Carol Tavris Explains It (Again… and Again… and Again)

“It” being the question of gender differences, of course.


“There is also a disadvantage to having written about sex differences your whole professional life: it makes you feel awfully old, having to read, over and over and over and over, yet another incarnation of the view that men and women’s brains differ in structure and function, differences that explain why women are allegedly better at empathy and talking than men and men are better at maths and science. You tip your hat to the current generation of scholars – notably Cordelia Fine, with Delusions of Gender and Rebecca Jordan-Young, with Brain Storm: The flaws in the science of sex differences – and you are grateful that they have taken up the cudgel as you sigh: “Here we go again.””

Yeah, no kidding, thanks especially to rags like Psychology Today that are always happy to propagate some evo psych nonsense,

More seriously:

“But if biology itself is not the enemy in the study of gender, biological reductionism still is. The latest version even has a name, “neurosexism“, the use of new technology or the language of neuroscience to support old prejudices and stereotypes. I’ve been following the studies of sex differences in the brain for two decades now, and have yet to be persuaded that they mean much, because the investigators perpetuate the same errors.

First, the very differences in behaviour they wish to explain are stereotypes – “women are more empathic than men” – and then any sex differences that turn up on a brain scan are invoked to explain them. But empathy is not a fixed trait, like eye colour. It varies with the situation. When social psychologists observe men and women in different situations where they are given the chance to behave empathically or not, sex differences evaporate. Are women more empathic than men in their dealings with enemies or strangers? Don’t count on it.

Second, even when investigators discover a small brain difference – say, that in some women, both sides of the brain light up while they are doing a puzzle, whereas in most men’s, only one side does – they often ignore the fine print: the more important finding that the sexes didn’t differ in their actual test performance.

Third, brains are as idiosyncratic as fingerprints, shaped and sculpted by their owners’ experiences over time; yet most people want to hear that brain structure determines behaviour, not that behaviour affects brain structure. In terms of brain function, the overlap between the sexes is greater than any average difference between them. Yet it’s the differences that get the attention, publicity – and funding.

Here, then, is the irony: in developed nations, where women fight in battle and men change nappies, the sexes are becoming more alike in their roles, jobs, motivations, and values placed on work and family; yet efforts to pinpoint some essential difference in the brain continue. In the many countries in which women are completely ruled by men, where even the attempt to attend school puts them in peril of their lives, sex “differences” are at their greatest. Can brain scans explain the dazzling pace of progress in some nations and the brutal oppression of women in others?

Worldwide, the greatest predictor of women’s advancement in science is the extent to which they have equal access to education and careers, not which half of their brains lights up when they are doing a maths puzzle. That is a finding that has not changed in my lifetime, and I doubt that all the brain-scan studies being done today will change it in the future.”

Emphases mine.

Book Review – Reality Bites Back

Don’t be fooled by Jennifer Pozner‘s Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV. The casual tone of the writing and occasional profanity do not come at the expenses of deep analysis of the phenomenon of unscripted – or “reality” – tv. Having watched thousands of hours of unscripted programs (a feat in itself) and extracts the “reality” of reality tv. This reality has to do with the dominant ideology in the tv production world as well as the consequences of media concentration. What this boils down is backlash and crass commercialism.

[Note: I read the book on Kindle, all quotes are indicated with their location in the Kindle edition.]

“When Hollywood “pushes the limits,” it’s usually bad news for women. That has been increasingly true with reality TV, our most vivid example of a pop cultural backlash against women’s rights and social progress. If at first this sounds extreme, that is precisely because “A backlash against women’s rights succeeds to the degree that it appears not to be political, that it appears not to be a struggle at all,” as Susan Faludi explained in Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women.” (Loc: 224)

And contrary to what professionals and producers in the industry tell us, reality tv has not proliferated because it is what the public wants. The reality is more crude than that: they are cheap because they use non-union personnel and they are easier to produce than scripted programs with higher production costs. More than that, these programs bring in more money through massive and highly visible product placement.

But people do watch such programs. Why? According to Pozner: escapism, schadenfreude, but more centrally:

“We continue to watch because these shows frame their narratives in ways that both play to and reinforce deeply ingrained societal biases about women and men, love and beauty, race and class, consumption and happiness in America.” (Loc: 282)

Another myth of reality tv is that of, well, reality, in the sense of real people, living their lives normally, except they’re on camera, or ordinary people trying to win contests or change their lives through a makeover, generously offered by a tv network and equally generous corporate sponsors. Well, not quite:

“Like nearly all reality producers and network execs, this ish-pusher fails to acknowledge that these shows are very intentionally cast, edited, and framed to amplify regressive values around gender, race, and class, underscore advertisers’ desire to get us to think less and buy more, and create a version of “reality” that erases any trace of the advances made during the women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights movements.” (Loc. 306)

There is truly not much spontaneity in unscripted television. Most of these shows are setups in one form or another. And women are mostly the ones setup there. And more than simply reflecting the real lives of real housewives and others, unscripted television carefully construct reality, a reality that is misogynistic, racist, homophobic and reactionary. In program after program, Pozner painfully exposes the underlying ideology that drives unscripted tv, how producers set up conflict situations that are guaranteed to erupt in a spectacular fashion by casting already outrageous characters (or people who will become more and more so as the seasons go by and they fame grows… see the real housewives for that).

The cast is usually also set up to fit stereotypes, especially of women, “the bitchy black woman”. “the whiner”, etc. If it bleeds, it leads still is the operating motto on unscripted tv. People who do not fit the stereotypes that support backlash ideology (such as independent women or heaven forbid, feminists – GASP!), tend to either not be cast in the first place, or will be humiliated and thrown out pretty rapidly, as are minorities and LGBTs in contest shows. But there is one extra level here:

“[Contestants] behave as they do not just because strong, independent, and (god-forbid, feminist) women are typically excluded, but as a result of structural techniques designed to break down their defenses. Contestants are usually not allowed to see friends or family, read the news, surf the Internet, watch TV, listen to their own music, have private phone conversations, or go for walks, dates, or job interviews without camera crews.” (Loc. 457)

This is one of the strengths of Pozner’s book, that she has not just watched these shows. She has researched them behind the scenes and exposes the enormous amount of manipulation of participants and viewers. Anything goes when it comes to promoting the idea that women are useless, infantile (and infantilized, especially on dating contests), stupid, incompetent and gold diggers whereas guys are just guys (even though Pozner exposes the parade of creeps and freaks that populate reality tv… apparently, in that universe, nice guys and decent men don’t exist). It might be all fun and games to watch but there is a deeper and darker reality:

“Reality TV’s overreliance on fairytale narratives because this is the saccharine coating that masks the genre’s chauvinistic and anachronistic ideas about women and men, about love and sex, about marriage and money.” (Loc. 751)

And so, as Pozner notes, only thin and often surgically altered women have been cast on dating shows. One will only see “normal” women (redefined as ugly, lonely and unhappy) in makeover shows, where they are surgically altered and made thinner. Full circle. Oh, and these women are overwhelmingly white and straight. When gays are present on reality tv, it’s always in a stereotypical fashion.No matter what format these shows take (contest, dating, makeover or “real housewives of…”), a central attribute will be the public degradation and humiliation of women. Pozner’s decriptions are painful to read. But public humiliation is an integral part of the backlash.

And there is an unavoidably normative aspect to these shows. When candidates and participants are publicly degraded, berated and humiliated, they are blamed for their flaws (never mind that some of them might come out of poverty, may be overworked and overburdened) and hectored into submission to a makeover program or whatever other corporate-sponsored trick the show has in store. The message as to how a woman is expected to behave (demure, not too ghetto but not uppity either) or how she is expected to look (thin, sexy but not slutty, exotic but not too ethnic) is directed not just at the candidates and participants but at the audience as well. And the punishment for failure is loneliness (defined as “no man”). And the way to salvation, of course, is through consumption.

Another interesting aspect of Pozner’s book is that she embeds her media analysis into a structural one as well to show that these shows did not fall from the sky but are a logical product of systemic conditions:

“President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, heralding a severe wave of media consolidation and leading a deregulated industry to prioritize profit above every other factor in media production. The impact on content was immediate, as were the unintended consequences industry deregulation held for women’s bodies. Low-cost (and lower-quality) infotainment shows such as Access Hollywood and E! News—among the media’s most ardent fat-shaming bottom feeders—both debuted later that same year. Mass media culture, already a purveyor of unrealistic beauty ideals, became a compulsive enforcer of ever-more-unhealthy images.” (Loc. 1062)

This is what led to cultural and economic hegemony in the media sector. We may all collectively think that we are immune to media influence, but that is a gross delusion. And that hegemony, as pushed through unscripted tv, has a cost, according to Pozner: one of the usual trope of the competition shows is “girl fight” where infantilized women are set up to fight each other over, mostly, men but other things as well:

“In reality television as in corporate journalism, such representations divide and conquer. This isn’t just about depriving women of female friendships to foster desperation for male affection. All social, academic, professional, and political gains women have made in this country—suffrage, legality and availability of contraceptives, gender equity in education and sports, criminalization of sexual harassment and acquaintance rape, protections against gender and race-based employment discrimination, among others—have been won through hard-fought collective struggle with other women. If women are conditioned to consider other women lying backstabbers, we are less likely to organize together for better working conditions or pay equity.” (Loc. 1701)

And, of course, the “girl fight” reinforces the idea that women are mean, stupid, greedy and incompetent. Either way, these shows are there then to “correct” women, through commercialism, which, as Pozner notes, is not the subtext, it is the text. And the ideological message is that any issue can be fixed by individual action and spending money on stuff.

Another aspect that was fascinating to me, having never watched the show, is Pozner’s analysis the America’s Next Top Model (ANTM) and the way the shows deals with gender, class and racial issues. I certainly did not expect that the racism and misogyny would be so blatant, obvious and vile. I also did not know the extent to which the men cast in the dating contests were criminals (literally) and overall creeps and freaks, by design, because it makes for more entertaining shows. Again, I had no idea of the explicit acceptance of violence against women in the genre:

“In classic fairytales, heroines are mistreated by wicked stepmothers and evil stepsisters, but in reality TV, would-be princesses are regularly degraded by none other than the handsome prince himself, who can usually be counted on to use a regular stream of gendered slurs like “bitch,” “slut,” “ho,” “whore,” and “feminazi” to describe the women around him. Additionally, run-of-the-mill insults like “vindictive,” “stupid,” “insane,” “psycho,” “gold digger,” and “loser” are hurled at female participants so often on these shows—by men and women alike—that they start to blend into the vernacular background, as if treating women with this level of disrespect is just a normal part of everyday speech.


When behavioral and verbal abuse isn’t offered up by the bachelors themselves, producers turn to one of their favorite tools—humiliation—to keep women in their place, with scenarios carefully crafted to make them feel like crap—quite literally.


By presenting an array of physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive men as the “princes” that “all girls dream of ”—and by presenting women as only lovable if they are willing to give up their identities and their ability to make self-defined choices—reality television is reinforcing dangerous power dynamics that lie at the heart of violent relationships.” (Loc. 3501 – 23)

And that’s without mentioning the actual torturing that women endure in ANTM. And in all cases, subservience is the requirement. Submission to men’s choices, and submission to judges’s assessment of one’s flaws and failures. In reality tv, the world is frozen in a reality where straight white men were never challenged by women, minorities and gays. And any such temporary challenge is swiftly punished. This is not entertainment, it is politics. And profitable economics.

So, yes, this is a pretty depressing read, especially since the genre is not really showing any signs of disappearing. But Pozner does not leave her readers with just the depressing analysis. The last two chapters are full of resources on how to fight back. These chapters provide tools to exercise one’s critical thinking against reality tv (such as the Backlash Bingo). It provides websites (such as the New Mexico Media Literacy Project as well as the book’s website itself).

So, all in all, this is a very enlightening read, especially for someone like me who has very little experience with the gender… actually I avoid these shows like the plague. The only time I watched some of them was right after surgery, when I was stuck in bed, and based on a friend’s recommendation (such recommendations always come with “you’re a sociologist, you MUST watch (insert any piece of crap tv)”). So, I watched a few Bravo shows… thank goodness I was still taking Hydrocodone at the time.

Anyway, I highly recommend the book. Again, there is profanity in it, as Pozner does not mince her words (“so low class”, would unscripted tv judge would say!), but get over it. It is an important piece of debunking.

“Doing” Globalization – Football Transfer Networks

Tony Karon on football and globalization and how the European championship leagues “belong” to Africa in the sense that African audiences follow them assiduously, spot the jerseys of their favorite teams, etc.:

At the same time, Raffaele Poli, in “Understanding globalization through football: The new international division of labour, migratory channels and transnational trade circuits”, International Review for the Sociology of Sports, 45 (1), 491  -506, dissects the more complex connections between Africa and European leagues:

“The purpose of the article is to show that the general tendency of increase in the international flow of athletes does not occur by itsef, as a general feature of the contemporary world, but concretely depends on the actions of a plurality of actors who, by the relations they build on a daily basis, are responsible for the interconnection between specific zones of departure and arrival. Generally speaking, globalization is not seen as as outcome that actors cannot influence, but as a structural process directly linked to human agency.” (492)

In other words, Poli adopts a relational perspective (as opposed to a substantive one) that focuses on contexts, networks and processes of social actions. His unit of analysis is neither the individual players and their motivations nor the macro-structures of the world-system. Rather, the unit of analysis is the transfer networks through which players circulate and interact with a variety of other actors. From this perspective, actors use their social capital and network connections in a strategic fashion (but not as decontextualized as in game theory).

Small-scale interactions ultimately lead to large-scale outcomes and patterns which, in turn, shape small-scale interactions. It is these actors-in-network that globalize whichever part of the social structure they operate in as they take advantage of opportunities presented in their interactions with other actors, such as coaches, managers and agents, as well as the constraints of their social context. Networks are then dynamic configurations that set the possibilities and limitations within which actors (in this case, footballers) operate.

“In the case of the footballers’ transfer market, networks are made up of a plurality [sic] actors playing distinct and complementary roles. From a relational perspective, each flow is a concrete, empirical, and synthetic output of networks involving, among others, club officials, managers, agents, talent scouts, investors and, last but not least, players themselves and quite often also their relatives. These actors collaborate to make transfers possible and compete to appropriate the financial added value generated by the latter. As a consequence of this reasoning, we consider that no flows occur without the participation of multiple stakeholders who are directly or indirectly linked [sic] each other, and whose decision-making power is greater or lesser according to circumstances and opportunities.” (494)

Actors then may take into account global factors in their decision-making as well as global flows and their directionality. Regarding professional football, there is a “before Bosman” and “after Bosman” era (which allowed players greater freedom of movement and transfer). After Bosman, there was an increase in expatriate footballers, mostly from Latin America and Africa playing in Europe.

Spanish, French and Italian clubs are especially likely to hire outside of the continent than English and German clubs. As with other types of economic activity, there are transnational migratory channels, structured by intermediaries, for highly skilled labor. These channels could not exist without what Poli calls “massive network investments.” (498)

When it comes to the intersections between geography of origin of the players and their destination, Poli notes a high concentration of expatriate African players in France whereas Western European expatriates end up largely in England and Eastern European expatriate are more likely to end up in Germany. Latin American expatriate players are more likely to end up in Spain and Italy. These patterns can be explained by a combination of geographical proximity and historical links. But using three specific cases, Poli shows that the presence of networks and intermediaries was central to the trajectories of players.

Based on these cases, Poli identifies different types of spaces and clubs through which players transit through the transnational trade circuits, based on their specific decisions in interaction with networks and other actors. Each space represents a structure of opportunities and constraints:

  • The platform space: the first country to which the player comes from (often the periphery or the semi-periphery)
  • The stepping stone space: the country from which the player gains access to a “big league” country (for instance, less dominant European countries in the European football world)
  • The transit space: the country the player passes through and leaves and where the level of competition is what he is used to
  • The relay space: the country where the player was loaned before he returned to either the stepping stone or the transit spaces
  • The destination space: the wealthiest and most prestigious leagues and clubs (England)

The player trajectories may not go through all of these space (except for the first one, and probably the second one) as not every expatriate makes it to the destination space, and some may get stuck in less prestigious leagues and clubs (there is both upward and downward mobility).

What individual trajectories shape up to be is again a function of interaction with specific social networks and human intermediation, social capital, economic and speculative interests, competitive advantages and structured inequalities in the world-system. In that sense, globalization is not just an outcome over which players have no effect but both the structural context in which they operate but also what they “do” as they activate global networks as part of their strategies and trajectories.

Make Runs on The Banks Part of The Repertoire of Transgressive Contention

Reminder: a repertoire of contentious action is defined as “the whole set of means [a group] has for making claims of different types on different individuals.” (Tilly 1986: 2)

Because of the crisis of legitimacy of traditional political parties that divide governance among themselves, such a repertoire goes beyond the classical definition of contentious politics by McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly (2001: Loc. 139)

“By contentious politics, we mean:

episodic, public, collective interaction among makers of claims and their objects when (a) at least one government is a claimant, an object of claims, or a party to the claims and (b) the claims would, if realized, affect the interests of at least one of the claimants”

An interesting idea (somewhat similar to Huffington’s shifting one’s money from a big bank to a community one):

“While sympathising with the predicament of the protesters in France, the now retired Cantona is urging a more sophisticated approach to dissent.

The 46-year-old former footballer recommended a run on the cash reserves of the world’s banks during a newspaper interview that was also filmed. The interview has become a YouTube hit and has spawned a new political movement.

The regional newspaper Presse Océan in Nantes had asked Cantona about his work with the Abbé Pierre Foundation, which campaigns for housing for the destitute and for which he produced a book of photographs last year. But the discussion soon moved on to other issues, including the demonstrations in France and elsewhere against government cutbacks in the new era of austerity.

Cantona, wearing a bright red jumper, dismissed protesters who take to the streets with placards and banners as passé. Instead, he said, they should create a social and economic revolution by taking their money out of their bank.

He said: “I don’t think we can be entirely happy seeing such misery around us. Unless you live in a pod. But then there is a chance… there is something to do. Nowadays what does it mean to be on the streets? To demonstrate? You swindle yourself. Anyway, that’s not the way any more.

“We don’t pick up weapons to kill people to start the revolution. The revolution is really easy to do these days. What’s the system? The system is built on the power of the banks. So it must be destroyed through the banks.

“This means that the three million people with their placards on the streets, they go to the bank and they withdraw their money and the banks collapse. Three million, 10 million people, and the banks collapse and there is no real threat. A real revolution.

“We must go to the bank. In this case there would be a real revolution. It’s not complicated; instead of going on the streets and driving kilometres by car you simply go to the bank in your country and withdraw your money, and if there are a lot of people withdrawing their money the system collapses. No weapons, no blood, or anything like that.””

Back to McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly, this kind of contentious action would qualify as transgressive contention:

Transgressive contention consists of episodic, public, collective interaction among makers of claims and their objects when (a) at least one government is a claimant, an object of claims, or a party to the claims, (b) the claims would, if realized, affect the interests of at least one of the claimants, (c) at least some parties to the conflict are newly self-identified political actors, and/or (d) at least some parties employ innovative collective action. (Action qualifies as innovative if it incorporates claims, selects objects of claims, includes collective self-representations, and/or adopts means that are either unprecedented or forbidden within the regime in question.)” (Loc. 175)

I would argue that crisis of legitimacy + economic recession make transgressive contention more likely, and maybe more desirable since established channels of power have become non-responsive such that contained contention is ineffective, as seen in the French demonstrations against retirement “reform”.


Contained contention refers to those cases of contention in which all parties are previously established actors employing well established means of claim making. It consists of episodic, public, collective interaction among makers of claims and their objects when (a) at least one government is a claimant, an object of claims, or a party to the claims, (b) the claims would, if realized, affect the interests of at least one of the claimants, and (c) all parties to the conflict were previously established as constituted political actors.” (Loc. 172)

In the French case, indeed, all protesting parties were established actors: unions, opposition political parties and known activist groups, engaging in non-innovative actions (by French standards, at least).

Power (or Lack Thereof): A Visual Demonstration

First, a quick reminder of power and its various forms according to sociologist Michael Mann:

Mann Forms of Power

In this case, here is how political power is demonstrated first by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, then by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, at the expenses of Romanian President Traian Basescu:

Romania and Bulgaria are on the list of applicants to enter the Schengen Area. I guess wanting to join an exclusive club makes one vulnerable to be dissed by current members.

Social Movements 101

Since my last post was about transnational social movements,, I just thought I’ll draw your attention to this short video of Dalton Conley interviewing Doug McAdam on factors that promote successful social movements:

McAdam seems to consider that the new information and communication technologies are less central than Moghadam does. I would argue that the transnational islamist movement proves him somewhat wrong. The imams online are just as effective at the evangelical minister in his church.

I highly recommend subscription to NortonSoc Youtube Channel (hopefully, the topics of the videos will keep the usual YT vile commentariat). The speakers are important sociology names and the videos are short enough (under 10 minutes) to avoid the usual short attention span issue.

Book Review – Globalization and Social Movements

Valentine Moghadam‘s Globalization & Social Movements: Islamism, Feminism, and the Global Justice Movement (2008) is a good introduction to anyone unfamiliar with both globalization and social movements theory.

There is no question that there is a powerful connection between social movements and globalization. Moghadam starts from the idea that for a long time, social movement theories were largely nation-based: their unit of analysis was social movements within a country. They did not take into account the basic premise of world-system analysis that the point of departure for analysis should be the world-system as a whole (divided in the core, peripheral and semi-peripheral areas, not countries).

But by the 1980s, it was impossible to ignore the fact that the nation-state was no longer the right unit of analysis: the rise of global governance and reshaping of the role institutions of global governance (IMF, World Bank, and WTO) along with the increase in power of the multinational corporation, the transnational capitalist class and the transnational state, all within a dominant neoliberal ideology. How could these developments not influence social movements? They did:

“Another apparent outcome of globalization and a challenge to conventional theories of social movements was the rise in the late 1990s of what have been variously called transnational advocacy networks, transnational social movements, and global social movements.” (Loc. 84)

By the late 1990s, with the Battle of Seattle, it was impossible to ignore the existence of such transnational social movements, as traditional labor unions, indigenous people movements from the Amazonian areas, environmentalists form Europe and human rights advocates joined forces in Seattle to draw attention to the negative aspects of globalization at the occasion of a WTO meeting.

How does Moghadam define a transnational social movement?

“A transnational social movement has come to be understood as a mass mobilization uniting people in three or more countries, engaged in sustained contentious interactions with political elites, international organizations, or multinational corporations.
A transnational advocacy network (TAN) is a set of ‘relevant actors working internationally on an issue who are bound together by shared values, a common discourse and dense exchanges of information and services.
Transnational social movements and transnational advocacy networks alike are structurally linked to globalization, and they constitute important sectors within global civil society.” (Loc. 91-5)

Of course, such movements and networks had to find or create new transnational political spaces through which to exercise their advocacy and activism. This was done through spaces such as the World Social Forum.

Moghadam focuses specifically on three transnational social movements: the Islamist movement, the global feminist movement and the global justice movement. Why?

“Each constitutes a transnational social movement inasmuch as it connects people across borders around a common agenda and collective identity; mobilizes large numbers of supporters and activists, whether as individuals or as members of networks, groups, and organizations; and engages in sustained oppositional politics with states or other power-holders.


One key difference is that many Islamist movements seek state power and, like revolutionary movements before them, are willing to use violence to achieve this aim. In contrast, both the feminist movement and the global justice movement are disinterested in state power, although they do seek wide-ranging institutional and normative changes, and they eschew violence.” (Loc. 107-11)

These movements also existed before contemporary globalization, so, it is a good opportunity to study the changes these movements underwent as they adapted to global conditions. At the same time, all these movements operate from within the world-system, which means that social movements operating from the core areas will have more resources, more freedom and less probability of facing state violence than movements operating from the semi-periphery and the periphery. And, of course, what kinds of grievances against which movements mobilize also vary based on one’s positioning in the world-system.

Moghadam also examines the three social movements with an attention the interconnections between

  • political process
  • organizational processes
  • cultural processes

And all three shape the collective action repertoires that movements will use. Also, Moghadam’s analysis reiterates the importance of three characteristics of social movements. Social movements are

  • segmentary (internal competition between groups and organizations)
  • polycentric (multiple sites of leadership)
  • reticulate (organized along loose networks)

This SPR structure has allowed movements to be flexible and adaptable, as well as engaging various constituencies within the world-system. This structure also facilitates innovation and experimentation in terms of repertoires of action.

Finally, Moghadam emphasizes the role of emotions in social movements. In all three movements, whether it is anger, frustration and humiliation in the Islamist movement, for instance, or emotions that are created by the very experience in a social movement, such as joy and solidarity, emotions are an integral part of transnational movement dynamics.

More specifically, how do social movements relate to globalization? Social movements grow transnational as populations are more and more affected by transnational processes and factors beyond the nation-state. At the same time, social movements have globalized the scope of their mobilization beyond national borders, identifying global grievances. Specifically, these movements have reacted against the negative effects of globalization and neoliberalism.

The rise of the global civil society is a response to the global “democracy deficit”, that is, the lack of participatory structures and transparency in the institutions of global governance. Also, information and communication technologies have facilitated transnational networking even though the political resources and opportunities created by these tools are unequally distributed. And because globalization also has involved increased cultural contacts, opportunities for transnational cooperation and community-building have increased as well, contributing to the framing of issues in a transnational context. As such then, transnational movements do not operate exclusively at the global level. Their SPR structure allows them to operate at the local, national, regional and global, whichever is the most relevant or provide the most political opportunity.

These reflections allow Moghadam to refine her definition of the global civil society and global social movements:

Global civil society is “the sphere of cross-border relationships and activities carried out by collective actors-social movements, networks, and civil society organizations-that are independent from governments and private firms and operate outside the international reach of states and markets.”


Global social movements are cross-border, sustained, and collective social mobilizations on global issues, based on permanent and/or occasional groups, networks, and campaigns with a transnational organizational dimension moving from shared values and identities that challenge and protest economic or political power and campaign for change in global issues. They share a global frame of the problems to be addressed, have a global scope of action, and might target supranational or national targets.” (Loc. 449 – 50)

The choice of the three social movements (Islamist, feminist, and global justice) also reflect the lack of consensus within the transnational civil society. Not all movements are emancipatory. The Islamist movement is reactionary, sexist and misogynistic, and sometimes violent, including terrorism among its repertoire. In fact, this movement’s conception of hegemonic masculinity was shared by the Bush administration, which means that the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the response from the US government represented a class of heroic masculinities between the American security state and Al Qaeda. Male power all around.

There is even great diversity within each of these social movements: within the Islamist movement, one can distinguish moderate and extremist groups, and use of repertoires ranging from parliamentary actions to terrorist violence. There is permanent controversy within the global feminist movements over the concern that the grievances of women from the metropole will trump issues from the periphery. And there are often clashes within the global justice movement between secular and religious groups.

Moghadam goes into details in exploring these three social movements separately, going over their history, some national-specific context, variability within each movement. What is to be noted though, is that, in their contemporary incarnations, all three movements emerged in reaction to the abandonment of Keynesianist policies in favor of neoliberalism. These policies, (which contributed to the failure of nationalist and secular government in Muslim countries) combined with demographic transition (structural strain) and progressive emancipation of women (misogyny) were central to the rise of the Islamist movement. The Islamist movement, as reactionary as it might be, has made great use of the Internet, in addition to other mobilization tools, such as the Mosques, the madrassas and nadwas (Quranic study groups).

For global feminist movement, the agenda has three major components: fighting neoliberalism, fighting religious fundamentalism, and fighting for peace. Transnational feminist networks have taken advantages of the UN conferences on women such as Nairobi in 1985 and Beijing in 1995, using these conferences as mobilizing tools and trying to frame the agenda in opposition to religious groups. Feminists have also been involved with issues such as the feminization of employment (and conditions of employment under neoliberal conditions) as well as the feminization of poverty and gender-based violence:

“Neoliberalism and patriarchy feed off each other and reinforce each other in order to maintain the vast majority of women in a situation of cultural inferiority, social devaluation, economic marginalization, “invisibility” of their existence and labor, and the marketing and commercialization of their bodies. All these situations closely resemble apartheid.” (Loc. 982)

But, as mentioned, there are divisions on certain issues between different feminist groups, for instance, on the abortion issue:

“Latin American feminists view the right to contraception and abortion as central to female autonomy and bodily integrity, and they fight for their legalization and availability. In India, reproductive rights are recognized in Indian law, but this has not provided women with power or autonomy. Instead, abortion rights have been misused and abused to favor the delivery of sons. For this reason, abortion is not viewed as a priority issue for many Indian feminists.” (Loc. 1161)

The global justice movement is much diverse as it comprises a variety of groups: human rights, environmentalists, indigenous people advocates, women’s rights, labor unions, anti-war groups, religious groups, etc. But generally, the movement is dedicated to the idea that “another world is possible” (other than neoliberalism), which include debt relief, the Tobin tax against speculation, fair trade, labor rights, environmentalism and sustainability, and democratization of institutions of global governance. Such diversity has also led to a diversity in repertoires of collective action, from lobbying, to petitioning governments, to direct action and demonstrations (such as Seattle in 1999).

Another watershed even the emergence of the global justice movement was the election in 2002 of former union leader Lula as president of Brazil. The election of Lula was central to the creation of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. Since then, the global justice movement has been involved in countless protests against the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO as the capacity for coordination improved through technology.

Because of this diversity, flexible transnational networks are of central importance:

“Italian sociologist della Porta has drawn attention to the crucial role played by transnational networks in the organization of the global justice movement. She defines a transnational network as “a permanent coordination among different civil society organizations (and sometimes individuals such as experts), located in several countries, based on a shared frame on at least one specific global issue, and developing joint campaigns and social mobilizations against common targets at the national or supranational levels.”

Similarly, Moghadam identifies different strands in the movement:

“1) reformists, with the aim of humanizing or civilizing globalization; 2) radical critics with a different project for global issues; 3) alternatives who self-organize activities outside the mainstream of the state and market spheres, and 4) resisters of neoliberal globalization, who strive for a return to local and national spheres of action.” (Loc. 1472)

But all this takes place in a frame of contestation of neoliberalism whether these activists are alter-globalist (they want a globalization-from-below, as opposed to the neoliberal globalization-from-above) or de-globalist (return to local levels of governance).

As these three movements show, then, globalization has given rise to movements that are both violent and non-violent, democratic and anti-democratic, progressive and reactionary. But of these movements are reactions to globalization combined with technologies that take advantage of the “strength of weak ties”. These movements are all (Inter)networked movements.

These movements also show that the nation-state is still very relevant either as a promoting force, as Brazil under Lula, or as an oppressive force, as when the Algerian government caved in to the pressures of religious fundamentalists and curtailed the rights of women. These three movements also highlight the centrality of gender, feminism, masculinities in social movements.

The Many Faces of Neo-Colonialism – Toxic Jeans and Cotton Subsidies

The brutal form in Lesotho – Robin Hammond’s Toxic Jeans:

Do watch the entire slideshow and while you’re at it, explore Robin Hammond’s entire portfolio. It’s a terrifying and amazing visualization of the dark side of globalization.

And then, there is the “softer” neocolonialism, just as devastating:

“The continuing struggle of cotton growers in the poorest region of the world is highlighted today by a report which reveals the many billions of dollars paid to rival farmers in the biggest economies since international talks began to make trade more fair.

As the Doha trade talks enter their tenth year this week, the Fairtrade Foundation calculates that the US, the European Union, China and India have in that time paid their cotton farmers $47bn (£29bn) in subsidies in total – flooding the international market and pushing down the global price for competitors, especially in west Africa, says the charity.

As a result, farmers in the four biggest cotton producing countries of west Africa are losing out on vital income which would help people in rural areas and pay for roads, schools and other developments to reduce their dependence on aid, it claims.

Introducing the report, The Great Cotton Stitch-up, the business secretary, Vince Cable, quotes an estimate by the charity Oxfam that the subsidies are costing west African cotton farmers and their families millions of dollars a year in potential income. A report by Oxfam in 2002 estimated the lost income at $191m (£118m) each year.

“The current system of subsidies cannot be right and certainly is not fair,” writes Cable. “The principles of Fairtrade need to be integrated and reflected in the global trading system. The UK government is committed to working towards this aim.”

So, let’s not talk again about “free” trade, shall we. This situation is not new. The US and EU have been pushing for the peripheral countries to open themselves to cheaper – because subsidized – agricultural imports, which destroy local agriculture and makes very big food corporations wealthier.

Ultimately, such practices are responsible for the persistent poverty in the periphery:

“Moussa, who started growing cotton 17 years ago, farms two hectares of land, which yield 500-800 kilos a year. Yet despite the quantity and quality of cotton he produces, he is barely able to feed his children.

“Sometimes, the young ones cry because they’re so hungry,” he says, his face impassive. “I become very angry when I’m not able to get enough food for my family. All the time, I feel sad.” Last month, two of his youngest children contracted malaria and his three-year-old son almost died because Moussa couldn’t afford to buy medicine. “That made me very afraid. It makes me feel ashamed because I am the chief of the family but I am not able to protect them. In our culture, this is unacceptable.”

Moussa’s life is being buffeted by forces beyond his control, put into motion by industrialised, wealthy nations thousands of miles from this dry, hot corner of Africa. In the United States, the scale of government support to 25,000 cotton farmers has thrown the international trading system out of kilter. The political lobby for cotton is one of the strongest in US agriculture, a legacy of the post-Depression, dust-bowl era, when embattled farmers had to be helped back on to their feet.

But while America’s economic landscape has changed, the practice has remained: in 2008/2009, cotton producers were awarded $3.1bn (£1.9bn) in subsidies, which, astonishingly, exceeded the market price by around 30%. The EU and China award its farmers similar grants, albeit on a lesser scale.

The result has been overproduction, the rise of fast, disposable fashion and the artificial lowering of world cotton prices. The consequences are felt most deleteriously by the poorest farmers at the end of the supply chain, men such as Moussa, who battle each year to eke out an existence. The price of west African cotton has fallen every year since 2003 and despite the recent spike in prices, there has been a long-term decline in real terms since the 1950s. Today, Moussa sells one kilo of cotton for 185 Central African francs (CFA) – about 24p. That translates to a maximum annual income of just £200.”

It all goes back to the unfair rules of trade set by core countries to their advantage. But hey, if these farmers can’t make money growing cotton, maybe they should go work for a factory that makes jeans, right? Use their comparative advantage: large supply of labor made cheap and kept cheap.

Don’t Mess With The Dominant Classes

A good point (via), it’s funny how something gets outrageous only when it affects the white, middle/upper, professional classes:

“Airport security theater does deserve some pushback, and I think it would be great if passengers simply refused to comply with gross violations of their privacy that do nothing to make air travel safer.  I doubt too many people will resist, though, since not flying is usually not a realistic option for people who have places to be and have already packed and schlepped everything to the airport.  TSA has us, literally and figuratively, by the balls.

That said, this is not the great civil rights battle of our time.  Passengers are not being hauled out of their homes or tortured or placed in prison without access to legal counsel — things that actually have happened to American citizens in recent years in the name of security.  Nor are people being turned away from the polls or told they can’t unionize or being beaten by police officers — also things that have happened to real live Americans in recent years.  What’s going on in the airports is simply a form of government humiliation that has hit the professional class.

There are entire categories of people that have been molested in various ways by the state apparatus. Think inmates in US prisons. And yet, prison rape, violence and body cavity searches are a source of jokes. Young African American men are mistreated if they do not submit to authorities fast enough. A lot of brown people in Iraq and Afghanistan have been tortured, maimed, killed and abused, not to mentioned bombed from above.

But dammit, good Americans get what is actually simply the next logical step in the public / private partnership to turn society into a combination of Panopticon and micro-surveillance of our every moves, and all of a sudden, it’s outrage. Guess what folks, you’re 10 years too late.

But the main point stands: if something only affects foreigners, minorities and lower-class people, then, they probably deserve it, did something to deserve it and should not complain. And if they do, let them experience more state violence.

Once it reaches the upper layers of the social strata, then, it’s an outrageous violation of privacy.

Problems are defined as real problems only if they affect the “right kind” of people. Then, it’s government overreach.

Anarchy in The UK? Not So Fast

Via Avedon. So, we know British students have been demonstrating against increased in fees for their education. This picture has made the rounds and has been reproduced by practically every British newspaper as an illustration of the riff-raffs:

But the folks over at Techdirt noticed something if one zoomed back and got a little wider perspective, you get this:

Much less anarchic destruction, much more performance. Funny what elision of mise en scène can do. How interesting that a simple shift in angle ends up creating a different visual construction of reality.

Now y’all go have a discussion on how the media produce social reality rather than “just report” on it.

The Visual Du Jour – The Varying Fortunes of The Minimum Wage

Via the EPI:

Well, at least we’re past the low point of 2006! As the article notes,

“The minimum wage is not worth nearly as much as it was decades ago. The Figure, from EPI’s forthcoming State of Working America Web site, shows the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage since 1960, in 2009 dollars. When adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage was worth $8.54 per hour in 1968, compared to the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Based on a typical, 2,000-hour work year, the 1968 inflation-adjusted minimum wage would equate to an annual salary of $17,080 per year, versus $14,500 for today’s minimum wage. (The Figure shows a 2009 minimum wage of $6.84 because the minimum wage was increased in the middle of that year.)


Although each legislated increase in the minimum wage has served to increase its value, theFigure shows these increases have generally been short-lived, with inflation naturally eroding its purchasing power over time”

Emphasis mine.

Raewyn Connell’s Plea for An Epistemological Democracy

Last night, I was privileged to hear a powerful lecture from Raewyn Connell at the University of Chicago. Raewyn Connell has written one of the most central books on theory in a long while with Southern Theory. In yesterday’s lecture, she touched upon some of the topics addressed in Southern Theory. What follows is based on the notes I took during the lecture, so there might be some discontinuities.

Let me note first that Professor Connell is an extremely gracious speaker, as pleasant to listen to as she is to read. She went through her lecture and saved some time for question from the audience (packed room!), including to the rude person who asked the first questions.

Briefly, Connell touched upon four topics:

  • Reexamining feminism for the global age and considering feminism outside of the metropole
  • Exploring what forms of knowledge are appropriate for global times
  • Discovering theories of gender from the South
  • Putting sociology on the right scale

Feminism always validated the voices of marginalized groups, not just women. Also, there was always connection to women in the wider world, ever since WWI and the creation of the still-existing Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).

More recently, feminism has a been part of development studies and programs, women in development programs, and has therefore had a global reach. Now, we see that in the whole women and globalization, transnational feminist networks, movements fields.

But the existence of literature has not necessarily translated into gender theorizing. We should be building theories, concepts and analyses of neoliberal globalization and imperialism. Imperialism was built on a gendered workforce (military, missionaries) and now there is a masculinized workforce of neocolonialism.

Once conquest has occurred, the colonial economy is a gendered process: indigenous men overseen by other men, masculinity in the colonial milieu took indigenous men away from the pastoral context (also gendered) into industrial or extractive settings. Still today, transnational economics is gendered with things like maquiladoras, gender-based violence that takes place there.

So, there is a transformation of gender meanings on a global scale, that can be partly seen in global commercial imagery of gender.

What form of knowledge about gender are going to be adequate to account for these changes? What forms of gender theorizing? Such a central theoretical work in gender studies has been Judith Butler, Gender Trouble, but it uses exclusively Western sources (Connell also pleads guilty to that in her earlier work). The point is not point the finger at certain individuals but to recognize that this is an institutional failure of a global political economy of knowledge. There is no mention of indigenous knowledge. This leads to dilemmas of peripheral intellectuals in relation to Western science and indigenous knowledge: how to relate to such different types of knowledge considering the differential value attached to them in our epistemological hierarchies.

So, how does one bring in the indigenous knowledge? Connell uses the example of Aboriginal dot painting, and more specifically Sugar Leaf Dreaming (left, click on the image for a larger view, it is gorgeous).

This art embeds social dilemmas and issues and possible resolution. It encapsulates knowledge of social tensions and potential resolution. There is gender and social knowledge. This is indigenous knowledge.

Globalizing gender studies means reaching out towards epistemological diversity and a mosaic of theories.

Also, one should not underestimate (as Western theories might do) the impact of colonization. Indigenous communities are communities in crisis. All colonized (or formerly colonized) societies are societies in crisis if they survive, due to the disruptions of colonization. These disruptions have been extensive and gendered.

So what could we have instead, beyond simply globalizing metropolitan knowledge. What steps and resources should be used in reorienting Western feminisms.

Connell outlines four themes:

1. Feminism involves studying and promoting the breakthrough to voice of women in patriarchal cultures both in the metropole and colonized world but the dynamics are different, precisely because of colonization, and the relationship between colonizer and colonized.

2. Violence: in metropolitan gender theory, gender violence is seen as a toxic side effect of gender hierarchies. But gender violence has to be seen in the context of colonialism. In colonized societies, violence (colonizing violence) is much more central to the analysis of gender. For instance, in The Intimate Enemy, Ashis Nandy describes how Indian intellectuals reconstructed masculinity of both the colonized and the colonizer experience.

Similarly, Veena Das, in Critical Events, explores the nature of social sciences but also the idea that conflicts between men are fought on the bodies of women, through rape and violence (DRC, anyone?).

3. Out of Latin American thought comes the idea that the formation of identities comes through social struggle rather than the other way around. For instance, for Sonia Montecino, feminine identities are formed in struggle. She distinguishes two kinds of women’s movements based on political struggles:

(1) maternalist social movement (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo) because of the legitimacy of mothers;

(2) struggles of women in the workplace against employers, the state and husbands. These struggles construct different gender identities.

Connell identifies the same type of work with Robert Morrell and the notion of competing patriarchies in South Africa.

4. Critique of white Western feminism from the periphery, for instance through the work of Oyeronke Oyewumi, The Invention Of Women: Making An African Sense Of Western Gender Discourses, which discusses feminism as neocolonial power.

Connell concluded with the idea that we have to recognize the capacity for intercultural learning. So, what kind of knowledge counts as knowledge? What counts as theory? And to the question “Can the subaltern speak?” she asks, “can the metropole listen?” how to insert different modes of knowledge into the metropolitan knowledge circuits? We need democratic exchanges across immense inequalities if we are to have  an epistemological democracy on a global scale.

Erik Olin Wright on How Taxing is Not Stealing From The Rich

Via WWNorton Sociology on Twitter, this item where Erik Olin Wright responds to a student arguing that taxation for public goods such as health care or education is stealing from the rich and a deprivation of their natural right to dispose of their income as they see fit. EOW destroys that argument in two steps:

1. the libertarian argument is that appropriation of income does not harm the poor (the student actually makes that argument). Not so says EOW.

“This condition never exists because the claims to property rights in nature – to the land and raw materials extracted from the land – have always and everywhere been originally established through violence and coercion. If a property right is initially established by force, then subsequent transfers of those rights are also illegitimate. This is not a minor wrinkle; it is fundamental to the nature of property rights.”

2. There is nothing “natural” about property rights.

“Production and wealth are the result of social interaction and interdependency, not isolated individual endeavors. A given person can become rich only because that person lives in a social world in which everyone benefits from the fruits of labor of people in the past and interactions in the present.”

File that alongside “there is no such thing as free market” and “it’s not your money.

EOW actually makes an argument close to that Neil Fligstein’s Architecture of Markets and the idea of conception of control, that is, that economic matters are embedded into a texture of social relations and rules that shape them. There is no such thing as a free homo economicus, working towards his self-interest and therefore deserving of keeping whatever he makes. There are categories of people who accumulated wealth over generations, initially through violent expropriation (think colonization and slavery) and then continued to have the rules set to protect such appropriation.

But such naturalization of what are social construct and ideological justifications is a neat trick to shut down discussion and treat every alternative as “unnatural” and therefore illegitimate and out of bounds for “serious” consideration, and not subject to democratic governance.”

“But individual self-governance or individual freedom is not the only value that is in play in economic production, and it does not have the character of some supreme value that “naturally” overrides all others. Other values that are relevant include social justice – being sure that the value of equal opportunity is not destroyed by the way we organize the rules of the game. Another value is human flourishing in its many forms. And of course, there is the value of robustly sustaining the process of social cooperation itself in order to maintain the level of social production and (perhaps) expand it. Many other values can also be specified as things which bear on the question, “what are the best rules of the game for organizing social production and distribution.” Once you see things this way it is not a violation of the freedom of the rich to tax them to provide health care for everyone or food for poor children or public schools. Rather, it is balancing the value of individual freedom with the value of social justice and human flourishing.

Emphasis mine.