Public Sociology 2018

What Sports Reveal About Society

By SOCVS | Published: OCTOBER 12, 2018

Sociologists find that sports are inextricably intertwined with the people, countries, and politics surrounding them.

Sports have been in the news lately, from Serena Williams’s controversy at the U.S. Open to Caster Semenya’s fight to be allowed to race as a woman. Perhaps most dramatically, Nike and Colin Kaepernick have set some parts of the country aflame (sort of) as they force consumers to reckon with questions of power structures, race relations, and patriotism.

In traditional views, sports are a recreational pastime and often positioned as the cultural antithesis of intellectualism. But anyone who is actively engaged in sports knows that they’re far from simple. Any sport is inextricably intertwined with the people, countries, and politics surrounding it, as sociologists Rick Eckstein, Dana M. Moss, and Kevin J. Delaney writing in Sociological Forum discovered.

Eckstein and colleagues posit that sports extend beyond games and individual athletes. They also found that sport fed into “ideologies of gender, affect gender relations, and support or challenge racial and social class hierarchies.” They examine how micro-studies in sports could yield profound structural insights if broadened in scope, and urged the field to see how small-scale athletic culture and phenomena have important underlying statements about our world.

For example, one study examined how women athletes balanced intensive training with other obligations. Most of the study participants were upper-middle-class, with access to subtle but powerful privileges. They might be able to afford sitters or outside help. They might have jobs with flexible hours, or private transportation that cut down their commute.

In contrast, the scholars point out, “working-class women (who may or may not have a domestic partner) who cannot afford sitters, and who must take three buses to reach their tenuous minimum wage job, do not have the option of training for such an intense sport even if they so desired.”

Another athletic phenomenon with eloquent subtext that they point out is the seeming arbitrary nature of whether a certain country prefers baseball or soccer.

Our students inevitably focus on cultural preferences and argue that some people just seem to like certain sports. But when we introduce the macro notion of imperialism and empire, those micro-level decisions take on a whole new meaning and the students begin to see the interrelationship between agency and structure.

There are myriad examples, but the authors come to the same conclusion that we can see reflected in our newspapers, our talk shows and our social media: that sports are a powerful reflection of ourselves, and that they warrant investigation both up-close and on an international, global scale.

They conclude: “we believe that sports sociologists, perhaps more than most sociologists, have a great untapped potential to practice meaningful public sociology.”


By                            :               Farah Mohammed

Date                         :               October 4, 2018

Source                     :               JSTOR Daily



Kavanaugh is lying. His upbringing explains why.

By SOCVS | Published: OCTOBER 12, 2018


The elite learn early that they’re special — and that they won’t face consequences.

Brett Kavanaugh is not telling the whole truth. When President George W. Bush nominated him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2006, he told senators that he’d had nothing to do with the war on terror’s detention policies; that was not true. Kavanaugh also claimed under oath, that year and again this month, that he didn’t know that Democratic Party memos a GOP staffer showed him in 2003 were illegally obtained; his emails from that period reveal that these statements were probably false. And it cannot be possible that the Supreme Court nominee was both a well-behaved virgin who never lost control as a young man, as he told Fox News and the Senate Judiciary Committee this past week, and an often-drunk member of the “Keg City Club” and a “Renate Alumnius ,” as he seems to have bragged to many people and written into his high school yearbook. Then there are the sexual misconduct allegationsagainst him, which he denies.

How could a man who appears to value honor and the integrity of the legal system explain this apparent mendacity? How could a man brought up in some of our nation’s most storied institutions — Georgetown Prep, Yale College, Yale Law School — dissemble with such ease? The answer lies in the privilege such institutions instill in their members, a privilege that suggests the rules that govern American society are for the common man, not the exceptional one.

The classical root of “privilege,” privus lex, means “private law.” The French aristocracy, for instance, was endowed with privileges, primarily exemption from taxation. Today’s equivalents are not aristocrats, yet they have both the sense and the experience that the rules don’t really apply to them and that they can act without much concern for the consequences. Elite schools like Georgetown Prep and Yale have long cultivated this sensibility in conscious and unconscious ways.

What makes these schools elite is that so few can attend. In the mythologies they construct, only those who are truly exceptional are admitted — precisely because they are not like everyone else. Yale President Peter Salovey, for instance, has welcomed freshmen by telling them that they are “the very best students.” To attend these schools is to be told constantly: You’re special, you’re a member of the elect, you have been chosen because of your outstanding qualities and accomplishments.

Schools often quite openly affirm the idea that, because you are better, you are not governed by the same dynamics as everyone else. They celebrate their astonishingly low acceptance rates and broadcast lists of notable alumni who have earned their places within the nation’s highest institutions, such as the Supreme Court. I heard these messages constantly when I attended St. Paul’s, one of the most exclusive New England boarding schools, where boys and girls broke rules with impunity, knowing that the school would protect them from the police and that their families would help ensure only the most trivial of consequences.

This narrative of the exceptional student rests on a fiction with pathological consequences: Economist Raj Chetty has shown that children whose parents are in the top 1 percent of earners are 77 times more likely to attend an Ivy League school than are the children of poorer parents — meaning that, in cases like this, admission is less about talent and more about coming from the right family. In that way, privilege casts inherited advantages as “exceptional” qualities that justify special treatment. No wonder that, when the poor lie, they’re more likely to do so to help others, according to research by Derek D. Rucker, Adam D. Galinsky and David Dubois, whereas when the rich lie, they’re more likely to do it to help themselves.

Such selfish tendencies extend well beyond the way the privileged use untruths to their advantage. According to research by psychologists Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner, elites’ sense of their own exceptionalism helps instill within them a tendency to be less compassionate. This may have its roots in the fact that there seem to be two different sets of consequences for the rich and the rest. Take drug use. While the poor are no more likely to use drugs (in fact, among young people, it’s the richer kids who are more likely to drink alcohol or smoke marijuana), they are far more likely to be imprisoned for it, and they experience vastly disproportionate imprisonment for all crimes compared with the wealthy. In the end, it is impossible to separate success from class.

Kavanaugh’s privilege runs deep, and it shows. He grew up in a wealthy Washington suburb where his father spent three decades as CEO of a trade association. There has been a sense among his supporters that his place is deserved, which mirrors the climate of aristocratic inheritance he grew up around. His peers from the party of personal responsibility have largely rallied around him, seeking to protect his privilege. As a Bush-era White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, put it: “How much in society should any of us be held liable today when we lived a good life, an upstanding life by all accounts, and then something that maybe is an arguable issue took place in high school? Should that deny us chances later in life?” American Conservative editor Rod Dreher wondered “why the loutish drunken behavior of a 17 year old high school boy has anything to tell us about the character of a 53 year old judge.”

This collective agreement that accountability doesn’t apply to Kavanaugh (and, by extension, anybody in a similar position who was a youthful delinquent) may help explain why he seems to believe he can lie with impunity — a trend he continued Thursday, when he informed senators that he hadn’t seen the testimony of his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, even though a committee aide told the Wall Street Journal he’d been watching. In his furious interview with the panel that afternoon, Kavanaugh appeared astonished that anybody might impugn his character or try to keep him from the seat he is entitled to. “I’m never going to get my reputation back,” he complained.

Yet we cannot ignore that instead of dedicating his life to the relentless accumulation of wealth, Kavanaugh has pursued a career of public service. As a Justice Department aide to Kenneth Starr and, later, a judge, he earned a fraction of what he might have in the private sector. This represents another critical lesson of elite schools: servant leadership. The mission statement of my alma mater, for instance, professes “a commitment to engage as servant leaders in a complex world.” You are bred to be a leader who serves a higher ideal than your own advantage. Whatever you believe of his politics or his background, Kavanaugh’s commitment to public service cannot be denied.

While they seem contradictory, servant leadership and privilege are often bedfellows. Both suggest not a commonality with the ordinary American, but instead a standing above Everyman. Both justify locating power within a small elite because this elite is better equipped to lead. (Retired justice Anthony Kennedy, according to some reports, hand-picked Kavanaugh as his successor — a rather astonishing circumvention of the democratic process and the separation of powers.) Both have at their core not a commitment to shared democracy but a moral imperative to lead because of one’s exceptional qualities. And both allow space for lying in service of the greater good. Privilege means that things like perjury aren’t wrong under one’s own private law.


Shamus Khan, the chair of the sociology department at Columbia University, is the author of “Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School.”


By            :               Shamus Khan

Date         :               September 28, 2018

Source     :               Washington Post


South Africa’s white right, the Alt-Right and the alternative

By SOCVS | Published: OCTOBER 12, 2018


There has been a global rise in populism, especially of the right wing variety. In South Africa this has manifested in the increasingly strident Afriforum. This pressure group purports to advance the rights of Afrikaners, the ethnic group most closely identified with the former apartheid regime.

The prime ministers and presidents who ran the country from 1948 until 1994 were all Afrikaners.

Afriforum is usually ignored outside of Afrikaner ranks. But it attracted the ire of South Africans more broadly when two of its leaders, CEO Kallie Kriel and his deputy Ernst Roets, undertook a mission to the US in May this year. Their aim was to convince alt-right figures that white farmers were being targeted for murder.

Roets even secured an interview with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson. The interview on the right wing broadcaster apparently inspired US President Donald Trump to tweet that his administration will investigate the “large scale killing of (white) farmers” in South Africa.

Afriforum calls itself a “civil rights organisation”. Until recently its primary approach was to use the country’s human rights based constitution to launch court cases in defence of white Afrikaans speakers and, at times, of black people amenable to its agenda.

But it has since become the face of white denial about the past, and of defiance of the need for redress in the most unequal country in the world. Afriforum has successfully translated a growing resentment about the loss of Afrikaner control of the state into a political project.

State capture

During the last decade of the country’s 24-year-old democracy a form of Schadenfreude has emerged among white rightwingers. State capture, in the shape of massive corruption, and factional infighting in the governing African National Congress (ANC) have harmed state capacity. Multiple political, economic and constitutional crises have in the minds of white rightwingers confirmed their racist narrative that “black people can’t govern”.

An increase in public expressions and incidents of racism suggests a return to an intransigence that’s unapologetic about continuing white privilege and colonial and apartheid abuses. A more antagonistic Afriforum stepped into this moment rife with political opportunity.

Its politics is a cunning combination of Afrikaner nationalist mobilisation from the past with contemporary neoliberal elements and alt-right rhetoric from the US, Australia and Europe. Afriforum is part of the Groter Solidariteit-beweging (Greater Solidarity movement) that includes a trade union, a media house and companies selling education and other services.

According to Solidariteit, its movement has 350,000 members – sizeable in relation to a white population of 4.52 million. Solidariteit and Afriforum are the 21st century versions of the cultural entrepreneurs of the volksbeweging (people’s movement) that constructed and advanced the Afrikaner’s identity a century ago.

This movement, which included Soldariteit’s earlier manifestation as the whites-only Mineworkers’ Union (MWU), rose to state power in 1948 on the back of the promise of an expanded form of colonialism named apartheid.

Class alliance crumbled

Upward mobility due to apartheid benefits caused the Afrikaner nationalist class alliance to split between the middle class verligtes ( “the progressives”) and the working class verkramptes (“the reactionaries”). Verligte reform of apartheid to suit the changing operation of capitalism was detrimental for remaining Afrikaner workers.

It resulted in the formation of the Conservative Party (CP) in 1982. At the referendum 10 years later the verkramptes voted against the continuation of talks for the establishment of a non-racist, non-sexist democracy.

Afriforum hails from this political tradition. Not only is its parent organisation the former Mineworkers’ Union, but the same names appear. For example, Kriel was a youth leader of the Freedom Front Plus, a party that continues the CP legacy with four seats in parliament.

Afriforum is a political expression of what I call neo-Afrikaner enclave nationalism. This is a post-apartheid phenomenon that combines an “inward migration” to white spaces (suburbs, institutions, media) with connectedness to global whiteness. In their discourses racism is recast as “culture”, and heteropatriarchy as “family values”.

It’s channelled through the consumption of products. Individuals become Afrikaners by being consumers of Afrikaner culture, media products and related services, and spaces.

In a historic irony, democracy has brought together what apartheid rent apart. Verligtes and verkramptes meet each other under the sign of the market. Afrikaner identity becomes enacted through consumption.

Enclave nationalists

The tradition that the enclave nationalists draw on has historically only represented about 30% of white people, judging by the CP’s support and the “no” vote of the 1992 referendum. Solidariteit, Afriforum and their verligte media allies are eager to expand their constituencies.

Alt-right rhetorical devices are employed. Prejudice, half-truths and distortions are combined with insults and threats of violence. For example, in a 31-minute late night monologue on YouTube Roets attacked law professor Elmien du Plessis for criticising Afriforum’s US visit.

He concluded by quoting Jewish writer Victor Klemperer, who wrote that if the tables were turned after the Holocaust he,

would have all the intellectuals strung up, and the professors three feet higher than the rest.

It’s relevant to mention that Du Plessis is a white Afrikaans-speaking woman. As other examples also show, the ranks of patriarchal whiteness are again closing in defiance of racial and gender justice. The policing of the boundaries of the Afrikaner identity has been stepped up.

As happened during apartheid, alternative voices are delegitimised. Afriforum and its allies actively seek to suppress positions that contradict theirs. Gauging the extent of dissidence among Afrikaans-speaking whites is difficult. Many no longer identify as Afrikaners. Many are getting on with their contributions to make South Africa’s democracy work.

Most would be loathe to organise as Afrikaners. But, given responses that show that many among their compatriots and in the outside world see the white right as representative of all white Afrikaans-speakers, the time may have come for those in support of justice and equality to be more vocal in keeping the record straight.


By            :               Christi van der Westhuizen (Associate Professor, Sociology, University of Pretoria)

Date         :               October 4, 2018

Source     :               The Conversation


Class – not race nor religion – is potentially Singapore’s most divisive fault line

By SOCVS | Published: OCTOBER 12, 2018


That is the finding of the latest, and one of the largest, surveys on this topic, raising questions on whether the society is still based on equality and meritocracy. The documentary Regardless of Class examines the issues.


SINGAPORE: The fault lines that have been the most worrisome in Singapore since the nation’s independence are, after 53 years, no longer so in the eyes of its people.

Instead of race and religion, what worries Singaporeans more is the class divide.

That is the finding of the latest, and one of the largest, surveys on this topic, which Dr Janil Puthucheary, the chairman of – the national body promoting harmony – worked with Channel NewsAsia to commission.

Almost half of the 1,036 citizen respondents felt that income inequality is the likeliest to cause a social divide here.

As sociology professor Tan Ern Ser said after examining the data: “What we’re seeing here is that if you compare between race, religion, sexual orientation, nationality (country of birth) and class, class matters.”

It matters so much that only about 20 per cent of the respondents felt that race was likeliest to cause a social divide, and an almost similar proportion felt that way about religion.

That is a “huge gap” between the worries over income inequality and those traditional fault lines, noted Dr Puthucheary, who found some of the survey results quite “unsettling”.

“Today, it’s the divide between the haves and the have-nots that’s creating the most tension,” he said. “This is going to be an explosive issue because it challenges some of the values that we hold so firmly and dearly”.

Values like fairness, meritocracy and the “founding ideal that there’ll be no such thing as a second-class citizen”. But has the nation been living up to that standard for every Singaporean?

Do people believe that Singapore is a city of opportunity where they can make it so long as they work hard? Is education effective as a social leveller today?

Those are some of the questions explored on the documentary, Regardless of Class. And the answers reflect some “uncomfortable realities”, said host Dr Puthucheary.


The treatment that security guard Mohammed Syukri receives is instructive. It may vary from resident to resident at the condominium where he works, but they can get “harsh”.

“Sometimes, even when the barrier isn’t open properly, they’d start shouting at us. They’d say ‘useless security’ and ‘stupid security’ and things like that,” he related.

He was “a bit shocked” by this when he started out in this low-paid profession. “But after a while, I go site to site, and everything and everywhere is also the same, so I get used to it,” he added.

When that kind of thing happens to me, I can’t vent my anger on anyone, so I just keep it to myself.

When asked to voice his thoughts, however, he said nervously: “They’re treating us like not humans but … like slaves.”

Stories like his are not new. Dr Puthucheary said: “I hear them all the time in my work as a Member of Parliament, from waiters, security guards, cleaners (and) salespeople. They tell me about a deepening class divide.”

He asked some of them to write down their stories, to find out if people are guilty of creating an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ situation.

One McDonald’s cleaner wrote: “I know I’m invisible. I have to get used to this, and learn to stop caring.”

Similarly, a public estate cleaner wrote: “I just sweep the floor, and then you throw rubbish from the top of the block. Then after that residents complain … The blame is always on me.

“We live our lives as if we’re apart. They go about doing their own work, I go about living mine.”

It is the “little things”, such as a look or a throwaway comment, that cause a sense of separation, said Dr Puthucheary. “And it’s these social cues that slowly widen the divide.”

Another security guard, Mr Pugalenthi, can attest to that. “People think … a security guard is a low-class job. They say, “Ah, you’re only a security guard,’” he said.

“Sometimes I feel, like, alamak … This job, why do people look down on it? Work is work.”


The class divide has been a buzz phrase since an Institute of Policy Studies survey last year found the gap to be more pronounced than it seemed.

Most researchers define class by income, housing type and education. But people can make class markers out of anything, from the way others speak to the way they dress, even if it may be off the mark.

That has been the experience of freelance actress Nadiyah Ramlan, who has received comments about her “low-class” dress style and has also been asked about her education level. “That’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” she said.

In the documentary, to determine a person’s social class, participants asked questions about the stranger’s hobbies, travel destinations, favourite brands and where he or she shopped, among others.

On the website Quora, some people have suggested that one’s occupation as well as state of mind, such as confidence level and social etiquette, can also contribute to the perception of socio-economic class in Singapore.

Recently, a social studies guidebook (not on the approved textbook list) even codified stereotypes of the classes into text, causing an uproar.

So in July, the CNA survey asked the respondents, aged 18 to 74, what they thought of others from different classes.

Given a choice of over 20 characteristics, the top three perceptions Singaporeans had of the upper class were: Able to speak good English (chosen by 98 per cent); tended to plan ahead; and domineering (both 94 per cent).

As for perceptions of the lower class, most people thought they were friendly (92 per cent), caring and tended to speak Singlish.

What Dr Puthucheary found more interesting were the differences between the ways people saw the upper classes versus the lower classes. Some 91 per cent thought the former were arrogant, versus 35 per cent who thought that of the latter.

People also thought someone from the upper class was likelier to be luckier than someone from the lower class (90 vs 48 per cent).

These are more than just perceptions, however; they also affect interactions between the different ends of the divide.

The middle and lower classes have to “be somebody else” to blend in with the upper class, which is “very uncomfortable”, said Malay language instructor Rohati Januri. But the alternative – being one’s own self – leads to feeling excluded, she admitted.


Is Singapore’s class consciousness starting in school, however? To find out, CNA interviewed several groups of nine- to 11-year-olds. And as Shievon Cheah put it, “If you have the most expensive things, you’re the most popular also.”

Asked what she thought of those who get a lot of pocket money, she said: “They’re rich or their parents just don’t care how much they give their kids.”

Grayden Tan, who classified himself as “a little above average”, said hesitantly: “I think rich people treat poor people badly … because they think they’re rich, so they don’t really know what it’s like to be poor.”

Asked how the poor treated the rich, he replied: “They don’t treat them badly. They don’t say anything. It’s just that they’re a bit hurt and sad that these rich people say these things like ‘go get a job’.”

Both Marcus Lee and Renee Phua have fathers who told them to study hard to earn more in future, or risk ending up with a low-paid job.

Asked what he thought of poor people, Marcus said: “They may be good socially, but maybe they don’t have the (job) skills.”

When another group of students, aged 15 to 17, from the Integrated Programme (IP) and the Normal streams came together, the differences were clear.

The parents of the IP students and the students themselves expected at least ‘A’s and to go to university, locally or abroad.

The parents of the Normal stream students and the students themselves expected a pass in all their subjects and a little bit of improvement, and also to get into the Institute of Technical Education.

How much did they interact with students from a different stream? “Most of the people in the Express stream look down on us,” said Normal (Academic) student Joey Heng.

They think we’re quite stupid, so they seldom talk to us.

Normal (Technical) student Muhd Nadiy Razin has friends from the Express stream but does not usually hang out with them. “They’re very quiet and neat in school, not like us. We usually create chaos,” he said.

N(T) student Muhammad Sufa Aniq has tried talking to some Express students, and they have reciprocated. But the gap is hard to bridge. “The way they speak and the way I speak are very different,” he said.

Such friendships require a lot of effort, agreed IP student Maniyar Kareena Tushar. “The kind of activities my school may expose me to outside of school generally tend to be quite populated by the higher express streams,” she said.

She doubts that mixed-ability classes are a viable solution. “It might even increase the gap if the students feel as if they can’t cope, so they just give up completely,” she explained.

Nadiy and Aniq, on the other hand, think it could work, but only if the teachers are willing to help them.


The discussion the students had was awkward, acknowledged Dr Puthucheary. “But I think the reality is that’s what they face every day – we want to remove ourselves from situations where we feel embarrassed,” he said..

“Maybe that’s one of the reasons why it’s so difficult for kids of different backgrounds to interact regularly all the time and develop deep friendships.”

The class divide can have an impact beyond just friendships, however. Playwright Faith Ng, who was from the Normal stream, said worries at home about her family’s finances did affect her studies. She was not motivated and had poor self-esteem.

“The teachers would say things like ‘even though you’re from Normal’. And that ‘even though’ already would imply a lot. So you kind of deduce that it means you’re not as good as everybody else,” she said.

It took her a decade to get over the stigma, but she went on to get a master’s degree and is now a part-time university lecturer.

Dr Puthucheary saw her story as a “silver lining”, as not just one of class bias but “also one of social mobility”.

“That’s what we’ve always been proud of: People are given the opportunity to rise above their circumstances. And I’ve always believed in this too. It’s your ability, not your connections – your worth, not your birth,” he said.

But CNA’s survey showed that not everyone felt the same way. Asked what it would take to get them out of poverty, those respondents suggested, in ascending order: Knowing the right people; education; and, most importantly, hard work.

In contrast, when people from the upper class were asked how to get rich, they suggested: Hard work; ability; and, most importantly, knowing the right people. Education did not factor into their top three reasons.

When it came to social mobility, only half of the people from the lower class were confident that their next generation’s financial situation will improve.

Anglican High School literature teacher Samuel Chan said family “has a big part to play”, where some parents have the familial, cultural and financial resources to give their children a head start.

“We’re seeing a gap in achievement for different students,” said Mr Chan, who also teaches low-income students at non-profit organisation Readable.

Then there is the perception among parents that “unless you’re going to certain schools, your avenues for success are closed off to you”.

But he thinks that education is a symptom, rather than a cause, of the “felt sense that society is more unequal” and that it can still function “very much” as a social leveller.


Ultimately, however, why should the average Singaporean care about income inequality?

The Straits Times opinion editor Chua Mui Hoong thinks it should be because “so much of the Singaporean identity has been built on the idea that we can all have a fair go, that you can do well in life regardless of your family connections (and) wealth”.

And she wants to see this not only preserved but entrenched and enhanced.

“It becomes a problem if we’re increasingly having a society where people who are already privileged and with access to resources are able to pass on those advantages to their children,” she said.

A divided society, she believes, would be “a very unhappy one, full of resentment, full of envy, full of talk about the divide between the best and the rest, full of criticisms of the elite … (and) totally fractured politics”.

That society could become quite ungovernable.

Currently, people from the higher classes are likelier than those from the lower classes to participate in society by, for example, volunteering in labour unions, sports clubs, professional associations and non-governmental organisations, or engaging in arts and cultural activities.

Dr Puthucheary believes that probably explains why the survey found that class affects people’s feelings about the country: 70 per cent of the higher classes felt a strong sense of belonging, compared with 46 per cent of the lower classes.

And 76 per cent of the higher classes felt proud to be Singaporean, compared with 50 per cent of the lower classes.

“This is the gap that really matters to me, that the rich feel connected to Singapore, and the poor don’t,” said the senior minister of state.

“This class gap is really an inclusion gap. So solving this problem, to me, can’t just be one more thing on our to-do list. It can’t only be a line item on a ministry’s budget.

“Tackling this divide is central to what makes us Singaporean – that no one should consider themselves a second-class citizen,” he concluded.


By            :               Derrick A. Paulo

Date         :               October 1, 2018

Source     :               Channel News Asia


Hey, Sociologists! Speak Up!

By SOCVS | Published: SEPTEMBER 22, 2018


There’s an academic discipline that studies economic questions in illuminating ways. But it’s too quiet about it.

Sociologists Matthew Desmond of Princeton University and Nathan Wilmers of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have written what by all appearances is going to be a blockbuster paper. I can tell you what it’s called: “Do the Poor Pay More for Housing? Exploitation, Profit, and Risk in Rental Markets.” I can also tell you that their answer is “yes.”

I could tell you a bit more than that, based on the notes I took when Desmond presented the results at the American Sociological Association annual m1eeting in Philadelphia last Monday. But that feels like it would be bad form, given that when I approached Desmond afterwards he said he wasn’t ready to share the paper or discuss it with the media, and hadn’t really thought yet about when he would be (he later passed on an estimate: January).

Now, Desmond is among the most brilliant and acclaimed scholars studying poverty in the U.S. He received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 2015, and his book “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction. He and Wilmers (who just got his Ph.D. from Harvard this year) won’t have any trouble getting media attention for their study when the time comes, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t get to choose when that time is. But to somebody who has spent decades writing about economic research, the notion that researchers have completed a paper on a topic of economic interest — according to Wilmers’ website, it’s already been accepted for publication in the American Journal of Sociology — and I can’t get my hands on it is novel, and more than a little aggravating.

Economists, you see, put draft versions of their papers online seemingly as soon as they’ve finished typing. Attend their big annual meeting, as I have several times, and virtually every paper discussed is available beforehand for download and perusal. In fact, they’re available even if you don’t go to the meeting. I wrote a column two years ago arguing that this openness had given economists a big leg up over the other social sciences in media attention and political influence, and noting that a few sociologists agreed and were trying to nudge their discipline — which disseminates its research mainly through paywalled academic journals and university-press books — in that direction with a new open repository for papers called SocArxiv. 1 Now that I’ve experienced the ASA annual meeting for the first time, I can report that (1) things haven’t progressed much since 2016, and (2) I have a bit more sympathy for sociologists’ reticence to act like economists, although I continue to think it’s holding them back.

SocArxiv’s collection of open-access papers is growing steadily if not spectacularly, and Sociological Science, an open-access journal founded in 2014, is carving out a respected role as, among other things, a place to quickly publish articles of public interest. “Unions and Nonunion Pay in the United States, 1977-2015” by Patrick Denice of the University of Western Ontario and Jake Rosenfeld of Washington University in St. Louis, for example, was submitted June 12, accepted July 10 and published on Wednesday, the day after it was presented at the ASA meeting. These dissemination tools are used by only a small minority of sociologists, though, and the most sparsely attended session I attended in three-plus days at their annual meeting was the one on “Open Scholarship in Sociology” organized by the University of Maryland’s Philip Cohen, the founder of SocArxiv and one of the discipline’s most prominent social-media voices. This despite the fact that it was great, featuring compelling presentations by Cohen, Sociological Science deputy editor Kim Weeden of Cornell University and higher-education expert Elizabeth Popp Berman of the State University of New York at Albany, and free SocArxiv pens for all.

As I made the rounds of other sessions, I did come to a better understanding of why sociologists might be more reticent than economists to put their drafts online. The ASA welcomes journalists to its annual meeting and says they can attend all sessions where research is presented,2  but few reporters show up and it’s clear that most of those presenting research don’t consider themselves to be speaking in public. The most dramatic example of this in Philadelphia came about halfway through a presentation involving a particular corporation. The speaker paused, then asked the 50-plus people in the room not to mention the name of said corporation to anybody because she was about to return to an undercover job there. That was a bit ridiculous, given that there were sociologists live-tweeting some of the sessions. But there was something charming and probably healthy about the willingness of the sociologists at the ASA meeting to discuss still-far-from-complete work with their peers. When a paper is presented at an economics conference, many of the discussant’s comments and audience questions are attempts to poke holes in the reasoning or methodology. At the ASA meeting, it was usually, “This is great. Have you thought about adding …?” Also charming and probably healthy was the high number of graduate students presenting research alongside the professors, which you don’t see so much at the economists’ equivalent gathering.

All in all — and I’m sure there are sociological terms to describe this, but I’m not familiar with them — sociology seems more focused on internal cohesion than economics is. This may be partly because it’s what Popp Berman calls a “low-consensus discipline,” with lots of different methodological approaches and greatly varying standards of quality and rigor. Economists can be mean to each other in public yet still present a semi-united face to the world because they use a widely shared set of tools to arrive at answers. Sociologists may feel that they don’t have that luxury.

They also may not have the luxury, though, of continuing as they have. Economics, physics and other fields with more open publishing cultures have been able to partially crowdsource quality control by letting anybody who wants take potshots at research findings rather than relying on the increasingly creaky institution of peer review. If sociology sticks with its behind-closed-paywalls approach, it risks falling even farther behind not only in visibility but in quality. In an era when higher education is under increasing economic and political pressure to justify its existence, that seems dangerous.

Meanwhile, the world actually is clamoring for more input from sociologists. At least, economics journalists (myself and my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Noah Smith included) occasionally clamor for it. As Neil Irwin put it in the New York Times last year:

Sociologists spend their careers trying to understand how societies work. And some of the most pressing problems in big chunks of the United States may show up in economic data as low employment levels and stagnant wages but are also evident in elevated rates of depression, drug addiction and premature death. In other words, economics is only a piece of a broader, societal problem. So maybe the people who study just that could be worth listening to.

To this I would add that the sub-discipline of economic sociology has evolved in recent decades from complaining about how simplistic economics is to doing original research into economic topics such as the two papers cited above, and that a slew of sociologists in and outside of business schools do important research into how organizations function and how work-life is evolving. Also, it was apparent at the ASA meeting that academic sociology is much less male-dominated and has a different racial and ethnic mix than economics, which presumably leads to usefully different ways of seeing the world. (For better or worse, academic sociology is also much more overtly left-leaning than economics.)

Sociologists surely don’t have all the answers, but they at least have different ones than economists do. If only they’d be willing to share more of them.

(Corrects name of sociology publication in fifth paragraph in article published yesterday.)

  1. Pronounced “sosh (with a long “o”) archive”
  2. As opposed to business meetings of the ASA and its sections.


By : Justin Fox
Date : August 21, 2018
Source : Bloomberg Opinion


The sociology of the United Nations

By SOCVS | Published: SEPTEMBER 22, 2018


To change the dysfunctional sociology of the United Nations, a freedom of information statute is required. There is seldom good reason to keep the operations of the United Nations a secret. The only hope for a tolerantly efficient public bureaucracy is that the administration complies in good faith with transparent rules. This is a principal tool in improving the dysfunctional operation of the United Nations.

All organisations have their own bureaucratic culture. Ludwig von Miss wrote a famous short book about bureaucracy, in which he characterised the malfunctions inherent in any large public administration. What he neglected to note was that his observations apply to private sector organisations as well. And, in turn, they apply to international (that is to say, intergovernmental) organisations. This is a subject about which I have written at greater length, in my “Essay on the Accountability of International Organisations”. My goal here is more modest: to draw out the distinctive features of intergovernmental organisations that render their bureaucracies even more pathological than standard government and private sector organisations.

The essential problem of any bureaucracy is one of a complex and interlocking set of agency problems. The goal of the organisation is unlikely to be the same as that of any of the people who work within its administrative structure. For all the skills employees may have, the larger the bureaucracy the greater the amount of time must be spent by staff on reconciling the agency problems and perverse, conflictual incentives upon the bureaucrats; and the ever smaller proportion of any individual’s time that an be spent upon using his or her skills to pursue the goals of the organisation.

Consider the following. I am a sole trader. I have an organisation of one. I sell widgets in town. My incentive is to sell as many widgets as possible. Suppose how I hire two salesmen, to cover the town: east and west. They may have incentives that are inefficient: each to beat the other in a competition to impress me. They may fight over the extent of their mandates (what territory is covered by “east” and what by “west”), to try to show that the other is not getting their figures right, or to try to hide or exaggerate the fact that east and west may not naturally be the most lucrative market for widgets. To manage these problems, the business-owner may hire a line manager to whom the two salesmen report. Then everyone starts undertaking analyses, writing reports and the like. There is ever less selling of widgets (proportionate to the size of the workforce) and ever more bureaucracy, as we expand the workforce. And on it goes.

The problem is more acute for a public sector bureaucracy, because the goals are contested and more difficult to measure. Private sector bureaucracies can be self-disciplining, because the owners of the business want maximum returns and will remove the director of the business if they do not maximise revenues and minimise expenditures. Public sector bureaucracies do not work in this way. In democracies, the politically elected (or appointed) minister in charge of a department may be replaced if the department is not perceived as working correctly. But for the most part, politicians are hostage to unexpected events that are far more determinative of their career prospects. Instead the prevailing rationale for a bureaucracy in the public sector is budgetary augmentation. The starting assumption is that a public administration has an annual budget that it wants to increase (or it wants to increase its share of a broader public budget). The reason public bureaucracies think like this is because the source of their funding is compulsory taxation rather than voluntary sales.

Taxpayers cannot elect to opt out of being taxed. (At least, the vast majority of taxpayers cannot. There is an international elite that can change their jurisdiction of residence for the purposes of minimising their tax liabilities, but this group is sufficiently small that their effect upon a government’s net tax revenue is nominal.) Therefore, all things being equal, the tax revenues available to fund a bureaucracy will be the same as they were last year. Or at least that will be the starting assumption. If there are lower tax revenues in general for government, for example because the economy has dipped over the last twelve months or political considerations have mandated reductions in tax rates, then government will typically borrow to cover the gap. Western democracies seldom balance their budgets.

On the other hand, if tax revenues have gone up then there is an increased pie for any government department to take a share of. The bureaucratic incentive for a public sector organisation is to increase its budget share. It does this by creating additional functions, needs and problems that the bureaucracy is required to resolve. The incentives of civil servants at all levels in a bureaucracy are to increase the prestige, importance of perceived need for what they are doing; to increase the number of people who work for them; and to spend the budget allocation they receive because otherwise it might be taken away.

Hence bureaucracies want to establish new departments and new functions, and identify new public needs that they can meet. Public bureaucracies proliferate new projects, preferably ones that involve procedures rather than outcomes because outcomes might be capable of measurement and therefore criticism. Their only restraint – aside from legal review (and that is usually confined to cases where bureaucracies do things that affect individuals in substantial ways – only a proportion of public sector bureaucrats do that) – is the risk of a diminution in budget when, once every few years, an “austerity” government is elected that cuts back on bureaucratic activities; or criticism of them that causes the bureaucracy to be reorganised (i.e. people being demoted to irrelevance or fired).

This is why abdication of responsibility is so important in a bureaucratic context: if these decimatory events come to pass, then the individuals who took responsibility will be the first to be sacrificed by their colleagues in the bureaucracy. Those colleagues would rather others suffer than that they do, and bureaucratic downsizing is a zero-sum game.

Now let us transfer this conceptual framework to the politics of an international organisation. For international organisations, there are no taxpayers. There are only voluntary contributors, at least as a practical matter. The people who fund international organisations are states, not citizens, and irrespective of what a treaty may say, no international organisation can force any member state to pay what they owe. Member states of international organisations might therefore be considered as more akin to customers of private corporations, particularly as regards their so-called “voluntary contributions”, being funds contributed by states to specific UN agencies and projects and subject to conditions.

However the consumers are not typical, because member states are not spending their own money. In turns they are spending their own taxpayers’ money. Why do they do this? Part of the reason is path-dependance: they always have done. This is the same explanation as to why the starting point for a government department’s budget for the year is the figure it was for the prior year. But another reason is that the United Nations allows its member states to internationalise problems. “This matter is being dealt with by the United Nations.” Therefore if and when it goes wrong, it is the fault of the United Nations, that is corrupt, wasteful and inefficient. It is not the fact of the nations who mandated the United Nations to get involved in the problem at stake, and who paid the UN to do it. Everyone that is a member of the United Nations loves to moan about its poor performance, because then the UN is under scrutiny and not them.

In this regard, the sociology of the UN’s interactions with its shareholders are somewhat akin to a private banker investing his or her client’s funds in a highly risky hedge fund. Safe, well-performing hedge funds have been closed to new entrants for years. If and when the risk goes south, the private banker can blame someone other than himself or herself.

As with a regular government bureaucracy, the United Nations can suffer short- to medium-term adjustment to its liquidity or revenues, because it can borrow and expect to make up the shortfall later. It is only when the flame of criticism is alight that the sudden panic amongst UN bureaucrats to avoid responsibility comes to the fore. Because there are no freedom of information rules inherent to the United Nations – in fact quite the opposite (most UN treaties provide that the archives of the UN ad its specialist agencies are “inviolable”, mean confidential and secret from absolutely all outside prying, including that of citizens, member states, police, prosecutorial and judicial authorities worldwide), public criticism is rare. Diplomats know what is happening inside the UN, but diplomats are not usually publicity-focused people. Hence they just attack the UN in private, and they risk becoming entwined within its web of gossip and scandal.

Journalists cannot get access. National politicians do not usually much care. Where activities of the United Nations are particularly precarious – for example, dangerous peacekeeping missions that may well end up in public failure – it is typical to appoint retired or failed politicians to the heads of such missions, so that they can be blamed when things go wrong rather than the long-term UN functionaries themselves being blamed.

Aside from this, the power relations within international organisations are much the same as within public sector bureaucracies. The two features of public international bureaucracies that render them distinctly dysfunctional are the following. (a) The fact that the quantity of money sent to the United Nations, and other agencies, per head of population consisting of final taxpaying voters from each member state (at least for the taxpayers who live in democracies and hence can vote) is insufficiently significant for the activities of the United Nations to make any difference to their voting intentions. (b) The United Nations has the power, which it exercises effectively, to control the information flow out of it as to what it is doing. Its media divisions release whatever information they want, leaving the greater remainder of the information about the UN’s activities unexposed to the media.

For these reasons, the propensity for hydra-headed bureaucratic growth in the United Nations, with ever-greater layers of management, incomprehensible procedures, new departments and divisions, programmes, agendas, goals, publications, consultation papers, partnerships, agencies, directors, officers and the like – quite ad nauseam. The United Nations is awn unleashed public sector bureaucracy on steroids.

The absence of legal accountability (the United Nations and its employees are generally immune from suit in domestic courts) compounds the problem But the UN seldom does things that might give aggrieved external individuals legal rights to sue the organisation, even if it did not have immunity. The one exception is where UN peacekeepers commit abuses over their charges, a phenomenon that has unfortunately emerged recently as far more prevalent than is excusable. In such circumstances the UN seeks to uphold immunity because UN peacekeepers are not, of course, actually UN troops operating under genuine multilateral command structures (however much things might be set up to give that appearance). UN peacekeepers are national soldiers loaned by their governments in exchange for money.

By far the majority of UN peacekeepers are deployed in the Great Lakes region at the current time. The three biggest state contributors to UN peacekeeping are India, Pakistan and Rwanda. They operate de facto within their national command structures. The United Nations does not want to find itself assaulted with lawsuits in New York courts (the UN headquarters being situated in New York) in respect of human rights abuses committed in a remote region of central Africa by troops from these three nations. This is comprehensible to a degree. Indeed it is inconceivable that DPKO (the UN’s “Department of Peacekeeping Operations”) would authorise any troop deployment in respect of which it could be held vicariously liable for the actions of troops, from these nations and others, operating under de facto national command structures. The United Nations would never be able to recoup the moneys it paid out to successful plaintiffs as a practical matters, so it would just cancel all UN peacekeeping missions: something it is hard to see as an unqualifiedly good thing.

The prohibition upon UN employees beginning lawsuits before domestic employment tribunals is substantially more controversial. The internal court system the UN has established to hear such claims is unsatisfactory for a number of reasons: there are caps on the size of damages; discovery (compulsory document disclosure, a standard feature of civil litigation in domestic courts) is limited; witnesses may not appear; the appeals process appears rigged in favour of UN management. Moreover the internalised employment tribunal existing for employees of most UN specialised agencies – the Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organisation – is vastly more dysfunctional, not even holding any hearings although its Statute requires it to do so. Exposing the UN to national employment courts could help a lot in shining a light of publicity upon the operations of the UN system, particularly if the media were able to attend and report upon those court hearings.

To change the dysfunctional sociology of the United Nations, a freedom of information statute is required. There is seldom good reason to keep the operations of the United Nations a secret. The procedure for obtaining access to documentation would need to be quick, unbureaucratic, a refusal would need to be signed by a manager with actual day-to-day access to the documentation, and there would need to be an impartial tribunal procedure to adjudicate a refusal or ignorance of a request. As with all freedom of information regimes, this would need to be very strict. It would not serve as a universal panacea to the problems of the United Nations. No public sector bureaucracy is perfect. But it could only improve things, that currently are bad. The notion that freedom of information legislation just makes bureaucrats prepare compliant documents is misplaced. Bureaucrats should prepare compliant documents. The only hope for a tolerantly efficient public bureaucracy is that the administration complies in good faith with transparent rules. This is a principal tool in improving the dysfunctional operation of the United Nations.

Matthew Parish is an international lawyer based in Geneva, Switzerland and a former UN peacekeeper. He has published two books and over 250 articles on the subject. In 2013 he was elected as a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum and he has was listed as one of the three hundred most influential people in Switzerland. He is currently a candidate for appointment to a position of Under Secretary General of the United Nations with an agenda for institutional reform.


By            :               Matthew Parish

Date         :               August 13, 2018

Source     :               Transconflict



Sociology Journal: Why Lobbyists So Persistently Call Evolution a “Fact”

By SOCVS | Published: SEPTEMBER 22, 2018


How many times have you heard the phrase “evolution is a fact”? Even some very smart people, who you might think would know better, have been gulled by the constant repetition of variations on this assertion. Sure, you’ve heard it on Friends. You’ve heard it on Cosmos. You’ve heard it so many times from so many evolution advocates that it’s almost pointless to document the ubiquity of this way of talking.

When speaking to the public, why are Darwin advocates so emphatic that “evolution is a scientific fact”? Finally, an article in a mainstream sociology journal has tackled this question. In “Evolution as a fact? A discourse analysis,” authors Jason Jean and Yixi Lu confirm what we knew all along: evolution advocates call evolution a “fact” in order to make evolution appear more certain to the public.

What We Knew All Along

You don’t have to take our word for it. Here is what the paper says:

The primary goal of those who advocate for this discourse has always been to counter antievolutionism by associating the term ‘fact’ with evolution, thereby making evolution appear more certain to the public. … [A]dvocates clearly show how the discourse is driven by concerns external to the scientific vernacular and the practice of science, namely a perceived need to make evolution appear more certain to the public.

(Jason Jean and Yixi Lu, “Evolution as a fact? A discourse analysis,” Social Studies of Science, Vol. 48(4) 615-632 (2018))

In employing this rhetoric, Darwin activists also have a secondary goal — it’s to assert their “intellectual authority” and to achieve “denial of…resources,” specifically “intellectual authority and career opportunities,” to Darwin-skeptics. What, you’re not surprised to hear that either? Here’s how the article puts it:

The discourse encompasses all instances where public scientists (Turner, 1980) describe evolution as a fact. Public scientists are those who engage in the practice of public science, where scientists or anyone claiming to speak for science address an audience in order to achieve their professional goals. These goals, according to Gieryn (1983), are the ‘acquisition of intellectual authority and career opportunities; denial of these resources to “pseudoscientists”; and protection of the autonomy of scientific research from political interference.’ (p. 781)

But there’s a problem: most scientists don’t all agree about what exactly words such as “fact,” “theory,” or “hypothesis” mean. Unless these terms are carefully defined, when evolution advocates claim evolution is a “fact,” they aren’t promoting a clear and careful understanding of any scientific idea. Instead, they perpetuate what the article calls “a discursive morass.”

“An Extremely Probable Idea”

The authors explain that “[t]he inability of advocates to agree upon how facts are defined, described and related to hypotheses and theories has led to the creation of an ever-increasing morass.” In a very well-researched passage, they list many of the “contradictory” yet rhetorically forceful labels that are applied to evolution when it is pushed on the public. These include calling evolution:

“the truth”


“a historical fact”

“an extremely probable idea”

“a well-substantiated hypothesis”

“a well-substantiated theory”

“a former theory”

“a common-sense fact”

“a fact, not a theory”

“a fact and a theory”

“a fact, theory and path”

The article argues that evolution activists thus “take traditionally ambiguous scientific terms, and define them and their relationships to one another in disputed, contradictory and confusing ways.” This “contradictory” discourse creates serious problems for the public’s understanding of science — what the article calls “vernacular confusion.” In fact, this confused way of speaking shows that evolution advocates really aren’t all that interested in carefully explaining to the public what terms like “hypothesis,” “theory,” and “fact” mean — they’re mainly interested in getting you to disbelieve Darwin-skeptics and to accept evolution:

Given these issues, it is possible to conclude that the discourse was never meant to properly explain scientific terminology to the public. Associating the term ‘fact’ with evolution is instead a means to attack antievolutionist claims and arguments, despite the negative consequences of a minority scientific terminology, ignoring established scientific consensuses, and creating a morass of contradictory and confusing explanations for how evolution is a fact. In his detailed analysis of the issues involved, the biologist Kirk Fitzhugh (2008: 112) dismisses the discourse, referring to it as a series of ‘catch phrases that promote misunderstanding.’

Ultimately the article aims to streamline the public discourse and encourage scientists who are Darwin advocates to stop abusing terms like “fact” or “theory” simply for the purpose of advocating evolution. That is a fine goal, and good luck with it. Cat-herding might be easier.

A “Criticism-Free Zone”

 Improving the rhetoric of Darwin lobbyists seems to be an especially unlikely outcome since, as the authors astutely observe, these public advocates of evolution have adopted an “implicit agreement” in which they refuse to publicly criticize one-another. The paper calls this a “criticism-free zone” among Darwin advocates. Consider this striking passage:

The second implicit agreement is that no discourse advocate is allowed to subject another advocate’s cultural cartography to criticism. Among all the discourse advocates and users discussed here, none have made a single criticism of the cultural cartographies used by other advocates, and they routinely cite one another in support of their discourse advocacy (Gregory, 2008; Hughes, 1982; McComas, 1997; Moran, 2002). This agreement has assisted in the establishment of a ‘criticism-free zone’ in public science, in which discourse advocates can make seemingly any claim regarding key scientific terms.

… This criticism-free zone has thus far gone unnoticed, as discourse advocates and users reserve their attacks for antievolutionists.

“Evolution Is A Fact, Fact, FACT!”

That is very perceptive. Public advocates of evolution indeed tend to go soft on one another so

as to focus their fire on Darwin-skeptics. The paper could cause a stir, since it has violated this “implicit agreement” that mainstream academics should never criticize public advocates of evolution. Because these authors have dared to tell the truth and criticize that which is otherwise beyond criticism, they may be in for some harsh responses from Darwin lobbyists.

What’s the take-home point of this paper? Well, one is that next time someone tells you “Evolution is a fact, fact, FACT!,” as Michael Ruse does in his book Darwinism Defended (p. 58), ask him what he means by “evolution,” and by “fact.” You could also remind him that people who use this kind of rhetoric are simply bullying their audience while, in the process, damaging the public’s understanding of science.



Date         :               August 27, 2018

Source     :               Evolution News



South African crime statistics need to be put into context

By SOCVS | Published: SEPTEMBER 22, 2018


If the latest crime figures tell us anything, it is how far South Africa has to go in dealing with the violent legacy of apartheid, writes Bill Dixon.

Like all crime statistics, South Africa’s need to be treated with caution (South Africa ‘like a war zone’ after surge in murders, 12 September).

Yes, murder rates are about the most reliable indicator of levels of violence. And, yes, a 7% increase in murder in 2017-18 over the previous year as part of a continuing upward trend evident since 2011-12 is worrying. But a sense of both perspective and context is needed too.
Last year’s murder rate of 35.2 per 100,000 people is up from a low of 30.1 per 100,000 in 2011. But it is dwarfed by the figure of 78 per 100,000 recorded back in 1993, the year before South Africa’s first democratic elections.

When it comes to other forms of crime, such as housebreaking, the data is much less reliable – largely because of hard-to-detect changes in both reporting by citizens and recording by the police. South Africa’s Victims of Crime Survey suggests that, overall, crime in 2016-17 was down, but that only just over half of all incidents of housebreaking were reported to the police.

As for policing, the reality is that most of it is done not by “the police” but by a vast array of private providers from multinational security companies to self-appointed neighbourhood enforcers. Tackling corruption and improving leadership in the public police service is one thing, responding to the chronic insecurity experienced by millions of South Africans another.

If the latest crime figures tell us anything, it is how far South Africa has to go in dealing with the violent legacy of apartheid, and the unfinished business of creating a more just society.
Bill Dixon, Professor of criminology, school of sociology and social policy, University of Nottingham


By            :               Bill Dixon

Date         :               September 13, 2018

Source     :               The Guardian


Nearly 60% of young children are social justice activists – a future full of Elin Erssons

By SOCVS | Published: AUGUST 10, 2018


Since 21-year-old Swedish student Elin Ersson live streamed her protest against the deportation of an Afghan asylum seeker, the video has been viewed more than 11m times on Facebook. The young woman refused to sit down until the man was removed, announcing to the camera and her fellow passengers: “I’m doing what I can to save a person’s life.”

At one point in the video, a man with a British accent is heard telling Ersson:
I don’t care what you think. What about all these children that you, you, are frightening?

His point seems to be that Ersson’s message – about asylum seekers, the refugee crisis and activism – is not for children. According to this argument, children need to be insulated from distressing political and social issues.

This isn’t an unusual opinion, though it is somewhat outdated. People used to think of children as not-yet-adults – “becomings”. But this argument was long ago dismantled by academics in childhood studies, youth workers and the United Nations back in the late 1980s. Children began to be thought of instead as “beings”, respected members of society in their own right.

Article 13 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children “have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds”.

It was this idea that formed the formal citizenship education in the UK at least as it was originally conceived. The 1998 Crick report, which recommended making citizenship part of the national curriculum for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, advised that “many controversial topics are major issues of the day: moral, economic, political and religious issues which young people ought to know about”.

Getting involved

Recent events suggest that children are not only capable of understanding these “major issues of the day” – they’re also able to do something about them. For example, children participated in the recent protests during Trump’s visit to London. Either with their schools or families, children made placards and marched against the US president’s separation of migrant families and his response to school shootings.

And this was not just a one-off: a 2017 UK-wide survey found that 58% of 10-20 year olds took part in some kind of social action – defined by the #iwill campaign as “practical action in the service of others to create positive change”. This can include activities such as volunteering, campaigning and fundraising.

Most found social action to be meaningful, too – 39% of the young people surveyed recognised the benefits which participating social action brought to themselves and others and took part regularly throughout the year. Around 19% felt their participation was not meaningful, while a further 15% felt it was meaningful but didn’t participate regularly. And the 10 to 15-year-olds were actually more likely to participate than the 16 to 20-year-olds.
There’s also interest in social action among children who said they hadn’t actually taken part in any activities during the past year: 20% said that they’d be interested in taking action to fight social inequality in the future. So there’s an appetite here for children to learn about important issues and take action on them.

Making it normal

What we really need to be doing is making it easier, not harder, for children to take action on social issues. One way is to make social action “normal” and visible, so that children see others doing too.
Research has found that 10 to 20-year-olds with family and friends who are involved in social action were more likely to take part than those whose friends and family weren’t involved. The more we normalise standing up for what we believe in, as Ersson did, the easier it might be for children to take action.
In Ersson’s case the protest was successful. The Afghan man being deported was removed from the plane and, at least temporarily, returned to Swedish land. Student activism is nothing new, but social media now makes it possible for protests like Ersson’s to reach unprecedented numbers in a short space of time. If this means more Elin Erssons in future, all the better. The children will be fine.


Date : July 28, 2018
Author : Emma Taylor-Collins (PhD Candidate, University of Birmingham)
Source : The Conversation


In defense of social justice

By SOCVS | Published: AUGUST 10, 2018


I feel the need to come to the defense of social justice—both against those who discredit it and against those who have abused it. It is a concept that lies at the heart of Catholic social teaching, and I am not going to sit by, as a Catholic professor of law and of philosophy, as it is disparaged and regrettably sometimes even cursed!

When Marxist teaching was setting the world afire and catching the imagination of the workers of the world, the Church perceived the threat to the faith, not only because of its avowed atheism but as importantly because of its skewed philosophy of the human person and its understanding of human society. Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII faced the social situations for which the communists audaciously claimed they had the solution. It strongly defended the right to own, insisting that the goods of the earth, meant for the welfare of all, can often be optimally used best only when owned. Examples are not difficult to come by. But there was also that very impressive argument that that portion of nature on which the human person expended his toil bore his imprint and could not therefore, without doing him injustice, be alienated from him. This was alienation other than that which figured prominently in Marx’s persuasion. This was an elementary articulation of one of the fundamental principles of social justice: that any person who labors has a claim to that portion of earth that is transformed into his handiwork. Rejecting the claim that to the proletariat belonged all that was gained, Leo XIII asked what good labor would be if there was no capital upon which to expend it. Not labor alone then, but capital likewise was entitled to the gains of human toil.

In succeeding pontificates, the Popes would refine the notion of social justice and explicate its component principles, key among these—solidarity and subsidiarity. Not one class alone, neither entrepreneur or capitalist nor laborer or peasant had an exclusive claim to profit. Neither alone was entitled to the fruits of development. And this train of thought reaches its acme in the Venerable Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio where he announces the principle that “development is the new name of peace”—by which, of course, he meant the development of all. Now, to reject Populorum Progressio because one has sentimental attachments to the Tridentine Liturgy and therefore has an aversion for the reform in Church life that Paul VI took over from John XXIII is cretinous, to put it charitably! What argument might there be against the insight that peace is the fruit of that justice that consists in inclusive progress? And why should “inclusive” be a bad word? Was it not the demolition, the deconstruction, of so many exclusions that has been key to our moral maturation as a race?

Very usefully, the social doctrine of the Church has looked beyond the injustice that one unjust person does his victim into the social structures —such as the unabated application of the laws of succession—that “institutionalize” injustice. And the State has been heedful. Law students are treated to a fare of “social legislation”, and this will include agrarian reform law, labor laws and standards, and more recently, indigenous people’s rights law, because in truth, all these laws have to do with giving all a fair access to the resources of society as well as distribute its burdens. Labor law, for one, transgresses established tenets of law and its myth of the “meeting of minds”, because when one hires another, even if minds should indeed meet but the wage agreed upon falls below that which the law characterizes as the minimum living wage, then liabilities will still arise, no matter the supposed perfection of the contract. Traditional commutative justice is not enough. You need a new title for this other aspect of justice—and “social justice” is a felicitous choice.

In St. John Paul II we have the boldest pronouncement yet that as between capital and labor, labor has priority—a principle he upholds on the basis of theological anthropology: that the human person is homo laborans, a being who must work not only to eat, but to be himself. Personhood unfolds itself in human labor, and this is the reason that there is such a thing, recognized by the “Covenant on Social and Economic Rights” as the “right to work.”

Rawls “theory of justice” is a theory of social justice. Studious at avoiding unwarranted assumptions, Rawls hypothetically takes himself—and his readers—back to an “original position”, in which one is blind to one’s own preferences, inclinations, idiosyncrasies and bases. From behind this “veil of ignorance”, what would reasonable persons choose to be the principles by which society is to be organized? The principles are, by now, well known—the first, being non-negotiably first: that all be afforded as wide a range of liberties compatible with a like swath for all. It is the second that is particularly attentive to social justice: whatever disparate treatment there might be will be tolerable only in the measure that they are to the advantage of the least advantaged. But of the lexical order between the two principles, Rawls is understandably inflexible.

It was not social justice that the Kadamay house-grab embodied. That was downright criminal—usurpation of real property. Homelessness is not necessarily entitlement to a home, just as landlessness is not necessarily entitlement to land. What makes social justice distinctive and truly just is the erasure of concepts as well as dismantling of institutions that systematically exclude certain sectors, groups, classes or strata from sharing in the wealth and promise of society and of earth.


Date : August 3, 2018
Author : Fr. Ranhilio Aquino
Source : Pensees (column)/Manila Standard