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Social Science That Matters

The Society Pages is an online, multidisciplinary project dedicated to bringing social science topics to a wider audience. TSP believes in open-access of information and research, and we work to ensure everything on our site is freely accessible to everyone.

TSP Weekly Roundup: August 11, 2014 

As so much of the sociological knowledge bank begins packing their bags for San Francisco, we here at TSP are keeping it lively with timely works on deportation, urban planning, the social structure of time, pandemics, and statistically significant others. Enjoy!

Features:

What’s Missing from the Debate Over Deportation Numbers,” by Tanya Golash-Boza. The laws surrounding immigration and removal have not changed, but enforcement sure has.

Citings & Sightings:

Urban Planners in Zaragoza Test the Waters,” by Andrew Wiebe. An “embedded sociologist” at a Spanish NGO works to reduce water demands in drought-plagued city.

Reading List:

You Don’t Need a Job to Have a Case of the Monday’s,” by Anne Kaduk. In a classic case of W.I. Thomas’s dictum that what we treat as real is real, the structure of the work week means even the unemployed feel a little glum when Monday rolls around.

There’s Research on That!

Ebola and the Epidemic Mindset,” by Evan Stewart. Research helps explain how media and governments shape the way citizens respond to outbreaks.

Scholars’ Strategy Network:

Why Politically Active Billionaires Threaten the Health of Democracy,” by Darrell M. West.

How Policy Analysis Can Help Inform Efforts to Improve Social Programs,” by Judith E. Barnstone.

Lessons from Rwanda’s Quest for a Just Response to Genocide,” by Hollie Nyseth Brehm and Chris Uggen.

Council on Contemporary Families:

Back on Track? Stall and Rebound for Gender Equality, 1977-2012,” by David A. Cotter, Joan M. Hermsen, and Reeve Vanneman.

A Few from the Community Pages:

  The Society Pages   editors desk   weekly roundup

When Child Migrants Weren’t an Unwelcome Problem 

thesocietypages-blog:

image

News and images of an influx of unaccompanied child migrants have swept across the nation in recent weeks. In late June, USA Today reported that since Oct. 1, 2013, “more than 47,000 migrant kids primarily from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador” have been caught entering country through the U.S.-Mexico border. More recently, government officials have estimated that this population could grow to 90,000 by the end of September. These children, many of whom have journeyed to the U.S. hoping to reunite with family, are being held in numerous southwestern detention facilities while awaiting trials to determine their fates. Most will be deported back to the countries that they fled.

Child migrants locked up and awaiting deportation, feared as future voters, pushes us to think about how the idea of “immigrant child threat” reveals the ongoing negotiation over the value of different kinds of children. So, while Clay Jenkins, a Democrat elected Dallas County judge in 2010, argues that “these are children—they are precious children,” he is expressing a contested view.

This is not the first time children have come to the U.S. based on rumors that they would be allowed to stay. Today it is cause for alarm and a desire to close borders; in the 1950s, the faulty rumors were CIA-sponsored tall tales of Communist child-eaters during Operation Peter Pan, rumors that served to get thousands of Cuban families to give up their children to foster families in Miami, never to be reunited after the Cuban Revolution.
We see how immigrant children are devalued when we compare them to another group of child migrants: transnational adoptees. Research on legislation regarding children’s citizenship argues that adoptees were granted the privilege of their adoptive parents’ citizenship while children of immigrant parents, who had arrived through official channels, could not access social citizenship rights because of their parents’ non-native status.
Society’s “value” of children changes over time and in different situations. While children were once members of household production in the 19th century—say, just another worker on the family farm—they may now be “sacralized” as priceless, if economically worthless, in the 20th century. However, as adoption scholar Laura Briggs writes on the children of deportees from the U.S., “[T]his is still a fight, a question; immigrant children are not seen as a cute, innocent, victimized population.”

For more on how immigration to the U.S. has changed over time, check out this roundtable.


Urban Planners in Zaragoza Test the Waters 

Spain has always gone to great lengths to meet its high demand for water, but when faced with a shortage, the town of Zaragoza took a different approach. When severe droughts in the early 1990s caused reservoirs to dry up, forest fires to rage, and crops to wither, it became clear that the inland city would not be able to meet their high demand. Víctor Viñuales, the director and co-founder of the Spanish NGO Fundación Ecología y Desarrollo (Ecology and Development Foundation), used his understanding of sociology to devise an innovative solution. He tells The Guardian:

“Trained as a sociologist, Viñuales wondered what would happen if municipalities focused less on making sure residents had access to all the water they wanted and more on reducing demand. From that thought began a 15-year experiment in Zaragoza that has revolutionised how many in Spain – from locals to public officials – think about water management.”

Viñuales lead an ambitious project that began with a challenge to the city’s citizens to save 1 billion liters of water in a year. He used a widespread media and social outreach campaign, offered free audits to help find water saving opportunities, gave discounts on water saving products, and even changed the city’s water bills so citizens could track their changes in usage. Zaragoza stepped up to the challenge.

“Today Viñuales rattles off statistic after statistic to show how this city of 700,000 has transformed itself. Between 1997 and 2012, per capita use of water in Zaragoza dropped from 150 litres/day to 99 litres/day. The drop even sustained an increase in population; between 1997 and 2008, the city’s population grew by 12% but daily water use dropped by 27%.”

Viñuales was able to use both social and economic factors to effect the lives of the people of Zaragoza and make a huge stride forward in sustainability. While he acknowledges the success he has seen, he reminds us that “To achieve profound change – whether it be environmental, social or cultural – you have to be prepared to take it on for the long haul. Here in Zaragoza we’ve had that profound change. The population grew, but we use fewer resources than before. It’s really what needs to be achieved on a global level.”

  The Society Pages   citings and sightings   urban planning

Evan Stewart writes,
“My friend in Natural Resource Management/Psych was looking for a source on gender norms around employment and pay, especially disparities in job pay rates and workplace culture. I sent him these two There’s Research on That! posts:

Women at Work: When Self-Help Isn’t Enough

Where are the Women in High Finance?

The response was, ‘Flipping perfect! Nice to have a quick look at this sort of thing in one place.’

  the society pages   gender   inequality

What’s Missing from the Debate Over Deportation Numbers 

This past Spring, activists organized marches around the country, protesting President Obama’s record-breaking two million removals (the official term for deportations accompanied by an order of removal).

The two-million milestone is significant because it is more than the sum total of all removals prior to 1997. It is more than were removed during President George W. Bush’s eight-year term.

Indeed, a recent New York Times article renders it evident that removals are at historic highs, that most deportees are not serious criminals, and that many deportees have strong ties to the United States.

Still, most public debate has been over whether President Obama’s deportation record is truly record-breaking and whether deportations have targeted criminals.

Click to expand.

As Adam Goodman notes, there have been fewer returns during the Obama administration than during previous administrations, but Obama’s deportation policy is harsher because removals carry lasting consequences: Removal orders are accompanied by bans on reentry to the United States whereas returns allow for a later reentry to the U.S. (Both returns and removals can be colloquially referred to as deportations, leading to some confusion over the numbers.)

One of the critiques detractors level against immigrant rights activists’ anger over the removal numbers is that not all of those two million removals involved people living in the United States. This is true, just as it was during the previous administration.

Click here to continue reading.

  The Society Pages   specials   deportation

Ebola and the Epidemic Mindset 

While President Obama is hosting an economic summit with African leaders this week, the Ebola outbreak is overshadowing major economic news. Experts argue that the epidemic can be curbed, but note rampant distrust toward aid organizations in rural communities makes treatment and prevention difficult. Social scientific research helps explain how media and governments shape the way citizens respond to outbreaks.

We usually think media fans the flames of mass panic, but research on previous Ebola shows media sources actually turn toward a “containment” narrative, emphasizing that it’s hard to catch Ebola and the outbreak is “somewhere else.”
It isn’t that local communities “don’t understand” that aid workers are there to help. Epidemics often manufacture misunderstandings and mass panic. Recently, in New York City’s Chinatown, Asians were “stigmatized during the SARS epidemic despite having no SARS cases.”
Political context also matters, including the actions of national governments and international NGOs. Comparative work on Uganda and South Africa’s approaches to HIV/AIDS has shown top-down strategies don’t calm the infection rate. Bottom-up approaches, like changing hygiene behaviors, are more effective at the local level. However, this tactic requires an environment of “representation and democratic participation” that governments and international organizations have to build and frame.
  The Society Pages   there's research on that!   TROT   epidemics   ebola

Stephen Colbert Welcomes Trans-Caucasians 

What do you get when you cross University of Minnesota Sociology professor Carolyn Liebler, census data, and issues of identity? This segment on the Colbert Report.

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,The Colbert Report on Facebook,Video Archive

In this segment, the Comedy Central satirist pulled a quote from Liebler’s research:

“2.5 million Americans who said they were Hispanic and “some other race” in 2000…a decade later, told the census they were Hispanic and white.”

Of course, Colbert went on to explain his version of these findings, that Hispanics were voluntarily becoming white. Colbert points out that white people live in the best neighborhoods and get the best jobs, among other things. With that logic, the pundit suggests, why not “choose” to be white?

From a sociological perspective, he might have something there. Issues of identity are fluid and ever-changing in society. Looking at such a large change in the census data provokes questions as to why this variation in identity exists. In an interview with NPR, Liebler drew a parallel to her work studying Native American identity.

 “Between 1960 and 1970, nearly a half-million more Americans identified themselves as Native American — a number that was too large to be explained by mere population growth, she said. Something else had to explain it.”

Liebler says there’s more work to be done to understand these changing numbers. In the meantime, though, sociologist-in-training Stephen Colbert wants everyone to know that anyone is welcome…to identify as white.

  the society pages   citings and sightings   the colbert report   race

TSP Weekly Roundup: Aug. 4, 2014 

Features:

Comic-Conned: Gender Norms in a Carnivalesque Atmosphere,” by Natalie Wilson. In cultural events meant to be utopian for their subculture, you can be anything or anyone—but gender norms are hard to shake.

Roundtables:

Looking into the Racial Wealth Gap with Dalton Conley, Rachel Dwyer, and Karyn Lacy,” by Erin Hoekstra. In another piece from our series on debt, Hoekstra invites experts to examine the factors—from housing and homeownership, access to credit, predatory lending practices, and historically entrenched inequalities—that make the racial wealth gap so persistent.

Office Hours:

Belinda Wheaton on the Cultural Practices of Lifestyle Sports,” with Kyle Green. Can surfing be an act of political resistance? It’s certainly an act of gender resistance for Jen Lee!

Reading List:

Guerrilla Gardening, Gentrification, and the Implications of DIY Urban Design,” Jacqui Frost. Research from Gordon C.C. Douglas in City & Community highlights DIY interventions meant to functionally improve cities.

Teaching TSP:

How to Use #Selfies as Sociological Exercises,” by Linda Catalano. In this guest post, Catalano shares one way she’s using selfies to teach George Herbert Mead and the bifurcation of the self.

Citings & Sightings:

Stephen Colbert Welcomes Trans-Caucasians,” by Kat Albrecht. Demography reveals more Hispanics identifying as mixed race white—a change that might be welcome news for the GOP.

A Few from the Community Pages:

Last Week’s Roundup

Roundup Inbox Delivery

  The Society Pages   editors desk   weekly roundup

When Child Migrants Weren’t an Unwelcome Problem 

News and images of an influx of unaccompanied child migrants have swept across the nation in recent weeks. In late June, USA Today reported that since Oct. 1, 2013, “more than 47,000 migrant kids primarily from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador” have been caught entering country through the U.S.-Mexico border. More recently, government officials have estimated that this population could grow to 90,000 by the end of September. These children, many of whom have journeyed to the U.S. hoping to reunite with family, are being held in numerous southwestern detention facilities while awaiting trials to determine their fates. Most will be deported back to the countries that they fled.

Child migrants locked up and awaiting deportation, feared as future voters, pushes us to think about how the idea of “immigrant child threat” reveals the ongoing negotiation over the value of different kinds of children. So, while Clay Jenkins, a Democrat elected Dallas County judge in 2010, argues that “these are children—they are precious children,” he is expressing a contested view.

This is not the first time children have come to the U.S. based on rumors that they would be allowed to stay. Today it is cause for alarm and a desire to close borders; in the 1950s, the faulty rumors were CIA-sponsored tall tales of Communist child-eaters during Operation Peter Pan, rumors that served to get thousands of Cuban families to give up their children to foster families in Miami, never to be reunited after the Cuban Revolution.
We see how immigrant children are devalued when we compare them to another group of child migrants: transnational adoptees. Research on legislation regarding children’s citizenship argues that adoptees were granted the privilege of their adoptive parents’ citizenship while children of immigrant parents, who had arrived through official channels, could not access social citizenship rights because of their parents’ non-native status.
Society’s “value” of children changes over time and in different situations. While children were once members of household production in the 19th century—say, just another worker on the family farm—they may now be “sacralized” as priceless, if economically worthless, in the 20th century. However, as adoption scholar Laura Briggs writes on the children of deportees from the U.S., “[T]his is still a fight, a question; immigrant children are not seen as a cute, innocent, victimized population.”

For more on how immigration to the U.S. has changed over time, check out this roundtable.

  TROT   immigration   child migrants

Looking into the Racial Wealth Gap 

The racial wealth gap is one measure that social scientists use to quantify racial economic inequalities. Wealth is considered a comprehensive measure of economic status, as it takes into account household income and assets as well as levels of indebtedness. Since wealth is often accumulated over generations, the histories and legacies of slavery, Jim Crow laws, discriminatory housing practices, and institutional racism compound to produce discrepancies in wealth along lines of race. The racial wealth gap between white and black Americans usually hovers around ten to one, meaning that white households have about ten times the wealth of African American households. In times of economic hardship, families with less wealth are hit hardest and the gap widens.

This roundtable examines the importance of racial and economic inequality in the impact of the Great Recession. Today’s racial wealth gap, our panelists say, has resulted from a combination of factors including housing and homeownership, access to credit, predatory lending practices, and historically entrenched inequalities.

Since the end of the Great Recession, a number of reports have documented a growing racial wealth gap, including one from Pew Research asserting that the white to black wealth ratio is 20 to 1. What are some current dynamics or trends that we are seeing in race, wealth, and debt in this supposedly “post-recession” era?

Dalton Conley: Over time, the racial wealth gap has hovered around 10 to 1, meaning that the median African American family has ten percent of the wealth, or the net worth, of the median white family. “Net worth” is the value in the marketplace of all your belongings and assets that you can sell. If you sell everything you own and pay off all your debts, the amount of money left over is your net worth, and that’s what we mean by wealth.

With legacies of slavery and the Civil Rights era, African Americans are kind of latecomers to the wealth accumulation game for a variety of historical and institutional reasons associated with the history of race and discrimination in the United States. As blacks typically are overrepresented among the unemployed and low-wealth households, the more that wealth becomes unequally distributed in general across society, the more unequal the racial wealth gap.

The black-white wealth gap has ebbed and flowed over the course of the century, peaking at about 40% in both 1929 before the financial crash that led to the Great Depression and 2007, with a period in the middle of the century that was more equal. While the security markets have bounced back since the financial crises of 2008, housing markets have not rebounded as much, particularly low-income areas. If anything, the wealth gap has been accentuated by the Great Recession.

Click here to continue reading.

  The Society Pages   specials   wealth gap   race   inequality

How to Use #Selfies as Sociological Exercises 

image

Selfies, I’ve found, are a terrific way to begin to get across George Herbert Mead’s distinction between the “I” and the “me,” which students can find difficult to grasp and tend to resist. I’ve developed an exercise that incorporates selfies which works fairly well, but I suspect that there are even better ways of using selfies that draw out more of Mead than I’ve been able to do.

I’ve been using a textbook (Edles & Applerouth 2010) with several selections from Mind, Self & Society (Mead 1934) in which Mead outlines his famous concept of the self as incorporating two phases, the “I” and the “me.” I was surprised to discover that my students have considerable trouble with this notion, and given the choice, avoid questions about it on exams.

Why students resist. Students don’t like Mead for many reasons. Aside from the fact that they often have trouble with his long and convoluted prose, students tend to have several conceptual difficulties. First, they have trouble with the way that, for Mead, social reality is all process. Students tend to feel their conceptual ground turn into quicksand, that they have nothing to hang on to.

Second, students—even psychology students—tend to be relatively confident about their idea of the self in particular. They bring to class the assumption that the self is stable and unified, and that it confronts a world that is similarly stable and structured. According to this assumption, the self is unique, a conglomerate slowly built up over time. A self, they think, is won in a struggle that is occasionally painful but, once gained, is an acting, thinking, feeling, and relatively stable unit. They find Mead’s notion that the self encompasses two phases and is interactive, temporal, socially emergent, and in-process all the time confusing and disorienting.

Third and finally, students tend to begin with the assumption that the self is principally an “I.” When they learn that, for Mead, the self not only consists of two phases but is mostly a “me” and only briefly an “I”—that, as Mead likes to put it, you are only aware of the “I” as it passes into the “me”—their confusion deepens. Even if they get it, they think it is remote from their experience.

Click here to continue reading.

  The Society Pages   Teaching TSP   selfies   education   teaching   sociology

Comic-Conned: Gender Norms in a Carnivalesque Atmosphere 

thesocietypages-blog:

San Diego’s Comic-Con feels like a huge, five-day carnival. Diverse attendees gleefully snap pictures, brave the crowds, and willingly wait in long (sometimes overnight) lines in this annual atmosphere of fantasy, science fiction, geekdom, and celebrity. The creative costumes and the variety of…


Old Narratives and New Realities 

thesocietypages-blog:

The simple narrative of who gets ahead in America is in serious trouble. Social scientists know that systems of inequality work best when they generate a coherent narrative about how people get ahead, and this includes fairly elaborate descriptions of who is rewarded for what they do (and who is not rewarded for doing something else). Cultural ideologies are the stories we use when we lack other information. These narratives or ideologies are usually part truth and part fiction, and for many of us they exist at the level of stories that are passed from one generation to another as a sort of “to do” list for getting ahead.

In the United States, if we’re told Mary makes more money than Suzie, we’ll assume that Mary works harder than Suzie, has more education than Suzie, or is smarter than Suzie. We aren’t likely to say that Mary’s parents are wealthier than Suzie’s, that Mary’s social connections are better than Suzie’s, or that Mary is just luckier than Suzie. Worse still, if Suzie has the misfortune of being poor, we’re more likely to attribute negative characteristics to her to explain the discrepancy (we might, for instance, surmise that Suzie is a drug user). We’ll certainly assume that Mary is free of these characteristics.

Photo by Walter via Flickr CC https://www.flickr.com/photos/walterpro/8479745831

The combined changes in the U.S. political and economic systems over the past thirty years have deprived us of plausible stories that people can use as guidebooks for doing well (or making good). To demonstrate how much things have changed, let’s contrast what parents said to their children as late as the 1970s with the way the current system works. These are the shifting rules of the middle class game, each stemming from the last:

  • “Go to a state university and get a good education for a modest price.” But tuition goes up every year, and state universities are underfunded. Student loans mean you’ll start adulthood in debt.
  • “Find a good, steady job. All work is dignified.” But good, steady jobs are hard to come by. In an age of celebrity, manual labor is seen as distasteful.
  • “Companies reward loyal, hard-working people. You’ll get raises and promotions if you work hard.” But there are no rewards for loyalty, even if you are able to get and keep that good, steady job.
  • “Get married and settle down.” But economic uncertainty undermines marriage, and buying a house and paying the mortgage are incredibly hard.
  • “Save for a rainy day.” But the U.S. savings rate hit zero for the first time in 2006. Effectively, we aren’t saving. We can’t.
  • “You’ll retire in your 60s with a gold watch and a pension. Those are your golden years!” But retirement is increasingly an unreachable dream, and company-paid pensions are a thing of the past.

The new reality doesn’t describe a coherent narrative for getting ahead. It’s just a sad statement of bleak facts. So what’s the new advice? “Choose your parents well!” Hmm. Yes, rates of mobility have stagnated and socioeconomic status is largely inherited, but that’s not exactly a realistic proposition.

Click here to continue reading.


Song: Belinda Wheaton on The Cultural Politics of Lifestyle Sports


Today we are joined by Belinda Wheaton. Belinda is a Principle Research Fellow in Sport and Leisure Cultures at the University of Brighton, UK. Belinda has published extensively on informal sports including articles, multiple edited volumes, and the recently published The Cultural Politics of Lifestyle Sports. We discuss why lifestyle sports are worthy of academic interest, race and California surf culture, and acts of political resistance.

Download Office Hours #97

  office hours   sports   lifestyle sports   podcast

Weekly Roundup: July 28, 2014 

Umm, you guys? Did you know July’s almost over? That’s… that’s too much to think about, really. So let’s talk about soc, baby.

Features:

Of Carbon and Cash,” by Erin Hoekstra. Could reparations for environmental damage flow as easily as pollution from the Global North to the Global South?

Office Hours:

Chad Lavin on Eating Anxiety,” with Matt Gunther. On the politics of our food choices.

There’s Research on That!

When Child Migrants Weren’t an Unwelcome Problem,” by Lisa Gulya and Stephen Suh. While politicians are busy blaming each other (slash coming up with conspiracy theories) for a recent influx of minor immigrants, research shows times when the U.S. has happily welcomed such kids.

The Editors’ Desk:

Feminist Reflections,” by Chris Uggen. Welcoming our latest Community Page!

Citings & Sightings:

The Overblown Myth of the Boomerang Generation,” by Amy August. Did the Baby Boomers birth a Boomerang Generation? Not really, says Rick Settersten.

Marriage or the Baby Carriage,” by Andrew Wiebe. Andrew Cherlin takes a look at the connections between education levels and parenthood choices.

Scholars Strategy Network:

In Dealing with Iran, the Best Option for Israel Is to Strike First—Diplomatically,” by Steven Weber. Make love not war! Or maybe just extend an olive branch? You don’t have to make out or anything. Unless you want to.

Council on Contemporary Families:

Red States, Blue States, and Divorce: Understanding the Impact of Conservative Protestantism on Regional Variation in Divorce Rates,” by Stephanie Coontz. Adding to findings from the American Journal of Sociology, Coontz looks at why divorce rates are higher in religiously conservative “red states.”

A Few From the Community Pages:

  The Society Pages   weekly roundup   editors desk