From Contradictory Class Location to Proletarianizarion with A Nice Uniform

Via Dan Hanley,

There has been a lot of stories about airline pilots in the news lately, from Michael Moore’s film to the pilots “forgetting” to land where they were supposed to. These have contributed to attract attention to the pilots’ working conditions and wages. As a class, pilots tend to be “imagined” as well-paid prestigious category of professionals. In reality, the well-paid part? Not really. (Another problem for structural-functionalist theory that contends that higher wages – and corresponding inequalities – reflect length of training and functional significance).

One has to consider the possibility that labor, no matter how skilled or no matter how much training is required, present practically no value in the “new economy” as opposed to exchanging bets and empty boxes and other some such “complex financial products.” Skilled labor is not an asset to a company, but rather a liability, a cost that has to be reduced in any way possible.

Hey, higher education is moving more and more online where the course is developed in the most non-personal and most standardized way possible where who actually teaches the course does not matter (actually, at certain for-profit, online universities, there are no teachers, only “facilitators”, that is the learning occurs without actual teaching taking place. That has been taken out of the equation.

How long before we can dispose of the pilots altogether, or some deskilled version, and just have computer monitoring by deskilled technicians?

Global Sociology Blogroll Update – Going Places Edition

As I mentioned in my previous post, there is apparently life for sociologists outside of academia! Case in point, the French consulting firm, Chronos, specialized in transportation issues (touching upon, of course, urban, infrastructure and stratification issues):

And they have a blog as well: Fluid Trajectories:

I don’t know who does their site graphic design but it is really classy.

Update your RSS feeds and bookmarks!

Physical Mobility as Privilege, Being Stuck as Structural Violence, and Some Lousy Writing

I know that some degree of condescension and amusement is a requirement when it comes to writing about France but this is just a lousy way to start an article about what is successful (albeit not without problems) public policy. After all, we know that Paris, like all (especially European) large cities is a traffic nightmare despite a very thick network of public transportation and air and noise pollution is definitely an issue. So, the bike-rental program is not a bad idea and it has been in place in Amsterdam for a very long time. But here is how the article starts:

See what I mean? “Utopia” (never mind the precedents for this)? “Parisian psyche” (whatever the hell that is)? Oh, those French, don’t they know that government policy NEVER works? Like health care?

Look, this is nothing new to life in a French city. Try leaving your car unlocked or with the radio / CD player in (in France, cars come with plug-in / plug-out radio / CD players) and see what happens. France is a society where there is much less police presence and social classes are not as residentially segregated than in the US where, if one leaves in the upper-middle class suburbs, one will hardly ever be exposed to “the riff-raff”. So, petty delinquency and vandalism are much more visible.

At the same time, French authorities have definitely tried to keep the youth from the French “banlieues” from spending time downtown Paris (it’s bad for the city’s image and for tourism), so these youth often get pulled out of the subway before getting to Paris, hence the sense of exclusion as subways do not run 24/7. This aspect of structural violence is part of the explanation for vandalism, as reaction of the powerless, as a sociologist explains:

So, basically, it’s a success with some problems related to larger social issues that France has been facing for many years… so much for utopia and Parisian psyche.

Actually, Bruno Marzloff has much more nuanced views when it comes to bike-sharing and bike-riding programs for large cities (note that he created his own private consultant practice, specialized in transportation issues… so, there is work for sociologists outside of academia) but these do not eliminate preexisting stratification barriers:

The issue here, also, is that such agency and mobility is based on a certain level of affluence and social status in the stratification system. Monitoring one’s mobility is often not an option for banlieues dwellers whose movements and physical mobility tend to be more limited by the availability of public transportation and greater weight of police presence. Marzloff’s bike-sharer is most likely an upper-middle class professional who can afford to live in Paris (hence the convenience of door-to-door bike ride) or an affluent suburb dweller who does not fall into the category of suspicious population.

Moreover, the network-building that Marzloff mentions definitely involves choices and options that are not available to the entire population. The notion of sharing transportation relies on a certain degree of trust (Putnam’s social capital) which tends to not exist across social classes (especially in the class-segregated suburbs) as well as equal playing field where the parties both have something of equal value to exchange. Building social capital and networks in situations of social asymmetries is much more difficult.

In the end, mobility as privilege and being stuck as structural violence at the local level is a mirror image of the same at the global level, as studied by Manuel Castells and Saskia Sassen: the transnational capitalist class moves seamlessly from international airport terminals to expensive hotels at the core of global cities, witohut much impediment from the authorities whereas the global poor tends to be stuck in place or stigmatized when they try to move (see all anti-immigration discourse) and much more strictly controlled in their limited mobility.

Book Review – The Meritocracy Myth

When one teaches introduction to sociology courses, one is always on the lookout for a good, readable book that makes a powerful case for the relevance of sociological analysis without dumbing it down or turning it into “you can have better relationships thanks to sociology” kind of drivel. After all, introduction to sociology textbooks are mostly horrendous and I don’t know who could ever be drawn to sociology just by reading a textbook (hence my own personal revolt and work-in-progress).

One of the things that sociology does well is debunking: take commonly accepted ideas and show systematically and with data how these ideas are actually false. That’s why when my new colleague mentioned The Meritocracy Myth by Stephen McNamee and Robert K. Miller jr., I was immediately interested because if there is one thing American students reject outright, it’s the durkheimian idea of social facts that are constraining on individual behavior or the supposed “natural” idea that some people are just smarter than others (I teach at a community college, you’d think they’d be more critical of that one, but nope, and rationalizations abound) or that people’s social positions reflect their moral worth.

In the book, McNamee and Miller review the roots of meritocratic individualism and then proceed to deconstruct all the different aspects of meritocracy and explore how social privileges and disadvantages are socially allocated based on a variety of factors mediated through various social institutions. They provide a strong demonstration for the power of the social structure. Seamlessly combining social theory (like Bourdieu on social and cultural capital) and recent data, the authors mercifully work towards a welcome “everything you believe is wrong” conclusion.

“The acceptance of meritocracy in America is predicated not on what ‘is’ but on the belief that the system of inequality is ‘fair’ and it ‘works.’ According to the ideology of meritocracy, inequality is seen to be fair because everyone presumably has an equal (or at least adequate) chance to succeed, and success is determined by individual merit. The system supposedly works because it is seen as providing as individual incentive to achieve that is good for society as a whole; that is, those who are most talented, the hardest working, and the most virtuous get and should get the most rewards.” (4)

This is the mark of an ideological construct that it is promoted by a variety of institutional arrangements (schools, media, etc.) so much so that it becomes natural (after all, how different is this from the structural-functionalist view of inequalities). And like many ideologies, this belief is a cultural underpinning of the maintenance of the status quo, politically, economically and socially while making increasing levels of inequalities acceptable. And like many such ideological constructs, they are based on scrapping from view the nasty side of the history of social privilege, as perfectly illustrated by this Ampersand comic found at Eric Stoller’s website:

So, McLemee and Miller deconstruct this belief, taking on the sub-arguments one by one and showing how they do not survive scrutiny. They demonstrate how social privileges and disadvantages are allocated before birth and are accumulated every step of the way as the privileged accumulate social, economic and cultural capital by sending their children to “the right kind” of kindergartens, pre-schools and schools. Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Chamboredon’s thesis on Social Reproduction is well known: schools reward upper-class habitus and privileged kids’s possession of the right kind of social and cultural capital and allow them to accumulate more of it.

The authors also examine and discard the “attitude” argument (“those with the right attitude succeed”) as well as the moral argument (success comes to the virtuous, those who postpone gratification, as opposed to the poor who, as often repeated, have the wrong values, go for immediate gratification and have their own self-defeating subculture, as the culture-of-poverty argument goes). One would think that with the economic collapse and the exposure for the whole world to see of the incompetence and immorality of the financial class, that argument would have been put to rest, but no, the mortgage crisis was the fault of all these poor people who could not defer gratification and had to buy houses they could not afford (never mind that reality shows otherwise and points the blame higher on the social ladder).

“But,” my students often argue, “what about athletes, and Oprah?” (Why do they ALWAYS have to bring Oprah to the conversation??):

“One could argue that these ‘elites’ are truly talented and have extraordinary physical qualities not available to the average person (e.g., size, speed, agility, hand-eye coordination). Raw talent alone, however, is not enough. Talent has to be cultivated through recruitment and opportunities for training. Potential talent can go unnoticed, particularly in the absence of opportunities to develop and exhibit it. Training may be expensive and not easily available to people of modest means, particularly in such sports as golf, tennis, swimming and figure skating.” (28)

And then, there is, of course, the question of inheritance, the most obvious mechanism of transmission of privileges. Advocates of meritocracy should militate for the abolition of any form of inheritance, after all, it is unearned. Of course, it would be impossible to scrap any unearned privilege from one generation to the next as it would be impossible to eliminate social and cultural capital. Indeed, what is captured under the “silver spoon” expression covers a wide range of behavioral and dispositional traits and symbolic advantages that go beyond material wealth.

There are also all the different forms of structural discrimination by race and ethnicity, gender and sexual preference, age and others. Being part of the dominant group constitutes an invisible (and therefore deniable) form of unearned privilege (as the comic above also illustrates) that has cumulative effects.

And then there’s luck, just plain and simple: being born in the right place at the right time, at times of economic transitions (as opposed to economic recession… the structure of opportunities is pretty bleak right now, especially for those already disadvantaged because they have nothing to fall back on, which is another advantage to the privileged who can then engage in greater risk-taking behavior with bigger potential pay-off because they have greater resources to fall back on).

“In thinking about who ends up with what jobs. Americans tend to first think about what economists call the ‘supply side.’ In labor economics, the supply side refers to the pool of workers available to fill jobs. The ideology of meritocracy leads Americans to focus on the qualities of individual workers: how smart they are, how qualified they are, how much education they have, and so on. These ‘human capital’ factors, however, represent only half of the equation. The other half, the ‘demand side,’ is about the number and types of jobs available. How many jobs are available, their location, how much they pay, and how many people are seeking them are important but often neglected considerations in assessing the impact of merit on economic outcomes.” (137)

So, once we have the picture of an unequal system that is a far cry from the claims of the meritocratic ideology, why should we care? We should care because increased stratification, first, is unfair. Some people are gaming the system intentionally or not, and for others, the system is gamed in their favor. So, basic social justice applies. As the book demonstrates, most of the privileges are unearned.

More than that, as demonstrated in The Spirit Level, social inequalities are bad for society on a variety of indicators. An unequal society is even bad for those who benefit the most from unearned privileges, so egalitarian policies are the solution to provide equality of opportunities, or even, as Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett recommend, equality of results (somehow, always a more controversial claim). Most of the remedies McLemee and Miller suggest are well-known: progressive taxation, government spending, etc. Nothing really new here.

As I mentioned above, this is a book really for undergraduate students. The professional sociologist will not find anything really new in the book, but clear conceptual definitions and some pretty nice argumentative retorts to usual students defending the meritocracy myth. It’s a book that should be mandatory reading for any sociology department’s undergraduates.

Triathlon and Social Capital

Over at Economic Sociology, Brooke Harrington has a great guest post by Galyn Burke–Brown on triathlon as the high power sport that promotes high-power connections in the business world. Read the whole thing, it is really great.

Hey, Remember What Structural-Functionalism Say About Social Stratification and Inequalities?

According to this time-honored theory that is often wrong and yet we still have to teach, inequalities and greater wealth at the top of the social distribution are reflection of the sacrifices some individuals make to get educated and take more functionally significant positions in society. So, Dean Baker asks the right question in the title of his op-ed:

These obscene remunerations were not reflections of talent or skills, obviously. They were also not rewards for risk-taking behavior since the risks are taken with other people’s money and the “too big to fail” rule pretty much guarantees government bailouts.

No, what we have here is the product of the conjunction of wealth and power and the ultimate result of the corporatization of the state.

What we see is a complete disconnect not only between performance and social value but between cultural norms that most people are expected to abide by, especially for the most vulnerable (workfare for low pay, prisonfare for no pay) versus falsely risky sociopathic behavior rewarded and treated as so socially significant that it has to be preserved (with loads of public money) at all costs.

So, it’s just the logical conclusion of a class warfare that started in the late 1970s and pretty much reach one of its final points now: to the victors belong the spoils.

Book Review – Bright-Sided

No one writes about the American culture like Barbara Ehrenreich. At the same time, Ehrenreich never lets anyone forgets that there is a socially stratified reality out there and that cultural trends are often ideological scaffolding supporting unequal and precarious systemic conditions for most of us. Her latest book, Bright-Sided: How The Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America is no exception.

In this book, Ehrenreich takes on the “positive thinking” industry, tracing its roots back as a reaction to the fire-and-brimstone Calvinism of 18th-19th century America and following the movement all the way to the corporate culture of magical thinking that got us where we are today, through the monumental success of garbage like The Secret, positive preaching of the likes of Joel Osteen and positive psychology.

As usual, Eherenreich’s style is a combination of sarcasm and bafflement as to how supposedly smart people can believe such nonsense along with constant reminders that this stuff is all well and good but there is a harsh reality out there that needs to be addressed, no matter how positive one’s outlook is, to the point of self-delusion.

Ehrenreich also relates her own experience with positive thinking when she got cancer dove into the world of support group along with, and there lies the problem, the whole “mind over matter” mentality underlying positive thinking: if you wish something strongly enough and positively enough, it will happen. Similarly, you can “beat” the cancer through positive thinking. And above all, cancer patients are enjoined to not see themselves as “victims”. Getting cancer is reformulated as an opportunity to reexamine one’s life.

Wait, where have we heard that before? Well, in a lot of corporate motivation stuff. Remember “who moved my cheese?” That is part of the same movement. You were laid off? Hey, that may be the best thing that ever happened to you because now, you can go look for new sources of “cheese”! Don’t waste time blaming your boss or the economy. Losers, whiners and pessimists with a victim’s complex do that. Positive thinkers create their own opportunities through a change in their attitudes!

All this is part of the individualizing trend that Ulrich Beck and Zygmunt Bauman discussed in the context of neoliberalism and globalization. No more salvation by society, Peter Drucker told us. It is every individual for hirself, with one’s own set of skills (to be managed like assets and periodically updated) AND the right attitude. But the bottom line is that every person is on their own, with their own cancer or medical condition or their own broken career and precarized future. All the positive thinking industry is dedicated to make people accept that without protesting against the structural conditions that promote such insecurities and risks (in Beck’s sense).

So, for all the support groups, online communities of cancer survivors (not patients or victims!), cancer becomes a private experience, a private battle:

“I’m not so sure, but without question there is a problem when positive thinking ‘fails’ and the cancer spreads or eludes treatment. Then the patient can only blame herself: she is not positive enough; possibly it was her negative attitude that brought on the disease in the first place. At this point, the exhortation to think positively is ‘an additional burden to an already devastated patient,’ as oncology nurse Cynthia Rittenberg has written.” (42)

After all, positive thinking can never fail, rather people fail at positive thinking.

Nothing better illustrates positive thinking as magical thinking than the best-selling, Oprah-certified piece of garbage that is The Secret. I cannot express how much I loathe the whole The Secret Thing. It is an insult to all people in the world in situation of misery, poverty, war, genocide or deprivation more generally. It is a childish justification for selfish greed and lack of concern for social issues. It is also a form of individualization of social conditions.

All this might feel like harmless “feel good” new agey nonsense but the injunction to cut oneself off from “negative people” (that is, anyone with a realistic grasp of the world) has normative implications that can be pretty nasty, from being ostracized to being laid off. This reminded me of my college where mediocre administrators make stupid decision with predictable negative consequences that we, faculty, are expected to fix. And when we mention they got us into this mess because they didn’t do the analysis or we did it for them but they ignored it, the response is always “well, are you going to be part of the problem or part of the solution?” or various injunctions to let go of the past and be future-oriented (because heaven forbid that we might learn from our mistakes). Actually, academia has become heavy on the administrative side imbued with the positive thinking corporate-think.

But what’s with the all the mystic stuff? According Ehrenreich,

“What attracts the coaching profession to these mystical powers? Well, there’s not much else for them to impart to their coachees. ‘Career coaches’ may teach their clients how to write resumés and deliver the self-advertisements known as ‘elevator speeches,’ but they don’t have anything else by way of concrete skills to offer.” (63)

Well yeah, because, again, once you take out the social context and some generic encouragement to go back to school for some skill upgrading (gotta keep the “me” brand up to snuff), there is nothing else, really.And the same goes for positive psychology (I confess that, as a sociologist, I always get a tingle of schadenfreude when psychology gets knocked around a bit as Ehrenreich does… but then, Ehrenreich is a frequent guest / keynote speaker at ASA meetings, and a very popular one too).

There is a nastier side to this though. The “be positive” mantra, in the context of the “lean and mean” global economy, means not just that people have to what Hochschild long ago called emotional work as part of the service economy. No, being positive is more about working harder for less in a forcibly cheerful manner for fear that the slightest hint of “negativity” (sin of sin in the positive thinking movement) might put one as number 1 on the list of next layoffs. So, the obligatory constant self-monitoring is no longer for any trace of sin (as the old Calvinist religion had it) but relentless persistent self-examination for any trace of pessimism.

“The work of Americans, and especially of its ever-growing white-collar proletariat, is in no small part work that is performed on the self in order to make that self more acceptable and even likeable to employers, clients, co-workers, and potential customers. Positive thinking had ceased to be just a balm for the anxious or a cure of the psychosomatically distressed. It was beginning to be an obligation imposed on all American adults.” (96)

In other words, employers can now bombard their employees with “motivational” literature and DVDs as a sort of emotional blackmail and social control in the workplace. Out with the old-fashioned clock watching, in with the “right attitude” as mode of Foucauldian discipline. And so, all of a sudden workplace walls are now filled with stupid motivational posters with their stupid clichéd pronouncements.

And of course, in the United States, there is no amount of nonsense that can’t be made more nonsensical by mixing it with dumb religion, hence the success of Osteens and others of their ilk. In this “theology”, one finds the usual “be positive, you’re not a victim” tripe along with “God wants you to be rich” or “God got you laid off so you would embrace all these wonderful opportunities (that have not materialized yet but don whine about that)”. Of course, this makes the pastorpreneurs very very wealthy.

Ehrenreich ends her exploration of the positive thinking movement by showing how it has influenced the corporate world: the housing bubble was never going to burst. House prices were always going to go up forever. The market would continue to grow and self-correct (remember Thomas Frank’s One Market Under God?). Ehrenreich shows how much the overlords of the corporate world, detached from reality as their wealth, lifestyle and power makes them ended up believing the mantras of positive thinking and “laws of attraction”. Heck, such magical beliefs were also held by Alan Greenspan.

Ultimately though, whether it is positive thinking, Christian science, positive psychology or whatever other new age, religious drivel du jour, this all boils down to ideological constructs that blame the victims of structural conditions that block their opportunities, and justify gross social inequalities.

“This victim-blaming approach meshed neatly with the prevailing economic conservatism of the last two decades. Welfare recipients were pushed out into the low-wage jobs, supposedly, in part to boost their self-esteem; laid-off and soon-to-be laid-off workers were subjected to motivational speakers and exercises. But the economic meltdown should have undone, once and for all, the idea of poverty as a personal shortcoming or dysfunctional state of mind. The lines at unemployment offices and churches offering free food include strivers as well as slackers, habitual optimists as well as the chronically depressed. When and if the economy recovers we can never allow ourselves to forget how widespread our vulnerability is, how easy it is to spiral down towards destitution.” (206)

That’s nice but Ehrenreich forgets one thing- and that is the one GLARING omission of her book – Americans elected for President the ultimate motivation speaker, positive thinkers and religious charismatic. Not a system-changer, as we clearly know now (even though the signs were there before the election). The Hope-and-change theme made a lot of people feel good about themselves, about their ability to happily vote for a black man (“we nominated the black guy” exclaimed Chris Bowers after the Democratic nomination).

A lot of people patted themselves on the back for the positive feeling of being so enlightened and of participating in a collective experiment in positive thinking in action, without affecting the system one damn bit. Obama sold himself as a brand, very successfully. A lot of people embraced Obama, proudly proclaiming they contributed to changing the world (not the universe, mind you but close enough). And one can find in his speeches all the themes of positive thinking that Ehrenreich describes in her book. And yet, somehow, she missed that part.

Book Review – Punishing The Poor

I cannot emphasize enough what an important book Loïc Wacquant‘s Punishing The Poor – The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity is. Except, I have already done that by posting various quotes that I thought were important and made essential points as I was reading the book.

The main argument made by Wacquant is that the social policy of transition from welfare to workfare cannot be understood unless it analyzed in conjunction with the rise of prisonfare (mass incarceration of certain categories of the population). Workfare and prisonfare are two sides of the same coin: the areas where the neoliberal state can still assert its authority once depleted of its economic and social policy functions.

As neoliberal policies get implemented (in the name of globalization or moralization of society through work or punishment), a lot of people find the rug pulled from under their feet, mostly the poor and more specifically single women with children and minorities. What to do with these? Well, for the women, it will be workfare. For the men, it will be prisonfare.  This seems a bit simplistic but the data clearly show such a trend. In the United States, this is combined with the inherent structural and institutional racism at the heart of society. Prisonfare is the lastest mode of black subjugation and control along with ghettoization.

For Wacquant, the combination of workfare and prisonfare fulfills both economic and symbolic functions for the neoliberal punitive state (as workfare is equally punishing as prisonfare) fight the crisis of legitimacy that pervades all developed democracies as the state divests itself from its capacity to set economic policies and abandons policies of social justice and redistribution. With the help of the media, public attention is directed not at the massive transfer of wealth to the top of the social stratification ladder but rather on designated “incorrigible” deviants: welfare cheats and parasites, criminals and pedophiles against whom the ever-more intrusive mechanisms of the surveillance society are applied.

Of course, this all is based on a series of lies that nonetheless produced and dispersed throughout society, mostly, again, through the media: that the US is spending enormous amounts of money on welfare (False: AFDC never accounted for more than 1% of the federal budget) or that crime is on rise, perpetrated by ever younger and more dangerous “predators”. Here again, this is false: crime has been on the decline for a long time irrespective of the policies implemented or not. See below, for instance as Americans still believe that there is MORE crime (and by that, they think street crime):

Wacquant himself explains it in this video:

Regulating the poor is indeed the major outcome of these policies but there is not, according to Wacquant, some large-scale conspiracy as such a conspiracy would require much more competent coordination and centralization as is available in the United States. What we see are the logical conclusions and results of separately adopted neoliberal policies: liberalization / privatization on the economic domain, shrinking of the state in the name of efficiency, and de-socialization of waged labor (along with waves of outsourcing and off-shoring) along with a moral cultural outlook on social deviance. Such economic policies are bound to be devastating on certain segments of the population which then need to be controlled for their individual moral failings, largely depicted in terms of lack of self-control and responsibility.

Either way, the victims of neoliberal policies are irresponsible, unproductive individuals who need to be disciplined (in Foucault’s sense) and that is the job left to the state, with the recourse of private sector actors such as private welfare / child welfare administrations and private prisons. In this sense, in this punitive environment, structural conditions leave the most vulnerable members of society to fend for themselves even though their ghettoization prevents them from improving their conditions. Then, they are blamed for their lack of ability to get out of them.

There is, of course, one type of economic activity which would lead to better economic results: illegal economy. This is where the policies of the War on Drugs work to prevent those deprived of socialized wage labor from one exit from poverty, lending them, of course, in prison, serving large sentences for which there is no parole.

These very real economic impact of the neoliberal state on the poor is coupled with a persistent stigmatization that successfully covers the fact that these policies, workfare and prisonfare, do not have much to show for themselves almost 15 years after their implementation. But this is also the one weak point I found in Wacquant’s book: it needs some major statistical and data updating. Most of the data date back from the 1980s and the most recent date from the 1990s. One would want to know the state of these trends now. A lot can happen over 10 years, especially since these 10 years cover the entire Bush presidency.

Moreover, Wacquant also demonstrates that this double regulation of poverty (through workfare and prisonfare) has been exported to Europe, stating with the liberalization of the state through Thatcherism in the UK, the Kohl years in Germany and the oh-so memorable Chirac years as PM in France. Even the various left-of-center parties, such as the socialist parties in Western Europe have embraced the law-and-order view of the state and neoliberal economic “reforms” all the way to Sarkozy’s slogan to “work more to earn more”… we all know what happened to that in these past years.

In a way, this book truly illustrates the best of sociological analysis: it is a combination of solid data analysis, identification of patterns and trends and use of theory to pull it all together and a very convincing and critical demonstration. In this, this is a powerful book. I am not sure it is readable at the undergraduate level though and that is unfortunate because I am always on the lookout for great sociological books for my students to read to get a sense of how powerful sociological analysis is. Or at the very least, it should be offered as guided reading, with a lot of work to be done on the instructor’s part to guide the students through it many levels of analysis.

A very powerful book.


Oh, So Now, Everybody’s A Sociologist of Zombies (Or Is It Zombie Sociologist?)

Denis Colombi read my previous post on the sociology of Zombies and decided to take a crack at it using French sociological approaches. So, of course, the obligatory Bourdieusian zombie sociology:

For those of you who are (incomprehensibly) French-illiterate, let me translate:

“Zombification is a class phenomenon characterized by a zombie habitus that generates classed and classing dispositions. These strongly contribute to social reproduction, insofar as the superior classes, using symbolic violence through the social institutions they control, are in a position to disqualify behaviors inherent to zombified classes. Recent research, though, shows that one can find zombies in the upper classes: these zombies are characterized by a cultivated approach to brain consumption and by a self-to-self distinction (one does not eat just any brain in just any situation). Therefore, the general class model is never questioned.”

Or, the equally unavoidable methodological individualistic approach:

[God it’s as bad as I remember it from college.]

“One can only understand zombies through the restitution of the ‘good reasons’ they have to become zombies, making it therefore appear to be rational behavior. Therefore, the choice to become zombie or not is a function of a rational calculation based on expected return from this transformation. The aggregation of these behaviors translate into emergent effects, that is, the reduction of number of non-zombified humans, which, in turns. reduces the benefits of zombification. One can therefore call this zombification inflation, equivalent to that of educational credentials.”

Colombi is also a big fan of Granovetter, so here goes:

“What can we learn from Mark Granovetter’s sociology? Basically, that social sensitivity to zombification does not depend upon members’ proximity but upon the existence of weak ties through which zombie character becomes easily transmissible. These ties guarantee a level of trust which reduces individuals’ capacity to make the right decisions in the face of this problem. If we can speak of the strength of weak ties, it is essentially from the point of view of the zombies.”

And last but not least the Boltanski approach!

“Hence emerges a new city, the “brain city”, in which individual action is justified by the curse by which one feels burdened. It emerges especially in situations of conflict where a small group is forced to justify its existence in a large wooden house lost in an improbable country while villagers demand with insistence and sometimes physical violence that they explain their presence on their territory. We now need to move from zombie critical sociology to a true critical sociology of zombification.”

All of you who learned sociology outside of France, consider yourselves blessed! See what we had to suffer through??

I’m sure someone has already submitted a book proposal on this! Will there be a new ASA section with its own sessions at the annual meeting? Giving out funky T-shirts to recruit new members?

Social Inequalities Are Bad for Societies, So, No, We should NOT Accept Them

I am sure most of you have read this already:

Beyond the arrogance, classism and downright douchebaggery, one should review the arguments made by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in The Spirit Level as they persuasively demonstrate that social inequalities are just plain bad for society on many levels. So, I was glad to see Richard Wilkinson respond to the steaming pile quoted above:

Professor Wilkinson is a very polite man.

Rich People Group for Higher Taxes… In Germany

Yeah, cuz that would never happen over here. Here, they simply demand the keys to the treasury and get them:

Investing in ecology, education and social justice? What kind of commie-pinko notion is that?

It will be interesting to see if the right-of-center German government listens to them.