereldsysteem 2.0 – In Time

I watched this film, scifi fan that I am:

The movie was directed by Andrew Niccol who also directed Gattaca (which I really loved) and Lord of War (ditto). Now, the main plot is rather stupid and the main characters were poorly cast, in my view, but, as usual, I got more interested in the social background underlying the story.

For those of you who have not seen it, the story takes place in a dystopian future (aren’t they all?) where the dominant currency is time. People are genetically programmed to grow up until they reach 25, then, a clock embedded their arms starts and they have one year to live unless they can get extra years through labor, gambling, prostitution, or financial dealings. Everything is bought and paid for in time (minutes, hours, days, etc.). The whole language reflects the prevalence of time. When your clock gets down to zero, you just (literally) drop dead.

This society is highly stratified in a very Wallersteinian way. Financial investors are at the top of the social ladder and they live in wealthy (gated and highly secured) time zones that resemble Wallerstein’s core areas. There are middle time zones (the semi-periphery) and the ghettos (the periphery) where people are fully precarized in terms of time. They work for a few extra days, take out loans that deplete their clocks. The whole time system (financial system) is controlled by very large corporation, controlled by time-financiers who continuously extract time-value from the less wealthy time-zones (through labor, loans and control of the costs of living… when they need a time boost, the wealthy – in New Greenwich, a major core time zone – bump up the cost of living in the ghetto which extracts more time from the poor, that is transferred to the wealthy.

De alternatieve inbedding van de Griekse crisis

I am always suspicious of broad generalizations about entire populations or generations. So, I am not entirely sure what to make of this argument by sociologist Sophia Mappa. Something to think about. It is in French, so here is the gist of it in English.

The starting point of her argument is that Angela Merkel’s inflexibility is incomprehensible to ordinary Greeks. The reason is that such inflexibility is rooted in the protestant culture of the 16th century, something well-known thanks to Max Weber’s classic The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. This moral culture is one of individual obedience to divine law, disregarded due to the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church. It is a culture of glorification of labor as a means of salvation which led to human dominion over nature (and other humans) in order to generate wealth and where frugality and puritanism are the norms of individual moral conduct. According to Weber, this is what led to the rise of capitalism. For Mappa, this is what explains its persistence in Germany, even as this system is being questioned all over Europe, as part of both the economic crisis and the legitimation crisis. From this perspective, the laborious and strong Germans’s views of the weakening of their European neighbors stems from these protestant roots.

Foto: Eric Heupel (cc)

Hedging albinos

Because that is what it is, right? A form of hedging.

Again, I have blogged multiple times about the murders of albinos in Tanzania. Here is a more recent example of this, with some connection made to the gold mining business from the excellent Aljazeera:

As noted in the film,

“Over the last five years in Tanzania, however, the situation has become much, much worse, with albinos increasingly subjected to murder and mutilation because of a completely spurious myth that albino body parts are effective in witchcraft rituals. Despite international outrage and repeated attempts by the Tanzanian government to stamp out this truly appalling practice, since it first came to light many albinos have been hunted down and attacked purely for their limbs and organs. Indeed the incidents seem to be increasing. Since 2008, at least 62 albinos have been killed in Tanzania, 16 have been violently assaulted and had their limbs amputated and the bodies of 12 albinos have been exhumed from graves and dismembered.

Against this background, it is perhaps not surprising that estimates of the numbers of albinos in Tanzania vary significantly. Officially there are around 5,000 registered, but the country’s Albino Association says the real number is in excess of 150,000. They say that many albinos are still kept hidden by their families because of the stigma some associate with the condition or because of fear that they might be attacked.”

Gevoelige filmpjes voor gevoelige zieltjes

Which is why, as demonstrated by this Cracked article (Cracked tend to be a mixed bag but this one hits the nail on the head) regarding five persistent prejudice in movies that contribute to, you guessed it, the reproduction of racism and patriarchy:

5. They Still Can’t Show a Black Man Dating a White Woman (Unless That’s What the Whole Movie Is About):

“It’s not just our imagination. The “Audiences Don’t Want to See Black Men Taking Our White Women” thing is so ingrained that Will Smith claims that Cameron Diaz lost the lead role opposite him in the movie Hitch because producers were worried about “the nation’s problem of seeing a black man and a white woman getting intimate.” So, Cuban-American Eva Mendes was cast instead. Hollywood has apparently decided that Mendes is a nice compromise to the black man/white woman problem — she gets those roles again and again and again.”

4. Only the Pretty Girls Are Allowed to Live AKA, the Vasquez always dies meme.

“We’ve convinced ourselves that there’s such thing as “ass-kicking supermodels” for the same reason female slasher movie survivors tend to spend the last hour of every film running and screaming at the top of their lungs. There is so much psychology behind that concept of the lone female slasher movie survivor that there is an entire book about the phenomenon and what it means (Men, Women and Chain Saws). The author points out that when the last person standing in a horror movie is a man, you never see him screaming or crying with fear (imagine Arnold’s character in Predator doing that), but with women, it’s required. For the most part, we won’t sympathize with her unless she spends a certain amount of time helpless and terrified.”

Foto: Eric Heupel (cc)

Nostalgisch verleden vs. dystopische toekomst

This poster from the French National Front (a fascist political party) is a perfect illustration of using visual elements to convey political messages based on racism, nostalgia for a reconstructed past, as well as a dystopian future (if people vote the wrong way!). Of course, both images are themselves, well, imaginary: this is a past that never really existed and a future that is by no means certain or necessary. But the Manichean message is strong.

So, we’re supposed to choose: the France on the left is that of burning banlieues (set on fire by “these people”… the re-islamicized youth) with darkened silhouettes (never humanize one’s stigmatized out-group, never give them a face, always present them as threatening masses or gangs) that obviously have been destroying card in front of a more or less typical housing project somewhere in a working class suburbs. The France on the left is also that of the despairing homeless, no jobs, no hopes, a few dirty-looking possessions. The whole image looks like it was part of the movie The Road with its burning and/or ashen landscapes.

And then, on the right, is the ideal, imaginary, nostalgic France… oh so very white, heterosexual, at peace, where old-timers can do their shopping at the local market, under the sun. Of course, in this France, everybody lives in a small, semi-rural town, with bucolic background (although the scale is wrong in the composition of the different elements… probably photoshopped… a very shoddy job at that). The market is a local, small-scale one, vive le commerce de proximité! And the little shops and commerces, so dear to Pierre Poujade‘s heart. The place is colorful with blooming flowers, clean air, no car traffic, no poverty, and no dark-skinned people.