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Archive for the ‘sociology’ Category

The Gift of Death by George Monbiot

In politics, society, sociology on August 4, 2015 at 20:26

From: The Gift of Death by George Monbiot, http://www.monbiot.com

Researching her film The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard discovered that of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale(1). Even the goods we might have expected to hold onto are soon condemned to destruction through either planned obsolescence (breaking quickly) or perceived obsolescence (becoming unfashionable).

But many of the products we buy, especially for Christmas, cannot become obsolescent. The term implies a loss of utility, but they had no utility in the first place. An electronic drum-machine t-shirt; a Darth Vader talking piggy bank; an ear-shaped i-phone case; an individual beer can chiller; an electronic wine breather; a sonic screwdriver remote control; bacon toothpaste; a dancing dog: no one is expected to use them, or even look at them, after Christmas Day. They are designed to elicit thanks, perhaps a snigger or two, and then be thrown away.

The fatuity of the products is matched by the profundity of the impacts. Rare materials, complex electronics, the energy needed for manufacture and transport are extracted and refined and combined into compounds of utter pointlessness. When you take account of the fossil fuels whose use we commission in other countries, manufacturing and consumption are responsible for more than half of our carbon dioxide production(2). We are screwing the planet to make solar-powered bath thermometers and desktop crazy golfers.

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Reposted with permission from: George Monbiot

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The urban paradox by Tom Cowan

In politics, society, sociology on July 24, 2015 at 05:42

From:  The urban paradox by Tom Cowan, openDemocracy, https://www.opendemocracy.net

In the current conjuncture, cities are sites of two counterposed tendencies. First, the city is upheld as the physical metonym of modernity, the unsurpassable form of human progress, wherein any manner of economic, social and environmental ills may be treated—where non-people become people, where technology and smartness come to govern political and social contestations, where human resilience and innovation (no matter how destitute such humans may be) can mitigate the oppressive character of capital-led urban growth. Against and yet within this, largely neo-liberal, imagination exists the global trend of urban retraction, of bordering, segregation, fragmentation, state withdrawal, enclave-ing. The traditional model of urban entrepreneurialism which David Harvey discussed in the 1980s is today optimised from particular, mostly elite fragments of accumulation, (the mega-event, the gated community, the mall, etc.) marginalising entire populations, entire ways of thinking and being deemed obsolete. These are two contradictory arms of neoliberal urbanism.

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Reposted with permission from: openDemocracy

Radical Hospitality by Danya Lagos

In philosophy, politics, society, sociology on March 24, 2015 at 19:51

From: Radical Hospitality by Danya Lagos, Hypocrite Reader, http://www.hypocritereader.com

Hospitality, or the art of welcoming and caring for others, must be rescued from its current entanglement in stratification and alienation. Today’s approach to hospitality invites people into a hosting paradigm that emphasizes the host’s ability to provide “whole,” “fresh,” “slow,” and “local” food experiences. This school of entertainment emphasizes the artisanal, the crafted, and the shared enjoyment of these as an extension of the host’s character and ethical standing. It nods towards feel-good liberal politics with a concern over GMO labeling, fair trade (!!!) products, and a kinder, gentler way of slaughtering animals for our consumption. We have created entire industries devoted to certifications of all sorts, to verify precisely how humanely that leg of lamb was slaughtered, precisely how kosher the cheese is, and precisely how genetically unmodified those lentils are. Under this new technology of hospitality, the host is no longer one whose primary concern is to invite and attend to the other. The host has become a producer and hoarder of cultural capital, and guests have become mere instruments in this venture—even if they often serve as critics or evaluators. Large, open gatherings are increasingly replaced by smaller, rarer, highly exclusive dinner parties. Guests are carefully selected, excluded, and engaged. At best, they are partners in a cultural wealth-generating exchange. At worst, they are excluded altogether from our kitchens and dining rooms if they cannot contribute to or be willing, passive, assenting consumers of this performance of class.

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Reposted with permission from: Hypocrite Reader

Linking the Living and the Dead by Paul Koudounaris

In anthropology, religion, society, sociology, South America on July 30, 2014 at 16:57

From: Linking the Living and the Dead: Skull Worship in Bolivia by Paul Koudounaris, United Academics, www.united-academics.org

In a corner of the interrogation room of the homicide division at the police headquarters in El Alto, the largest barrio of La Paz, Bolivia, two skulls sit in plexiglass cases on a table top. Respectively known as Juanito and Juanita, the latter has been kept in the room for over thirty years, while the former has been there for perhaps a century. They are not evidence in some unsolved murder, however, nor are they reminders of some grisly local slaying. Instead, they are there to solve crimes, the same as the detectives who use the room to question suspects. While it might seem unlikely that these silent crania can provide much assistance in criminal investigations, they are credited by Colonel Fausto Tellez, a retired commander of the department, with helping to solve hundreds of cases during his tenure. He even refers to Juanito as “longest-serving officer on the force.”
Identically dressed in knit caps and wide-band sunglasses, Juanito and Juanita are surrounded on the table top by various offerings. These include coca leaves, cigarettes, votive candles, and candy, all left by officers in thanks for services rendered. On difficult cases, homicide detectives traditionally write requests for information on slips of paper, which are placed in the shrines of the skulls. If need be, prayers may also be offered to the pair. Tellez estimates that the use of the skulls cuts investigative time in half, and notes that they also assist in interrogations. “They are brought in during the questioning of difficult people,” he explains, “and even if they want to lie, they cannot if the skulls are present. When the skulls are involved, people always tell the truth.”
To an outsider, this all sounds at the least unusual, if not downright bizarre, but it is not so here. Juanito and Juanita are ñatitas — the term literally means“the little pug-nosed ones,” but specifically refers to human skulls which house souls of the deceased, and act as protectors, helpers, and intercessors for the iving. While the veneration of these crania is little known outside Bolivia, within the country, and particularly in La Paz, their powers are renowned. Juanito and Juanita are merely two of thousands of similar skulls, found in homes or offices, their shrines familiar enough to be quotidian. Here, high up in the Andes, where traditional belief systems were never fully eradicated by European colonization, the ñatitas provide a unique insight into the bond
between the living and the dead.
Not every human skull is a ñatita. Those so designated are ones which have been adopted by individuals, families, or groups, who then perform rituals to honor the soul housed within the skull. The ñatita, then, is not simply the skull, but rather the  combination of the skull and a spirit which uses the skull as a locus, and provides various forms of supernatural assistance for its benefactors. Treated as close friends or family members, many ñatitas are passed down over several generations — it is not uncommon to find people who report that a skull has been with their family for many decades. In some cases, such as that of Juanito in the homicide division of the El Alto police office, a ñatita’s history of service may stretch back an entire century.

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Reposted with permission from: United Academics

The galloping militarisation of Eurasia by Neil Melvin

In Asia, politics, sociology, war on June 16, 2014 at 14:38

From: The galloping militarisation of Eurasia by Neil Melvin, openDemocracy, www.opendemocracy.net

Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the deployment of up to 40 000 troops on Ukraine’s border to support the actions of pro-Russian separatist forces, has been widely identified as a turning point in the ‘post-Cold War’ European security system. But Russia’s militarised policy towards Ukraine should not be seen as a spontaneous response to the crisis – it has only been possible thanks to a long-term programme by Moscow to build up its military capabilities.

To be a ‘great power’ – which is the status that Moscow’s political elite claim for Russia – is to have both an international reach and regional spheres of influence. To achieve this, Moscow understands that it must be able to project military force, and so the modernisation of Russia’s armed forces has become a key element of its ‘great power’ ambitions. For this reason, seven years ago, a politically painful and expensive military modernisation programme was launched to provide Russia with new capabilities. One of the key aims of this modernisation has been to move the Russian military away from a mass mobilisation army designed to fight a large-scale war (presumably against NATO) to the creation of smaller and more mobile combat-ready forces designed for local and regional conflicts.

Nearly 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a new, highly militarised climate is being created that threatens peace amongst the Eurasian countries, and is substantially changing societies there. At its simplest, the change can be seen in the rising defence expenditures and the modernisation of armed forces across the region. But behind these trends are deep-seated political and social developments. Building on the popular support for security approaches to resolving issues with neighbouring countries, the states of the region are looking to roll back the liberal reforms of the past two decades, and to re-militarise state-society relations.

In these conditions, a wholly security-focused response to the Ukraine crisis by the ‘transatlantic community’ risks further entrenching hardliners in Moscow, and reinforcing the dangerous trends towards militarisation. At the same time, a narrow diplomatic approach focused only on Ukraine will not address the broader drift towards militarism in the region. In seeking a response to the Ukraine conflict and to Eurasia’s growing instability, the ‘Western community’ needs to craft a comprehensive regional approach that looks to address the sources of militarism. This will involve increased efforts to find peaceful solutions to Eurasia’s protracted conflicts, and the enmity that has built up around them. It will also require the establishment of a renewed security dialogue between Russia, its allies and the ‘transatlantic community’ to counter perceptions of insecurity and threats in the region, notably in the Caucasus and Caspian regions. Moreover, countries such as Britain might like to reconsider their arms deals with countries such as Russia, which can only further exacerbate instability. Such measures just might help slow down the galloping militarisation of Euraisa.

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Reposted with permission from: openDemocracy

Brave New World, Plato’s Republic, and Our Scientific Regime by Matthew J. Franck

In government, literature, philosophy, politics, science, science fiction, sexuality, society, sociology, writers on May 18, 2014 at 08:24

From: Brave New World, Plato’s Republic, and Our Scientific Regime by Matthew J. Franck, The New Atlantis, http://www.thenewatlantis.com

 

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

But an even more telling comparison can be made — that Brave New World is a modern counterpart to the “city in speech” built by Socrates and his young interlocutors in Plato’s Republic. Whether Huxley saw the similarities himself is far from clear. In neither the “Foreword” added to the 1946 edition nor his lengthy 1958 essay Brave New World Revisited, which is published together with the novel in some editions, does he indicate any consciousness of a parallel. Nor do his Complete Essays (published 2000 – 2002) shed light on this. His biographer Murray mentions no such connection in Huxley’s mind either; nor does his earlier biographer Sybille Bedford. Yet it may not be necessary to confirm any precise authorial intention on Huxley’s part to imitate Plato. Whereas Huxley’s other novels are largely forgotten today by the general public, and his later visits to the themes of Brave New World are those of a crank whose imaginative gifts have deserted him, in writing his greatest work he seems to have been in the grip of an idea larger than himself. Plato’s Socrates tells us in the Apology that when he “went to the poets” to “ask them thoroughly what they meant” in their greatest poems, he found to his surprise that “almost everyone present, so to speak, would have spoken better than the poets did about the poetry that they themselves had made.” For as Socrates said (not without some biting irony) in Plato’s Ion, “all the good epic poets speak all their fine poems not from art but by being inspired and possessed, and it is the same for the good lyric poets.” Perhaps during the mere four months it took Huxley to write Brave New World, he was “possessed” in this way and remained forever unconscious of his debt to Plato.

In its political teaching, the Republic is as much a dystopian poem as is Brave New World. With every step in his radical project of instituting uncompromisingly perfect justice — from the noble lie, to the abolition of the family among the guardians, to the eugenics program that brushes aside the incest taboo with a wave of the hand, to the impossible proposal that the city be ruled by philosophers, to the absurd suggestion that the city be founded by exiling all of an existing city’s residents over ten years of age — Socrates reveals humanity’s inability to overcome the limits that our nature imposes. We love the good, but we also love what is our own. Nature draws us toward other particular persons whom we embrace and love as our own; it gets in the way of our commitment to the collective good of the community, which has, in the best case, its own just yet conflicting demands on our love. Nature, or nature’s God, has made us embodied souls, or ensouled bodies. We can live neither wholly for others nor wholly for ourselves, and this is no less true for the philosopher than for others. The project of perfect justice in which each of us is a “cell in the social body” is not within our grasp.

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Reposted with permission: The New Atlantis

Is it Love? by Brian Kuan Wood

In art, economics, economy, information, politics, society, sociology on May 18, 2014 at 07:59

From: Is it Love? by Brian Kuan Wood, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

Now it becomes easy to see how love translates to economic terms as a union based in mutual debt. When the debt is paid off or called in, the union dissolves. And now that pretty much everyone is in debt, love abounds! Professionals are moving back in with their parents, people are returning home to their countries to depend on their extended families, contracts are increasingly backed by personal relationships, and even the values of goods and currencies are backed less by bonds and legal tender and more by the trust and intimacy that gives them their character. Shared associations and affinities expressed over communication lines produce pockets of enormous value in an otherwise lonely ocean of random data streams. Musicians record reams of songs without ever thinking about wanting a record contract from major labels that are still struggling to understand how to make money off computer files.

Love is the most recently introduced member in the family of inflation and bloat. It is a burst of fresh air fed straight into the bubble. It gives the Ponzi scheme at least another decade before people start to think about cashing out. Remember when you would run out of time and replace that with energy? Push a little harder and move a little faster and you can trick time, because darling you’re a superhero. But when you run out of time and energy alike, you run into a problem. You need help. You need support. You need love and a bit of tenderness. Now, with the help of others, you can feed the machine again.

Without time and energy of your own, love is the conduit through which you extract the time and energy of others. You then start to take the shape of that loving conduit. But you have also become a professional lover—or a diabolically good flirt. You are a kind of Marilyn Monroe or Don Juan in the labor of other Marilyns and Dons. This arrangement actually makes for a beautifully collective endeavor so long as you can stay beautiful, tender, and kind to your lovers, and so long as they stay that way to you. This tenderness is a force of resynchronization. Maybe it is a new kind of force altogether. Maybe it is love time. Let’s inhale and exhale together.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

The Ethics of Suicide by John Danaher

In ethics, philosophy, religion, society, sociology on May 18, 2014 at 07:39

From: The Ethics of Suicide: A Framework by John Danaher, IEET, http://ieet.org

A. The Competency Question: Was the person mentally competent and sufficient rational and self-governing to be responsible for the act of self-killing?

I think this is possibly the most important question. In many cases, the default assumption is that the person who commits suicide lacks mental competency or rationality. Indeed, the act of killing oneself is often taken to be conclusive evidence of this. People don’t accept that the reasons typically stated for suicide (feelings of hopelessness etc.) can be embraced by the rational mind. That this is the default assumption seems to be proven by the fact that people only accept the rationality of suicide in certain extreme cases, e.g. terminal illness, self-sacrifice to a greater good. The thought of a rational, fully competent adult, who faces nothing more than the ordinary slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, ending their lives is too much countenance. Such an individual must be mentally or rationally deficient.

I’m not entirely convinced by this default assumption. This is for two reasons. First, it’s not clear to me that, say, a nihilistic worldview which holds that all lives are meaningless and devoid of hope, is all that irrational. To be clear, I don’t accept this worldview and I have argued against it in the past. Nevertheless, it doesn’t strike me as being significantly more irrational other philosophical commitments that we are we don’t judge in the same way (say: moral anti-realism or epistemic internalism). If a person can competently and rationally embrace those views, why can’t they competently and rationally embrace nihilism?

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Reposted with permission from: IEET

Aokigahara by Tony Mckenna

In anthropology, Asia, community, society, sociology on April 3, 2014 at 23:57

From: Aokigahara: A place where people come to end their lives by Tony Mckenna, Adbusters, https://www.adbusters.org

For you are in Aokigahara — and Aokigahara is a place where people come to end their lives. It is estimated that one hundred people die here each year. The ribbons are a precaution; if the person who is contemplating suicide changes their mind at the last moment, he or she will be able to find their way back to the world of the living once more. Ribbons are required because compasses simply don’t function in this place. Something about the iron concentration in the ground interferes with them — though inevitably, such naturalistic explanation has been superseded by all types of supernatural ones; the forest is so spooky and still, it is hard not to infer the ghostly presence of all the souls that have perished here.

… The more modern modes of suicide are, therefore, an expression of alienation; if anything, the act of killing oneself in a group allows the alienated individual to experience a single, ultimate act of ‘purpose’ through a level of social integration which the uncertainty and fragmentation of modern existence has denied them. If the excess of internalized ‘shafu’ provides an impetus toward suicide, its lack can also provide a singular drive toward self-immolation. Among the new generation in Japan today, it is the depth and intensity of isolation, of alienation, which more and more allows them to heed the Suicide Forest’s siren calls.

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Reposted with permission from: Adbusters

How Do We Change The World? with Rob Riemen

In ethics, humanities, philosophy, society, sociology, world on March 25, 2014 at 03:47

From: How Do We Change The World? A Conversation with Rob Riemen by Rose Mary Salum, Literal Magazine, http://www.literalmagazine.com

RMS: At one point during the symposium, you posed the question to your panel: “What do you see as scandalous in contemporary society?” And I wondered, what is scandalous to you?

RR: There are many scandals, but the greatest scandal in rich Western society is the destruction of education and culture by the ruling class: the organized stupidity. And of course, that is in the interest of the ruling class, as which products would still be bought, which programs still watched on television, which politicians would still be elected if people were just a little bit more wise?

RMS: You once told me: “We have given up the notion that there are universal values. These are all complex things, and they have political consequences.” Was this round of conferences intended to recover those universal values?

RR: … I want to create a space where the tradition of European humanism is kept alive and transmitted to anybody who realizes that without universal spiritual values and the great cultural legacy that makes us aware of these values, there cannot be a civilized society in which everybody has the possibility to live his life in truth, to do justice, and to create beauty. And as long as I have the energy and the means to continue this work, I’ll do it as my modest contribution to “changing the world”.

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Reposted with permission from: Literal Magazine

A Mass Media Cure for Auschwitz by Henry Krips

In government, media, philosophy, politics, society, sociology, theory on January 20, 2014 at 17:13

From: A Mass Media Cure for Auschwitz : Adorno, Kafka and Žižek by Henry Krips, International Journal of Žižek Studies, http://zizekstudies.org

In today’s regulated world of mass media corporations, what space is left for a radical politics? From the theoretical perspectives of most contemporary work in cultural studies, the answer seems to be “not much.” For example, according to the classic Frankfurt School position, the mass media serve the politically conservative end of spreading ideological lies: telling us that the government bureaucracies and private corporations that control our daily lives know best and care personally for each and every one of us (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002).

In order for these lies to be effective, however, it is not enough that they are encoded at the level of message content – after all, in today’s cynical climate few people fully trust what they are told in newspapers or see on television. How, then, can the mass media ensure that the lies that they circulate have an impact upon their audience; what, in any case, is the nature of that impact? The Frankfurt School answer (as represented, for example, in the early work of Theodor Adorno) is that a mass media presentation has two methods of encoding ideological lies: (1) it encodes the lies denotatively, at the level of its content, or (2) it encodes them connotatively, at the more abstract level of technique or form of presentation (Barthes, 1985: 111-117). Consider a familiar example: a full page magazine advertisement that places an image of a bottle of perfume next to an image of a beautiful woman who is photographed while she is staring
seductively into the camera. The advertisement encodes a message denotatively about the perfume’s power to make its wearer attractive. But also, because the woman appears to look at us directly, as if she knew us personally, a meta-message is encoded connotatively into the form of presentation: “Hey you there, this message is for you!” Furthermore, and here is the key point, even though we know that the latter message is a lie, it has an impact upon us – each of us feels, and to a certain extent acts as if through the ad she or he is being addressed personally.1 Adorno argues that it is in exactly this way, namely through their forms of presentation, that mass media presentations propagate ideological lies.

For example, advertisements, newscasts, talk shows and so on all typically engage their audience through such personal forms of address. By singling out each member of the audience for public recognition of a personal kind, this form of address contributes to the ideological lie at the heart of the liberal state, namely that it knows about and cares for each and every one of us individually (Goehr, xix-xx). And because the lie is encoded at the level of form rather than content, despite its transparency it sneaks under the audience’s critical radar and affects what they do. It general terms, we may conclude, even if mass media presentations are politically radical in their content, thanks to their form of presentation their overall impact will fall on the conservative side of the political ledger.

In The Sublime Object of Ideology Slavoj Žižek argues for a similar conclusion, but in the context of rather different theoretical premises (Žižek, 1989: 28-33). He argues that the totalitarian conditions in which we live today create a perverse split between knowledge and action: we know very well the terrible things that are going on around us, but even so – perhaps because we can’t do anything about them, or perhaps because we feel immune to their effects – we act as if we are ignorant. Like ostriches recognizing danger, we collectively stick our heads in the sand. It seems to follow that mass media exposées – or indeed any techniques of consciousness-raising – will be useless as radical political strategies for getting people to act differently. To put the argument in a nutshell: if, as Žižek claims, people don’t act on what they know then broadcasting the truth to them will make no political difference.

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Reposted with permission from: International Journal of Žižek Studies

Featured: Conviviality by Paul Walton

In Book Reviews, Featured, history, politics, psychology, review, society, sociology, technology, writers on December 26, 2013 at 14:41

Paul Walton is a journalist, editor and autodidact from Nanaimo most interested in literature and depth psychology.

Enjoy the essay and feel free to comment.

Featured: Ivan Illich: Tools For Conviviality by Paul Walton

Forty years after the publication of that cantankersome and challenging book by Ivan Illich, Tools For Conviviality has never been more inaccessible and never more vital.

There are many misunderstandings and misconceptions about Illich, and even after an interview series on the CBC in the late 1980s (later to be published as Ivan Ilich in Conversation by David Cayley, published by House of Anansi, 1992) anyone could be forgiven for remembering Illich, who died in 2002, as a man of the mind, a thinker, a philosophe, even a genius. This last perhaps comes closest if we recall the word djinn, a “tutelary spirit,” as the OED puts it. Tools For Conviviality might be termed in educational jargon “gifted,” well beyond its years, but it is more like a happy child who longs to share its joy.

This look at Tools For Conviviality began on a computer and taking a cue from Illich in the Cayley interviews migrated to a yellow pad and black pen. Writing by hand highlights a duality arising from Tools For Conviviality, The qualities of pen and paper include intimacy, a private moment of reflection and, if done well, humility. We can use tools on a human scale or be dehumanized by them. Composing on a computer makes demands very different from script, from posture to adjusting the eye to the glow of the electric monitor. The computer is also tentative, with constant attention to the save function and usurping what Illich later relished in In the Vineyard of the Text, about the 12th century abbot Hugh of St. Victor, who tasted the words during peripatetic readings in his garden.

Tools For Conviviality is arguably as close to a political prescription or ideology as Illich ever got. To Cayley he admitted that the essence of the book, the idea of inverting tools as abused by post-industrial interests, didn’t happen as he expected in 1973 — a dramatic Wall Street-style crash — but began to occur ways he did not anticipate. By 1988, he told Cayley, he was seeing more people recovering misused tools, i.e. resuming mastery over them for their own purposes.

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Women Scholars and the Dynamics of Economic Recession

In economics, economy, education, gender, sociology, universities on December 4, 2013 at 20:38

From: Hard Times: Women Scholars and the Dynamics of Economic Recession by Linda Zionkowski, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

Hypatia, Alfred Seifert, 1901

Hypatia, Alfred Seifert, 1901

While straitened budgets and shrinking resources present difficulties for all of us within the university system, some of the most vulnerable people affected are graduate students. Occupying a liminal space as apprentices within the profession, students enrolled in master’s and doctoral programs often find themselves facing a situation in which opportunities for professional development have become occasions for exploitation. No department, of course, would claim the abuse of graduate students as part of its mission statement; rather, we want students enrolled in our programs to flourish as scholars and teachers and bring credit upon our institutions after they graduate and find employment. But in a climate of financial austerity, our good intentions might actually work to the detriment of our students by promoting a set of established practices—or a culture—that works against their best interests. As women increasingly accept administrative positions, becoming deans, chairs, and directors of graduate studies, we find that the situation of graduate students emerges as an important (and recurrent) concern in our working lives. The remarks and suggestions that I’m offering here are meant to call attention to the complicated dynamic of decreasing resources and increasing expectations and propose ways in which we can help our students create a manageable balance between the two.

One of the foundational assumptions of graduate programs is that they develop students’ pedagogical skills, enabling fledgling academics to become confident and proficient teachers in their disciplines. A review of graduate students’ syllabi, grading practices, and teaching evaluations more often than not shows their dedication to their classes and suggests that they prepare seriously for the career they are seeking. But three developments within our profession — the declining number of lines for tenure-track faculty, stipend stagnation, and outstanding record of accomplishments expected of job-seekers — contribute to the overuse of graduate student labor and to the debt load that causes our students to be complicit in their overuse.

Competition to retain tenure-track faculty lines has grown more intense as university budgets have shrunk, resulting in difficulties with staffing courses; the problem is particularly acute in disciplines where effective instruction requires smaller class sizes. Since a substantial number of writing-intensive general education courses (Freshman and Junior Composition, Introduction to Literature, etc.) are often housed in English departments, the opportunity for overload classes easily presents itself to graduate students, some of whom will give time and energy to teaching that could have been spent on progress toward their degree. Graduate students, of course, are entirely justified in accepting overload assignments, even to their own detriment: tuition waivers often do not cover university fees (which at my institution can run in excess of $3,000 annually), and graduate stipends frequently fall below or remain slightly above the Federal Poverty Guidelines for individuals (estimated at $11,170 in 2012). Moreover, graduate students are compelled to bear the cost of their own professional development: hiring committees look for evidence of sustained academic activity, including presentations at conferences, attendance at workshops, and publications based upon archival research, all of which cost far more than can be managed by graduate stipends and travel awards. For our students, the result is the burden of loan debt, or the absolute necessity for overload teaching, or — most often — a combination of both.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

When Exclusion Replaces Exploitation by Daniel Zamora

In economy, Europe, government, history, philosophy, politics, society, sociology on October 21, 2013 at 05:36

From: When Exclusion Replaces Exploitation: The Condition of the Surplus-Population under Neoliberalism by Daniel Zamora, Nonsite.org, http://nonsite.org

In 1992, 13 years after Margaret Thatcher’s “neoliberal revolution,” the Iron Lady’s chief economic advisor, Alan Budd, declared that he had his doubts that “the 1980’s policies of attacking inflation by squeezing the economy and public spending” had ever really been taken seriously by those at the helm of government. Rather, he wondered if they weren’t really a “cover to bash the workers. Raising unemployment,” he pointed out, “was a very desirable way of reducing the strength of the working class. What was engineered—in Marxist terms—was a crisis of capitalism which re-created a reserve army of labor, and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since.”1 The interest of this anecdote is in its implicit suggestion of a link between the socio-political destabilization and fragmentation of the wage-earning working class (the intensification, in other words, of the difference between the working army of labour and the unemployed reserve) and the politics pursued during the decades following the rise of neoliberalism. The central problem with which we are confronted today, in other words, may be less the conflict between labor and capital, and more, as Margaret Thatcher put it, the antagonism between a privileged “underclass” with its “dependency culture” and an “active” proletariat whose taxes pay for a system of “entitlements” and “handouts.”2

During this same period, in France, André Gorz published his Farewell to the Working Class—a book in which he argued that the “society of unemployment” would henceforth be divided into two camps: “a growing mass of the permanently unemployed” on one side, “an aristocracy of tenured workers” on the other, and, lodged between the two, “a proletariat of temporary workers.”3 Far from constituting the very motor of social change, the “traditional working class” had become little more than a “privileged minority.”4 From now on, the vanguard of the class struggle would be a “non-class” made up of the “unemployed” and “the temporary workers” for whom work would never be a “source of individual flourishing.” Gorz’s idea was that, in today’s world, class conflict is no longer between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, but rather, between the lumpenproletariat and a working class no longer at odds with the class system.

The fact that this logic—redefining the social question as a conflict between two factions of the proletariat rather than between capital and labor—can today be found on the left as well as the right, raises a number of question. On one side, it aims at limiting the social rights of the “surplus population”5 by pitting “active” workers against them; on the other side, it aims at mobilizing the “surplus population” against the privilege of the “actives.” In the end, both sides end up accepting, to the detriment of all “workers,” the centrality of the category of the “excluded.”

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Repossted with permission from: Nonsite.org

Bruno Latour’s Gifford Lectures

In political science, religion, society, sociology, theory, writers on October 5, 2013 at 01:43

From: Bruno Latour’s Gifford Lectures: “Facing Gaia. A New Inquiry into Natural Religion”, Figure / Ground Communication, http://figureground.ca

Watch the lectures

Read full PDF of  Facing Gaia

“Bruno Latour is Professor at Sciences Po Paris and has also been Professor at the Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines in Paris and visiting Professor at University of California (San Diego), at the London School of Economics and Harvard University.

After field studies in Africa and California he specialized in the analysis of scientists and engineers at work. In addition to work in philosophy, history, sociology and anthropology of science, he has collaborated on many studies in science policy and research management, producing significant works such as Laboratory Life, Science in Action, The Pasteurization of France, and more recently Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor Network Theory.

He has also published an anthology of essays, Pandora’s Hope: Essays in the Reality of Science Studies, which explore the consequences of the “science wars” and has made a valuable contribution to the political philosophy of the environment with the book Politics of Nature. In a further series of books, he has explored the consequences of science studies on religion in On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods and Rejoice (the latter to be published by Polity Press).

There could be no better theme for a lecture series on natural religion than that of Gaia, this puzzling figure that has emerged recently in public discourse from Earth science as well as from many activist and spiritual movements. The problem is that the expression of ”natural religion” is somewhat of a pleonasm, since Western definitions of nature borrow so much from theology. The set of lectures attempts to decipher the face of Gaia in order to redistribute the notions that have been packed too tightly into the composite notion of ”natural religion”.”

Reposted with permission from: Figure / Ground Communication

Between Žižek and Wagner by Tere Vadén

In history, philosophy, political science, society, sociology on September 12, 2013 at 14:47

From: Between Žižek and Wagner: Retrieving the Revolutionary Potential of Music by Tere Vadén, International Journal of Žižek Studies, http://zizekstudies.org/index.php/ijzs

In his foreword to Adorno’s In Search of Wagner Slavoj Žižek intimates that Wagner contains a revolutionary potential that has not been spotted or fully brought out yet and that now, “after the exhaustion of the critical-historicist and aestheticist paradigms” (Žižek 2009a: xxvii), is the right, decisive time. Žižek sees the new phase as ideologico-critical, or, better yet, political. While Žižek’s determination to enlist even Wagnerian opera in revolutionary struggle is laudable, there are some reasons to suspect the grounds on which his view is based. Žižek’s conception of music inherits a tension that characterises his view on the subject, including that of the revolutionary subject, and this tension is, in fact, intensified when it is transposed to the description of music. The underlying question is, can music ever bear the revolutionary role envisaged for it by Žižek? The conception seems to lead to an unhappy choice (correlative to a more general double-bind in the notion of the subject). On one hand, if music is a symbolic form, can it find experiential purchase to move people into revolution? On the other hand, if it is has a direct lifeline to pre-individual experience, can it
point towards a revolution that is emancipatory in the Enlightenment sense?

In order to move closer to these questions, let us begin by noticing how Žižek approaches music in general and Wagner in particular. A recurring theme in the philosophy of music has been the polarization of musical sound either to a pure and direct non-symbolic part of life or experience itself (as in Schopenhauer’s notion of Wille) or to a corrupt twin of symbolic language introducing a tragic gap between experience and its expression. At the same time, it is precisely this symbolic function that makes possible the psychoanalytic and critical analysis of musical meaning. For Žižek, subjectivity is formed by the violent introduction of a person into a symbolic universe, which functions as the playground of psychological and ideological tensions. Consequently, the expressivity of musical drama, such as a Wagner opera, is dependent on the (inter-)subjective existence of the symbolic.

In order to emphasise his analytical approach, Žižek claims that in understanding Wagner, rather than consider the work in its historical environment, we should decontextualize it in order to grasp its universal potential. It is clear that this kind of decontextualization and abstraction needs access to a universal medium in order to work and to be intelligible. For Žižek, this universal dimension is formed by the symbolic and subjectual structures, which are strictly correlative: the subject is a structural feature of the symbolic universe and the symbolic is the structure created and upheld by subjects. Consequently, by identifying and analysing these structures it is possible to locate the
symbolic tendencies in a musical work in a process that is essentially critique of ideology, that is, a revelation of the unexpressed conditions of expression in the work. This is not to say that while talking about opera Žižek would focus exclusively on the libretti and disregard the music (even though he does argue against the absolutisation of music while interpreting opera). He does analyse the music itself, and that is precisely the point: in order for music to
be analysable, to be symptomatic of ideological dead-ends and emancipatory paths, music itself has to have a symbolic structure. Music has to have elements that correspond to the structures of subjects, whether symbolic, psychological, philosophical, ideological or whatever.

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Reposted with permission from: International Journal of Žižek Studies

The Marvelous Marie Curie by Algis Valiunas

In biography, Europe, history of science, research, science, sociology on September 12, 2013 at 14:34

From: The Marvelous Marie Curie by Algis Valiunas, The New Atlantis, http://www.thenewatlantis.com

Marie Curie (1867–1934) is not only the most important woman scientist ever; she is arguably the most important scientist all told since Darwin. Einstein? In theoretical brilliance he outshone her — but her breakthroughs, by Einstein’s own account, made his possible. She took part in the discovery of radioactivity, a term she coined; she identified it as an atomic property of certain elements. When scoffers challenged these discoveries, she meticulously determined the atomic weight of the radioactive element she had revealed to the world, radium, and thereby placed her work beyond serious doubt. Yet many male scientists of her day belittled her achievement, even denied her competence. Her husband, Pierre Curie, did the real work, they insisted, while she just went along for the wifely ride. Chauvinist condescension of this order would seem to qualify Marie Curie as belle idéale of women’s studies, icon for the perennially aggrieved. But such distinction better suits an Aphra Behn or Artemisia Gentileschi than it does a Jane Austen or Marie Curie. Genuine greatness deserves only the most gracious estate, not an academic ghetto, however fashionable and well-appointed.

Yet the fact remains: much of the interest in Madame Curie stems from her having been a woman in the man’s world of physics and chemistry. The interest naturally increases as women claim their place in that world; with this interest comes anger, sometimes righteous, sometimes self-righteous, that difficulties should still stand in the way. A president of Harvard can get it in the neck for suggesting that women don’t have the almost maniacal resolve it takes to become first-rate scientific researchers — that they are prone to distraction by such career-killers as motherhood. So Marie Curie’s singularity cannot but be enveloped in the sociology of science, which is to say these days, feminist politics.

The sociology is important, as long as one remembers the singularity. For Marie Curie did have the almost maniacal resolve to do great scientific work. The work mattered as much to her as it does to most any outstanding scientist; yet can one really say it was everything? She passionately loved her husband and, after his premature death, loved another scientist of immense talent, perhaps of genius; she had the highest patriotic feeling for her native Poland and her adopted France, and risked her life in wartime; she raised two daughters, one, Irène, a Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry, the other, Ève, an accomplished writer, most notably as her mother’s biographer.

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Reposted with permission from: The New Atlantis

Burning Man is the New Capitalism by PJ Rey

In community, economy, North America, politics, society, sociology on September 9, 2013 at 16:12

From: Burning Man is the New Capitalism by PJ Rey, The Society Pages, http://thesocietypages.org

While there is much to discuss regarding the significant place that Burning Man occupies in the lives of its participants, I’d like to focus on the complex social and economic relationship Burning Man has with the default world and how this relationship reflects the changing nature of capitalism in the 21st Century. Let’s start by examining two key principals:

Gifting
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.

Decommodification
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.

By elevating gifting as a virtue, Burning Man distinguishes itself from the default world which is dominated by transactional relationships between people who have no personal connection to one another. (For example, the bagger at the grocery store sees customers as largely interchangeable and the customer also sees baggers as largely interchangeable. To each the other is just a means to an ends.) Gifting is, ostensibly, about putting the needs of the other above oneself.

The principle of decommodification attempts to further separate human interaction at Burning Man from market logic. In fact, the description of the principle of decommodification even employs a Marxist concept: exploitation. (Though in the strict Marxist sense, culture cannot be exploited, only labor.)

Because no money is exchanged at Burning Man* and because gifting and decommodification are key principles of the community, Burning Man is often described as “outside the system” or anti-capitalist. However, the notion that Burning Man opposes capitalism is misguided, if not naive. In a recent interview with TechCrunch’s Gregory Ferenstein, Burning Man founder Larry Harvey spoke to this point, insisting, “We’re not building a Marxist society.” While Ferenstein’s interview highlights the comfortable relationship that Burning Man has with capitalism (particularly Silicon Valley-based enterprises), Ferenstein oddly concludes that what it opposes, instead, is consumerism.

Were Burning Man’s goal to get people to consume less, it would be failing miserably. Anyone who has traveled the Reno Airport to Black Rock Desert circuit knows that an enormous consumer economy has evolved around the event. From the second you step off the plane through the very last Native American reservation before Black Rock City, advertisements suffuse the landscape, offering a wide array of commodities (bikes, tents, glowing el wire, “Indian tacos,” water, etc.) and services (e.g., rides to the Playa). And, all this pales in comparison to the vast amounts of consumer spending done in advance of the events. Camps from every major US city fill shipping containers with supplies and haul them to the desert on 18-wheelers. Many of the gifts given at Burning Man were first bought via the market economy. Burning Man’s principle of “radical self-reliance” often feeds a “get the gear” mentality of hyper-preparation, encouraging attendees to purchase supplies for every contingency they may encounter in the (admittedly harsh) desert conditions.

“Participatory experiences” alone will not shield 50,000 people from the sun or protect them from dust. It won’t even produce a fashionable pair of furry leggings or tutu. The Burning Man experience is the product of tens (or even hundreds) of millions of dollars flowing into the consumer economy and is inextricably linked to disposable incomes of Silicon Valley’s digerati. (It is also this requisite spending that keeps Burning Man as an exclusive and relatively privileged event.)

Larry Harvey’s pro-capitalist sentiments are surprising not because people misunderstand Burning Man but because people misunderstand modern capitalism. While there is certainly no causal relationship between the two, it is not entirely coincidence that a Man was first raised in the desert the year that the Berlin Wall fell. The Cold War-era perception of an irresolvable antagonism between capitalism and communism–market and commons–had begun to appear less tenable. The innovation economy that Silicon Valley has come to represent proposes to link sharing (of information) and capitalist production in a mutual reinforcing relationship. Tech companies benefit when the level of common knowledge in the employment pool increases or when innovations in the commons can be commoditized and brought into the market. (See Fred Turner’s excellent work on how Burning Man ties into Silicon Valley’s innovation economy.)

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Reposted with permission from: The Society Pages

Blinded by Sight by Francis B. Nyamnjoh

In Africa, anthropology, research, society, sociology on June 28, 2013 at 19:24

From: Blinded by Sight: Divining the Future of Anthropology in Africa by Francis B. Nyamnjoh, Africa Spectrum, http://journals.sub.uni-hamburg.de/giga/afsp/index

Using the metaphor of the elephant and the three blind men, this paper discusses some elements of the scholarly debate on the postcolonial turn in academia, in and of Africa, and in anthropology in particular. It is a part of the context in which anthropology remains unpopular among many African intellectuals. How do local knowledge practices take up existential issues and epistemological perspectives that may interrogate and enrich more global transcultural debates and scholarly reflexivity? Many an anthropologist still resists opening his or her mind up to life-worlds unfolding themselves through the interplay between everyday practice and the manifold actions and messages of humans, ancestors and non-human agents in sites of emerging meaning-production and innovative world-making. African anthropologists seeking recognition find themselves contested or dismissed by fellow anthropologists for doing “native”, “self” or “insider” anthropology, and are sometimes accused of perpetuating colonial epistemologies and subservience by fellow African scholars who are committed to scholarship driven by the need to valorise ways of being and knowing endogenous to Africa. This essay calls on anthropologists studying Africa to reflect creative diversity and reflexivity in the conceptualisation and implementation of research projects, as well as in how they provide for co-production, collaboration and co-implication within anthropology across and beyond disciplines.

Francis B. Nyamnjoh is a professor of Anthropology and head of Social Anthropology at the University of Cape Town. He served as Director of Publications at CODESRIA from 2003-2009, and taught at universities in Cameroon and Botswana previously. His current research is funded by the NRF, SANPAD, WOTRO, Volkswagen Foundation, CODESRIA and UCT.

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Reposted with permission from: Africa Spectrum

On the composition of lasagna by Prolapsarian

In economy, Europe, history, politics, sociology, theory on June 19, 2013 at 19:33

From: On the composition of lasagna: A caprice on horses, abstraction, and the division of labour by Prolapsarian, http://prolapsarian.tumblr.com

The article was shared by Philippe Theophanidis (http://aphelis.net/) – Thank you!

“It is impossible to remain in a large German city where hunger forces the most wretched to live on the banknotes with which passers-by seek to cover an exposure that wounds them.” – Walter Benjamin[1]

“I could eat a horse.” A phrase once expressing hunger has recently been transformed into a contemplation you may mumble to yourself while considering what to pick up from the supermarket for dinner. Such a thought resounds with disgust, yet that disgust has, over the last weeks, remained unanalysed, or perhaps unsynthesised. It has remained merely an outburst. Where it has been thought about, the usual conclusion has been that it has something to do with the domestication of horses, the fact that they are the sort of animals we give names to, and that under the conditions of their domestication they are often treated by their owners as if they offer some kind of emotionally reciprocal relationship. Against this, I would like to suggest that the disgust that is felt at eating horses actually has rather less to do with the fact that they are pets than it has to do with feelings about the history of class, the production of food, and the experience of contemporary conditions of labour. In this sense, the feeling of disgust must be retained in its material specificity, but its texture must be understood as nebulous as it is abstracted through the history of concepts, only to find them insufficient, breaking apart, spiritually refracting, to return once again to whatever material they do not capture.

Hunger

From hour to hour the sting of hunger was increasing, and horse-flesh had become a delicacy. Dogs, cats, and rats were eagerly devoured. The women waited for hours in the cold and mud for a starvation allowance. For bread they got black grout, that tortured the stomach. Children died on their mothers’ empty breasts. […] At the end of December their privations began to open the eyes of the people.[2]

Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray’s stomach-churning words, written only a few years after his first-hand experience of the events, describe the conditions of life in Paris during the siege of 1870. The government, he tells us, had, “far from evacuating the superfluous mouths, crowded the 200,000 inhabitants of the suburbs into the town” before the whole of Paris was to be cut off by Bismarck’s troops.

The passage, in its images of misery and horror, expresses the proximity of hunger to the historic eating of horse. It is with the word “delicacy” that we shudder most, for it poses an unusual question: what can we find beautiful under the duress of starvation? Today, hunger remains proximate to this feeling of disgust, about which we have read so often in the last weeks. Horse has been found only in in frozen and processed meats. It has been discovered in food used to feed prisoners, and in school dinners produced for a pittance and available free to poorer families, in hospital food but also in value-ranges in supermarkets. Horse is held at once in opposition to hunger and to choice of eating something else which is unaffordable; horse has come to occupy that narrow ground of necessity.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: Prolapsarian (Please share it! – https://twitter.com/Prolapsarian/status/305689879604498432)

The Cure for Loneliness by Vivian Gornick

In philosophy, social sciences, sociology, writers on June 19, 2013 at 19:13

From: The Cure for Loneliness by Vivian Gornick, Boston Review, http://www.bostonreview.net

In Fromm’s view, humanity was always trading freedom for the comfort of external authority.

Fromm’s thesis in Escape from Freedom was a simple one and, like Freud before him, he did not hesitate to use the conventions of mythic storytelling to make it vivid for the educated layperson. In Freud’s case the story derived from the classics; in Fromm’s, from Genesis (don’t forget those Talmudic studies). Human beings, he argued, were at one with nature until they ate of the Tree of Knowledge, whereupon they evolved into animals endowed with the ability to consciously reason and to feel. From then on they were creatures apart, no longer at one with a universe they had long inhabited on an equal basis with other dumb animals. For the human race, the gifts of thought and emotion created both the glory of independence and the punishment of isolation; on the one hand the dichotomy made the race proud, on the other hand lonely. The loneliness proved our undoing. It so perverted our instincts that we became strangers to ourselves—the true meaning of alienation—and thus unable to feel kinship with others.

Ironically, though, for each of these thinkers, it was the exercise of the very powers that had brought about our downfall that alone could release human beings from the imprisonment of such separateness. If men and women learned to occupy their own conscious selves, fully and freely, they would find that they were no longer alone: they would have themselves for company. Once one had company one could feel benign toward others.

This, Fromm said, was the only solution to the problem of the alienated individual in relation to the modern world. The only thing that could save humanity from its own soul-destroying loneliness was the individual’s ability to inhabit what came to be known as the “authentic” self. If you achieved authenticity, you would be rewarded with the inner peace necessary to become a free agent who is happy to do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

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Reposted with permission from: Boston Review

Apologies by Michael Bavidge

In philosophy, politics, religion, sociology on June 19, 2013 at 19:04

From: Apologies: Notes on the Philosophy of Asking Forgiveness by Michael Bavidge, The Philosopher, Volume LXXXXVIII No. 2, http://www.the-philosopher.co.uk

Apologies are other-directed in a strong sense. Apologizing is something we do. And what we do is directed at another person. There are other morally important actions, states of mind and feelings which have a relation to other people, but which are not directly interactive. Shame, for example, relates to others. But that does not make it dialogical in the same way as apologies, confessions or guilty pleas. What are the elements of an apology understood in this sense?

The Greek word apologia means a defence or justification, offering defensive arguments, making excuses. Socrates’ Apology or Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Mea are apologies in this sense. But in modern usage an apology, at least a good apology, requires the suppression of pleas and excuses. The OED defines apology as a frank acknowledgement, by way of reparation, of offence given, or an explanation of that offence as not intended, with expression of regret for any offence given or taken. This suits well enough though it implies, but does not quite say, that an apology is offered by a person who has committed an offence to the person offended.

Another way to look at it is to say that apologies can be distinguished from other related but different activities. For example, an apology is not a confession. You can confess your faults to anyone who is prepared to listen, but you can apologize only to the one you have harmed. There is a website called Joeapology. It is an amusing and interesting site, but it is misnamed. It should be called Joeconfession. Its mission statement acknowledges the point: JoeApology.com is a site where people can freely and anonymously post their apologies. Think of it as a confessional of sorts (without the religious ties, that is). Are you feeling sorry about something you did? Do you want to get something off your chest? Go on, tell me about it…and remember, it’s completely anonymous. Just post your apology, no matter how big or small, and you’ll feel so much better. I promise. -Joe Apology [see box below]

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: The Philosopher

Human Trafficking in the Western Hemisphere

In human rights, law, North America, society, sociology, South America on June 12, 2013 at 08:37

From: Human Trafficking in the Western Hemisphere: A Special Online Edition of COHA’s Washington Report on the Hemisphere by Research Associates Gabriela Garton, Suncica Habul,Darya Vakulenko, Aleia Walker, Kathleen Bacon and Jade Vasquez, Council on Hemispheric Affairs, http://www.coha.org

Marita Verón: A Catalyst in the Fight Against Sex Trafficking in Argentina

On April 3, 2002, twenty-three year-old Marita Verón was kidnapped in the northeastern Argentine province of Tucumán. Marita’s mother, Susana Trimarco, has been looking for her ever since. Ms. Trimarco’s relentless search has not only raised wide scale awareness for a nation previously ignorant of its brutal and growing sex trafficking industry but has also led to significant advances in anti-human trafficking legislation in Argentina. Even though the nation has progressed considerably in the struggle against this modern form of slavery, Argentina still has much room for improvement, especially as it faces major corruption and cooperation issues.

By: Research Associate Gabriela Garton

Guyana’s Unacceptable Stance on Human Trafficking

Guyana is a major source country for the trafficking of men, women, and children in the prostitution and forced labor industries — an illegal business widely characterized as a form of modern-day slavery. In order to understand the magnitude of the human trafficking problem in Guyana, one must identify the groups that are most vulnerable while considering how the Guyanese government has thus far tried, and failed, to address the issue.

By: Research Associate Suncica Habul

Closer to Home: Human Trafficking in the USA

As the self-anointed human trafficking police force, the United States has often forgotten to trafficking is a major issue within its own borders. Recent examples of child sex trafficking just outside the nation’s capital have led the country to reconsider the complicated definition of human trafficking and the stereotyping of victims.

By: Research Associate Darya Vakulenko

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Reposted with permission from: COHA

A Graceful Exit: Taking Charge at the End of Life by Claudia Rowe

In ethics, medicine, philosophy, sociology, technology on June 4, 2013 at 01:02

From: A Graceful Exit: Taking Charge at the End of Life. How can we break the silence about what happens when we’re dying? by Claudia Rowe, YES! Magazine, http://www.yesmagazine.org

Despite our myriad technological advances, the final stages of life in America still exist as a twilight purgatory where too many people simply suffer and wait, having lost all power to have any effect on the world or their place in it. No wonder we’re loathe to confront this. The Patient Self-Determination Act, passed in 1990, guarantees us the right to take some control over our final days by creating advance directives like the one my mother made me sign, yet fewer than 50 percent of patients have done so. This amazes me.

“We have a death taboo in our country,” says Barbara Coombs Lee, whose advocacy group, Compassion & Choices, pushed Washington and Oregon to pass laws allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending medication for the terminally ill. “Americans act as if death is optional. It’s all tied into a romance with technology, against accepting ourselves as mortal.”

It’s hardly surprising that medical personnel would drive this reexamination of our final days. Coombs Lee, who spent 25 years as a nurse and physician’s assistant, considers her current advocacy work a form of atonement for the misery she visited on terminal patients in the past—forcing IV tubes into collapsed veins, cracking ribs open for heart resuscitation.

“I had one elderly patient who I resuscitated in the I.C.U., and he was livid,” she says. “He shook his fist at me, ‘Barbara, don’t you ever do that again!’ We made a deal that the next time it happened we would just keep him comfortable and let him go, and that’s what we did.”

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Reposted with permission from: YES! Magazine

The Global War Against Baby Girls by Nicholas Eberstadt

In Asia, gender, politics, society, sociology on May 29, 2013 at 23:02

From: The Global War Against Baby Girls by Nicholas Eberstadt, The New Atlantis, http://www.thenewatlantis.com

Over the past three decades the world has come to witness an ominous and entirely new form of gender discrimination: sex-selective feticide, implemented through the practice of surgical abortion with the assistance of information gained through prenatal gender determination technology. All around the world, the victims of this new practice are overwhelmingly female — in fact, almost universally female. The practice has become so ruthlessly routine in many contemporary societies that it has impacted their very population structures, warping the balance between male and female births and consequently skewing the sex ratios for the rising generation toward a biologically unnatural excess of males. This still-growing international predilection for sex-selective abortion is by now evident in the demographic contours of dozens of countries around the globe — and it is sufficiently severe that it has come to alter the overall sex ratio at birth of the entire planet, resulting in millions upon millions of new “missing baby girls” each year. In terms of its sheer toll in human numbers, sex-selective abortion has assumed a scale tantamount to a global war against baby girls.

Sex-selective abortion is by now so widespread and so frequent that it has come to distort the population composition of the entire human species: this new and medicalized war against baby girls is indeed truly global in scale and scope. Estimates by the United Nations Population Division (UNPD) and the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Programs Center (IPC) — the two major organizations charged with tracking and projecting global population trends — make the point. According to estimates based on IPC data, a total of 21 countries or territories (including a number of European and Pacific Island areas) had SRBs of 107 or higher in the year 2010; the total population of the regions beset by unnaturally high SRBs amounted to 2.7 billion, or about 40 percent of the world’s total population. For its part, UNPD estimates that 24 countries and territories (a slightly different roster from IPC’s, including some additional European, South American, Middle Eastern, Asian, and Pacific settings) had SRBs of 107 or higher for the 2005-2010 period, for a total population similar to the IPC figure. Additionally, UNPD and IPC list several countries with child (age 0-4) sex ratios of 107 or higher; those lists partially overlap with the SRB lists. If we tally all the places that IPC and UNPD flag as having unnaturally high SRBs or child sex ratios, along with the places listed in Tables 2 and 3 whose official demographic statistics report unnaturally high SRBs or child sex ratios, we would have a total of over 50 countries and territories accounting for over 3.2 billion people, or nearly half of the world’s total population.

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Reposted with permission from: The New Atlantis

Teaching Criminology to Prison Inmates by Lawrence T. Jablecki

In ethics, humanities, North America, politics, social sciences, sociology, universities on April 17, 2013 at 20:05

From: Teaching Criminology to Prison Inmates by Lawrence T. Jablecki, The Humanist, http://thehumanist.org

Fourteen men—age thirty to sixty and clad in white, serving prison terms ranging from ten to thirty years for violent crimes—sit in a classroom discussing crime and punishment. When asked if they are willing to discuss the impact of their crime and incarceration on their families, their collective reply is “sure, doing time has made us tough.” Almost immediately, the room is transformed into the silence of a chapel as the teacher asks them one by one to share their stories. Two hours pass in a flash during which most of these “tough guys” are choked with emotion, wipe tears from their eyes, and some cry without shame. The emotional intensity in the room is an indescribable experience.

The above event took place in a Texas prison where the men were attempting to salvage what was left of their lives with the aid of a master’s degree from a major university. In 1974 the University of Houston at Clear Lake created a bold and controversial degree-conferring program for male inmates serving time at the Ramsey Prison in Rosharon, Texas. Today, this highly successful program offers several hundred inmates the opportunity to earn a BA or MA in the behavioral sciences and also in the humanities. (It’s worth noting that even though men greatly outnumber women in prisons—93.6 to 6.4 percent nationally—several Texas prisons offer educational programs for women as well.)

Probably the most widely held belief about prisoners is that most, if not all of them, claim to be innocent. I can count on one hand, however, the number of my students who have appealed their case with the claim of innocence. Instead, the vast majority concede their guilt and believe they deserved to be punished. This concession to the persuasive power of the centuries-old retributive argument emerged in our many class discussions in which they acknowledged making a decision to commit a crime and described the hard coinage of punishment as their just deserts.

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Reposted with permission from: The Humanist

Glad I Didn’t Have Facebook In High School! from Cyborgology

In internet, media, privacy, psychology, sociology on March 21, 2013 at 12:36

From: Glad I Didn’t Have Facebook In High School! from Cyborgology, The Society Pages, http://thesocietypages.org

“Glad we didn’t have Facebook then!” isn’t always wrong, but the statement makes at least two very arguable suppositions and it also carries the implicit belief that identity-change is something that should be hidden, reinforcing the stigma that generates the phrase to begin with.

First, the statement assumes that the net effect of social media for teens now and in the future will be negative. Bullying, harassment, and embarrassment as a result of online activity are certainly real—and not evenly distributed, with vulnerable populations at increased risk. However, social media visibility isn’t only a source of harassment but also a source of support. Things like the It Gets Better Project, Harssmap, Hollaback, to say nothing of, for example, the many potentially supportive comments on a Facebook post where a teen comes out of the closet demonstrate visibility, harm, and support in a complicated relationship, something true long before Zuckerberg started coding. I’m not sure how we can make a definitive calculation here, but before being so thankful we didn’t have Facebook to embarrass us, we might also think of how it could have also been a foundation of encouragement, assistance, and validation that many of us might have benefited from.

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Reposted with permission from: The Society Pages

After Sandy: Presidential rhetoric and visions of solidarity

In community, government, history, nature, North America, politics, sociology on January 9, 2013 at 23:42

From: After Sandy: Presidential rhetoric and visions of solidarity, The Immanent Frame, http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/

Richard AmesburyAssociate Professor of Ethics, Claremont School of Theology; Associate Professor of Religion, Claremont Graduate University

Sandy, in all her indiscriminate, non-partisan fury, ripped the facade off two large problems that had received little to no attention in the Presidential debates—poverty and climate change. In the storm’s grim aftermath, President Obama spoke movingly of America’s unity in the face of adversity. “We leave nobody behind,” he said the next day. “We make sure that we respond as a nation and remind ourselves that whenever an American is in need, all of us stand together to make sure that we’re providing the help that’s necessary.” But the reality is that the suffering occasioned by Sandy, though no doubt experienced at all levels, has been unequally distributed. As David Rohde observed in Manhattan the night of the storm, “Those with a car could flee. Those with wealth could move into a hotel. Those with steady jobs could decline to come into work. But the city’s cooks, doormen, maintenance men, taxi drivers and maids left their loved ones at home.” Gestures of bi-partisanship and horizontal solidarity, though perhaps refreshing, should not be allowed to occlude the plight of those left behind in poverty.

Sandy has also made it seem like bad taste to scoff at climate change, as Governor Romney did in his convention speech. Though it may be too early to tell precisely what role climate change played in this particular case, increasingly severe hurricane activity is part of what the scientific models suggest we should expect on our warming planet. Obama’s comment on October 30th is telling: “Sadly, we are getting more experience with these kinds of big impact storms along the East Coast.” Apart from such oblique remarks, and despite pressure from environmental groups, Obama has been mostly silent about the climate of late, but perhaps the images of flooding and devastation will help to change the political climate around climate change, which, like so much else, will most acutely affect the poor.

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Reposted with permission from: The Immanent Frame

What the frack? by Imre Szeman

In ecology, economics, ethics, government, news, North America, politics, sociology on January 3, 2013 at 16:42

From: What the frack? by Imre Szeman, Radical Philosophy, http://www.radicalphilosophy.com

Shale gas can be found in pockets all over the world, including Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Mexico and South Africa. The extraction of natural gas from shale has generated headlines in almost every one of these countries as a result of the process used to gain access to it: hydrological fracturing, which is more commonly referred to as ‘fracking’. A process developed in late 1940s but only used widely in the last decade, fracking involves the injection of a mix of water, sand and chemicals into the bore created to access the gas with enough force and pressure to split the shale rock, and so make the gas recoverable. The success of fracking as a means by which to access natural gas deposits that were formerly thought to be inaccessible is connected with the concurrent development of horizontal (as opposed to conventional, vertical) drilling, a process now carried out in the field with relative ease. Horizontal drilling aided by fracking opened up the natural gas fields of the Barnett Shale in northern Texas a decade ago. Since then, oil and gas companies, small and large, have raced to gain access to the gas trapped in the Bowland Basin in the UK and the Marcellus Shale in the north-eastern USA, as well as many other places around the globe. Besides the profits promised by control over all these new gas deposits, industry and government have been quick to champion the other benefits produced by shale gas and fracking.

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Reposted with permission from: Radical Philosophy

Anaïs Nin on Why Understanding the Individual is the Key to Understanding Mass Movements by Maria Popova

In books, humanities, psychology, society, sociology on January 1, 2013 at 19:09

From: Anaïs Nin on Why Understanding the Individual is the Key to Understanding Mass Movements by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, http://www.brainpickings.org

There is an opacity in individual relationships, and an insistence that the writer make the relation of the particular to the whole which makes for a kind of farsightedness. I believe in just the opposite. Every individual is representative of the whole, a symptom, and should be intimately understood, and this would give a far greater understanding of mass movements and sociology.

Also, this indifference to the individual, total lack of interest in intimate knowledge of the isolated, unique human being, atrophies human reactions and humanism. Too much social consciousness and not a bit of insight into human beings.

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Reposted with permission from: Brain Pickings

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