SocProf

81 Artikelen
Achtergrond: Jay Huang (cc)

Criminele plutocratie

If you are going to read one author / journalist on the issue of global criminality, it should be Misha Glenny. His two latest books are strong indictments of the global governance system and its lack of teeth when it comes to global criminal organizations as well as national oligarchies’s role in destabilizing economies and profiting from the results.

In this Financial Times column, he clearly explains the two main issues that have precipitated Greece’s collapse (no quoting from FT articles, you gotta click on the link to read the whole thing):

  • Criminal organizations across the Balkan, milking fuel money out of Greece;
  • Oligarch families that evade taxes while waiting to make a killing on the privatization they are pushing for with global and regional organizations;
  • State corruption;
  • Media;
  • Politicians.

According to Glenny, it is especially these oligarch families that have stashed away Euros.
They are waiting for Greece to exit the Eurozone and to start implement what are, in effect, structural adjustment programs, including privatization at basement prices, in Drachma. They will buy the whole lot for close to nothing. Papandreou, who unveiled the pan-Balkan criminality and was going after tax-evaders is the latest victim of their power. And, the media that these families control will cheer on any furthering of austerity measures and vilify anyone who dares trying to get in the way.

De snelle route naar digitale lijfeigenschap

As I have argued before, web 2.0 technologies have extended the reach and depth of the surveillance society, as public-private partnership. In that sense, I’m a cyber-crank of the Morozov kind. But my analysis of this is only confirmed by what transpires in the a variety of source.

First, someone actually used the term feudalism, which kinda gave me the idea for the title, even though I have wanted to use it for a while as a way of thumbing my nose at the libertarian crowd.

Anyhoo:

“To use Google+ and Facebook, people yoke themselves to the providers by handing over their data in exchange for use of the services. It’s like a feudal system: the social-networking companies are sustained by the data flooding into them, and gain in power from the exchange. People upload their photos, their messages and other data from their personal life, but the service providers control how that information is presented to the world.

“The users contribute their own content to you for free. You sell it back to them with banner ads put on there. And on top of that, you spy on them to gather profiling data,” says Michiel de Jong, of the Unhosted project to decentralise user data.

Compare this with feudal lords in the Middle Ages — ‘the castles’ — who took in taxes in the form of wheat, cattle and other resources, consumed them and then demanded more. The castles held all the political power and could talk to other castles, while the peasants who lived on their land had little influence, even though the resources they produced kept the castles going.

The online form of feudalism is more insidious. With Google and Facebook, the resources these castles take in — images and search terms, for example — are not used up, as they were in the original system. Instead, the data is analysed again and again, and the castle grows in power with each bite of information.

(…)

What makes this modern feudalism powerful is that the key parties are keeping their methods of control from the users.”

Foto: Eric Heupel (cc)

Apathie van voorbijgangers

By now, this video has made the rounds. Don’t watch if you don’t have a strong stomach. What is in there is a 2-year-old getting run over by a truck. The driver stops, then starts again and drives away, running her over a second time with the rear wheels. Then, a whole bunch of people just walk by (18 as filmed by surveillance cameras), swerving to avoid her body but nobody stops until a garbage worker does and the girl’s mother shows up, picks her up and walks away.

The scene took place in Foshan, one of these growing industrial cities in the Guangdong province. Of course, as reminiscent as this is of the Kitty Genovese case, that is often related to bystander effect and diffusion of responsibility (the lower probability of individuals offering assistance as the number of bystanders grows), this particular case is more shocking due to the fact that it’s a 2-year old.

Most explanations for this have actually centered on the fact that this area is populated with a lot of workers uprooted from rural areas and recently urbanized. So, we are getting an updated version of Ferdinand Tönnies’s idea of different modes of social integration: Gemeinschaft (the community mode of integration where ties are based on personal knowledge and similarities and where community needs might take precedence over individual preferences) as opposed to Gesellschaft (the association mode of integration, based on impersonal ties and where individualism is more likely to prevail).

De onontwarbare knoop van familie 2.0

In general, any topic related to marriage and families bores me to tears but I could not help but be intrigued by this:

“P is an unhappy 10-year-old girl. At school, she cries in the toilets and has to be comforted by her friend. She has “suffered significant emotional harm as a result of the conflicts which have raged around her for at least the last three years,” according to a high court judge.

P’s problem is not that she has two mothers. P knows that her mother RWB and her mother’s civil partner SWB are her family and she is happy with that.

What makes P so miserable is she and her six-year-old sister L also have two fathers. P says she likes seeing ML and his long-term partner AR. But, according to a grownup who was looking after the 10-year-old a few months ago, “she cannot just pretend that ML is her father in order to make him happy”.

Except that he is. ML, 50, is indeed the biological father of the two girls. They were conceived by IVF after the lesbian couple (as they described themselves) had advertised in the Pink Paper in 1999 for a gay man or couple who might want to start a family with them.

The problem according to Mr Justice Hedley is that the four adults failed to decide at that time what their respective roles should be. It was agreed that ML, who is of Polish descent, would be the child’s father and his partner AR, 41, would be the stepfather. But what brought the two couples to court was the effect these terms were intended to have.

The two women maintain it involved little more than the child’s identity. But the two men claim that ML is in the same position as a traditional separated parent and therefore entitled to regular contact.

While thinking the issues through, Hedley developed a new legal concept: principal and secondary parenting. In an anonymised judgment released this week, he deemed the two women to be the girls’ principal parents and the two men to be their secondary parents.”

My first thought was that indeed, we tend to conceive parental roles as cast in stone, gendered, immutable, and oh-so central to society’s stability, rather than socially constructed, subject to social and cultural changes, and reflective of changing power dynamics across social institutions.

My second thought was “what’s the big deal” as in “how is this any different than recomposed families of any kinds?” After all, divorced and remarried parents have to do the same juggling act when it comes to “managing” parenting.

My third thought was that if we stopped considering children as the exclusive property of their parents (and, obviously, the definition of that term is not as straightforward as it seems), such issues would not arise.

My fourth thought was “how nice that the sexual preference of the parents does not enter the discussion as THE issue.” Things, they are changing then.

Foto: Eric Heupel (cc)

De mens achter het modepopje

While waiting to get my life back in-between grading marathons and collective bargaining (such is the life of the union thug), I am reading Ashley Mears’s book, Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model. So far, the book is very good and does a good job of exploring the world of fashion modeling both from a structural point of view but also through participant observation.

Here are a couple of videos with Ashley Mears. The first one is on emotional labor:

The second one is on studying the world of fashion modeling from a sociological perspective.

‘Man Caves’ door de ogen van een feminist

Ugh… Video here:

“Throughout history men have always created personal spaces where they retreat to be amongst friends. Lately, these places, called “man caves”, have become a boom industry, with often more than $50,000 (£31,772) being spent on furnishing a single “cave”.

Jeff Wilser, co-author of “The Man Cave Book”, talks to the BBC about the forces behind these hideaways, why men are so protective of them, and why the variety of such caves is so immense.

“It’s basically about finding what your one passion is, what your hobby is, and building a space that does that passion justice,” says Mr Wilser.”

Because women don’t have hobbies and passions.

Because women don’t have tough days at work.

So, a man deserves his leisure space. Every other room in the house involves women’s work (housework, childcare) whereas the man-cave belongs to the man only. There are no woman-caves because a woman’s time is not seen as exclusively hers. A woman’s time is always possible to interrupt with domestic and child stuff. It is assumed that whatever a woman is doing, she must be available to domestic demands at all times.

It makes me laugh – and by “laugh”, I mean “barf” – when these guys say that the rest of the house belongs to the woman because that is the way patriarchy wants it: the wife, in the domestic sphere, fulfilling the expressive role, and the husband, in the social sphere, fulfilling the instrumental role (thanks due to Talcott Parsons giving some sociological luster to that little piece of patriarchal BS and naturalizing so thoroughly that it won’t go away).

Would the members of the precariat please stand up?

This is another installment in a series of posts (herehere and here) I intend to write as I work my way through Guy Standing‘s The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. In this section, the main topic is the composition of the precariat and the consequences of such categories for society as a whole, in terms of social integration and social solidarity (how very durkheimian).

So, who is in the precariat?

“One answer is ‘everybody, actually’. Falling into the precariat could happen to most of us, if accidents occurred or a shock wiped out the trappings of security many have come to rely on. That said, we must remember that the precariat does not just comprise victims; some members enter the precariat because they do not want the available alternatives, some because it suits their particular circumstances at the time. In short, there are varieties of precariat.

Some enter the precariat due to mishaps, some are driven in it, some enter hoping it will be a stepping stone to something else, even if it does not offer a direct route, some choose to be in it instrumentally – including old agers and students simply wishing to obtain a little money or experience – and some combine a precariat activity with something else, as is increasingly common in Japan. Others find that what they have been doing for years, or what they were training to do, becomes part of an insecure precariat existence.” (59)

Medicalisering van sociaal lijden

The medicalization of deviance is more Todd Krohn’s turf. However, this was widely reported and should probably raise any sociologist’s antennas and I fully agree with this:

“A new survey from the European College of Psychopharmacology, a meta-analysis of a gathered mass of earlier research, reports that a staggering 164.8 million Europeans – 38.2% of the population – suffer from a mental disorder in any year. As well as depression, this includes neural disorders such as dementia and Parkinson’s; childhood problems from ADHD to “conduct disorder”; and the leading anxiety disorders – everything from panic attacks to obsessive-compulsive disorder to shyness. Depression and anxiety, they tell us, are disproportionately women’s ailments. Men, it seems, become alcoholics (another illness category) rather than depressives, particularly in eastern Europe.

Such reports are worrying. They may draw attention to a rising toll of human suffering, but they pinpoint the imperialising tendency of the mental health sector. Our ills and unhappiness are squeezed into a package labelled “disorder” and an ever-proliferating assortment of supposedly objective diagnostic categories. A cure is somehow promised, though it rarely seems to come, certainly not for everyone or for ever.

In talking to the press or drafting press releases, researchers often extrapolate from their material in order to create good copy. The notion that women are somehow more prone to mental illness often emerges – as it did in the Daily Telegraph’s headline on this survey.

Gated communities…op zee

That is wealthy people who would like to continue benefiting from various forms of labor for their enrichment without having to live too close to the laborers. So, first, we all had a good laugh at this:

,,First, he launched Paypal, and then he went on to fund DNA sequencing, commercial space travel and Facebook. Peter Thiel is known for having big ideas and doing amazing things. Now, this self-made billionaire has his sights set on creating sovereign nations that will spring up from the ocean, free from the laws of any country.

Thiel is working closely with the Seasteading Institute to build these startup countries in international waters. He has invested $1.25 million to create what he sees as the next frontier. According to Thiel, a Libertarian, his islands will be instrumental in “experimenting with new ideas for government. These new ideas include a society free of welfare, minimum wages, strict weapons restrictions and rigid building codes.”

I seriously hope this happens so that these libertarians realized how much they depend on socialized things and exploited labor when that is no longer available.

But more seriously but in the same vein, there is this:

,,Brazil has always had its super-rich with extravagant tastes. But booming commodity prices fuelled by Chinese demand, along with some of the world’s biggest offshore oil discoveries, have created an expanding class of wealthy Brazilians. The number of millionaire households in South America’s biggest nation is forecast to treble by 2020 to more than a million. They, in turn, are boosting the international yacht market even as it plummets in the US and Europe.

For the Italian Ferretti Group, one of the world’s leading yacht builders, sales in Brazil represented less than 5 per cent of global sales in 2007, according to Mr Christiansen. This year, Brazil is expected to account for about 40 per cent of the company’s global revenue, or almost $290m.

Ferretti opened a huge $310m shipyard on the outskirts of Sao Paulo two months ago to meet the new demand. It’s expected to produce 120 yachts a year once it reaches capacity. In the past two years, more than a dozen high-end foreign boat makers have either built shipyards in Brazil or have entered into partnership with local dealers to export their wares to the market, despite tariffs of between 70 to 100 per cent on imported vessels.

Annual boat sales in Brazil have grown by 30 per cent since 2008, industry leaders said. Meanwhile, in the US and Europe, sales of high-end boats have dropped by 70 per cent.

Executives in Sao Paulo now earn more than their counterparts in New York, London, Hong Kong or Singapore, and their disposable income is flooding Brazil’s consumer market. When not spending at exclusive shopping centres, Brazilian executives can be seen cruising the seas near Santos, south of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s financial hub, and along the lush green coast north to Rio de Janeiro. The marinas that dot Brazil’s 4,600-mile coast are at capacity, and as soon as a vacancy opens, it is snapped up by a new boat owner.,,We were always told that Brazil was the ,,country of the future’ but we didn’t know when that would arrive,” said Ernani Paciornik, a Brazilian marine industry pioneer, who organises international boat shows across Brazil.,,I think the future has arrived.”

The ranks of the new rich are growing in other developing countries as well, especially the other members of the so-called Bric group – Russia, India and China. In China the number of millionaire households is set to rise by 91 per cent to 2.5 million by 2020, in Russia by 221 per cent to 1.2 million, and in India by 143 per cent to 694,600, according to the consulting firm Deloitte.”

De ‘backlash’ van 2011

Your must-read of the day from one of the most important sociologists of social movements:

“Neoliberalism is a political doctrine that brings with it a minimalist vision of the public and democracy, as Colin Crouch demonstrates so well in his Post-Democracy. It envisages the reduction of political intervention to correcting the market (with consequent liberalisation, privatisation and deregulation), an elitist concept of citizen participation (electoral only, and therefore occasional and potentially distorted) and an increased influence of lobbies and powerful interests.

The evident crisis in this liberal concept and practice of democracy is however accompanied by the (re)emergence of diverse concepts and practices of democracy, elaborated and practiced, among others, by social movements. In today’s Europe, they are opposing a neoliberal solution to the financial crisis, accused of further depressing consumption and thereby quashing any prospect for growth – whether sustainable or not.

Austerity measures in Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain have been met with long-lasting mass protests, which partly took the more traditional form of general strikes and trade union demonstrations, contesting the drastic cuts to social and labour rights.

But another type of protest has also emerged, not opposed to the former, but certainly different and more directly concerned with democracy: the criticism to democracy as it is now, and the elaboration of possible alternatives. “Democracia real ya!” was the main slogan of the Spanish indignados protesters that occupied the Placa del Sol in Madrid, the Placa de Catalunya in Barcelona and hundreds of squares in the rest of the country from 15 May 2011, calling for different social and economic policies and indeed greater citizen participation in their formulation and implementation. Before such a mobilisation in Spain, at the end of 2008 and start of 2009, self-convened citizens in Iceland had demanded the resignation of the government and its delegates in the Central Bank and in the financial authority. In Portugal, a demonstration arranged via facebook in March 2011 brought more than 200,000 young people to the streets. The indignados protests, in turn, inspired similar mobilisations in Greece, where opposition to austerity measures had already been expressed in occasionally violent forms.”

Foto: Eric Heupel (cc)

De groei van het ‘precariaat’

This is another installment in a series of posts (here and here) I intend to write as I work my way through Guy Standing‘s The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. In this section, the main topic will be the causes of the growth of the precariat. Standing identifies several causes.

Global Commodification

A central aspect of globalisation can be summed up in one intimidating work, ‘commodification‘. This involves treating everything as a commodity, to be bought and sold, subject to market forces, with prices set by demand and supply, without effective ‘agency’ (a capacity to resist). Commodification has been extended to every aspect of life – the family, education system, firm, labour institutions, socia protection policy, unemployment, disability, occupational communities and politics.”

In the drive for market efficiency, barriers to commodification were dismantled. A neo-liberal principle was that regulations were required to prevent collective interests from acting as barriers to competition. The globalisation era was not one of de-regulation but of re-regulation, in which more regulations were introduced than in any comparable period of history.” (26)

This sounds a lot like Jurgen Habermas’s idea of colonization of the lifeworld by the system.

According to Standing, firms and companies themselves have been commodified through accelerating and multiplying mergers and acquisitions. This means an end to Ronald Coase’s conception of firms as reducing costs and risks of doing business while increasing trust and long-term relationships. In investing frenzies, there is no incentive to building up long-term relationships based on trust and deep knowledge. This, of course, makes life more insecure for employees as overnight mergers and acquisitions can completely disrupt organizations and individual careers through offshoring (within firms) and outsourcing (to other firms). The relationship between employer and employee is then also one of limited trust and short-term in outlook and careers and skill acquisition become individualized projects:

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