Living in The Risk Society – When Precarization Kills

This story is a good illustration of C. Wright Mills’s formulation of personal troubles and public issues, with a reminiscently Durkheimian case of suicides:

So, most of the FT workers started their careers when promises were made to them as to what they could expect in terms of working conditions. But then, in the name of flexibility, privatization and adaptability to the global market, conditions are radically altered unilaterally.

On his blog, sociologist Camille Peugny offers a possible explanation for this:

What Peugny outlines here is that living in the risk society, under conditions of precarious work, takes a social-psychological toll on workers. He bases this on sociologist Robert Karasek’s Job Demand Control (JD-C) Model, which itself is based on two central propositions:

One can see how this applies to the case of the FT workers: for instance, they were hired as technicians with a great deal of autonomy and team work. Now, their position has been downgraded to call center workers and telemarketers and teams have been broken up, replaced with competitive Dilbert-like cubicle conditions. There is no question that job strain has a clear impact on health, physical and mental.

To use different terms, the combination of structural and symbolic violence in the form of degraded and humiliating working conditions conspire to create an environment where workers find no positive aspect, added to the external social pressure that they should not complain because, after all, they have jobs. The implication is that one should be grateful for a job, any job, because even that can be taken away so one should just suck up the daily degradations and humiliations and that the rat race is the only labor market in town:

The End of An Era? US Failing State and Palliative Capitalism

In three easy steps. First, acknowledge what scholars of globalization have known for a while now, that the global era is marked by multi-polar power structures, marked by the declining star of the American economy and currency:

Again, Zoellick is behind the curve here. A quick look at the work of David Held and others over the years made that point. The issue of the weak dollar came to a head when the Euro was introduced a few years ago. So, it’s not exactly a prediction. Also, sociologist Michael Mann expanded on the US as declining power in Incoherent Empire. Actually, Mann makes the case that the US is losing ground on more than economic power, but on ideological, political and military power as well.

And speaking of political power, in Scientific American, Jeffrey Sachs basically tells us that the US is a failing state.

Sachs identifies four causes to this:

  1. Flawed privatization and lack of regulations
  2. Lack of government effectiveness in terms of planning
  3. Systemic underfunding of government services
  4. Lack of holistic approach to problem solving (technical specialties, government departments and public and private sectors)

What Sachs fails to not is that none of these four issues fell from the sky. They are all the product of deliberate neo-liberal policies that have prevailed from the past 30 years. “Starving the beast” was slogan and a reality. Sachs tend to be annoyingly unaware of power relations, exploitation and oppression. In this article as well, it is as if these things had just happened.

In any event, the final diagnosis is that of an ineffective state, a failing state.

Over at Paul Jorion’s blog, guest-poster François Leclerc tells us that we have entered the era of “palliative capitalism” whereby central banks are the palliative caregiver to banks and states.

Palliative capitalism is a system that no longer works on its own and more or less completely relies on palliative measures by the central banks to crab-walk and pretend that everything will be back to normal. But the signs of recovery are fictive. For Leclerc, the question is whether these palliative measures are sustainable and for how long. After all, the central banks have not provided clear criteria regarding the end of pumping capital into the system to fund a supposed credit recovery. And who can tell exactly where the bailout money has gone anyway.

For Leclerc, governments are faced with limited choices face with mounting debts:

  • Budget cuts and tax hikes
  • Inflation probably followed by stagflation

Neither are very attractive. What’s left?

  • Taxes on financial transactions (direct and derivative – kinda like the forever-discussed but never implemented Tobin tax)

It seems that Leclerc leans toward the third as long as it is more than symbolic but it goes against palliative capitalism where we continue to pretend that everything will go back to normal as long as palliative care is maintained.

Facebook Racism

Look, no one should be surprised to find the same vile stuff on the various social media platforms as we do in real life and on the Internet.

And the big utopian discourse over social media should already be sources of mockery, in a manner comparable to pronouncements like “the end of history” or some such grandiose pomposity omnipresent in the new media pop culture.

Social media reproduce classism, racism, sexism and homophobia. If anything, they facilitate the transmission of such prejudice as fast as they can wire money from New York City to the Cayman Islands.

The irony is that social networking technology also furthers the surveillance society so, the Secret Services should have no trouble finding out who created that survey.

Geez… What a Shocking Surprise: Cutbacks on Park Rangers = More Crime in Parks

Maybe that’s the whole point: let the parks deteriorate so badly and be major crime sites that the public will hate them and then the State can sell them to some developer in the name of budgetary constraints and public safety.

Social Stratification – Class, Race and Gender

Via Susie,

Ten Dollars an Hour from Ben Guest on Vimeo.

This is a great video to use if you teach introduction to sociology. The class, racial and gender dynamics are unmistakable (“she’s eager to please!”… well duh, if you make attitude a condition to continued employment, yes, the lowest paid employees are the ones who have to do most of the emotional work).

The Uses of the Periphery – Slum Tourism

When I was in Kenya last Spring, my guide took me to Kibera, at my request, but I did not take photos. I did take photos of Lusaka Kanyama Area when I was visiting with an NGO through which I sponsor kids. I am highly ambivalent about slum tourism. On the one hand, yes, it is a source of business (in which case, it should be more than £20 a pop and there should be direct contributions to projects) in areas that otherwise survive mostly on informal economy and illegal trafficking. On the other hand, poverty is not a spectacle and the people living in these quarters are trapped there by poverty.

And yes, if you’re European, it is impressive in a horrific kind of way. But let’s face it: we go spend 2 weeks in nice resorts, attended to by locals at our beck and call. And then, we spend a couple of hours in the slum for the authenticity. And we cough up a little money (a drop compared to the cost of a safari) to take care of the white guilt and pretend we made a difference.

World Contraception Day 2009

It’s today!

For a world where every pregnancy is wanted.

As this Nouvel Observateur article notes, many new options have been introduced this year: 3rd generation pill, estrogen-based pills, new emergency oral contraception.

So, there is more research going on for more and better options.

The Diverse Paths of Cultural Diffusion – Baseball Edition

H/T Pierre Maura,

Le Monde has a very interesting article regarding the trajectory of diffusion of baseball around the world and the national social contexts that made baseball attractive (or unattractive) outside of the United States. The article is based on an interview with Peter Marquis who just completed a thesis on the subject.

So, for instance, Marquis explained the fact that baseball never took root in France because of the popularity of other sports, such as soccer (or rugby as well I would add), because of the persistent anti-Americanism, and because American immigrants in France tend to be intellectuals and artists. Whatever baseball teams there are in France were more the product of immigration from Quebec.

On the other hand, Italy and the Netherlands have solid baseball teams. Why is that? In the case of Italy, American occupation after WWII is the main explanation for the popularity of baseball in the post-War era, reinforced by the presence of well-known and popular Italian-American players (Joe Di Maggio) and large immigration. This popularity is no longer the case anymore. For the Netherlands, it has more to do with colonialism and the proximity with cricket-playing British teams. It is in the Dutch Antilles that one can trace the roots of this.

One would think that American occupation is also the main explanation for the strong presence of baseball in Japan. Actually, baseball was introduced there in the 19th Century, at the beginning of the Meiji Era. The Japanese reformers used baseball to open their country to the world but they also saw cultural similarities between baseball and samurai skills and spirit.

And then there is Cuba. Is it military presence as well? Not so. Baseball takes root in 1860 thanks to Cuban exchange students who came back to Cuba as well as American sailors. In addition, baseball was played in opposition to bullfighting, perceived as the symbol of Spanish colonization. Decolonization movements used baseball as a symbol of equality and freedom. As a result, Cuban baseball was always open to black players, as opposed to the US where desegregation only occurred in 1947. So, some African American players from the Negro Leagues would migrate to Cuba to play there, in the national leagues. As Marquis notes, in the 1950s, the Cincinnati Reds even had a branch in Havana, named the Sugar Kings. All this came to an end with the Castrist revolution. This was the end of professional leagues and a return to amateur leagues. At the same time, in the context of the Cold War, Cuban baseball was also used as a provocation: beat the US at their own game.

What this all shows is that whether or not a foreign sport is adopted or rejected has a lot to do with national culture, international cultural relations. As with any type of diffusion, adopting societies might also transform the sport to their own society and change a few rules (as is the case for Japanese baseball). In any events, cultural debate determines whether the sport gets adopted (and in what form) or rejected.

Marquis emphasizes the importance of the media in these cultural discussions. Any nation wants a strong national team especially if that team can distinguish itself in a foreign sport. So, there is no singular trajectory of cultural diffusion from the originating society to the recipient society. Each cultural practice gets translated, adapted or rejected based on a variety of social and cultural factors.

Let’s Not Get Too Excited – HIV Vaccine Edition

Usually, when HIV-related stuff comes out, I always wait for Elizabeth Pisani to weigh in and usually rain on everyone’s parade! She did not fail me this time either. There is an important point there though:

These different sub-types are represented in different colors in the map below:

As for the vaccine itself? There is disappointment there too.

I guess it is the nature of medical research but this is in stark contrast with the media headlines.