Public Sociology

Photo by    :     Ryoji Iwata  (Unsplash)


Can the Olympics Recapture Public Support in Japan? 

The 2020 Summer Olympics began this week but public support among the Japanese public for the games has been generally low.

Kiyoteru Tsutsui, professor and director of the Japan Program at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, which is part of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, says their mood can be articulated through the succinct question: “Why are we doing this now?”

Tsutsui is also a professor of sociology and his research focuses on social movements, globalization, human rights, and Japanese society. He is the author of Rights Make Might: Global Human Rights and Minority Social Movements in Japan (Oxford University Press, 2018).

Despite low morale, the country’s mood may change once the Summer Games commence—barring any further complications or disruptions. But given that the games are pared down this year, it still may be hard to generate the same levels of excitement as in previous years, Tsutsui says.

Here, Tsutsui discusses how the various challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and other national scandals related to the games have led to a general dissatisfaction among the Japanese public towards their government and the International Olympic Committee:

Q : Polls among the Japanese public show mixed support for the games and meanwhile, major advertisers in the country are pulling out. As a sociologist, how do you see this mixed public sentiment affecting overall mood and morale?

A : There is no question that there is a strong headwind against the Olympics in the lead-up to the opening ceremony. Opinion polls are still against the games, although the numbers improved a little in recent weeks. The general public sentiment can be summed up as “Why are we doing this now?”

The road to the Tokyo Olympics has been a long and winding one complicated by COVID-19, first and foremost, and various scandals. The Japanese public has been fed up with the COVID-19-related emergency declarations and other restrictions, as well as the slower pace of vaccination compared to other developed countries. The perception, right or wrong, is that the government is making decisions based on whether they help in hosting the Olympics successfully, when the focus should be on public health and economic rescue in the COVID environment.

Morale is low, but many are hoping that things will change quickly once the games begin. Whether that happens or not depends on a whole host of factors, most importantly whether major public health incidents and other unfortunate accidents happen or not, how Japanese athletes fare, who might emerge as global stars, and so on.

Q : To what extent has the International Olympic Committee (IOC) helped or hindered support for the games among the Japanese public?

A : The Japanese public sees the IOC as simply pushing its economic interest without the proper regard for their safety and health. Many people do not understand that the Japanese government does not have the authority to cancel the Olympics and could have faced a lawsuit with a huge compensation at stake if it tried to do so.

The IOC looks like the IMF/World Bank during the Asian economic crisis in affected countries or the EU in some European countries—an international entity that pushes its agenda without accountability to the citizens. The frustration has nowhere to go but to the Japanese government, which combined with overall COVID-19-related dissatisfaction, has led to the most recent polls showing the lowest approval rating for the government under Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

Q :  For Japan, hosting the 2020 Olympic Games initially symbolized the country’s rebound from the devastating T?hoku earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in 2011 and was poised to boost their economy. Then COVID hit, and meanwhile, Olympic expenses ballooned. Are there any opportunities for the Olympic Games to help the country bounce back?

A : The 2020 Olympics was initially framed as a symbol of recovery from the triple disaster in 2011, but that slogan is no longer central. The expenses were justified as a way to develop infrastructure for foreign visitors and increase inbound tourists, and the government’s goals for the number of visitors from abroad have been met already.

With no spectators allowed, Japan will lose money on hosting the Olympics, but the economic damage is not irrecoverable. Once the world gets out of COVID-19, the Japanese economy will likely rebound and tourists will come back.

It will be interesting to follow how socially, in terms of the national psyche and its unity, Japan will respond to the Tokyo Olympics. Even when the games take place in other countries, the Olympics often serve as a moment of national unity, especially in Japan. With Japan being the host, many thought that it would serve as an enormous booster towards national confidence and unity. We have yet to see how the games will turn out, but these psychological impacts will likely be lessened as the games are scaled down and may not get as much global attention as typical Olympics do.

There’s still a chance for a better outcome though if the games go smoothly and offer many compelling moments. People in many countries are still more homebound than usual and the contents that the games offer could be attractive. And the Japanese public is known to swing from one side to the other very quickly and on a massive scale, so once the games begin, TV personalities who were questioning whether the games should happen will likely quickly turn around and support Japanese athletes and tout their accomplishments. That is, if no serious outbreak incidents occur.

Q : The Olympics are often celebrated as a nonpolitical event that can unite the world. In a globally turbulent world, what do you make of that assessment? Can the Olympics be nonpolitical?

A : The Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022 is a case in point. Boycott of the games seems unlikely, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already floated an idea of diplomatic boycott. There’s a lot at stake for the host country, and the Olympics will likely be politicized when countries like China, Russia, or even the US host it.

Another problem is that not many democracies would be eager to host the games anymore. Public support is needed for democracies to host the Olympics, but the growing cost of the games, combined with increasingly less clear benefits of hosting, has made it difficult to find democracies that are eager to be the host country.

Meanwhile, non-democracies like China and Russia, and even smaller countries like Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan campaign to become host nations. The pattern of dictatorships hosting the Olympics and the world demanding a change in their human rights practices and, threatening a boycott, might be a recurring pattern in the coming decades.


By           :              Melissa De Witte-Stanford 

Date       :               July 23, 2021

Source   :               Futurity


Sociology of Corruption

Fear of Losing Power Corrupts and Absolute Fear Corrupts Absolutely

Mushkil hai ki halaat ki guthi sulajh jaye

Ahle dainish ne bahut soch ke uljaya hai

In Jammu and Kashmir, after the removal of Art 370, corruption and its causes dotted the newspaper headlines and has become subject matter of debate. The dynastic rule (as if it is confined to Kashmir only), and Art 370 (nobody talks about Art 371), are largely held responsible for corruption in Kashmir. True, autonomies need a culture of accountability but in a post-colonial democracy the devil lies in the nature of the state, whether it allows federating units to democratically exercise power granted to them. This didn't happen in case of Kashmir and Art 370 was made controversial right from the day it was incorporated in Indian constitution. The larger point made is that local political/bureaucratic elite amassed and misused power in an unaccountable manner to the detriment of public interest. During my student days political science teachers would tell us in a text book style that 'power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely'. As I have grown up in my career and experience I found that it is fear of losing power which corrupts and absolute fear corrupts absolutely. In Kashmir corruption stems from political instability created by a Unitarian, 'flailing state'. More precisely corruption in Kashmir has evolved as a sort of "financial whip" issued by the state to 'floating leaders' at a given point of time to behave in a certain manner.

True, corruption, many argue, is a universal phenomenon and is prevalent even in advanced western societies. But in some cultures it comes as a shock and does not have social approval no matter whether people living in that culture inhabit developed or developing parts of the globe. In south Asian societies corruption has a class basis. In upper classes there is generally a sort of acceptability and more money is associated with your social status. Without generalizing it among illiterate lower classes (probably being more God fearing) there is a fear working at the back of their minds about ill-gotten money. In poor developing countries the educated middle class has been found responsible for many social ills. It has rightly been said that 'many have been misled by education'. In Kashmir-society corruption is disdained as "haram haresa" equating it with a type of food preparation not permitted in Islam thereby making it unacceptable. The corrupt people in Kashmir society are in simple language called as "haram khor". I have empirical evidence to prove that many families refuse to marry their daughters/sons to persons/families who have earned their wealth through corrupt means. However, consumerism and greed has dented even ethically strong cultures. The dynastic parties lack inner party democracy and there is no doubt that when family interest come, political parties become weak, and governments performance declines. But then political families are as big a threat to liberal democratic order as is the crony capitalism of certain business families.

Be that as it may, corruption anywhere and everywhere is a serious problem. Late Rajiv Gandhi confessed 'that 85 percent of plan resources do not reach the common man in India' though, he did not say that this was largely a result of corruption, including among political elites'. In India corruption starts right from birth of a child - when parents pay for a birth certificate and ends only when you die and your children have to pay for a death certificate. Recent media reports related to pandemic suggest that people had to bribe in order to have last deedar of their loved ones who were bundled together in hospital mortuaries. Psychologists have been telling us that there is something called human DNA and how it is imprinted with a natural propensity to favour the kith and kin. John Steinbeck – American author, who got Noble prize for Literature in 1962 wrote, “The things we admire in men - kindness, generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest sharpness, greed, self-interest, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism are the traits of success. While men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second". Moving back to Kashmir corruption here according to Haseeb Drabu has evolved an an 'institutional system, in which rights of Kashmiris are dissolved in exchange for acquiesce to constitutional changes and electoral illegitimacy of governments. To put it simply and starkly, to buy loyalties. This is classic strategy of corruption as mode of cohesion".

In Jammu and Kashmir, as already stated, due to endemic political instability, corruption expanded due to fear of losing power among political/bureaucratic elite. The politicized bureaucracy, especially at middle level, in league with political elite reaped the harvest of corruption. This fear is not limited to political class. Kashmir over the years has also been declared as a prize posting even for people working in the security grid. This usually happened when a democratically elected state government was toppled by state and dismissal was linked to the imperatives of security of Indian state. It happened after the dismissal of government in 1953 and remained basic to state machinations thereafter. During years of militancy corruption enveloped the security grid also. Unfortunately opinion leaders, academics and leading political leaders at national level have this feeling that loyalties of Kashmiris can be purchased and corruption is the visible trait of a Kashmiri. This demonization of an entire group of people is an assault on their identity and dignity. Kashmir fairly is an egalitarian society. True, it has suffered prolonged subjugation in history and at least one British missionary Tyndle Biscoe noted that had the "British experienced the same oppression as suffered by Kashmiris they would have lost their manhood". This wrong impression orchestrated against a community needs to be dispelled in times when model of economic development has shifted from state to the market. private capital has to move from one part to the other on certain matrix of good governance following what international institutions call as 'ease of doing business'.

Post-colonial India inherited many policy instruments from erstwhile colonial state structure as far as border states are concerned. One such policy was to privilege persons rather than institutions in matters of statecraft and pump money into the pockets of select political elite to facilitate "elite capture" of political process. Dr. Haseeb Drabu (economist) and late Prof. Riyaz Punjabi have in different writings examined it. Prof Punjabi went a step further and argued in one of his papers "normal democratic process in Jammu & Kashmir was disrupted with the arrest of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1953. The alienation of a large majority of the people of state in post 1953 era and formation of Plebiscite Front posed a great threat to the cohesion of India. It was in this context that corruption as a model to bring about national integration was applied to the state of Jammu &Kashmir.” This line of thinking has lot of scholarly and academic support. John Waterbury - Global professor of political science at New York University in journal of “world Politics’’ stated that corruption in the form of patronage and spoils checks the alienation of minorities". Michael Gohuston - political scientist in a research paper in journal of Comparative Politics (July, 1986) on political consequences of corruption’’ also draws a clear cut distinction between “integrative and disintegrative corruption, the former links the people and groups and the latter cause’s serious conflicts".

The dismissal of Farooq Abdullah government in 1984 and formation of a new government under GM Shah with Congress support was essentially a financial transaction. The Rajiv-Farooq alliance followed by Congress/NC coalition under Farooq Abdullah and PDP/BJP coalition government 2015 were rudderless to the point that without money no business whatsoever was done in the state. For paucity of space, the 1984 dismissal of an elected government can be an appropriate case for understanding how fear of losing power corrupts and absolutely fear corrupts absolutely. The most credible source to examine this phase in Jammu and Kashmir politics is the then Governor Mr. BK Nehru who in his Memoirs: "Nice Guys Finish Second" writes (page 700-701) that while he was trying to convince Delhi about sensitivities of Kashmir situation a different ballgame was being played against Farooq Abdullah to topple his government. He writes:

Mr Gul Shah and DD Thakur aided and abetted by Congress party were engaged in a desperate attempt to achieve the magical number of thirteen. The members of the legislature were no fools, they knew that if they defected to Gul Shah they would be torn to bits by an angry populace. The inducements for defecting had then to be substantial. The standard rate was Rs 2 Lakh in cash and a Ministership., this latter would, of course provide the defector with a substantially larger cash return even though his career in office might be short. The funds were provided by a staunch Congress worker Tirth Ram Amla and transported in the mail pouches of the Intelligence Bureau.......Tirth Ram used to complain of Gul Shah's perpetual demand for more 'bullets'. When the term bullet was used for the first time I did not understand Tirth Ram explained that bullets meant cash which was the ammunition used for winning a political war. He also used to complain that the fellow gave no accounts for what he had done with the previous supply of bullets. Tirth Ram did not know how much he had swallowed himself and how much he had passed on to others...".

Alas, the flailing state had no idea as to how these bullets used for toppling governments and short-circuiting electoral democracy (forget about substantive democracy) shall get converted into real bullets to be used for killing people in Kashmir after the eruption of militancy. The state is paying its own price but poor Kashmiri is paying it through the nose. This is how Kashmir policy got its birth in sin, and the Sufi/Rishi land hijacked through psychology of hate and fear.

May I conclude with the beautiful words of Eugene Wigner, Nobel laureate: "in national politics the truth is often less popular than a clever lie".

The author is a political Scientist


By             :               Prof Gull Mohammad Wani  ([email protected])

Date         :                July 25, 2021

Source     :                Greater Kashmir


Book Review: The Public and their Platforms: Public Sociology in an Era of Social Media by Mark Carrigan and Lambros Fatsis


In The Public and their Platforms: Public Sociology in an Era of Social Media, Mark Carrigan and Lambros Fatsis explore the discipline of sociology at a time when public life is increasingly shaped by social media platforms. Published in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, this timely book argues that contemporary interactions between sociology, publics and social media platforms demand a new understanding of public sociology, writes Rituparna Patgiri. 

The Public and their Platforms: Public Sociology in an Era of Social Media. Mark Carrigan and Lambros Fatsis. Bristol University Press. 2021.

The Public and their Platforms: Public Sociology in an Era of Social Media is a timely collection of eight essays that explore the relationship between public sociology and social media. The concept of ‘the public’ has been widely theorised in the social sciences. However, it is also important to understand its relationship with new forms of social media, particularly in the contemporary context. For example, with the emergence of the novel coronavirus globally, almost all educational activities have shifted to online. As such, how do disciplines like sociology adapt to these new circumstances? Mark Carrigan and Lambros Fatsis’ book tries to answer this question.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the social sciences have been under attack from populist and neoliberal regimes worldwide. For instance, in 2015, there was a call to downsize social science and humanities departments in Japan by the education minister in favour of ‘more practical and vocational training’. With the pandemic, this attack has become even more concerted, with questions again being raised about the relevance of the social sciences. As another example, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) administration in New Delhi has decided to offer Masters-level programmes online in subjects that ‘do not require technical expertise’ in the near future. This decision questions the validity of the social sciences as they are reduced to disciplines that have no ‘technical knowledge and application’.

In this context, Carrigan and Fatsis’ book is a critical intervention. Sociology as a discipline has always been interested in understanding human life and how personal issues become public ones (C. Wright Mills, 1959). In his 2004 presidential address in the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA), Michael Burawoy gave an institutional term to it – public sociology. It was increasingly felt that sociology should engage with the broader public and contribute towards enhancing the human condition. However, Carrigan and Fatsis argue that it is not enough to just ‘study’ public sociology; it must also be put into practice.

The book begins with the recognition that the concept of public life has vastly changed today – it is now largely online (1). The authors also acknowledge the influence that being part of public spaces has had on the book – public discussions in cafes, bookshops, etc, as well as Twitter discussions and blog posts. The authors argue that the public is not a ‘given’ space but one that is created by interactions between people and their environment (28).

One must also recognise that platforms like social media have become a critical part of how the publicness of disciplines like sociology gets shaped. But platforms like Facebook and YouTube are themselves marred in controversy for manipulating the data of their users. This means that the public is manipulated, multilayered and tangled. Thus, a question can be raised regarding the effectiveness of these platforms for public sociologists to reach out to people as user content is shaped by the platform’s interests. There is uncertainty about who the information would reach and how it will be used (83). There is instant access, but unequal knowledge.

However, one must add here that platforms like blogs and Twitter have definitely helped in connecting academics. For instance, the use of hashtags like ‘soctwitter’, ‘PhDchat’ and ‘academictwitter’ help like-minded people to connect with each other. These online platforms have become ‘sources of knowledge’ and ‘modes of networking’, and even established platforms like journals are recognising this. Many journals nowadays have an Altmetric score for every article, which measures the attention and engagement that each article gets on various sites. Many publishers have also recognised the importance of open access publications. Thus, public sociologists should also take note of the changing notion of the public and how to use these platforms.

The need for a public sociology is particularly heightened by the growing privatisation and marketisation of education. At the same time, it’s also a huge challenge for sociologists to overcome as it is on university premises that most of this public sociology is undertaken. Once again, this is where social media’s role comes in – as it provides an alternative platform that can be skillfully used for disseminating knowledge. Compounded with the COVID-19 crisis, these online platforms have become even more important.

The authors also draw the reader’s attention to the debate between sociology that is considered professional and one that is seen as public in character. Research published in peer-reviewed journals is seen as rigorous academic work (professional sociology), whereas working with communities and social movements is viewed as non-serious, popular, public sociology. Burawoy has critiqued this elitist division (110). Carrigan and Fatsis argue that the online mode and social media have further blurred this distinction.

While there have been many theorisations of public sociology, the authors argue that now is the time to practise it, to ‘do it’. It is critical to break the binary between the activist and the academic, which has plagued public sociology. However, this does not mean that theoretical frameworks and/or conceptual discussions should be abandoned. What, in fact, needs to happen is that these theories and concepts should be executed in practice to improve human life (107).

The authors argue that it is not just that we need a public sociology, but a much humbler public sociology (177). There is a need to see the public as an equal, with a voice as important as that of the sociologists. Thus instead of existing approaches, Carrigan and Fatsis suggest that there is a need for public sociology that challenges the existing hierarchies between sociologists and the public (178). This would be the true essence of public sociology.

In a world in which neoliberal regimes are using social media platforms in innovative ways to reach out to the public, it is critical that sociologists make use of the same to disseminate knowledge. What the authors offer is an alternative understanding of public sociology where the public is much more participatory. This new and alternate sociology in public should emerge from interactions between sociologists, publics and platforms.

However, one concern that I would like to raise is about regional differences. One cannot be certain if the kind of public sociology that works in the Global North would also be effective in the Global South. It is important that we understand the disparities that exist in several parts of the world that different publics face in accessing resources. Recognition and working towards mitigating this inequity should also be a primary focus of sociology in public.


Rituparna PatgiriIndraprastha College for Women (IPCW), University of Delhi
Rituparna Patgiri teaches Sociology at Indraprastha College for Women (IPCW), University of Delhi. She is also the co-founder of Doing Sociology – a women-led, independent academic blog dedicated to promoting sociological consciousness from the global South. Her research interests lie in the sociology of food, gender, media and culture.


Date              :            July 25, 2021

Source           :           LSE US Centre