Humanization Versus Individualization

Two items that landed in my RSS feeds allow me to examine the differences between the processes of humanization and individualization.

First, via Elizabeth Pisani, the Canadian NGO Stepping Stones has launched a media campaign to humanize sex workers:

It is a common problem for stigmatized categories that they are often reduced to the stigmatized identity, which becomes an inescapable master status. Other identities they may have are simply ignored or treated as irrelevant, with all the weight given to the stigmatized status.

““We have feelings too. We are someone’s kids. We’re someone’s mother, someone’s sister. Don’t just look at us and say “Oh, that’s a whore.””

Humanization and normalization are then important processes to lift the weight of the stigma. And as Pisani notes, it’s not easy:

“It’s that criminalisation which creates stigma and the need for campaigns like this; the stigma in turn makes it hard to run these campaigns. The Chronicle Herald reports that ad agency Extreme Group‘s staff used their own grandmothers and Sepping Stones employees for the campaign because “regular” models didn’t want the job.”

Another aspect of stigmatization is the fact that authorities will have a moral discourse about you, but the stigmatized are not given a voice. So, another part of the campaign is to correct this: let the stigmatized speak for themselves (which also contributes to humanizing them).

Humanization then is used to challenge a system by questioning publicly the validity of the stigma.

At the other end of the spectrum, individualization can be used to cover systemic harms by reducing such harms to the wrongdoing of specific individuals. Think Bernie Madoff. Case in point:

“Sean Fitzpatrick, Ireland’s most toxic banker, is so unpopular that in a recent charity auction, 30 people competed for the opportunity to push the button of a wrecking machine to crush his old BMW car.

Mr Fitzpatrick, the former head of Anglo Irish Bank, is the most unpopular man in Ireland, blamed more than any other individual for the country’s economic disaster. He could be described as Ireland’s Sir Fred Goodwin but he is held responsible for much more than excessive bank bonuses. The charge against him is he virtually bankrupted Ireland, wrecking the living standards of generations to come through a mixture of economic illiteracy, vanity and, above all, greed.

His BMW was repossessed after he was declared bankrupt. The opportunity to destroy it was advertised on eBay: “This is your chance to crush this cursed car which is the symbol of all that was wrong with the Celtic Tiger.” His bankruptcy hearings were told all he had left was €500 (£430)in cash, a monthly income of €188, a two-year-old Volkswagen Passat and the BMW, said to have no value. Technically, he had assets worth €51m. Trouble is, he had also run up personal debts €147m. He is said to be financially reliant on his wife who, luckily for him, has assets of more than €1m.”

But, of course, by focusing on the wrongdoings of specific individuals (and the more flamboyant the better). However, to focus on these individuals hide the scale of the systemic harm done so that punishing them might be morally satisfying and deserved, but it obscures more than it reveals as to the extent of the corporate criminal nature of the crisis.

The Revolution Will Not Be Facebooked/Twittered… It Will Be Soccered (Ok, I’m Not Proud of That One)

Dave Zirin:

“Over the decades that have marked the tenure of Egypt’s “President for Life” Hosni Mubarak, there has been one consistent nexus for anger, organization, and practical experience in the ancient art of street fighting: the country’s soccer clubs. Over the past week, the most organized, militant fan clubs, also known as the “ultras,” have put those years of experience to ample use.

Last Thursday, the Egyptian Soccer Federation announced that they would be suspending all league games throughout the country in an effort to keep the soccer clubs from congregating. Clearly this was a case of too little, too late. Even without games, the football fan associations have been front and center organizing everything from the neighborhood committees that have been providing security for residents, to direct confrontation with the state police. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Alaa Abd El Fattah, a prominent Egyptian blogger said, “The ultras — have played a more significant role than any political group on the ground at this moment.” Alaa then joked, “Maybe we should get the ultras to rule the country.”

The involvement of the clubs has signaled more than just the intervention of sports fans. The soccer clubs’ entry into the political struggle also means the entry of the poor, the disenfranchised, and the mass of young people in Egypt for whom soccer was their only outlet.”

Incidentally, I was telling one of my colleagues today that if I were Gadhafi, I’d be worried. Well:

“As soccer writer James Dorsey wrote this week, “The involvement of organized soccer fans in Egypt’s anti-government protests constitutes every Arab government’s worst nightmare. Soccer, alongside Islam, offers a rare platform in the Middle East, a region populated by authoritarian regimes that control all public spaces, for the venting of pent-up anger and frustration.”

Dorsey’s statement proved prophetic on Sunday when it was announced that Libya’s government had instructed the Libyan Football Federation to ban soccer matches for the foreseeable future. Sources in the government said that this was done to head off the mere possibility that Egypt’s demonstrations could spill over the border. The fear was that soccer could be the artery that would connect the challenge to Mubarak to a challenge to former U.S. foe turned ally Moammar Gadhafi.”

And speaking of sports and politics, I just bought this brand new documentary by Dave Zirin, from the excellent Media Education Foundation:

Frances Fox Piven Does Not Back Down

This whole mess might actually have one positive side-effect:

“That sort of statement is enough to give Piven great concern. “I am teaching a new class soon and I don’t know who is going to be in there,” she said.

However, at the same time she is excited. Beck’s attention has given her a sudden opportunity to air her political views. She has been interviewed by the New York Times, among other major news outlets, and last week she appeared on several television talk shows, including one aired on Fox’s rival, cable news channel MSNBC.

Beck has, in a way, achieved what a lifetime of radical activism struggled to do: create a national platform for Piven, who is honorary chair of the Democratic Socialists of America. She wants to put forward leftwing ideas at a time of economic and social crisis in a media landscape that usually ignores them and sees “socialism” as a dirty word.

“This is really an opportunity to rein in Fox News and Glenn Beck. I don’t know if it’s possible, but I am going to try. It also allows us to assert the value of the politics that we stand for,” she said.

It will not be an easy task. Beck has an entire TV network and a global media giant behind him; Piven is an elderly professor. But, for the first time in a long while, she is in demand. “At last now we have a megaphone,” she said.”

The vile little twerp poked the wrong old lady. I hope she gets celebrated as she deserved at the upcoming ASA meeting.

The Cloud Minders Demand More Pain

I offer this as evidence:

“Amid great secrecy, about 200 of America’s wealthiest and most powerful individuals from the worlds of finance, big business and rightwing politics are expected to come together on Sunday in the sun-drenched California desert near Palm Springs for what has been billed as a gathering of the billionaires. They will have the chance to enjoy the Rancho Mirage resort’s many pools, spa treatments and tennis courts, as well as walk in its 240 acres away from the prying eyes of TV cameras.

But the organisers have made clear that the two-day event is not just “fun in the sun”. This will be a meeting of “doers”, men and women willing to fight the Obama administration and its perceived attack on US free enterprise and unfettered wealth.

As the invitation says: “Our goal must be to beat back the unrelenting attacks and hold elected leaders accountable.”

The reference to the accountability of America’s elected leaders is ironic, bearing in mind that the gathering has been convened by two brothers who have never been elected to public office and are among the most unaccountable and secretive political players in the country.”

Considering how friendly to business and wealth accumulation Obama has been (after all, Obama bailed out at least the financial, pharmaceutical, health insurance sectors), the only explanation for this attitude is that the wealthy demand absolute submission from politicians, in perception and reality. Anything that these wealthiest of the wealthy interpret as slight sign of not-total submission must be met with swift opposition.

And, of course, these men may be secretive but their views will be propagated by their media lapdogs:

“By similar vein, the guestlist for their gathering on Sunday is unknown. Past attendees at the twice-yearly event include supreme court judges, rightwing media celebrities such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, prominent governors of southern states such as Bobby Jindal (Louisiana) and Haley Barbour (Mississippi), as well as leading figures from Wall Street and energy companies, and titans of industry.

The format of the gathering will be similar to previous Koch events, the last of which was held in Aspen, Colorado, in June. The assembled tycoons will talk about some of the Koch brothers’ pet horrors – the growth of government and state regulations, what they call climate change “alarmism” and “socialised” healthcare.

Then they will share ideas about how to tighten their grip on politics and the judiciary by shaping election campaigns.”

Again, there is no such thing as socialized health care or climate change alarmism or growth of regulations (one wishes). Those are code words that have been rendered meaningless, used only as dogwhistles. But this is clearly a perfect illustration of the way extreme wealth undermines democracy and why its accumulation should be restricted.

At the same time, of course, the Transnational Capitalist Class (the global version of the power elite) is having its annual meeting in Davos. And the TCC, of course, is not a diverse bunch.

“The skewed gender balance at Davos is a sensitive topic for the WEF, an organisation founded in 1971 by the German business school professor Klaus Schwab, which aims to bring together the planet’s top decision-makers to swap ideas on global economics and politics each January.

In the corridors, halls and meeting rooms of the Davos congress centre, there appears, at first glance, to be a decent proportion of women among the grey male suits. But many are spouses, media representatives or staff.

Only a few hundred actually have a sought-after white pass designating them fully fledged WEF delegates with access to the forum’s pointy-headed policy discussions and “ideas labs”. They include Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel, blogging supremo Arianna Huffington, Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, and Cynthia Carroll, the head of mining group Anglo American.

“Many of my generation of women have grown up in an era where we’ve kind of got used to it,” says Naina Lal Kidwai, the head of HSBC in India, breaking off from a chat over coffee with London’s mayor Boris Johnson. “In a number of the sessions I’ve been to – on the environment and finance – there have been no women on the panel and not many in the audience.””

Interestingly, Christine Lagarde states something that researchers on gender socialization have been saying for years:

“France’s finance minister, Christine Lagarde, told the New York Times that the “male-dominated chemistry” at her earlier visits to Davos had been galling: “You know you’re competent, you’ve look at your files, but somehow you feel inhibited.””

Interestingly, one of the topics of concerns of the gathering is that White men no longer seem to be the masters of the world:

“The second obvious dynamic is the asymmetric nature of the pick-up in activity, which has been heavily skewed towards emerging markets, most notably those in Asia. There is a real east-west vibe at this year’s gathering, summed up by the title of one session today: The west isn’t working.”

Translation: the Chinese, Brazilians and South Africans are beating us… at our own rigged game… no fair!

But that is the world of the Cloud Minders. Down in the trenches,

“A jobless recovery. Entrenched levels of high unemployment among the young. More than 1.5 billion people – half the global working population – in vulnerable or insecure jobs.

Those are the key findings of the latest health check on employment trends across the world released by the International Labour Organisation last night.

The ILO report makes depressing reading. Despite a relatively robust pick-up in growth during 2010, economic recovery made virtually no dent in the unemployment caused by the worst recession in the global economy since world war two. The official jobless figure stood at 205m in 2010, but that is almost certainly an underestimate since many of those who would like a job have given up hope of finding one, while millions more are working part-time when they would prefer full-time employment.”

Global Unemployment

Global Sociology Blogroll Update – Crisis, What Crisis?

Two English-language blogs have gotten my attention.

First, Michael Burawoy, the Godfather of Public Sociology, now President of the International Sociological Association, has created a blog (well in line with the public sociology project, while his main critic, Matthieu Deflem has created a course on Lady Gaga… compare, contrast… you be the judge):

Then, over at the site of the British Sociological Association, we have the Sociology and The Cuts blog:

And while you’re there, do read and save the post on Bootleg Sociology. It is brilliant and should be turned into a global project.

As always, update your RSS and bookmarks.

And for those of you didn’t get the pun in this post title, it refers to Supertramp’s fourth album.

Patriarchal Punishment as Spectacle for Men

What strikes me between these two items:

couple stoned to death in Pakistan (video at the link)

– woman flogged in Sudan

is how much the male participants, those inflicting pain seem to be enjoying themselves. For all the talk of Shariah Law being ultra puritan and repressive, there is a great deal of fun, apparently, to be had in punishing women (mostly, and some men as well). And these punishments always have to be public rituals (although technically not to be leaked to the Western media) that certainly would fit well in the first pages of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish.

I know Foucault is Todd Krohn’s Sociologist of the Semester, so, I am stepping into his territory here. But I want to note that, in Foucault’s book, the old fashioned punishment, the gruesome and extended torture was designed to be disproportionate punishment to expose the overwhelming power of the monarch. And the complete destruction of the executed body was the representation of what happens when one challenges such power.

I would argue that the same logic is at work here. The Taliban rule by what they see as divine right. The super-charged patriarchal / religious punishment is also the reestablishment of a religious order disrupted by “immoral” people. As such, the punishment has to be public, involving humiliation, and gruesome.

The fact that many men are willing and smiling participants speaks volume to the status of women.

In the case of the stoned couple though, Shariah Law does not seem to prohibit lying as they had eloped but returned after a promise that nothing would happen to them.

Calling All SocBlogs – In Support of Frances Fox Piven

See that little badge on the right? That is my small contribution to supporting our former ASA president and colleague Frances Fox Piven against attacks from some overpaid, deranged TV / radio personality and his poo-flinging monkeys. I’m not linking to them.

Instead, I invite you to read a good article about this over at Campus Progress, emphasizing the fact that said deranged TV personality has obviously either not read Piven (and Cloward), or deliberately misread her (he can’t read history either apparently):

“The fuel for Beck’s accusations comes almost exclusively from a single article she and her frequent co-author and husband, Richard Cloward, wrote as professors at Columbia University in The Nation titled “The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty” in 1966. In it, Piven and Cloward, who later became active members in the welfare rights movement, argue that in order to achieve a guaranteed annual income for all American citizens—according to them, the only viable solution to end poverty—welfare recipients and community activists had to create a crisis within the welfare system. Part of this engendering this crisis, as part of a larger strategy, would be an effort to sign up citizens who either did not receive government assistance but qualified for it or received assistance but not the full amount to which they were entitled under the law, eventually forcing the government’s hand:

[W]elfare practice everywhere has become more restrictive than welfare statute; much of the time it verges on lawlessness. Thus, public welfare systems try to keep their budgets down and their rolls low by failing to inform people of the rights available to them; by intimidating and shaming them to the degree that they are reluctant either to apply or to press claims, and by arbitrarily denying benefits to those who are eligible. A series of welfare drives in large cities would, we believe, impel action on a new federal program to distribute income, eliminating the present public welfare system and alleviating the abject poverty which it perpetrates.

Cloward and Piven go on to argue that such a crisis could put the tenuous Democratic coalitions in large urban areas in flux, opening up the political space needed to institute a guaranteed annual income.

A few points here. The activist couple considered themselves both strategists for and participants in people’s movements, concerned with how average people can best organize themselves to better their lives. There is nothing within “The Weight of the Poor” that indicates that the strategy was intended to transform anything other than the welfare system, to say nothing of collapsing the entire American economy. The article can certainly be debated as a piece of strategy—it’s worth pointing out, for example, that in the wake of the welfare rights movement’s success in increasing public assistance rolls but failure to establish a guaranteed annual income, the federal government moved quickly to gut much of welfare, leaving many poor families in as bad of shape as ever. But to argue that it is a roadmap for the destruction of American capitalism is disingenuous at best

In addition, to repeatedly credit a professor with hatching a scheme to force America to collapse in on itself without exploring her other works is dishonest. (Beck did, however, attack Piven’s recent piece in The Nation on organizing the country’s unemployed–thus doubling his Piven bibliography.) But it makes sense when one examines even the titles of the books she has authored and co-authored: Why Americans Don’t Vote, Why Americans Still Don’t Vote, Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America. Piven and Cloward only belong on the Tree of Revolution if the prereqs for inclusion are encouraging citizens to vote and to participate in change.”

Go read the whole thing.

Also, Blue Monster has suggestions as to what we all can do.

Despicable Me – A Sennettian Interpretation

Since Despicable Me was shamefully ignored in the Academy Awards nominations, I decided to dedicate a post to it, putting together a few thoughts I had while reading Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman.

In the book, Sennett describes craftsmanship as such (Kindle edition):

“Craftsmanship names an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake. Craftsmanship cuts a far wider swath than skilled manual labor.


Craftsmanship focuses on objective standards, on the thing in itself. Social and economic conditions, however, often stand in the way of the craftsman’s discipline and commitment: schools may fail to provide the tools to do good work, and workplaces may not truly value the aspiration for quality.” (Loc. 101-10)

For Sennett, craftsmanship involves dedication to work for the sake of work itself, the production of quality. For the craftsman, there is no separation between intellectual and manual labor, with one valued over the other.But the labor process is not simply a means to an end. It is valued in and of itself, as perpetual training in skill as well as opportunity to resolve problems and improve one’s craft. The work of the craftsman is the work of constantly problem-finding and problem-solving.

Craftsmanship is therefore a lifelong process of complete engagement with one’s craft. The craftsman does not wing it, or phone it in. The constant problem-finding / problem-solving dynamic challenges one’s skills to evolve, building on experience, obedience to rules of one’s craft and personal answer to the challenges. That takes time and patience. But this is also why the craftsman does not find repetition boring. Boredom and ennui, as demonstrated in several plates in Diderot’s Encyclopedia, are traits of the idle (and unskilled and useless) aristocratic classes.

The craftsman is not a virtuoso. A virtuoso is an isolated individual, interested in drawing attention to himself through displays of showmanship. The craftsman is a man of the workshop, a collective environment. The quality of the work is driven by his skills, as they are embedded in the collective work of his workers (Sennett uses the example, among others, of Stradivari’s workshop).  Cooperation is at the core of craftsmanship. And, as Sennett notes, the medieval workshop joined family and work under one roof. Apprentices lived in the master’s house. And the medieval guilds were organized under a mode of family hierarchy, albeit not based on blood ties.

And that is why, for Sennett, this is no longer a craftsman’s world:

“The corporate system that once organized careers is now a maze of fragmented jobs. In principle, many new economy firms subscribe to the doctrines of teamwork and cooperation, but unlike the actual practices of Nokia and Motorola, these principles are often a charade. We found that people made a show of friendliness and cooperation under the watchful eyes of boss-minders.


Sheer service to a company was, in an earlier generation, another reward for work, set in bureaucratic stone through automatic seniority increases in pay. In the new economy, such rewards for service have diminished or disappeared; companies now have a short-term focus, preferring younger, fresher workers to older, supposedly more ingrown employees-which means for the worker that, as his or her experience accumulates, it loses institutional value.


But craft does not protect them. In today’s globalized marketplace, middle-level skilled workers risk the prospect of losing employment to a peer in India or China who has the same skills but works for lower pay; job loss is no longer merely a working-class problem. Again, many firms tend not to make long-term investments in an employee’s skills, preferring to make new hires of people who already have the new skills needed rather than to engage in the more expensive process of retraining.


Those firms that show little loyalty to their employees elicit little commitment in return-Internet companies that ran into trouble in the early 2000S learned a bitter lesson, their employees jumping ship rather than making efforts to help the imperiled companies survive. Skeptical of institutions, new economy workers have lower rates of voting and political participation than technical workers two generations ago; although many are joiners of voluntary organizations, few are active participants.” (Loc. 356 – 71)

In this social and economic context, there are no real rewards for doing good work for its own sake. Pride in one’s work, as craftsman trait, has limited value in the current socio-economic system.

Ok, by now, you’re either wondering what this has to do with Despicable Me or you’ve seen me coming from miles away. So, here goes: Gru (and his acolyte, Doctor Nefario) is a craftsman. His craft is villainy.

He comes up with elaborate plans (intellectual labor) and Doctor Nefario comes up with technological solutions, manufactured by the army of now-world-famous minions in what is truly a workshop and a family (see the countless instances of minions behaving like children, under the authority of the Gru/Nefario parental pair. And even though it is mentioned that the minions have families, they obviously live in the workshop (in quite luxurious conditions… they have a gym where they do step aerobics, for Pete’s sake!).

Like any craftsman, Gru cares about the quality of the work, for its own sake. He does not seem to care about setting up plans to get a lot of money (he’s apparently constantly in debt with the bank), and his plans are not the most prestigious. But he does take pride in his work.

However, being a craftsman does not get him any favors from the Bank of Evil (“formerly Lehman Brothers”). Mr Perkins (the banker) finds him old and washed up. He is only interested in getting his money back fast (along with other more sinister plans).

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the worker of the new economy: Vector.

Vector is a dilettante who believes himself to be a virtuoso rather than an overprivileged, bored spoiled brat. Vector is the individualized worker: no workshop (you wanna bet his piranha / squid guns are made in China? And what lousy ideas are these anyway), no minions. Vector is a show-off, engaging in conspicuous consumption (shark, anyone?) whose success is due to his father (Mr Perkins) stealing ideas and funding them for him.

Vector does not really care about the quality of the work, except for the publicity it gets him (and money). After all, after having stolen the shrink ray from Gru, all he can think of doing with it is play at shrinking his toiletries (“you’ve been shrunk, tiny mouthwash!”). The idea of the shrink ray as a tool in service of a well-crafted plan does not come to him.

Indeed, the contrast could not be greater between Vector’s home and Gru’s. Gru’s home shows years of working on his craft, marking his identity as a villain (a guild in itself!). Vector’s home contains no such history. It is bare, except for the objects of his dilettantism and teenage boredom (Wii, popcorn and soda) and some conspicuous elements that are supposed to mark him as a villain.

No wonder Gru instantly dislikes him the first time they meet. Vector, like any pretend-virtuoso wants attention and engages in showy plans that are quick gigs. Gru and Nefario spend time working on their plans, working out problems and glitches (“boogie robots”!). And because appearance does not really matter, Gru is ok wearing a pink astronaut suit.

Oh, and as Sennett notes, parenting is also a craft, so, it is no wonder that it takes a little time, but Gru does not find it too difficult to become one, the same way he became a craftsman at villainy. It is no coincidence that his first “break-through” with the girls occurs because his sense of justice and respect for a job well-done is offended (Agnese did hit the spaceship). And he dispenses justice with one of his well-crafted weapons:

Zygmunt Bauman on Drowning The Axmen

In the Social Europe Journal, Zygmunt Bauman argues that military technology has shifted power and responsibility away from the axmen to the axes:

“By the start to the 21st century, military technology has managed to float and so “depersonalise” responsibility to the extent unimaginable in Orwell’s or Arendt’s time. “Smart”, “intelligent” missiles or the “drones” have taken over the decision-making and the selection of targets from both rank-and-file and the highest placed ranks of the military machine. I would suggest that most seminal technological developments in recent years have not been sought and accomplished in the murderous powers of weapons, but in the area of “adiaphorization” of military killing (i.e., removing it from the category of acts subject to moral evaluation). As Günther Anders warned after Nagasaki but still well before Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq, “one wouldn’t gnash teeth when pressing a button… A key is a key”.[i] Whether the pressing of the key starts a kitchen ice-cream-making contraption, feeds current into an electricity network, or lets loose the Horsemen of Apocalypse, makes no difference. “The gesture that will initiate the Apocalypse would not differ from any of the other gestures – and it will be performed, as all other identical gestures, by a similarly routine-guided and routine-bored operator”. “If something symbolizes the satanic nature of our situation, it is precisely that innocence of the gesture”[ii], Anders concludes: “the negligibility of the effort and thought needed to set off a cataclysm – any cataclysm, including the “globocide”…

What is new is the “drone”, aptly called “predator”, that took over the task of gathering and processing information. The electronic equipment of the drone excels in performing its task. But which task? Just like the manifest function of an axe is to enable the axman to execute the convict, the manifest function of the drone is to enable its operator to locate the object of the execution. But the drone that excels in that function and keeps flooding the operator with the tides of information he is unable to digest, let alone promptly and swiftly, “in real time”, to process – may be performing another, latent and unspoken-about function: that of exonerating the operator of the moral guilt that would haunt him were he fully and truly in charge of selecting the convicts for the execution; and, more importantly yet, reassuring the operator in advance that in case a mistake happens, it won’t be blamed on his immorality.

If “innocent people” are killed, it is a technical fault, not a moral failure or sin – and judging from the statute books most certainly not a crime. As Shanker and Richtel put it, “drone-based sensors have given rise to a new class of wired warriors who must filter the information sea. But sometimes they are drowning”. But is not the capacity to drown the operator’s mental (and so, obliquely but inevitably, moral) faculties included in the drone’s design? Is not drowning the operator the drone’s paramount function? When last February 23 Afghan wedding guests were killed, the buttons-pushing operators could blame it on the screens turned into “drool buckets”: they got lost just by staring into them. There were children among the bombs victims, but the operators “did not adequately focus on them amid the swirl of data” – “much like a cubicle worker who loses track of an important e-mail under the mounting pile”. Well, no one would accuse such a cubicle worker of moral failure…”

It is no surprise that the US Department of Defense has used video games as recruiting tools.

The Patriarchy Continuum – Devadasis

Nothing is worse for women and girls than the combination of religious fundamentalism, patriarchy and poverty.

Case in point:

“Parvatamma is a devadasi, or servant of god, as shown by the red-and-white beaded necklace around her neck. Dedicated to the goddess Yellamma when she was 10 at the temple in Saundatti, southern India, she cannot marry a mortal. When she reached puberty, the devadasi tradition dictated that her virginity was sold to the highest bidder and when she had a daughter at 14 she was sent to work in the red light district in Mumbai.

Parvatamma regularly sent money home, but saw her child only a few times in the following decade. Now 26 and diagnosed with Aids, she has returned to her village, Mudhol in southern India, weak and unable to work. “We are a cursed community. Men use us and throw us away,” she says. Applying talcum powder to her daughter’s face and tying ribbons to her hair, she says: “I am going to die soon and then who will look after her?” The daughter of a devadasi, Parvatamma plans to dedicate her own daughter to Yellamma, a practice that is now outlawed in India.

Each January, nearly half a million people visit the small town of Saundatti for a jatre or festival, to be blessed by Yellamma, the Hindu goddess of fertility. The streets leading to the temple are lined with shops selling sacred paraphernalia – glass bangles, garlands, coconuts and heaped red and yellow kunkuma, a dye that devotees smear on their foreheads. The older women are called jogathis and are said to be intermediaries between the goddess and the people. They all start their working lives as devadasis and most of them would have been initiated at this temple.


The system is seen as a means for poverty-stricken parents to unburden themselves of daughters. Though their fate was known, parents used religion to console themselves, and the money earned was shared.

Roopa, now 16, has come to buy bangles at the festival. She was dedicated to the goddess seven years ago and was told that Yellamma would protect her. Her virginity was auctioned in the village, and since then she has supported her family by working as a prostitute out of her home in a village close to Saundatti.

“The first time it was hard,” she admits. In fact, her vagina was slashed with a razor blade by the man she was supposed to sleep with the first time. Her future, like that of other devadasis, is uncertain. Once they are around 45, at which point they are no longer considered attractive, devadasis try to eke out a living by becoming jogathis or begging near the temple.”

Here is a short video on the devadasi:

Global Sociology Blogroll Update – Brazilian Edition

I am always especially happy to find socbloggers outside of the Western hemisphere. So, without further ado…

By Brazilian socblogger Carlos Augusto Magalhães Teixeira. And lookie here, already a good film recommendation.

As always, update your bookmarks and RSS feeds or follow Carlos on Twitter.