Yellowface – Asians in Hollywood

Via Indigo Willing over on Twitter, For those of you who teach race and ethnicity, this article is a must-read and bookmark on representations and casting of Asians in movies and television throughout the 20th century until now.

Yellowface, at its core, is not only the practice of applying prostheses or paint to simulate a crude idea of what “Asians” look like; it is non-Asian bodies (usually white) controlling what it means to be Asian on screen and stage, particularly in lead/major roles.

Tied to blackface and the portrayal of African Americans on the stage by whites in the nineteenth century, the term yellowface appears as early as the 1950s to describe the continuation in film of having white actors playing major Asian and Asian American roles and the grouping together of all makeup technologies used to make one look “Asian.”

Thanks to the power of film executives in casting, Asian and Asian Americans who had decades of theatrical experience in vaudeville were unable to find work or were relegated to stereotypical roles–laundrymen, prostitutes, or servants.

– Krystyn R. Moon
Yellowface: Creating the Chinese in American Popular Music and Performance, 1850-1920s (page 164)

The yellowface controversy is not about the quality of the films or performances. It is about systematic bias in casting as much as it is about individual choices made by directors, performers, and production companies.”

The article has a lot of photos and illustrations. It is a great resource.

And I am sure the same kind of analysis could be replicated with Native Americans and Latinos.

Book Review – Le Déclassement

Camille Peugny‘s Le Déclassement stands in the tradition of sociology of social stratification and social mobility. The book is composed of Peugny’s study on this topic, not just as a feeling of uncertainty and insecurity towards the future but as a socioeconomic reality that is both objectively measurable and subjectively experienced.

What the déclassement (I cannot find a proper English term  – apart from downward mobility – for this, so, I will keep the French concept or use downward mobility). According to Peugny, the déclassement refers to any individual who does not succeed in maintaining the social position of her parents. It is the opposite of the metaphor of the social elevator, symbolizing upward mobility or, as Peugny calls it, a social descalator taking an individual down the social ladder. What the study describes is this trajectory of individuals confronted with downward social mobility.

Such a definition implies that we are looking at intergenerational mobility both objectively (relatively easy to measure) but also subjectively in that individuals often use the social position of their parents as a point of comparison. Moreover, culture and socialization never really prepare individuals for the experience of downward mobility, especially when one has been socialized in privileged social classes with ample economic and cultural capital. The higher one is, the harder one falls.

In societies where success and getting ahead are highly valued and promoted, there is no doubt that downward mobility is stigmatizing especially when success and failure are defined as a reflection of one’s moral worth. One only needs to read the nasty comments made by Congress people regarding the long-term unemployed to see that mechanism at work. Of course, in the context of global competition and increased precarization, though, there has been some debate as to whether the social elevator is still fully functioning.

What Peugny aims to show then is that downward mobility is not an individual failure but a structural condition. This is sociological imagination 101, biography and history, personal troubles and public issues. The increased frequency of such downward mobility makes it a structural problem that actually suffers from a deficit of visibility as opposed to the homeless or the unemployed.

What Peugny’s study also shows is that the men and women who experience downward mobility also experience a reshuffling of their value system and that increased downward mobility goes a long way towards explaining the increased conservative turn of French politics.

Of course, Peugny starts his study with a bit a history, the transition from Fordism to post-Fordism and the rise of the post-industrial society with its great risk shift and the greater privatization of profits and socialization of risks and costs. Also mentioned is the impact of global competition on labor through greater flexibility, that is, insecurity as well as the increased polarization between the primary and secondary labor market.

As Peugny notes, as described by sociologists, the post-industrial society is highly unequal and unable to deal with the victims of the new global order. Increased stratification has indeed been amply documented for years by sociological research. This results is a progressive degradation of prospects for social mobility, greater immobility and downward movement for the generations following the Baby Boomers. As Peugny summarizes the data, upward trajectories are more difficult for the children of disadvantaged classes and downward trajectories are more frequent for the children of privileged classes.

Another structural factor playing a major part in social mobility has to do with the state of the economy when one enters the labor market. The very first years of one’s career largely determine one’s entire professional trajectory. One’s transition from college to workforce, largely influenced by the state of the economy, is key to one entire work life. In the US, 2/3 of one’s salary increase over one’s career can be attributed to the first 10 years of one work life.

And speaking of education, it is still true that education is a first protection against the risk of downward mobility. But of course, education is still part of social reproduction of inequalities which means that the already privileged are better able to protect themselves. What Bourdieu showed in the 1970s regarding the importance of cultural capital still holds today. Which means that the experience of downward mobility will be especially hard on those who were successful in school and find themselves in situation of overreducation and overqualification. This means that for the cohorts born at the end of the 1960s (lucky me!), higher risk of downward mobility is combined with higher educational levels.

This means that the notion of meritocracy is called into question. One usually discusses meritocracy by considering the triangle of (a) social origin, (b) educational level and (c) and social position of individuals. One measures meritocracy by measuring the link between (a) and (b) on the one hand, and (b) and (c) on the other. A more meritocratic society is a society where the link between (a) and (b) is weakening, that is educational prospects are less and less tied to social origin. But a more meritocratic society is a society where the link between (b) and (c) grows stronger, that is where education fully plays its part in allocating positions based on merits and not privilege.

So, as Peugny shows, there has been indeed a weakening of the link with (a) and (b) with mass education and especially greater access to higher education but this has not been accompanied necessarily with a strengthening of the link between (b) and (c) with an increase in the link between (a) and (c). Which means that the second condition for increased meritocracy is no longer fulfilled. Which also means that we witness two contradictory trends: elevation of the educational level with a degradation of the prospects of social mobility.

From a subjective point of view, there is no question that downward mobility is a source of social suffering triggered by the gap between aspirations created by the position of origin and the actual social position where one ends leading to a loss of confidence, a sense of loss of control and social disorientation and a reexamination of one’s identity since the downwardly mobile do not really know where they stand in the social space of positions. Downward mobility is a source of interpersonal conflicts and a shrinking of social networks.

The experience of downward mobility is a play in three acts: (1) high aspirations fostered by socialization and culture; (2) successful educational career. These individuals played the school game well and reaped the rewards; (3) the third step should be professional success, but instead is replaced by downward mobility. This disjunction between the first two elements and the third is what creates individual experience of frustration.

In societies characterized by cultures of individualism, this is especially hard for individuals to stomach since they feel they did everything right and got slammed at the end anyway and have a hard time applying the same individualistic explanation to their failure. So, as Peugny’s interviews reveal, these individuals re-write their biography to provide an acceptable frame to their failure and rationalize their situation (for instance by claiming a purely utilitarist or hedonistic of their professional situation) or they may blame the school system, the government.

For the downwardly mobile, there is also a sense of having disappointed their parents and wasted the sacrifices they made, as well as having broken the progressive social ascension throughout the generations. This means that downward mobility may also result in individuals isolating themselves from their families, in a form of retreatism as defined by Merton’s strain theory.

Downward mobility also has collective and political consequences, as mentioned above as downward mobility leads individuals to reexamine their system of values and beliefs. So, downward mobility is correlated with intolerant attitudes, hostility towards minorities and recent immigrants. Downward mobility is also associated with a combination of (a) authoritarian ethnocentrism against the Other, and (b) a closing of attitudes towards economic and social issues where the downwardly mobile tend to be hostile to economic laissez-faire but with a low level of social concern, that is, unlike members of the working class, the downwardly mobile are less concerned with reducing social inequalities.

This is not necessarily contradictory, for Peugny, as the downwardly mobile may blame a laissez-faire system for their failure but they also reflect a need to distinguish themselves (in Bourdieu’s sense off distinction) from other members of their social class or those below them (such as the unemployed). These downwardly mobile see themselves as different from the failures of society, those on government assistance, for instance. They create a moral division between the “good” unemployed (those victims of global competition or accidental circumstances) and the undeserving unemployed (lazy, dependent). They would, of course, belong to the first category and are keen on deploying their moral traits to the interviewers: having been good students and consistently employed is proof of moral worth where “being consistently employed” becomes the true measure of success.

As a result, this category of overrepresented among voters of the far right. As Peugny notes, because they are blue-collar workers or white-collar employees, they are against laissez-faire and for a strong protective state against global competition. But because they are downwardly mobile, they redefine their trajectory through a virulent discourse directed against those who dependent on state aid, those who do not work, the unemployed by choice, the immigrant stay-at-home mother with multiple children collecting family allocations. A fertile ground for the nationalist, far-right political parties.

Needless to say, structural problems have only structural solutions. Peugny does not spend much time on those but does suggest that there need to be mechanisms to improve the transitions from education to the workforce, as well as increased resources to higher education. Unfortunately, long before the recession, Western governments were already on the retreat regarding active public policy. After all, Sarkozy and his slogan of “work more to earn more” signifies a retreat of the state from workers’ lives. But this was only the latest iteration of the idea that the state is broke and so, individuals are on their own or that the state is too tied up with obsolete social functions and costs and that painful reforms are necessary (to be borne by the least privileged, there was money enough to bail out the financial world).

So, politically, there is not much hope to deal with the structural dimensions of downward mobility.

A must-read.

Sociology of The World Cup – Channeling David Held

In this great post, Tony Karon channels David Held‘s analysis of globalization as multipolar phenomenon. Karon starts by enunciating what makes this World Cup actually quite interesting:

“Les Bleus were trounced by Uruguay and South Africa, and plunged into a national crisis that required presidential intervention by their own implosion. Uruguay, refusing to accept the also-ran status accorded them in the established order went on to impudently win the group, and look destined for a quarterfinal spot after facing South Korea (another arriviste happy to claim the knockout round spot that most had assumed would go to Nigeria) The USA — very much the soccer equivalent of a BRIC country in the world economy — cheekily finished above England (kind of like the equivalent in world soccer of France in world politics, a country whose mantle of imagined greatness is decidedly shabby, if not a garment in the tradition of the emperor’s new clothes). That, of course, condemned England to face its nemesis, Germany, in a match that the smart money says England are unlikely to win.

Serbia were many pundits “dark horse” for the tournament, but neither Ghana nor Australia got that email, and both beat the Balkan favorites, Ghana going through to the group stage where they have an even chance against fellow arrivistes, the USA — one of those two will get to the last eight. Others who forgot to check their emails were Paraguay and Slovakia, both shutting Italy out of a place in the knockout stages they seem to regard as their due, simply for showing up. Even lowly New Zealand refused to succumb to the Azzuri, and would have beaten them were it not for a dodgy penalty. An international tournament in which the Kiwis return home unbeaten is, indeed, a world turned on its head.

Then there was Japan, having the temerity to not only beat Cameroon but to outplay one-time European champions Denmark with three goals that included an elegant, two-part tutorial for the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba on how to score from free kicks with this Jabulani ball — and in the process, earn second place in the group and a ticket to the last 16 that the Danes had pretty much assumed was waiting for them at the will-call window.”

So what is happening? What makes the difference between success and failure? According to Karon: embracing globalization and diversity.

“These are teams that have embraced globalization both in their composition and style, adapting to best practices learned elsewhere. Germany and Switzerland are teams full of immigrants; the ethnically homogenous Italians have struggled. (Then again, France’s squad was predominantly of immigrant stock, and that didn’t help them.) Success may have more to do with embracing innovation and applying skills and organizational principles learned in the global soccer “economy” — the success of Uruguay and Mexico, even Ghana, can be partly attributed to the large number of their players now based at European clubs.

The point becomes more clear in reverse: The teams that performed below expectations are those most stuck in old ways; there was a staleness and familiarity to the styles of play and even the personnel of Italy and even England. France appeared hamstrung first and foremost by a sclerotic bureaucracy unable to effectively harness the abundance of resources at its disposal. Nigeria — let’s not even go there, beyond to observe that the malaise of a country that isn’t really sure if it’s a nation is well reflected in a chaotic soccer system.”

But Karon refuses to take that as a football theory of globalization (or globalization theory of football). Either way, it is fascinating to watch as everything is up for grabs. Interestingly, as US political power is on the wane, its football team is not out. This might be the year where semi-peripheral countries kicked the core countries’ a$$es, which would served them well for letting their financial elites tank the world economy.

Crisis of Legitimacy and Hollowing of US States

A while back, I posted on John Robb’s distinction between failed states and hollow states. A reminder:

“A failed state is a complete breakdown in the delivery of political goods (security, law, health, education, infrastructure, etc.), the dissolution of most arms of the government (often what’s left is in absentia), and widespread chaos.  Think Somalia.

In contrast, these states are well on the road to becoming hollow states.  A hollow state is different from a failed state in that it continues to exist on the international stage.  It has all the standard edifices of governance although most are heavily corrupted and in thrall to global corporate/monied elites. It continues to deliver political goods (albeit to a vastly diminished group, usually around the capital) and maintains a military.  Further, in sections of the country, there is an appearance of normal life.

However, despite this facade, the hollow state has abdicated (either explicitly as in Lebanon’s case or de facto as in Mexico’s) vast sections of its territory to networked tribes (global guerrillas). Often, these groups maintain a semblance of order, as in rules of Sao Paulo’s militias or the Taliban’s application of sharia.  Despite the fact that these group control/manipulate explicit economic activity and dominate the use/application of violence at the local level, these groups often grow the local economy.  How?  By directly connecting it to global supply chains of illegal goods — from people smuggling to drugs to arms to copytheft to money laundering.”

In a more recent post, Robb argues that some US states are in effect hollow states based on this Global and Mail illustration:

As the article notes:

“California’s fiscal hole is now so large that the state would have to liberate 168,000 prison inmates and permanently shutter 240 university and community college campuses to balance its budget in the fiscal year that begins July 1.”

Not only that but, according to Robb, hollow states do not simply abdicate their margins of maneuver, they have no choice:

“Fiscal insolvency leads to an endless reduction in services.

The more you cut, the worse it gets.  The worse it gets, the more you cut.  Don’t cut fast enough and the financial oligarchy whacks you with higher rates and onerous dictates.  In the end, there isn’t much left.”

It also means that corporations may get to use state power for their own interest:

“Last week, Drew Wheelan, the conservation coordinator for the American Birding Association, was filming himself across the street from the BP building/Deepwater Horizon response command in Houma, Louisiana. As he explained to me, he was standing in a field that did not belong to the oil company when a police officer approached him and asked him for ID and “strongly suggest[ed]” that he get lost since “BP doesn’t want people filming”.


Here’s the key exchange:

Wheelan: “Am I violating any laws or anything like that?”

Officer: “Um…not particularly. BP doesn’t want people filming.”

Wheelan: “Well, I’m not on their property so BP doesn’t have anything to say about what I do right now.”

Officer: “Let me explain: BP doesn’t want any filming. So all I can really do is strongly suggest that you not film anything right now. If that makes any sense.”

Not really! Shortly thereafter, Wheelan got in his car and drove away but was soon pulled over.

It was the same cop, but this time he had company: Kenneth Thomas, whose badge, Wheelan told me, read “Chief BP Security.” The cop stood by as Thomas interrogated Wheelan for 20 minutes, asking him who he worked with, who he answered to, what he was doing, why he was down here in Louisiana. He phoned Wheelan’s information in to someone. Wheelan says Thomas confiscated his Audubon volunteer badge (he’d recently attended an official Audubon/BP bird-helper volunteer training) and then wouldn’t give it back, which sounds like something only a bully in a bad movie would do. Eventually, Thomas let Wheelan go.”

And that is on top of unlimited funding for elections and a corporate-friendly US Supreme Court and Congress.

Limited capacity of action (sometimes through voluntary relinquishing of state power) due to financial hardship involves declining services and increased crisis of legitimacy and financial hardship brings about further cuts and threats of further major shedding (see: deficit commissions and discussion of “what to do about Social Security”).

So, Somalia may have pirates and militias, Afghanistan has warlords, and the US and some of its states as well as financially-strapped “rich” countries have the transnational capitalist class.


Sociology of The World Cup – Defeat by Ethnicity

Denis Colombi is right to recommend this column by Marwan Mohammed and Laurent Mucchielli. As they state, it didn’t take long for some French right-wing philosopher (and yes, we have a few of them, each one more pathetic and intellectually bankrupt than the next) to blame the poor performance of the French team at the World Cup on the assigned ethnicity of its members… i.e.: not enough whites.

To paraphrase Mohammed and Mucchielli, in 1998, when France triumphed at the World Cup, everyone celebrated the multiethnic team (“black, blanc, beur”). And even though the 2006 World Cup final ended with Zidane’s headbutt, it was all forgiven and seen as motivated (Zidane had to defend his honor). But then comes the 2010 fiasco, and all of a sudden, ethnicity, essentialized and forcibly assigned, explains everything.

So, from this idiotic perspective, defeat (now recast as not only as sportive but also as moral) is the result of ethnic and religious divisions and their supposed moral attributes: thuggish and mafia-like morality and lack of patriotism. This French team, once seen as a miracle of integration, now is seen as populated by delinquents from the suburban projects. What else could explain the rout. A soft version of this has been disseminated throughout the media.

This attitude reflects what Amartya Sen (2006) calls a solitarist approach to identity (a metastasis of The Clash of Civilizations), that is, assigning individuals to one identity and using this assignment as explanatory principle for all behaviors. This forced assignment is quite often done to minorities. It is a form of symbolic violence and it is a source of very real interpersonal violence.

Let me quote Sen:

“The politics of global confrontation is frequently seen as a corollary of religious and cultural divisions in the world. Indeed, the world is increasingly seen, if only implicitly, as a federation of religions or civilizations, thereby ignoring all the other ways in which people see themselves. Underlying this line of thinking is the odd presumption that the people of the world can be uniquely categorized according to some singular and overarching system of partitioning. Civilizational or religious partitioning of the world population yields a ‘solitarist’ approach to human identity, which sees human beings as members  of exactly one group.


A solitarist approach can be a good way of misunderstanding nearly everyone in the world.


Violence is promoted by the cultivation of a sense of inevitability about some allegedly unique – often belligerent – identity that we are supposed to have and which apparently makes extensive demands on us (sometimes of a most disagreeable kind). The imposition of an allegedly unique identity is a often a crucial component of the ‘martial art’ of fomenting sectarian confrontation.

Unfortunately, many well-intentioned attempts to stop such violence is also handicapped by the perceived absence of choice about our identities, and this can seriously damage our ability to defeat violence. When the prospects of good relations among different human beings are seen (as they increasingly are) primarily in terms of ‘amity among civilizations,’ or ‘dialogue between religious groups,’ or ‘friendly relations between different communities’ (ignoring the great many different ways in which people relate to each other), a serious miniaturization of human beings precedes the devised programs for peace.” (xii-xiii)

Emphases mine. Sen here dismisses both the clash of civilizations-types of explanations as well as identity political movements (such as new social movements based on identity).

And this is what is happening with the use of ethnicity to explain the French defeat (and implicitly exonerate the real White French people involved, mainly, the manager, coaches and Federation representatives).

Not only that but such a solitarist approach, by definition, cannot be concerned with facts and realities of individuals within groups. As Mohammed nad Mucchielli note, there are currently 10 “white ethnics” in the French team (are they completely blameless?), and 13 blacks, 7 of them are from non-metropolitan territories and 6 are from African background. And out of the 23 selected to the national team, only 5 were from suburban projects. And from a religious perspective, most players have not declared any affiliation. Sarcastically, the authors note that, thank goodness, there were no Arabs on the team, otherwise, the commentaries would be even more vile.

But what matters here is, for Mohammed and Mucchielli, the racial obsession in the political and media discourse, again, this reduction (miniaturization as Sen states) of people’s behaviors to their “origins”. This is not only odious but also extremely dangerous because, from this perspective, anyone with a skin darker than white is reduced to a dangerous stereotype that negates individuality and plurality. This is a form of contempt that used to be applied to the working class (“classes laborieuses, classes dangereuses”) that has been racialized.

Moreover, this racial obsession obstructs any alternative analysis of the World Cup defeat, those that, for years have indicated the systemic dysfunctions and faulty leadership within the team. It is much easier (and for some, more satisfying) to just fantasize about gangs, religious thugs and suburban mafiosi from North Africa rather than examine the inherent difficulties of managing a national team from a structural and group-dynamic point of view.

Costly and of Low Quality – US Health Care System Compared (Yet Again)

Via The Grumpy Sociologist, the Commonwealth Fund has yet another comparative study showing that the US health care system is more costly and less effective than that of other high income countries (heck, France was not even in the set of compared countries this time).

How many studies will it ever take to get significant change? There is no rationale for maintaining a costly and ineffective system beyond preserving corporate interests and keeping intact the ideology that the US can never learn anything from other countries because that would mean the US is not number one in everything.

So, this system persists, sustained by lies and ideologies.

Sociology of The World Cup – Capitalist Pigs and Political Opportunity

So there was this relatively uninteresting tiff between Terry Eagleton (football is the crack cocaine of the masses!) and Dave Zirin (but football is fun… which is, by the way, why it works as presumably crack cocaine of the masses, if it weren’t fun, no one would care).

Anyhoo, I have just finished reading Gabriel Ondetti‘s Land, Protest, and Politics: The Landless Movement and the Struggle for Agrarian Reform in Brazil which is a history of the ups and downs of the MST using the political opportunity theory of social movements. The book is less an entertaining read than Wendy Wolford’s as there are fewer descriptions of actual occupations and no interviews with settlers, sem terra or MST and other leaders.

Basically, Ondetti argues that by and large, the ebbs and flows in movement mobilization, in the case of the landless movement, are well explained by the political opportunity structure: the rise of the movement for agrarian reform when political space opened up at the end of the military dictatorship, why the MST grew during the following conservative administration while other movements declined (answer: because the tactical choices of using occupation and getting land for those who had participated in occupations sidestepped the free rider problem and because land is something you can actually occupy as opposed to gender wage equality or labor rights), the major takeoff period followed by decline as the Cardoso administration engaged in strict crackdown, and the resurgence with the election of Lula.

Now, what does this have to do with the World Cup? Well, the World Cup may very well constitute a structure of political opportunity for demands for agrarian reform in South Africa, as noted by Raj Patel:

“The poor are being used by the World Cup. But the other point I wanted to argue was that World Cup can also, in a clearly asymmetric way, be used by the poor. This isn’t a story that makes it either to the press, or to the analysis about the ills of Fifa. Protests in Durban recently have tried to get the world’s press to shine a light on how apartheid remains, and to provide cover for street marches that would have been illegally shut down in the past.”

He gives this example:

And specifically as well this example of World Cup activism by The food Sovereignty Program in favor of agrarian reform:

“The needs and challenges faced by small scale farmers in South Africa have not been taken seriously by the South African government. In times of huge government spending on the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the Right to Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty Campaign (Food Sovereignty Campaign) arranges a march to parliament to remind the politicians of the urgent needs of marginalized farm workers, emerging farmers, farm dwellers and landless people.

Demands are going to be handed over to President Jacob Zuma, the ministers of Agriculture as well as the MEC for Human Settlements. The main demands include land redistribution, an end to the commercialization of water, decent public housing for all, that government supports a move towards more sustainable agro-ecological agriculture and stop the experiments with genetically modified organisms in South Africa.”

One could argue that, in terms of tactical repertoire, marches during the World Cup make sense as no government would want to crack down brutally on protesters while the world media are watching. Usually, crackdowns and clean-ups occur before international events. Once these events are under way, governments try to be on their best behavior.

Global events give an opportunity for groups that are socially excluded or marginalized to make themselves heard on a global scale in a relatively safe fashion. The agrarian reform issue is indeed a global one.

Sociology of The World Cup – Goffmanian Dramaturgy and Narrative-Building

It is of course obvious to say that football games involve quite a bit of performance, the most obvious example being “diving” (which, in order to be successful, has to be accomplished while walking a fine line between convincing performance and overacting, which can draw negative sanctions) or something like this:

But this is a straightforward example of performance where the performer exercises control even though the outcome is uncertain and subject to review later through the media. On the video, it is clear that there is no elbow to face hit, but that is not available to the referee, performance successful, red card and expulsion ensue.

However, as Goffman always noted, there is always an audience to witness, and evaluate the performance, if not to reconstruct it and give it a meaning not necessarily intended by the performer. Take this example from Culture Visuelle on the visual construction of Frank Ribéry as wounded beast and as illustration of the status of the team as a whole:

These images together progressively create a narrative not just of a defeated body, although it is partly that, but also as that of a soon to be defeated team. The choice of Ribéry is not innocent either in that respect, not only because of his status as striker in the team but note the combination of “wounded animal” look but also the defeated masculinity postures (as opposed to the explosions of masculine exuberance on the field when a team scores).

The bestial aspect of Ribéry is something that came up not long before the World Cup as he was accused (and it’s apparently true) of having a persistence relationship with an underage prostitute, something in contrast with his image of converted Muslim observing all the restraints of that religion (and failing at that too, obviously). Maybe the young woman will be blamed for Ribery’s (and France’s) poor performance or maybe media exposure of sexual prowess will be blamed.

Finally, it is not hard to see the performance aspect of the latest shenanigans with the French team. Think of it as a Goffmanian tragedy in three acts:

Act one: star player insults head coach, but out of sight, during half-time, in the locker room. So, this was leaked to the press by someone on the team. A backstage action all of a sudden becomes major frontstage drama. As a result, said head coach fires player and send him home.

Act two, scene one: the players refuse to train as collective revolt for the dismissal of their colleague.

Act two, scene two: team’s physical trainer is seen, first almost coming to blows with one player, then walking away, throwing away his chronometer.

Act two, scene three: the players and head coach retire to the bus, head coach comes out and reads to the media a statement prepared by the players.

Act two, scene four: bus leaves, leaving the coach behind, deliberately. Federation official resigns in disgust.

What is then supposed to be a backstage even (even though the media and supporters are allowed to watch) becomes frontstage performance and exercise in presentation of self (unified team versus Federation authorities as represented by the coaches and trainers).

Act three will be what happens at the game on Tuesday, potential redemption or final collective humiliation.

There is a lot going on here in terms of power play and status signal (the players deliberately humiliate and disrespect their head coach but take the time to interact with the fans).

As noted by Philippe Tetart, this will also mark the closing of a narrative started with 1998 victory and its over-the top celebration coming to a close in 2010.

It really does sound like a Greek tragedy where hubris and transgressions (Henry’s hand and Anelka’s insult) come back to haunt the transgressors and lead to humiliating defeat and the different actors are certainly positioning themselves for the calls to account that are sure to come.

What has turned this performance into something that has been largely condemned is that it violates norms related to what a team means (solidarity, sticking together, in-group). Conflict may erupt in the locker rooms but this is backstage stuff that the audience is never supposed to see. And this is on top of a poor public performance. One can excuse backstage messes when frontstage performance is outstanding or even when frontstage performance is questionable (only McEnroe could behave as he did because he was one of the best players, any other schmock doing the same would be seen as just a jerk) but the results are there (“the price to pay”). And this is certainly not the case here.

Book Review – The Millenium Trilogy

Stieg Larsson‘s Millenium Trilogy should be required reading in any sociology of gender course because it is a strong demonstration of the way patriarchy works at all levels of society: individual, interactive, institutional, structural and cultural.

The whole trilogy is a fictional demonstration of what happens to women who don’t know their place and won’t conform to patriarchally-established gender roles and even worse to those who fight back against patriarchal control.

This is not just the case for the central character Lisbeth Salander who is certainly the prime example of that. But this is also the case for other women throughout the trilogy: Erika Berger and her stalker as well as her relationship with the men at her new job, Sonia Modig and her sexist colleague Faste, just to name a few. The whole trilogy should have been titled “the men who hate women”.

But the pattern is clear in all three books: men of the establishment do not deal well with strong and ambitious women who are superior to them physically or intellectually. In the trilogy, the only worthwhile relationships, the only ones that work are those that are egalitarian.

Struggle for patriarchal dominance is not just a matter of interpersonal relationships. It is also visible throughout the trilogy in the power of social institutions: the police and criminal justice system of course, the welfare system, the medical and psychiatric establishment, the media, the political establishment. These social institutions are perfect example of institutional sexism where institutional routines and mechanisms work against non-conventional women.

Patriarchy is also highly visible in the amount of sexual violation that occurs either through direct rape, sexual harassment but also sex trafficking. All through the different storylines, women are perceived by patriarchal men as sexual objects to be exploited in one form or another. Sexualization is also used as a weapon against strong women to put them in their place.

On the other hand, for the “good guy-type” characters in books, sex tends to be extremely casual, for fun and enjoyment without commitment, exploitation or expectations.

There is no doubt that the trilogy is written from a social-democratic and feminist perspective. The trilogy is a strong criticism not just of interpersonal patriarchy but of the entire social structure it sustains whether it is the psychiatric establishment or secretive government agencies dominated by neo-fascists (fascism and sexism as well as hyper-masculinity always go hand in hand).

I personally think the hype about these books is entirely justified. The books are page-turners. The different characters (and there are quite a few of them) are all well fleshed out and not unidimensional. Multiple storylines running concurrently keep a fast pace, multiple threads progressively coming together until the final denouement (with only one loose thread that I can think of… I’ll let you guess what it is). The writing is very dynamic and straight to the point but the texture of the narrative is very thick and not entirely centered on a dominant couple. There is room for many other characters.

I can’t wait for Hollywood to ruin it all. </snark>

Sociology of The World Cup – Gender Edition

Even before the World Cup started, FIFA drew quite a bit of criticism for this decision:

“Aids groups in South Africa have accused Fifa of banning the distribution of condoms at World Cup stadiums and other venues.

The Aids Consortium and other groups also criticised a block on the distribution of safe sex information at stadiums and fan parks, even though alcohol can be advertised.

South Africa has the world’s largest number of HIV carriers, with an estimated 5.7 million people infected – about one in every five adults. There are around 1,400 new HIV infections every day and nearly 1,000 Aids deaths.

This has prompted calls for a health initiative to prevent the virus spreading as hundreds of thousands of football fans pour into the country for the World Cup, which starts next Friday.”

In addition to the HIV issue, it is quite convenient for FIFA to ignore the amount of paid sex that will take place during the World Cup. Oh, let me guess, no condoms = no sex, right?

Then, there is also this: increases in domestic violence.

“A news report on domestic violence during the World Cup estimated that 20,000 people a week are victims of domestic violence in England — 20,00 people a week. A lot of the blame for abusive behavior during the World Cup is placed on alcohol; apparently, 21 million more pints will be consumed in Britain alone. But if this many people are abused regularly by their partners, than we can’t really place the blame on a few lousy soccer games and a few too many beers.

It’s good that precautions are being taken to warn people about potential increases in domestic violence during the World Cup, but at the same time I think it’s a) tragic that it takes an event of this magnitude to get people concerned about the dangers battered women face and b) tragic that, in England and in many other places, an event that can be as thrilling and positive as the World Cup so often ends up as the domain of frustrated, exaggerated machismo.”

But the real gender analysis of the World Cup has been done by Denis Colombi in a post on the subject (here). In this post, Colombi examines how much the World Cup is a masculine even. Most people would say “Duh” but that is simply a reflection of the fact that the dominant gender is largely invisible. Sure, one can see a lot of women cheering for their team but that is beside the point.

“Il y aurait long à dire sur tout ce que le football peut charrier de caricatures nationales et sur comment cela rendrait bénéfique sa pleine marchandisation – après tout, si les équipes n’étaient plus nationales, on pourrait se concentrer sur ce qui est, paraît-il, l’essence du sport, les efforts et le dépassement de soi. Mais ce n’est pas le propos. Quand bien même les tribunes des stades seraient-elles remplies de femmes, jeunes et moins jeunes, éructant, sous des perruques improbables et des maquillages qui ne le sont pas moins, slogans et chansons à la gloire des petits hommes qui s’agitent tout en bas – et je ne suis pas sûr qu’elles soient déjà si nombreuses que cela -, quand bien même, donc, cette coupe du monde n’en finirait pas d’être sexiste.”

The man can write, can he? So, women in the audience, but none on the field, not just as players, but as referees, coaches, team staff, photographers and media people and even analysts in the print and electronic media. Where the action is, it is an entirely masculine universe (for the French readers, one is reminded of Thierry Roland’s cro-magnon-esque remarks when his network hired the first woman in the football bureau).

As Colombi notes, George Orwell used to describe football as “war minus the shooting” (which is why it was so easy during the war in the former Yugoslavia for Arkan’s tigers to turn from club supporters to ethnic-cleansing militia) but whereas a few military have engaged in some efforts to integrate women, sport remains a highly segregated domain with their separate World Cups or Tours de France. Separate and unequal.

To this, Colombi expects that he will be accused of ignoring the “natural” differences in athletic abilities between men and women (and if something is “natural”, then, we should not try to change it, right?) ignoring that these differences are an end result rather than a starting point and that average differences do not equal universal differences.

So, let us not forget that the World Cup is a celebration of hyper-masculinity (how many blog posts already drooling over how hot players are) and women are only allowed on the sidelines, or as trafficked women to service the needs of men in the audience:

“Despite more than a dozen international conventions banning slavery in the past 150 years, there are more slaves today than at any point in human history. Slaves are those forced to perform services for no pay beyond subsistence and for the profit of others who hold them through fraud and violence. While most are held in debt bondage in the poorest regions of South Asia, some are trafficked in the midst of thriving development. Such is the case here in Africa’s wealthiest country, the host of this year’s World Cup. While South Africa invests billions to prepare its infrastructure for the half-million visitors expected to attend, tens of thousands of children have become ensnared in sexual slavery, and those who profit from their abuse are also preparing for the tournament. During a three-week investigation into human-trafficking syndicates operating near two stadiums, I found a lucrative trade in child sex. The children, sold for as little as $45, can earn more than $600 per night for their captors. “I’m really looking forward to doing more business during the World Cup,” said a trafficker. We were speaking at his base overlooking Port Elizabeth’s new Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. Already, he had done brisk business among the stadium’s construction workers.”

Also this:

Fortunately, there is some good news:

“The nonprofit Global Girl Media, which aims to empower high school-aged girls from under-served communities by teaching them about digital media and providing them the equipment and training to become digital journalists, has started a pretty awesome project called “Kick It Up!” for the 2010 World Cup.

The Kick It Up! project will train twenty girls in the South African community of Soweto and 10 girls in Los Angeles to produce video stories from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The girls will be given training in story development and composition as well as video editing, production, and distribution. Their reports will be shown in a wide variety of media, including ESPN, BBC, Univision, KPFK, Al Jazeera, GritTV, Soweto TV,,, and

The goals of the project are multi-layered: first, to offer girls who have grown up in under-served communities the opportunity to make their voices heard in the male-dominated domains of media and sports; second, to give them practical training and equipment to kick off journalistic careers; and third, to challenge the dumbed-down stereotypes of the mass media, which insists that young girls care only about boys and mascara and are unaffected by and uninterested in issues of race, class, politics, and injustice.”

GlobalGirl Media – South Africa, Julie Foudy, Los Angeles from GlobalGirl Media on Vimeo.

Sociology of the World Cup

First, to put us all in the mood for this, here is Acoustic Alchemy, The Beautiful game:

As the first games of the World Cup are being played, a lot has already been written about the social aspects of the competition itself that illustrate the fact that there is more to sport events than sport and the embedding of this major event into social, economic and political processes and structures.

Which is why what looks like an old-fashioned functionalist view seems quite naive:

“Why do we love watching sport so much? Because it lifts our loneliness. We feel that we are participating in something huge and communal.

When a big sporting event is on, the world feels a bit less chaotic, fragmented, various. There is a focus. A focus that can be understood – by contrast the meaning of politics is contested and obscure. Here is something that matters (sort of), and that a 10-year-old can fully grasp.


And international football offers the most intense version. The experience spills out beyond the actual viewing of the game. Before and after the game there is something to talk about, with those acquaintances I usually just mumble hello to, and even with complete strangers. All the complications of the class divide suddenly melt away: we’re all in this together. And for the game itself I have cause to get together with my old mates, for some beer and banter. There will be thousands of little parties, all wired up to the same action.

What else in our culture can create this mood of social togetherness? I suppose there is a common mood at Christmas, and a big royal event makes most of us feel connected to something big and grand – that’s about it.

What about religion? Going to church, or mosque or temple, certainly gives one a regular dose of communal spirit, common purpose with one’s fellow worshippers. But can it provide a sense of solidarity with society in general? Only if there is a dominant form of religion, such as the C of E used to be. In some churches there is still a sense that worship unites the local community, but one has to suspend disbelief a bit to feel that this is the ritual lynchpin of society at large. The fact is that most people see religious worship as strange, naff, alien, politically suspect. It marks one out as a bit unusual. Religion is too awkward, contested. It divides rather than unites. Express interest in religion round a pub table, and you’ll get an awkward silence or a brittle argument. Mention a big sporting event and bonhomie is likely to descend.

So in our culture sport is the only form of ritual that really works, on a large scale. It is really capable of conjuring up a sense of social harmony. The grand occasions of state have struggled to do this for decades, we just have a few relics of that national religious culture, like Remembrance Day.”

That is certainly a very simplistic and superficial understanding. First off, the World Cup is not some collective ritual but the product of an international organization (FIFA) with specific interests. Also, one can only watch the games because rights have been negotiated and sold at a very high price to a variety of television networks around the world, and this is big money we are talking about here. Advertising revenues are expected. There will be a ton of World Cup related merchandise sold before, during and after the competition. Such a collective ritual is facilitated by information and communication technologies that have shrunk distances (although there is no abolishing the time zones).

As Fabien Ollier notes in this interview in Le Monde, the World Cup can be seen as planetary alienation:

“Il suffit de se plonger dans l’histoire des Coupes du monde pour en extraire la longue infamie politique et la stratégie d’aliénation planétaire. Le Mondial sud-africain ne fait d’ailleurs pas exception à la règle. L’expression du capital le plus prédateur est à l’œuvre : les multinationales partenaires de la FIFA et diverses organisations mafieuses se sont déjà abattues sur l’Afrique du Sud pour en tirer les plus gros bénéfices possibles. Un certain nombre de journalistes qui ont travaillé en profondeur sur le système FIFA ont mis en évidence le mode de fonctionnement plutôt crapuleux de l’organisation. Ce n’est un secret pour personne aujourd’hui. De plus, il y a une certaine indécence à faire croire que la population profitera de cette manne financière. Le nettoyage des quartiers pauvres, l’expulsion des habitants, la rénovation luxueuse de certains townships ont été contrôlés par des “gangs” qui n’ont pas l’habitude de reverser les bénéfices. Avec la majorité de la population vivant avec moins de 2 euros par jour, cet étalage de richesse est pour le moins contestable.

Le déploiement sécuritaire censé maintenir l’ordre, assurer une soi-disant paix civile n’est autre en réalité que la construction d’un véritable Etat de siège, un Etat “big brother”. Les hélicos, les milliers de policiers et de militaires ne sont là que pour contrôler, parquer la misère et protéger le luxe, pour permettre aux pseudo-passionnés de football de vibrer. La mobilisation de masse des esprits autour des équipes nationales induit la mise en place d’une hystérie collective obligatoire. Tout cela relève d’une diversion politique évidente, d’un contrôle idéologique d’une population. En temps de crise économique, le seul sujet qui devrait nous concerner est la santé de nos petits footballeurs. C’est pitoyable.”

For my non-French readers, the history of the World Cup is one more expression of political infamy and predatory capital with transnational corporations partnering with FIFA and the presence of organized criminal organizations. They will be the true beneficiaries of the Cup, not the local population. Indeed, as with the Olympics, ghettos and poor urban areas will be “cleaned up”, their dwellers expelled. In South Africa, townships will be renovated and gentrified under the control of gangs.

Also, any international sports events inevitably involves the technologies of the surveillance society that turns the hosting country into a state of siege that mostly has to ensure that the “right” people have access to the games and that misery and poverty remain invisible. This involves a great deal of militarization.

And then, there is the political diversion and the channeling into nationalistic ideologies. In times of economic crisis, for two weeks, there will be much talk about everything regarding “our” players. In France, this is the time that the government has chosen to “reform” retirement, a topic that normally triggers general strikes. Probably not this time.

Moreover, as Tony Karon noted, far from being the temporary forgetting of political conflict, the World Cup can be a reflection of it:

“Payback for wartime humiliation was also the Argentine narrative for Diego Maradona’s notorious “hand of God” goal against England at the 1986 World Cup (and the “goal of the century” he added later in the game). Sure, Maradona used his fist to prod the ball over Peter Shilton for the opening goal, but for a country still smarting from the wounds of the Falklands/Malvinas War four years earlier, England had to be beaten by any means necessary. As Maradona said afterwards: “We knew they had killed a lot of Argentine boys (in the Malvinas), killed them like little birds. And this was revenge.” Sure, Maradona had cheated, but so had the British, in Argentine minds, by sinking an Argentine warship outside the zone of exclusion around the islands, killing some 323 sailors. Jorge Valdano, who was on the field that day, knew Maradona had cheated, but said “at that moment we only felt joy, relief, perhaps a forced sense of justice. It was England, let’s not forget, and the Malvinas were fresh in the memory.””

Moreover, the World Cup is one of these global sports events that reflect the thickening of global governance structures that have designed global rules and regulations, similar to the WTO and other such global institutions. There is indeed no doubt that globalization and the rules of global governance have affected football, the rules regulating movements of players and other aspects of the game. Tony Karon:

“International football often demonstrates just how fluid and fungible the notion of nationality can be. In the same 2006 World Cup, when Croatia played Australia, three players in the Croatian squad were actually Australian, while seven of the Socceroos were eligible to represent Croatia.

And then there are the Brazilians: not those representing their own country, but the likes of Portugal’s Deco and Pepe, Spain’s Marcos Senna, Croatia’s Eduardo da Silva, Poland’s Roger Gurreiro, Turkey’s Mehmet Aurelio, Tunisia’s Francileudo Dos Santos and dozens more who have represented a total of 26 other national teams.

Switzerland’s electorate may be increasingly hostile towards immigrants, but the country’s fortunes in South Africa in June will depend heavily on the Turkish forwards Gokan Inler and Hakan Yekin, Cabo Verdean holding midfielder Gelson Fernandes, Ivorian defender Johan Djorou, Kosovar Albanian wide man Valon Behrami and a half-dozen other players from former Yugoslavia. Let’s just say that in international football, these days, the Zulu Scotsman named Makhathini in the Cadbury’s Lunchbar TV ad would no more raise an eyebrow than does Scottish striker Chris Iwelumo, whose dad is Nigerian.

Many of these shifts in identity are enabled by Fifa policies allowing a player to effectively “choose” a country to represent at senior level (even if they’ve played for a different one all the way up to under-21 level). But they are also the fruits of accelerated human migration that has accompanied economic globalisation. So eroded are national boundaries in the modern game that it mocks the very idea of a flag, anthem and passport that distinguishes “us” from “them”.”

For instance, as Tony Karon notes, the game is thoroughly globalized in terms of movement of peoples. This is anything but a neutral process. Power is at work here as well as core clubs (in Wallerstein’s sense of “core”) plunder the Global South from their most promising players and treat them as valuable investments and national considerations do not apply:

“The fact that the European game now features all the world’s soccer heroes is the reason you’re as likely to see a Chelsea or Arsenal shirt being worn at a mall in Shanghai or San Diego as in a Baghdad demonstration or Mogadishu firefight.

Almost without exception, today the world’s best players play their club football in Europe. Brazil’s and Argentina’s World Cup squads will be picked almost entirely from Europe-based players, and those will also be the mainstay of the likes of Uruguay, Chile and Honduras. Ivory Coast took just one home-based player to the recent African Nations Cup in Angola, and Ghana is likely to do the same at the World Cup. Don’t expect any in Cameroon’s squad, while there are unlikely to be more than two or three in Nigeria’s squad.

Although there are comparatively few South Africans playing in Europe, they’ll be among the key players for Bafana Bafana.

Having assembled so much of the world’s football talent at considerable cost, Europe’s top clubs have begun to organise themselves to protect their investment. They are pushing back against Fifa rules that force them to make players available for international matches, particularly friendlies, often returning home crocked.

The European clubs are particularly irked by the African Cup of Nations, during which they lose many key players for up to six weeks at the height of the European season. (The fact that so many African players now play their “domestic” football in Europe makes it likely that Fifa will eventually succumb to pressure to reschedule the Nations Cup to coincide with the European summer.) But tension between the clubs and national teams is likely to intensify in the years ahead.”

So here again, we face more than just a benign globalization process. Indeed, a lot of ink has been devoted to detailing the winners and losers of globalization. The dividing lines run across and between societies and countries. This is reflected in the world Cup as well, except that this is an aspect that the organizers would rather remain invisible.

Actually, structuring processes are designed to ensure that only the “right” kind of businesses and traders benefit from the World Cup:

“Under strict bylaws enforced at the insistence of football’s governing body, informal traders – a crucial part of any African economy – have been banned around the 10 stadiums where matches will be played. Even the future of the most important legacy project of the tournament – public bus transport – is in the balance, amid government reticence to stand up to South Africa’s powerful minibus-taxi industry.”

And then there is the “softer” discrimination, that of the digital divide and the neglect of the fact that a lot of people in the world do not have easy access to the Internet and credit cards to book tickets:

“The African credentials of the event have also been called into question after it became clear that Fifa’s ultra-secure internet ticketing system had left most of the continent unable to buy seats. With Visa as a major sponsor, Fifa kept ticket sales online until 15 April when poor sales forced them to open ticketing booths in the host country. As a result, only 11,000 African fans outside South Africa have purchased tickets, even though a record six African teams – the hosts, as well as Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Nigeria and Algeria – have qualified. Local organising committee chairman Danny Jordaan admits the African sales have been a disappointment. “Tickets sold best in countries like the United States, where internet penetration is the highest. Yet we know that African fans often do not have credit cards and access to the internet, and they prefer to hand over their cash and get their ticket. It is a lesson for the future.””

So, for the locals, it is hard to avoid the impression that the World Cup is “just for the rich.”

But surely, there are economic benefits to hosting such an event, right? Well, according to The Grumpy Sociologist, that in itself, is questionable:

“Those who support major sporting events going to various locales often argue the events will bring in international money via tourists and build a long-term infrastructure that supports the local economy. That might be true for locales that are already well off, but for regions that are hurting, the sporting events do little if anything in the form of long-term sustenance. The 2004 Olympics were held in Greece, and look at Greece now.”

After all, who will be footing the $4bn bill for the World Cup, South Africa itself, in the context of declining revenue.

“In 2004, when Fifa awarded the tournament to the country, consultants Grant Thornton predicted costs of just $300m on stadiums and infrastructure and a boost to gross domestic product of $2.9bn.

Today we know that $300m would not have even covered the cost of rebuilding Soccer City, where the opening game and final will be held, let alone the other $1bn needed to build and refurbish the other stadiums.

When the costs of upgrading airports, inner city transport, telecoms infrastructure and the actual running of the show are counted, the total bill for the World Cup has risen more than tenfold, to almost $4bn.

So, as the costs have increased, have the likely economic gains for South Africa also increased?

At this stage, it looks like South Africa may struggle to make the $3bn originally forecast.

On the other side of the global economic downturn, the projected figures on visitor numbers and their anticipated spend look very optimistic.

Fifa’s ruthless defence of its brand and the interests of its main sponsors mean that there are restricted opportunities for traders and small businesses to get a slice of the tourist pie.”

So, the World Cup already has winners and losers, and I don’t mean the winning and losing teams.

The visual Du Jour – Time Spent Online (An Ethnocentric View)

Via Visual Economics:

“The world”, really? Or do you mean American + Europeans and everyone else who’s affluent enough to even have online access and leisure time to socially connect? Sheesh, one would think there is no such thing as the global digital divide as well as within societies inequalities as well.

File that as “creeping ethnocentrism”.