September 2020


  1. Defunding the police requires understanding what role policing plays in our society
  2. Pandemic Leads to Higher Depression, Anxiety and Fear, Studies Show
  3. Sociology professor examines pandemic effect on restaurants
  4. Lesley Henderson: Covid-19—we are yet to witness a cohesive government communications strategy

Defunding the police requires understanding what role policing plays in our society


Two contrasting perspectives have emerged in response to recent calls to “defund” police. One perspective — espoused by some activists on the political left — holds that policing is fatally broken, cannot be fixed through any reforms and ought to be cancelled outright through financial asphyxiation. The second perspective argues that policing takes an outsized and unnecessary share of government budgets, and organizes around reassigning cuts in police budget to social welfare services.

This latter perspective recognizes that in many police jurisdictions — particularly in the United States and Canada — a growing number of calls for emergency services relate to psychotic episodes, suicides, alcoholism, homelessness and other welfare-related checks. Police responses to these issues tend to produce devastating consequences: an earlier CBC investigation found that “70 per cent of the people who died in police encounters struggled with mental health issues, substance abuse or both.”

Limited public support for defunding police

Public support for defunding police has been minimal despite the fact that police officers often spend a large part of their time on issues they are not suited to and that occasionally result in troubled citizens carted away in body bags. This is fascinating, given the swift decision to defund and reimagine policing in some jurisdictions, like Minneapolis, where George Floyd died at the hands of police.

A Pew Research Center survey conducted during global protests against police brutality finds that “73 per cent majority say that spending on their local police should stay about the same as it is now (42 per cent) or be increased from its current level (31 per cent).” There were racial disparities among the 4,708 adults surveyed: only 42 per cent of Black adults and 21 per cent of whites support reducing spending on police in their areas. People aged 50 and above were less likely to support reducing police funding.

Why is there limited public support for defunding police despite widespread activism? The answer partly lies in the failure to demystify police.

Protect and serve

Demystification is a deliberate attempt to make policing — an enigmatic and esoteric institution — into something more mundane. Through demystification, policing becomes ordinary and open to objective critique, which may assist in efforts to reimagine and defund police.

The non-response or negative institutional reactions to calls for defunding the police will continue until police and policing are demystified. The image of police as the defender of social order, assuming tremendous existential risks on behalf of society, has not been challenged.

And in Canada, police powers have increased in at least two provinces — Alberta and Saskatchewan — while some cities have adopted merely symbolic budget cuts.


The nature of the task

Police do not control crime. The myth that they do is an established fact, and yet, police organizations soldier on. What can be reasonably expected of police is to keep crime to a level where social life can proceed with minimal unpredictability.

Appearance of order is therefore the real task of policing, which has led to an accumulation of tremendous power over time. As the expression of state force and priorities, police officers maintain a level of power not accorded to elected officials. For instance, a mayor in a liberal democratic state caught slapping a constituent on cell phone video is unlikely to keep their seat. Yet two or more fully armed police officers may beat a handcuffed citizen and go unpunished.

The police have become a quintessential “permanently failing organization,” focusing on survival rather than performance. As such, defunding the police threatens their livelihood and erodes policing’s accumulated legitimacy.

Exaggeration of risk

American sociologist Peter K. Manning observed over 40 years ago that “policing was a masterful costume drama, a presentation of ordering and mannered civility that was also dirty work.” Police occupational culture is full of ritualism and symbolism to enhance the social status of an institution, which largely requires Grade 12 level education and provides six-month training for new recruits in Canada and the U.S.

My collaborative research on the use of conducted energy weapons — Tasers — by police demonstrates that such accoutrements largely perform a symbolic function. The use of these weapons are more to bolster a police organization’s claim to being modern or progressive.

Besides, despite years of much-trumpeted “community policing,” most police departments have remained largely unchanged in their mode of operation. Community policing was adopted as a trend and to access additional funding.

The dramatization extends to the level of risk encountered by police officers. Policing is presented as an uber-risky occupation. It is. However, policing does not come near the top of the most dangerous occupations in Canada and the U.S. Research shows that taxi drivers face far more risks than police officers. So do coal miners, long-haul truck drivers and timber cutters.

The exaggeration of policing risk portrays police officers as self-sacrificing, communitarian and selfless occupational specialists. The exaggeration of risk fosters occupational credibility, camaraderie and serves as a recruitment tool. It de-emphasizes the fact that policing in Canada and most parts of the U.S. is an incredibly well-paying occupation relative to qualification and length of training.

Rookie officers in Vancouver and Edmonton earn over $65,000 per year.

Adversarial relationship

Maintaining an adversarial relationship with the public is an “occupational tenet” of policing, as Manning pointed out decades ago. This concerns relatively powerless segments of society — young people and minorities, particularly males.

The adversarial relationship is crucial as it presents incontrovertible evidence of breakdown of order. Evidence of looting, arson or other forms of violence during protests only advance the course of granting police more powers and funding. This is directly linked to government’s aversion to any sign of disorder in psychologically fragile societies.

Defunding police is unlikely to occur without public awareness of the issues discussed above. Defunding police cannot happen without curtailing the activities of police unions, which have become a powerful “institutional sovereigns” concerned with maintaining legitimacy.

Policing needs to be treated like any other job to monitor performance and end human rights abuses. Entry requirements should be more stringent, with extremely patriotic and action-oriented prospective recruits encouraged to join the military. Policing allows for class mobility and should be reserved for professionally inclined individuals who will treat citizens as clients rather than moral failures.

Demystification of police is necessary before any major reforms can occur, and requires understanding the realities of how the occupation legitimizes itself. There is no contradiction in recognizing the significance of policing and holding police officers to standards routinely expected of other professionals in society.


By             :          Temitope Oriola (Associate Professor, Sociology, University of Alberta)

Date         :           August 4, 2020

Source     :           The Conversation

Back to top

Pandemic Leads to Higher Depression, Anxiety and Fear, Studies Show


FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The COVID-19 pandemic led to higher levels of depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies and psychological trauma among American adults during the early months of its spread, according to three new studies published by University of Arkansas sociologists.

Using an internet survey distributed in the last week of March that sampled 10,368 adults from across the country, researchers have sought to better understand the sociological and psychological effects of the pandemic. The common denominator in their findings is fear, said Kevin Fitzpatrick, University Professor of sociology and first author of the studies.

“Fear is a pretty consistent predictor,” Fitzpatrick said. “What we found is that fear, coupled with a range of social vulnerabilities, consistently and significantly predict a range of mental health outcomes. Additionally, as originally hypothesized, it appears as though individual fear is higher in those places where there is a higher concentration of confirmed COVID-19 cases and/or a higher death rate.”

In a study focusing on symptoms of depression published in the journal Anxiety and Depression, Fitzpatrick and his colleagues Casey Harris, associate professor of sociology, and Grant Drawve, assistant professor of sociology, found that on average, survey respondents scored one point higher than the cutoff for clinical significance on a commonly used depression scale. Nearly a third of respondents were significantly above that level, they found. They also found elevated depressive symptoms among socially vulnerable groups including women, Hispanics, the unemployed and people who report moderate to high levels of food insecurity.

In a second study on suicidal thoughts, behaviors and actions published in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, the researchers found that 15 percent of all respondents were categorized as high risk for suicide. Blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics, families with children, unmarried and younger respondents scored higher on an symptom assessment of suicide risk than their counterparts, and compounding factors such as food insecurity and physical health symptoms increased the risk among respondents.

The third study, published in the journal Psychological Trauma, examined fear and mental health consequences of the pandemic. When researchers asked respondents how fearful they were of COVID-19 on a scale of one-to-10, the average answer was seven. But fear of the disease and its consequences is not evenly distributed throughout the country, they found; it was highest in areas with a greater concentration of COVID-19 cases and among the most socially vulnerable groups. “In short, fear of the virus, and subsequent mental health problems that follow, remain entangled with the types of policies and measures used to combat the virus, both now and as recovery continues to unfold and the United States begins to slowly move forward,” the researchers wrote.

All three papers are part of an initial, early push to understand the sociological impact of COVID-19, said Fitzpatrick. While the situation has changed substantially since March when this National Science Foundation-funded survey was administered, the research points to a need to better understand the consequences of the pandemic so we’ll be better prepared in the future.

“Now is the time to learn the lessons about this pandemic,” said Fitzpatrick. “This needs to be a teaching moment for us all. It or something like it will come along again, and we need to be better prepared for it, making sure that science is front and center, and not politics, with a careful eye on who are the most vulnerable and how can we do a better job of protecting them.”


Fitzpatrick holds the Jones Chair in Community at the University of Arkansas.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among fewer than 2.7 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.


Date                   :                July 31, 2020

Source               :                Univeristy of Arkansas

Back to top

Sociology professor examines pandemic effect on restaurants


As the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown continues, restaurants everywhere are feeling the impact. Many closed or switched to curbside and takeout options. But others have been on a months-long roller coaster—opening as virus numbers dropped and closing down when cases rose. And a large percentage of people filing for unemployment in New Mexico right now are from the restaurant industry.

Eli Wilson, a professor at The University of New Mexico Department of Sociology and Criminology, studies restaurant labor—exploring race, class, and gender inequalities in the foodservice industry. He recently wrote an article titled Pandemic Inequalities: Assessing the Fallout in the Restaurant Industry for LA Social Science, an e-forum published by his alma mater, the University of California, Los Angeles.

In his article, Wilson highlights the breadth of issues that are currently affecting the service sector that works in restaurants. Kitchen workers (who are often undocumented) and front-of-the-house (FOH) workers (who are often young, white, and middle class) at takeout places and sit-down restaurants are all having different experiences during the pandemic.

According to Wilson, undocumented workers find themselves in particularly dire straits. Without proper work authorization, these individuals cannot seek federal assistance, including funds from the federal aid package, despite being laid off and having paid into the taxes that are funding that aid.

"Before the pandemic, the industry's millions of undocumented workers were already a largely invisible group employed mainly in physically taxing back-of-the-house jobs with low wages and few benefits. Reduced work hours and widespread layoffs will push many to grapple with the inability to meet their family's basic needs and nowhere to turn for help but friends and relatives in equally precarious situations."

However, FOH workers don't get off easy either and are experiencing what Wilson says is "the most dramatic relative impact… because of the structure of their jobs, the pandemic is nothing short of an employment Armageddon for the nation's nearly four million servers, bartenders, baristas, hosts, and cashiers."

Besides, fewer customers mean fewer hours of work and fewer tips. Servers and bartenders at higher-end restaurants can make $15 to $30 per hour in tips on top of their base wages. Even if some restaurants can maintain employee payroll during this period, without customers or tips workers will find themselves among the lowest-paid in the country.

Wilson noted that New Mexico restaurant and foodservice employees comprise roughly one out of every 10 employees, similar to California and nationwide. However, a notable difference between California and New Mexico is the "tipped minimum wage." The minimum wage for employees who customarily make tips is $2.35 an hour in New Mexico ? scheduled to increase to a "paltry" $3 an hour by 2023. By contrast, California is one of only a handful of states that does not have a tipped minimum wage, meaning the regular minimum wage stands for all employees.

"This is a huge boon for front-of-the-house restaurant workers in California and a wash, financially, for those in the back of the house who generally don't make tips," Wilson said. "But I think it is safe to say that everyone in the industry is suffering in unprecedented ways. How can you compare the relative damage incurred by cooks forced to wear masks and gloves while working reduced schedules with managers that are currently furloughed with restaurant owners who have their life savings on the line?"

Upscale restaurants are suffering also, often worse than smaller places offering food to go.

"Upscale, or 'white tablecloth,' full-service restaurants are getting hammered right now, no question about it. I suspect some did not partially reopen even if they could have last month, because margins on expensive perishable items such as steak and lobster do not make sense when you can only serve at max one-fourth to one-half of your regular dining room customers, and now that service is closed again. Fast food is managing a little better, for reasons of convenience, price, and the popularity of comfort foods during these stressful times," he observed, adding that restaurants with sizable patios have found themselves with more ability to retain business because of state policies barring indoor dining but allowing outdoor service.

Although some restaurants could open with safety measures in place, he said, that has complications too, remarking, "It is clear that a high-touch service style is over for the foreseeable future. Crouching down next to customers, touching their shoulders, handing over plates, drinks, and silverware directly to customers could be dangerous to both workers and customers."

Furthermore, he added, "The dystopic plastic guards between tables and fully automated electronic consoles for ordering in some dining rooms just don't feel right. Let's remember that pre-pandemic, people went out to eat for the experience, for the atmosphere."

There is no one-size-fits-all solution that will work for all restaurants to stay viable and each one will have to figure out its way of navigating public safety with their brand of foodservice," Wilson said.

"Selling takeout food alone is a failing business for 90 percent of restaurants. But it is better than being fully closed," he observed. "The best short-term solution that I've seen is to allow restaurants to use their parking lots and expand their outdoor seating to safely accommodate more customers. This will keep workers employed in kitchens and makeshift dining spaces, too. I've also heard reports that some cities in the state are offering to lend restaurants canopies to use for outdoor seating, which I think is a great idea."

Wilson said he believes Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had no choice when she mandated another round of indoor dining closures as of July 13, but noted, "Sadly, this round of restaurant closures may result in many permanent closures as restaurants that were hanging by a thread do not have the capital to wait out this uncertainty. Unless there is another round of cash infusion from the government that can be distributed quickly."

Opening and closing according to COVID-19 numbers is challenging for restaurant owners.

"Restaurants hate this kind of induced volatility because, as you can imagine, labor and raw ingredients do not just turn off and on. These decisions are emotional and costly—not to mention a logistical nightmare—and I feel for everyone in the industry who is caught in the crosshairs right now… Very few restaurants were able to turn a profit based on outdoor dining and takeout business alone."

A group of restaurant owners backed by the New Mexico Restaurant Association has decided to protest the recent forced closures for these reasons. Wilson said it's likely they will highlight the number of jobs lost should restaurants shut down, "which is tremendously disheartening, but I don't see this moving the political needle to hasten reopening with the ongoing public health crisis."

Even when the pandemic lifts and people can return to some semblance of their former lives, restaurants will not necessarily rebound, he said.

"There will be an aftershock in the form of a lack of consumer trust in returning to restaurants. The buzz and bustle inside a popular restaurant where workers are a blur of choreographed motion behind the bar and in the kitchen are still fresh in my mind, but it will be a long time until that level of business returns. I am optimistic that it will at some point, because restaurants are crucial 'third spaces' in a disengaged world, but many current restaurants may not be around to see this day."

In the meantime, he suggested consumers buy takeout regularly from their favorite establishments, tip delivery people well, and purchase gift cards.


"We want to ensure that when the effects of this pandemic subside, our neighborhood gathering places and those who work in them can rebound as quickly as possible."


Wilson's first book is "Front of the House, Back of the House: Race and Inequality in the Lives of Restaurant Workers" and will be released this fall through NYU Press. The book is based on six years of ethnographic research in which Wilson personally worked in three different restaurants in Los Angeles to gain an insider perspective.

ore information: Eli Wilson, Pandemic Inequalities: Assessing the Fallout in the Restaurant Industry for LA Social Science. LA Social Science (2020).


By                :             Mary Beth King (University of New Mexico)

Date            :              July 20, 2020

Source        :     

Back to top

Lesley Henderson: Covid-19—we are yet to witness a cohesive government communications strategy


The public’s response to “social distancing” is a government communications failure, says Lesley Henderson

In an unprecedented move, the UK’s prime minister Boris Johnson announced strict new curbs on life in the UK to curtail the spread of covid-19. The public must now stay at home except for shopping for necessities, exercise, medical need and travel to and from essential work. Police can enforce these restrictions and disperse gatherings of more than two people (who do not live together). 

This decision comes in the wake of images of young people partying in crowded pubs and nightclubs and families visiting seaside resorts over the weekend. These were at odds with the UK government’s advice to “flatten the curve” of covid-19 by “socially distancing” from other people. Iconic beauty spots such as Snowdonia National Park were reportedly busier than at any time in living memory. These stories have attracted sharp reactions from angry observers on social media. A Twitter hashtag dedicated to this behaviour simply branded it #selfish and described the people involved as #COVIDIOTS. On the one hand, it seems extraordinary that some members of the public did not appear to take the covid-19 pandemic seriously. On the other hand, their response can be more usefully seen through the lens of a government communications failure. It is worth contextualising this by considering what we already know about the dynamics of health, risk messaging, and public behaviour.

So what are some of the communication challenges specific to covid-19?  Firstly, regardless of whether the government has changed tack in response to changes in “the science”, the UK public has been faced with rapidly changing messages. These have been “top-down” and frequently conflicting. The government initially focused on public health messages, such as the “catch it, bin it, kill it” campaign and advised anyone who was unwell with a fever or cough to remain at home and not go to work or attend school. This shifted to warnings that over 70’s should place themselves in quarantine and shifted again to focus on risks to children (infectious but mainly unaffected). This confusing discourse was accompanied by fragmented school closures (total closures in Ireland, partial closures in Scotland, no closures in England). This means public health messages about the need for appropriate social distance were circulating at the same time as parents were expected to adhere to the usual regulations concerning school attendance. It is little wonder then that people could see no obvious problem with their children, or themselves, attending social events. After all they had been free to mix as usual in schools, universities, offices, pubs and hotels all of which remained open for business. 

It also seems extraordinary that little planning has been focused on public communications, given that it is mostly accepted that media campaigns can change a population’s health behaviours. For example, the HIV and AIDS crisis of the late 1980s is synonymous with the notorious government education campaign, Don’t AID AIDS (more usually termed the Don’t Die of Ignorance campaign or simply the “tombstone” campaign). This official campaign might have increased awareness of AIDS, but it also terrified people and managed to mobilise further stigma against already marginalised groups. The more recent swine flu epidemic attempted to encourage hand washing, and respiratory hygiene under the slogan Catch it, Bin it, Kill it public health campaign. The message was unsophisticated but it fitted into existing public understandings of risk (‘coughs and sneezes spread diseases’) and an inbuilt disgust at people coughing in public spaces particularly on trains and buses. 

In our contemporary media landscape, we have considerable tools at our disposable, well beyond health education leaflets posted through our letterbox. There is a unique opportunity for engaging diverse groups by learning from global awareness strategies. We have a variety of niche personalised messaging opportunities. Different platforms can engage audiences and entertain/educate (cartoons, soap opera, UK drill music, memes, comedy). The fact that we are yet to witness a cohesive government communications strategy is alarming given the unprecedented crisis we are facing. 

This gap is even more surprising as changing public behaviour lies at the heart of solving the crisis. Familiar “handwashing” tropes are being intertwined with new advice regarding physical contact. The emphasis on the term “social” as opposed to “physical” distancing was a significant error because proximity does not align with social connection—ask any sociologist, anthropologist, or even a teenage gamer. We are being required to make sense of unfamiliar terms (“flatten the curve”, “shielding”) prompting many people to seek clarification, for example, on the differences between self- isolating and quarantine. At the same time, recent “pro-social”, “pro-environment” behaviours need to be unlearned as they present new risks.  Thus, delivery drivers will not accept plastic bags for recycling, and nor will shops refill reusable coffee mugs. Spending more time in nature has only recently been promoted in terms of positive benefits to our well-being and now we are being warned that it is safer for us to stay in cities and towns.

Fortunately, although covid-19 might be new, we already know a great deal about how best to communicate with diverse groups.  Even so making a positive impact on behaviour, as opposed to reaching large numbers of people, is complicated. We need only look at the history of anti-drugs education, a classic “top down” approach to educating the public to find extreme examples of misguided health advertising campaigns failing to connect with their target audiences (iconic images became ironic “pin ups). With the prospect of a safe vaccine still some time away, the role of the media is critical. Media representations play a vital role in informing public and policy opinions about the causes (and solutions to) ill-health. The media focus to date has been on the threat posed by so-called outsiders which fits neatly with a post-Brexit narrative and the British popular press. A related part of the problem is the intangible nature of a threat from an invisible virus. Any successful campaign needs to make covid-19 visible with some attempts at this by inventive users on social media through short films illustrating how covid-19 can spread through touch or conversely be reduced through self-isolation.

We also know that public health campaigns that fail to account for structural and material inequalities create challenges. Campaigns to encourage members of the public to compel their healthcare provider to wash their hands (prompted by SARS or H1N1) do not work, because they fail to address differences in power between patients and professionals. Requests to work from home, to connect online, and distance from close family members ignore power differentials and assume social and cultural capital that is unevenly distributed in our population.  So far, messages have assumed that audiences are “blank slates” ready to be the recipients of health advice. Still, we know that understanding social practices, as well as myths and misconceptions that are circulating, are vital to successful public health communications.

The final challenge, which is perhaps the most pervasive is undoubtedly that of promoting collective responsibility to the population rather than to the individual. Audiences have grown used to industry strategies campaigning around the “principle of choice”  which has been used to dismiss concerns, for example, regarding the global marketing practices of Big Food. UK audiences witnessed Boris Johnson’s apparent struggle with the idea of restricting personal freedom to contain the epidemic. These messages are clearly at odds with his libertarian beliefs, and successful communication requires trust in an authentic messenger (which is why the video message from NHS Belfast respiratory team may reap some rewards). 

Media can undoubtedly help create new community norms, engage audiences in novel ways and bring about social change, but without recognising the social and cultural context in which covid-19 communications are being constructed, received, and distributed these are unlikely to succeed.


Lesley Henderson is reader in sociology and communications in the Department of Social and Political Sciences, Brunel University London. She lectures on Sociological Approaches to Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. 


By                       :                 Dr. Lesley Henderson

Date                   :                  March 24, 2020

Source               :                  thebmjopinion

Back to top