Enforcing Heteronormativity

So, there has been a lot of discussion following the conservative freakout over this J. Crew ad:

Because pink toenails will turn him totally gay. Or maybe not, but the main objection is about the transgression of essentialized gender lines. In the conservative worldview, sex and gender are clearly associated with heteronormativity, justified by fallacious biological arguments, and held as the moral foundation of civilized society. Therefore, in this polarized view of gender, there are men who are supposed to be masculine and women who are expected to be feminine, and any type of deviation from the norm is to be severely pushed back against.

More than that, the reaction will be all the more strident when the gender deviation is perceived as a threat to hegemonic masculinity. This is a less extreme version of the phenomenon of corrective rapes, but the logic is the same: punish gender deviation:

There is also this from Malaysia:

“Sixty-six Muslim schoolboys in Malaysia identified by teachers as effeminate have been sent to a special camp for counselling on masculine behaviour.

They are undergoing four days of religious and physical education.

An education official said the camp was meant to guide the boys back “to a proper path in life”.

Gay rights groups have criticised the measure, saying it promotes homophobia in the Muslim-majority country where gay sex is still illegal.

The schoolboys allegedly displayed “feminine mannerisms” – though educators in the conservative state of Terengganu did not detail what they were, says the BBC’s Jennifer Pak in Kuala Lumpur.

State officials say that, if left unchecked, the students – aged between 13 and 17 – could end up gay or transsexual.

The state’s education director, Razali Daud, said the students were invited to join the camp and were not compelled to do so.

“As educators, we have to do something about it before the young ones misunderstand people and reach the point of no return,” he was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times.

Mr Razali says although homosexuals and transvestites exist in Malaysia, the authorities want to limit their number.”

What is this, culling of a species that have grown in too large numbers? It is also interesting that no one can tell what the offending “feminine mannerisms” are. Here again, we find not only the clear polarization of genders, but also these officials’ inability to conceive anything outside of the masculine / feminine binary: a gay man is a feminine man.

Or also this:

“Two widows have been bludgeoned to death by a man in the northern Indian state of Haryana, officials say.

Police arrested a 23-year-old man, the nephew of one of the women. He was on parole, having served a sentence for rape.

Eyewitnesses told police he killed his aunt and another woman in full view of other villagers, after he accused them of being in a lesbian relationship.

Haryana is a deeply conservative and patriarchal region.

Correspondents say that so-called “honour killings” are relatively common in the area.

There have been numerous cases in rural Haryana where women – and men – defying age-old notions of tradition and family honour have been ostracised, murdered or even publicly lynched, correspondents say.

The latest killings happened late on Sunday at Ranila village.

The accused reportedly began beating one of the women, identified as 35-year-old Suman, with a wooden club after accusing her of having an “unnatural affair” with his aunt Shakuntala, eyewitnesses told the police.

A few minutes later, he dragged his aunt onto the village street and beat her to death in front of local villagers who were too scared to intervene, local journalists say.

The two bled to death as the villagers watched.”

In addition to the violence that can be visited upon the individuals who might not necessarily defy gender norms, but can be perceived as defying them, there is an essential public dimension of heteronormativity and its enforcement. In a patriarchal environment, behavior is constantly the subject of public monitoring for signs of deviation.

And then, one can also see the opposite, the in-your-face proclamation of heteronormativity. I am sure you have seen those on cars or mailboxes:

The more fecund, the better because nothing says hegemonic masculinity and family values than a large brood:

Or those:

Book Review – Traȋtres A La Nation

Stephane Béaud’s Traîtres À La Nation – Un Autre Regard Sur La Grève Des Bleus en Afrique du Sud (en collaboration avec Philippe Guimard) is perfect and great example of public sociology. It very nicely and powerfully shows what sociological analysis can do, especially with respect to a very high-profile event, such as the “strike” by the French football team during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

I really do hope that this book will get an English edition. If that were the case, I would jump on it and make my students use in my undergraduate classes. It is written at the perfect level, uses a lot of concrete examples. There isn’t too much jargon but the sociological analysis is crystal clear and very powerful. And, of course, the topic is guaranteed to get people’s attention. One can point at this book and say “this is what sociology does.”

The starting point of the book, obviously, is the strike by the players of the national French team during the World Cup, followed by their shameful exit from that competition in the early stages (after a very controversial qualification), and the social and political fallout from these events. Considering how discussed these events have already been, what does sociology have to bring to the table? First off, most of the discussion has been tainted by moral, classist and racist considerations. Exit the glorious days of the “black, blanc, beur” winning team of 1998, now, the strike is denounced by politicians as the work of low-class, highly-paid little bosses and the hapless followers. The media and politicians engaged in moral condemnations. Putting oneself in the position of judge, prosecutor and jury is not what sociology does. The job of the sociologist, for Béaud, is the Weberian injunction of Verstehen.

The point of sociological analysis then is to put these events in the proper context (what I call SHiP – structure, history, power) and to retrace the sociological factors that shaped this French national football team (especially in contrast with the 1998 team). What Béaud engages in is what he calls “live sociology” in which moral judgment is suspended and social action is re-situated in is (muli-layered) context, understood as a system of constraints in which individual behavior occurs. That is, the challenge is to treat this event as a social fact (in Durkheim’s sense): the strike is a product of the deregulation of French professional football, structural causes, changes in recruitment, training and socialization of French footballers, the internationalization and precarization of football careers (based on changes in the legal framework). Alongside these structural factors are more institutional and symbolic factors, such as relationships between players and the media, as well as the group dynamics within the French team.

For those of you who don’t remember, the strike of the French team occurred after France’s main sports daily newspaper published the photo to the right, on its front page, after the defeat against Mexico. The comment between quotation marks is supposed to have been said by Anelka against French coach Domenech in the locker rooms. Following the alleged incident, Anelka was expelled from the team by the French Federation.

Arguing the fact that what goes on in the locker rooms is supposed to stay there, and never be divulged to the public, the players went on strike and issues a communiqué (actually drafted by the attorney of one of the players) also blaming the Federation for mismanaging the situation.

For Béaud, this reflects the growing tensions that have been building up between players and the media as well as the changes in these relationships. Whereas these relationships used to be simple and straightforward, if not friendly, they have become more formal, complex and marked by the professionalization of the players. While players used to be approachable, and locker rooms were not closed off to the press, interactions with players are now mediated by the entourage that is characteristic of the main players (attorneys, PR consultants, etc.) and the creation of mixte zones in stadiums is a perfect reflection of that. As a result, it is more difficult to get more than canned talking points out of the players who are already uncomfortable with public speaking.

At the same time, Béaud shows that what happened was not the product of the “little bosses” from the projects pushing the other players into the strike. The French team was indeed divided but not along racial and ethnic lines but rather into group statuses such as established players (incumbent players, those more or less guaranteed to play) versus substitutes. The established group is composed of players who have the most sport legitimacy and credibility, which puts them in positions of leadership.

Compared to other players also from the project, the established players are more sensitive to any feeling of symbolic humiliation and injustice, and they are more likely to experience a relative frustration with the poor game strategy of the French team in recent years, under the leadership of a discredited coach. So, in the 2010 French team, one finds the dominated group, the newcomers, and the recently selected players from African origin. Their lack of either integration in the team or football capital reduced the probability that they would go against the decisions of the established group. And the newspaper frontpage gave the team a unity it had never achieved before.

Add to this the role of the French Football Federation and its incomprehensible to reappoint a discredited coach (which appointing his successor right before the World Cup, thereby undermining him even further), the respective relationships between the players and this coach (certainly, several players from the established group had a grudge against him), the conflict between the FFF and the other major institution involved, the Professional Footballers League. And finally, the infiltration of the political and social tensions from the housing projects into the team all created a bundle of tensions that were bound to explode at some point… and did.

These events are also a reflection of the change in recruitment of players in French football. In the post-War period, one finds most French football players came from the blue-collar working-class (especially the clubs from Northern France). The trajectories of these players are quite different than what they are today. They usually spent their youth years in amateur football, still going to school to obtain technical and vocational qualifications. They become professional relatively late (in their 20s). Therefore, they receive a rather typical working-class socialization. The 1998 team is basically the last fling of that generation of players, with a specific sport and social ethos based on humility, collectivism, respect for the elders and explicit patriotism. This is the working-class before the precarization of the working-class of the deindustrializing years and the defeat of its political power. And the players of the 1998 team who did grow up in the housing projects did so before the ethnic contraction and marginalization of these areas and increased polarization.

There are three major differences between the 1998 team and the 2010 team, sociologically speaking:

(1) There are now more players in the great and economically powerful European teams of England, Italy and Spain. A minority of them now play for French teams.

(2) Players are now recruited by training centers (famous institutions that detect football talents and develop them over several years, with hopes of professionalization right after graduation. These centers have made France the second exporting countries – after Brazil – when it comes to footballers, but they also close off earlier and earlier any real education and occupy a greater part of the players’ socialization) at an earlier and earlier age, and especially from the lower classes. Fewer players now come from the working-class French heartland, and more and more from the housing projects on the outskirts of France’s largest cities.

(3) There are now more players of African origin, especially sub-saharan Africa, as opposed to the Maghreb, and from players from France’s territories (Antilles, Guadeloupe, etc.).

This greater internationalization of football out of France is directly connected to the legal context created by the Bosman Ruling, which allowed players to have greater freedom of movement from one club to the next. This greater freedom has also led to the massive inflation of footballer compensation. All of a sudden, the most powerful European clubs were able to recruit players from all over Europe, and the players were able to demand higher pay for their services. These teams have been accused of pillaging other countries for their own benefit. If French football creates great players, the French teams are not economically strong enough to retain them once these players fully develop their potential. This has led former players to deplore the lack of “fidelity to the jersey”. This also means that teams are less likely to have a trademark style of play, as the recruitment is no longer local and long-term.

Now, a player will typically enter a training center around 15 years old (if not pre-training centers that recruit even younger players) and they may leave for a non-French team even before their training is complete to start playing for the club that has recruited them. And the Bosman Ruling allows these young players to change club more easily (making more money in the process). As a result, their trajectories are much less smooth and their socialization more chaotic as they leave their families at a fairly young age. For the lower-class parents of these players, to sign a professional contract is a way out of the project for their son and club scouts start contacting parents as early as possible (the competition is extreme), making them incredible offers. From the clubs’ perspective, these young players are commodities, and they expect rather rapid returns on investment, so as to re-sell the players at an even higher price than they paid for him.

This means that, at a young age, players have to be surrounded by a whole entourage of agents, attorneys for themselves and their parents, along with the usual trainers, PR people, etc. But in the context of increased precarization for the lower classes, social tensions in the projects, and the ever-more repressive policies put in place by the Sarkozy government, who could resist?

So, Béaud argues that the strike of 2010 in South Africa is an act of civil disobedience and also a reflection of all these structural and cyclical factors: the changes in socialization of the players, transformation of the labor market for French football players, the impact of geographical and sport migration and the corresponding social uprooting, along with the pressures tied to the obligation to perform earlier, faster and better in a very competitive context… on top of the group dynamics and the interpersonal and institutional issues mentioned above.

Béaud wraps up his study with an analysis of the evolution of the players of Maghreb origin in French football, inserting it as well in the social context of immigration and integration. The last two chapters of the book are less directly related to the 2010 fiasco but they additional layers to an understanding of French football in its social context.

As I mentioned above, this book is a great read (something that does not happen enough in sociology!) and a great example of public sociology and live sociology. Highly recommended… if you can read French.

<p style=”text-align: justify;”><a href=”http://www.amazon.fr/Tra%C3%AEtres-nation-autre-regard-Afrique/dp/2707167169/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1302999785&amp;sr=1-1″ target=”_blank”><img style=”margin: 5px;” src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41FnLegOc1L._SL500_AA300_.jpg” alt=”” width=”300″ height=”300″ /></a>Stephane Béaud’s <a href=”http://www.amazon.fr/Tra%C3%AEtres-nation-autre-regard-Afrique/dp/2707167169/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1302999785&amp;sr=1-1″ target=”_blank”>Traîtres À La Nation – Un Autre Regard Sur La Grève Des Bleus en Afrique du Sud</a> (en collaboration avec Philippe Guimard) is perfect and great example of public sociology. It very nicely and powerfully shows what sociological analysis can do, especially with respect to a very high-profile event, such as the “strike” by the French football team during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”>I really do hope that this book will get an English edition. If that were the case, I would jump on it and make my students use in my undergraduate classes. It is written at the perfect level, uses a lot of concrete examples. There isn’t too much jargon but the sociological analysis is crystal clear and very powerful. And, of course, the topic is guaranteed to get people’s attention. One can point at this book and say “this is what sociology does.”</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”>The starting point of the book, obviously, is the strike by the players of the national French team during the World Cup, followed by their shameful exit from that competition in the early stages (after a very controversial qualification), and the social and political fallout from these events. Considering how discussed these events have already been, what does sociology have to bring to the table? First off, most of the discussion has been tainted by moral, classist and racist considerations. Exit the glorious days of the “black, blanc, beur” winning team of 1998, now, the strike is denounced by politicians as the work of low-class, highly-paid little bosses and the hapless followers. The media and politicians engaged in moral condemnations. Putting oneself in the position of judge, prosecutor and jury is not what sociology does. The job of the sociologist, for Béaud, is the Weberian injunction of Verstehen.</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”>The point of sociological analysis then is to put these events in the proper context (what I call SHiP – structure, history, power) and to retrace the sociological factors that shaped this French national football team (especially in contrast with the 1998 team). What Béaud engages in is what he calls “live sociology” in which moral judgment is suspended and social action is re-situated in is (muli-layered) context, understood as a system of constraints in which individual behavior occurs. That is, the challenge is to treat this event as a social fact (in Durkheim’s sense): the strike is a product of the deregulation of French professional football, structural causes, changes in recruitment, training and socialization of French footballers, the internationalization and precarization of football careers (based on changes in the legal framework). Alongside these structural factors are more institutional and symbolic factors, such as relationships between players and the media, as well as the group dynamics within the French team.</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”><a href=”http://e-blogs.wikio.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/LEquipe_Anelka_Domenech_UNE1.jpg” target=”_blank”><img style=”margin: 5px;” src=”http://e-blogs.wikio.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/LEquipe_Anelka_Domenech_UNE1.jpg” alt=”” width=”320″ height=”217″ /></a>For those of you who don’t remember, the strike of the French team occurred after France’s main sports daily newspaper published the photo to the right, on its front page, after the defeat against Mexico. The comment between quotation marks is supposed to have been said by Anelka against French coach Domenech in the locker rooms. Following the alleged incident, Anelka was expelled from the team by the French Federation.</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”>Arguing the fact that what goes on in the locker rooms is supposed to stay there, and never be divulged to the public, the players went on strike and issues a communiqué (actually drafted by the attorney of one of the players) also blaming the Federation for mismanaging the situation.</p>
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<p style=”text-align: justify;”>For Béaud, this reflects the growing tensions that have been building up between players and the media as well as the changes in these relationships. Whereas these relationships used to be simple and straightforward, if not friendly, they have become more formal, complex and marked by the professionalization of the players. While players used to be approachable, and locker rooms were not closed off to the press, interactions with players are now mediated by the entourage that is characteristic of the main players (attorneys, PR consultants, etc.) and the creation of mixte zones in stadiums is a perfect reflection of that. As a result, it is more difficult to get more than canned talking points out of the players who are already uncomfortable with public speaking.</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”>At the same time, Béaud shows that what happened was not the product of the “little bosses” from the projects pushing the other players into the strike. The French team was indeed divided but not along racial and ethnic lines but rather into group statuses such as established players (incumbent players, those more or less guaranteed to play) versus substitutes. The established group is composed of players who have the most sport legitimacy and credibility, which puts them in positions of leadership. Compared to other players also from the project, the established players are more sensitive to any feeling of symbolic humiliation and injustice, and they are more likely to experience a relative frustration with the poor game strategy of the French team in recent years, under the leadership of a discredited coach. So, in the 2010 French team, one finds the dominated group, the newcomers, and the recently selected players from African origin. Their lack of either integration in the team or football capital reduced the probability that they would go against the decisions of the established group. And the newspaper frontpage gave the team a unity it had never achieved before.</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”></p>

The Visual Du Jour – Tax The Rich! (No, Really)

Because, according to the EPI, they pay less and less:

And, in case you missed it, go read this great piece by the invaluable David Cay Johnston on the major tax myths. My favorite part:

“Compare this to Germany, one of many countries with a smarter tax system and smarter spending policies.

Germans work less, make more per hour and get much better parental leave than Americans, many of whom get no fringe benefits such as health care, pensions or even a retirement savings plan. By many measures the vast majority live better in Germany than in America.

To achieve this, unmarried Germans on average pay 52 percent of their income in taxes. Americans average 30 percent, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

At first blush the German tax burden seems horrendous. But in Germany (as well as in Britain, France, Scandinavia, Canada, Australia and Japan), tax-supported institutions provide many of the things Americans pay for with after-tax dollars. Buying wholesale rather than retail saves money.

A proper comparison would take the 30 percent average tax on American workers and add their out-of-pocket spending on health care, college tuition and fees for services, and compare that with taxes that the average German pays. Add it all up and the combination of tax and personal spending is roughly equal in both countries, but with a large risk of catastrophic loss in America, and a tiny risk in Germany.

Americans take on $85 billion of debt each year for higher education, while college is financed by taxes in Germany and tuition is cheap to free in other modern countries. While soaring medical costs are a key reason that since 1980 bankruptcy in America has increased 15 times faster than population growth, no one in Germany or the rest of the modern world goes broke because of accident or illness. And child poverty in America is the highest among modern countries—almost twice the rate in Germany, which is close to the average of modern countries.

On the corporate tax side, the Germans encourage reinvestment at home and the outsourcing of low-value work, like auto assembly, and German rules tightly control accounting so that profits earned at home cannot be made to appear as profits earned in tax havens.

Adopting the German system is not the answer for America. But crafting a tax system that benefits the vast majority, reduces risks, provides universal health care and focuses on diplomacy rather than militarism abroad (and at home) would be a lot smarter than what we have now.”

The Best Habitus Money Can Buy

One of the strengths of sociology (among its many, many other strengths) is to take the disparate pieces of the social puzzle – anecdotes and stories of all kinds – and put them together, in the proper context, composed of the social structure, historical processes and power dynamics (something I call SHiP, Structure, History, and Power). In doing so, it shows the inanity of common sense interpretations that often take the form of moral pronouncements.

For instance,

“A Manhattan woman has sued a $19,000-a-year preschool her daughter attended, arguing that the program failed to adequately prepare her daughter for the test required to enter New York City’s hypercompetitive private school system.

The suit, filed by Nicole Imprescia on Friday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, said the York Avenue Preschool had not fulfilled its stated commitment to prepare her 4-year-old daughter, Lucia, for the intelligence test known as the E.R.B.

“The school proved to be not a school at all, but just one big playroom,” the suit claimed.

Many preschools boast that they can prepare students for the test, helping them score high enough to catch the attention of elite private schools. The preschools have become a component of a mini-industry that also includes costly consultants and test preparation materials.

(…)

The suit charges that preschool education is critical to a child’s success in life, quoting from various news articles. “It is no secret that getting a child into the Ivy League starts in nursery school,” says one. “Studies have shown entry into a good nursery school guarantees more income than entry into an average school,” says another.

Ms. Imprescia enrolled her daughter at York in 2009, when she was 3, but took her out one month into her second year when, rather than preparing for the E.R.B., her daughter was “dumped” into a class with 2-year-old children, talking about shapes and colors, according to the lawsuit. The suit said the school refused Ms. Imprescia’s demand to return that year’s tuition. It did not say whether Lucia had taken the test.”

Claude Fisher puts this in the context of increasing inequalities that goes beyond income and wealth differentials:

“Reardon collected data from 19 nationally representative studies of children’s cognitive achievement for ages ranging from 1 to 18. The studies were conducted from 1960 to 2007. He compared the average scores of children who came from high-income families (those at the 90th percentile, which is about $160,000 in today’s dollars) to those from low-income families (those at the 10th percentile, about $17,500 today). The first group always does a lot better on age-appropriate reading and math tests than the second. But the key finding is that the test gap has been widening for a generation; it is about 35% larger for kids born around 2000 than for kids born about 1975.

Strikingly, over the same period the gap in test scores between black and white children, about which much has been written, shrank. The rich-poor gap is now one-and-a-half times larger than the race gap; 50 years ago it was just about the reverse.”

In other words, the wealth and income gap has turned into a growing cognitive development gap where class matters more than race. Now, the topic of social reproduction in education is a topic that most sociology students encounter with Bourdieu’s work on the subject. Bourdieu emphasizes that cultural capital and differences in habitus (class-based dispositions that shape behavior) partly account for academic achievement differentials. One’s habitus is a product of socialization and contributes to reproduction of class differences.

And Bourdieu’s work showed that an upper-class habitus matches more closely behavioral and academic expectations in schools than a working-class habitus (Fisher mentions Annette Lareau’s now famous study of different socializing modes, where working class parents tend to let their children grow up more “naturally” whereas upper-class parents use a “concerted cultivation” model).

So, by putting toddlers in exclusive prep pre-schools, parents like the one mentioned in the article are trying to lock in their social privileges and pass them on to their children. This is what these exclusive prep pre-schools are selling: the earliest possible socialization into a given habitus that will set children on an elite path of education. This is a perfect example of using one’s economic capital to obtain extra cultural capital.

As Fisher notes,

“In recent decades, the academic expectations for the well-cultivated child have risen. And the things you can buy to cultivate their academic skills have boomed: educational software for infants, early childhood educational programs, pre-school enrichment classes, after-school lessons, tutors, summer camps with intellectual themes, and so on. Reardon cites research suggesting that professional child-rearing advice articles and books more and more stress intellectual cultivation. Also, middle-class parents have been spending more time with their children and spending more money on their children. Even among parents with the same level of education, the ones with more income seem increasingly better able than those with less income to raise their children’s test scores.

While some enrichment activities are free (if a parent has time — which is another thing money can sometimes buy for you), many require purchases – books, software, special classes, coaches, travel, and the like. If these things actually make an intellectual difference, then their proliferation in recent years can explain Reardon’s findings.”

So, it is not just that the children of the upper classes are living behind the physical walls of gated communities, but they also live in a segregated cognitive and social world where their parents carefully cultivate each and every one of their experiences as a way of holding on to their privileges and making sure that no one outside of their class challenge them.

But, as Robert Frank also noted in his book, Richistan, the very wealthy are profoundly afraid of the slightest sign of very subtle downward mobility (from the multimillionaire class to the millionaire class, to be sure) and they feel the strain of intensifying competition between themselves and other members of Richistan (after all, they have the overall social system as they want it, with no more competition from the precarized middle class).

And so, poor Ms Imprescia wasted a whole MONTH of her three-year old daughter’s life and did not get the proper return on investment in terms of cultural capital.

Get Claude Fisher’s book!

Degradation Ceremonies – Fallen Villains

So, you may have seen this today:

This was reminiscent of that:

Or even that:

In both cases, we are dealing with Harold Garfinkel’s concept of degradation ceremony, defined as a communicative action designed to lower the status of a given individuals (or individuals). Since the goal is to degrade and humiliate, then, the targeted individuals may be stripped of proper clothing, shown unkempt, tied up in one way or another, shown in submission, deprived of any power (especially important in the case of former dictators and despots).

Or in the case of the Ceaucescu couple, looking like Eastern European peasants, instead of the feared power couple of Romania:

If the same fate befall Muhammar Gaddafi or Osama bin Laden, I am willing to bet that similar pictures will be widely broadcast.

The Patriarchy Continuum: Missing Girls and Murdered Women

Where are the girls?

Aborted or neglected so they die younger:

“India’s economic growth rate is increasing. But its population of girls in relation to boys is declining. In that contradiction lies a truth that many in India choose to ignore: that economic growth does not automatically mean gender justice.

Yes, in the India of 2011 – where the pride of having won the ICC Cricket World Cup after 28 years has yet to wear off – girls are either eliminated before they are born or die before they reach the age of six. We already knew this. In the 2001 census, the number of girls to every 1,000 boys in the 0-6 years age group was a dismal 927. With the preliminary results of the 2011 census just out, the picture is wore today: 914 girls to 1,000 boys.

So where have these girls gone? They disappear principally through sex-selection techniques. If the tests confirm a girl, the decision is quick and sure. Why bother to bring them into the world? Resort to sex-selective abortion.

These statistics demonstrate a macabre and ruthless aspect of our society that is sometimes hard to understand. Women are worshipped as gods in India, some of them occupy the highest positions in our society, more girls go to school today than ever before, young women are entering professions closed to them in the past. Yet, a girl is still considered a burden”

And no, it’s not poverty. Blame the patriarchy:

“Interestingly, the most skewed sex ratios are from states with the highest economic growth rate. So wherever there is wealth, to be shared by members of the family, girls are not wanted. The “family”, meaning the men, must divide the wealth among themselves. Girls marry other men, and their share of the family wealth would go to these other men.

Girls also have to be loaded with goodies when they marry these other men. Hence they are an additional expense. Boys, on the other hand, bring home the goodies when they marry – plus an additional hand to do all the chores around the house.

Put simply, education and economic growth have not changed mindsets, have not touched a patriarchal structure that values men and women differently. On the contrary, more wealth appears to have consolidated old prejudices. What else can explain the coincidence of prosperity and a skewed child-sex ratio?”

And weak governance:

“The sex ratio conundrum has also exposed the inability of successive governments in India to implement social laws. There has been an anti-dowry law on the statute book since 1961. Yet dowry continues as a custom that has spread even to communities that did not follow it earlier.

There is a specific law, enacted in 1994, which prohibits the use of technology to detect the sex of a foetus. All ultrasonography machines have to be registered, and anyone indicating to a pregnant woman the sex of her foetus can be fined and even given a jail term. Yet, the law has been ineffective in stopping the practice of sex-detection. Where it is enforced, people simply go elsewhere. The wealthy go abroad. Thailand is a favoured destination for techniques that ensure you have a boy.”

And while we’re on the subject of weak / failed states:

“Latin America is stained red. And once again the blood spilt belongs to a woman.

Unfortunately the number of violent crimes against the feminine gender has increased so much in recent years that the experts describe it as a pandemic.

And the figures speak for themselves. According to data supplied by the UN Development Programme in 2006, between 30% and 45% of women in Latin America have been the objects of physical, sexual or psychological violence from a man on some occasion.

In Mexico the number of victims reaches 44%, , followed by Colombia, Peru and Chile with around 40%. Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic have recorded lower levels, between 20 and 30%, but still cause for concern.

However the real alarm has been sounded in countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where the culture of hatred against women is deeply rooted.”

The reasons?

“According to the Guatemalan sociologist Carmen Rosa de León-Escribano, who is executive director of the Instituto de Enseñanza para el Desarollo (IEPADES, the Institute of Teaching for Development), in her article Violence and Gender in Latin America , these acts involve a considerable number of causes which can include domestic violence, street crime, racist attacks, territorial conflicts between mafias, sexual violence, and the result of armed conflicts led either by the state or by other armed groups.

However for Rebecca Grynspan, the regional director of the UN Development Programme (PNUD), other factors like social class and economic situation promote relations of inequality between the genders, since “ the more economic independence and decision-making power that women have, the lower are the levels of violence”.

In her opinion the Mexican academic Marcela Lagarde says in an interview for Pagina 12 , that discrimination against women in Latin America is encouraged by a serious social devaluation: “ They make jokes and commentaries on the inabilities of women, then they pick some women on which to vent their fury against others, and this feeds misogyny against all women. But it is not just misogyny, but the situation of women in society, which combined with misogyny puts women at risk of violence”. And she adds “ when we women in Mexico come to ask for action based on our rights we receive maltreatment and discrimination from the health and education services and from the justice system””

And there is quite a bit of indifference to femicides from the governments throughout the region.

This is how the patriarchy is reproduced: through a combination of structural, symbolic and interpersonal violence.

Richard Sennett on The Meritocratic Lie

Richard Sennett had an interesting column in Le Monde yesterday regarding the impact of stratification and absence of meritocracy on organizations.

For Sennett, the main challenge of our societies is to create the conditions under which individuals with different political, religious and cultural backgrounds can cooperate. New information and communication technologies can maybe facilitate this, but this has yet to be seen despite the use of these technologies in the current protests across the Middle East.

As he notes, in the 19th century, historian Jacob Burckhardt defined modernity as the era of savage simplifications: increased sophistication of material social conditions accompanied by an impoverishment of social relations (the Burckhardt paradox). For Sennett, the complexity of ICTs is beyond our capacity to make good use of them, especially to use them to establish true cooperation. Modern society, then, creates a material complexity it does not know how to use.

For instance, for Sennett, an inability to foster true cooperation in all its complexities was one of the reasons that Google Wave failed as the software was designed in too linear a model of communication and cooperation. In that sense, Google Wave and its failure illustrates something that Sennett’s studies of labor processes have already shown: the capacities of workers are superior to their institutional use. This is congruent with Amartya Sen’s theory of capabilities.

Similarly, inequalities are based on savage simplifications that limit communication and cooperation. When the capabilities of an individual are superior to their functional use within an organization, this leads to an impoverishment of social relations, as is the case when a subordinate has to work under the authority of a less competent individual. In institutions, the consequences of such inequalities can be disastrous. The subordinates become embittered and misunderstood and their communication with their hierarchical superior become more and more simplified.

Of course, the meritocratic ideology cannot conceive of such a situation (neither does functionalist theory on social stratification): only competent people can reach positions of authority precisely because of their competence. After all, merit gets rewarded with social, economic and political capital. But this meritocratic system is a lie. More often than not, highly skilled craftsmen are accountable to individuals less competent than themselves and with whom communication is limited to institutional processes.

Managerial theories often deplore this as a the silo effect: a dysfunction in which workers operate in isolation (silos) without communicating or communicating only to a minimum, without cooperation. A multiplication of silos is, of course, detrimental to the organization as a whole.

In order to study the links between the silo effect, inequalities and the meritocratic lie, Sennett and his research team spent two years studying the world of the City in London, especially the communicative relations between managers and subordinate technicians, especially the programmers who designed the algorithms applied to derivatives. This is a particularly glaring case of superior incompetence where the managers have no clue as to the mathematics involved in these financial instruments. So, they often turned a blind eye as to what was going on in their departments and just enjoyed the money coming their way. This is Burckhardt paradox: technical capabilities are way more complex than their use and led to a silo effect.

In financial firms, this absence of mutuality and cooperation undermined authority as those who could do maths challenged the legitimacy of their superiors and communication then takes the form of passive-aggressive jabs behind the managers’ backs. So, when the firm is ready to collapse, there is no solidarity to be found (beyond the promise of taxpayer-funded meg-bonuses which then substitute for firm loyalty).

It is in this context of inversion of the relationship between competence and hierarchy that inequalities lead to savage simplifications as the complex web of confidence, trust and mutual respect loses its density and structure under the silo effect. The organization weakens for the lack of true cooperation.

This analysis resonates particularly in the context of current debates regarding education (k-12 and higher) where accountability (simplified – yet relatively meaningless – measurements) is supposed to provide greater efficiency and where the administrative levels (more and more populated with individuals with no educational credentials or experience) foster silo effects and Mertonian retreatism and ritualism rather than true cooperation and communication.

What the education example reveals, and in that, Sennett is right, is that a true social capabilities approach would mean to challenge the forms of knowledge and power that modern capitalism imposed in unequal and arbitrary fashion. That is, the meritocratic lie needs to be publicly called out.

The Social Construction of Mental Illness

The Independent starts with this puzzling fact:

“Something is happening at the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that mental health experts are finding hard to explain: British and American soldiers appear to be having markedly different reactions to the stress of combat. In America, there has been a sharp increase in the number experiencing mental-health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Between 2006 and 2007 alone, there was a 50 per cent jump in cases of combat stress among soldiers and suicides more than doubled. Why the precipitous rise? And why hasn’t there been an accompanying rise in these symptoms among British troops?

The conclusion that British soldiers appear to have a different psychological reaction to the stresses of these modern conflicts was the finding of several recent high-profile studies. This year, in a Royal Society journal, Neil Greenberg of the Academic Centre for Defence Mental Health at King’s College London and colleagues reported that studies of American soldiers showed PTSD prevalence rates of in excess of 30 per cent while the rates among British troops was only four per cent. UK soldiers were more likely to abuse alcohol (13 per cent reported doing so) or experience more common mental disorders such as depression (20 per cent).

Such differences were found even when comparing soldiers who served in the most intense combat zones. In addition, while researchers found increased mental-health risk for American personnel sent on multiple deployments, no such connection was found in British soldiers.”

So, yes, it is not a bad idea to look for sociological explanations for this if indeed, combat conditions and numbers of deployment were controlled for. In other words, the idea is that social structure, power dynamics and culture create a context in which certain categories of thought emerge.

This is the social construction of reality. This is also something that Foucault studied in Madness and Civilization: how a society perceives certain behavior sand classifies them has less to do with the behaviors themselves (see how much the supposedly scientific and objective DSM has changed over the years), but with genealogies of power. In Western societies, the medical practitioner displaced the priest as the adjudicator of proper behavior and moral authority to decide as to what is mentally healthy and what is not. The many ways in which mental health is defined, diagnosed and treated has a lot to do with social control and normative enforcement.

So, again, what social conditions and dynamics would generate the differential rate of PTSD between American and British soldiers? The article goes over some of the history of dealing with soldiers coming home with mental problems and how the rise of the PTSD diagnosis had a lot to do with the US context of the Vietnam War and the social movement opposing it. The diagnosis then became more mainstream and embedded into the language of post-combat mental problems. This context is specifically American, and therefore less likely to affect British soldiers.

It is interesting but then comes the inevitable BS:

“Patrick Bracken, of Bradford University’s Dept of Health Studies, argues that the emergence of PTSD is a symptom of a troubled postmodern world. “In most Western societies there has been a move away from religious and other belief systems which offered individuals stable pathways through life, and meaningful frameworks with which to encounter suffering and death,” Bracken writes. “The meaningful connections of the social world are rendered fragile.”

Oh please. Not only is the American society drowning in religion and conservative dominant discourse on war and the role of the military but the US military is awash in fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity. If the statement above were true, then the British soldiers would the ones suffering from higher levels of PTSD, not the other way around.

So, maybe we should examine more seriously how fundamentalist religion might affect returning soldiers. Or the social conditions of their reinsertion (or lack thereof) in combination with the differences in health care systems between British and American soldiers.

Here is another suggestion: look at the demographics of the soldiers. We know the US military taps into the lower classes since the military is pretty much the only potential source of social mobility. Is it the same for the UK? And, of course, the process leading to the diagnosis themselves would need to be examined.

Unfortunately, the statement above explains nothing and provides no evidence of anything beyond this person’s ability to spit out a tired cliché. So, why is it even in the goddamn article?

Or have the awful, awful feminists made American soldiers wimpy? </sarcasm>

Contemporary Slavery is (Obviously) Tied to Patriarchal Rule

This explains why the majority of slaves women and girls, and sometimes, boys because all of them end up subservient to patriarchal rule in one form or another whether it is the slave providers or the slave exploiters.

Item 1:

“Prossie was working as a schoolteacher when she heard an attractive advert on Ugandan radio.

A Kampala company called Uganda Veterans Development Ltd was recruiting women to work for high wages in shops in US Army bases in Iraq.

She signed up, along with 146 other Ugandan women.

But when she arrived in Baghdad, she discovered that been bought by an Iraqi agent for $3,500 (£2,200). Her real job was as a housemaid for an Iraqi family.

Like many others, she was forced to work long hours, sometimes from 5am until midnight. She often received little food or water and she was locked inside the house.

When Prossie protested, her employer told her: “We paid a lot of money for you and we were told that you people don’t get sick and you don’t get tired. So you have to work.”

Prossie was raped by the man in the house. Several other trafficked Ugandan women we spoke to were raped too.”

Item 2:

“Urmila says she was five years old when this man, an attorney from a respected family, came to her village of Manpur, on the Rapti River, and made an offer that ended her childhood.

It was a day in January, just after the Maghi festival had begun, one of those cold days of the year when the Tharu celebrate the New Year. It’s also the time of the year when they sell their daughters.

“I can still see him coming toward us,” says Urmila. He was a man from the city, wearing sunglasses and a suit. “I had never seen such clothing,” she says. She was sitting at the fire pit in front of the tiny mud-and-dung house where her family of 11 lived. Pumpkins grew on the straw roof, and pigs lay in shallow pits in the ground. Urmila was sitting there with her mother and brother as the man approached.

“I knew it was my turn,” Urmila says. Her sisters and her sisters-in-law had all worked as kamalari, or slave girls. One sister had told her about the beatings she endured at the hands of the landowner who purchased her and the kitchen scraps she was fed. “I begged my mother not to send me away,” Urmila recounts. Her mother said that she had no say in the matter.

Instead, the man spoke with her older brother because he was the one who supported the family. The man offered the brother money — 4,000 rupees, or about €50 ($70) — for his little sister Urmila. The family owed money to the landowner whose fields they farmed, there wasn’t enough food and the children wore shoes made of bean pods tied to their feet with pieces of rope. Four thousand rupees. It was a lot of money. Urmila’s brother agreed to the deal.

(…)

Urmila was in the same position as most of the others. “Down there,” she says, pointing to a door on the ground floor of the yellow townhouse, “down there in the room next to the kitchen is where I spent the first night.” Her brother had taken her on the bus to Ghorahi, a noisy city in southwestern Nepal. With its cars and bicycle rickshaws, the place was completely unlike her village of Manpur. Urmila lay on a mat on the floor next to another girl the house’s owner had bought. It was cold. A wedding was being held in the house. The son of the landowner had found a wife, and there were many relatives among the guests, including the owner’s daughter. She lived in Katmandu, and Urmila had been bought as a present for her.

“She’s so thin and small,” the daughter said when she first saw Urmila. “How is she supposed to work properly?” From then on, Urmila was instructed to address the daughter as “maharani,” or mistress, and her children as “prince” and “princess.” A few days later, the daughter took Urmila with her to an apartment in Katmandu, where she was required to work for 12 people. It would be four years before she saw her parents again, and 11 before she was free.”

Do read the whole thing and see what the old guy above has to say about his persistent use of slave girls.

Workers of The World

If you thought the attacks on workers’ rights were unique to the US, think again:

“European workers too are seeing the erosion of hard-won collective bargaining rights, also as a result of the greed of the bankers, who have emerged from the financial crisis unscathed. In the UK the erosion of bargaining rights is taking place by stealth. Although collective bargaining machinery still exists in local government for example, friends in public service unions tell me it is a long time since they had a collective agreement on pay or on other terms and conditions of employment.

Public sector unions are finding themselves on the sharp end of “section 188 notices”, in which employers issue notices of mass dismissal (of thousands of employees at a time), and offer to re-employ the workers concerned on inferior terms. These new terms are imposed without the agreement of the trade union or the workers, who have no choice but to accept. Sometimes it involves a repudiation of a collective agreement, which the union is powerless to defend. Collective agreements in this country are not legally binding, and the only sanction open to workers and their unions – industrial action – is so fraught with legal dangers as to often be beyond use.

All this is being done under cover of an EU directive that was designed to protect workers facing redundancy by requiring the employer to give as much advance notice as possible and to consult with the union to find alternatives, to reduce numbers to be made redundant, and to ameliorate the consequences. Protective legislation is used as a licence by employers to undermine collective agreements and terms and conditions of employment.

But it is not only in the UK where the bankers are calling the shots. In Greece, workers and trade unions have been told by the European Commission that their labour laws are to be made more flexible, which means their collective agreements must become more decentralised, which means in turn that fewer people are to be protected by collective bargaining.

This marks a global assault on the human rights of workers everywhere. Claims about violations of human rights are not to be made lightly, for fear of devaluing a fragile currency. But workers’ rights are human rights, and the right to bargain collectively is recognised by international law as an essential aspect of the right to freedom of association.

At international level the right to bargain collectively is expressly recognised by the two core conventions of the ILO, the UN agency of which 183 countries are members, all bound by a constitutional principle to promote freedom of association. Conventions fleshing out that principle impose duties on member states, which include a duty to promote collective bargaining.

That principle is embedded not only in international standards, but in regional treaties as well, including the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights of 2000. But although there is now recognition at EU level of the right to bargain collectively, the European Commission is also promoting a “competitiveness pact” designed to reduce employment conditions and eliminate collective bargaining.

These attacks at EU level – undermining the post-80s Social Europe settlement – have attracted little publicity, though they have been strongly condemned. Even the traditionally mild–mannered and consensual ETUC has adopted an uncharacteristically strident position, condemning the EU “competitiveness pact” as an “attack on collective bargaining” leading Europe to a “dead end”.”

And, of course, the right to bargain collectively is in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“Article 23.

  • (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  • (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  • (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  • (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

But this crisis is deeper than just bargaining rights (which is bad enough), as Hannah Jameson notes:

“The financial crisis and ensuing recession have changed attitudes to employment relationships.The decline of trust in business and its societal value have illustrated that employment relationships are not merely of a transactional nature, but intrinsic to identity and well being. Reconnection with employee ownership is an important step for social democrats in winning back the mantle of economic competence. But the renewal of industrial policy for a post-crisis age will require bolder action on workplace democracy, accountability and governance in the wider economy.

Thirty years ago it would have been unimaginable for the centre-left to speak of social democracy without industrial democracy. Throughout the history of the labour movement in Britain, greater democracy in the workplace has been seen as the best means through which to tackle the inequalities of power and resources generated by capitalism, ensure fairer distribution, and empower working people. Whether through cooperatives, mutuals and other forms of employee ownership, trade unions or co-determination, the centre-left held on to the belief that the economy was best governed through democratic cultures and structures. From a social perspective, there was a recognition that the power relations that prevailed in the workplace were intimately connected to power relations in society, and that to meet the needs and aspirations of the electorate, the centre-left must speak to both.”

And although she discusses mostly the UK in her article, some of her points have larger implications:

There is convincing evidence that where employees feel they have a voice and can influence the consequences of change, stress and insecurity are reduced, with positive benefits for health and wellbeing. There is great potential to enhance and strengthen these arrangements by raising awareness, providing funding for the training of representatives, and enhancing links with unions. It would be worth examining whether employee forums could have a role in increasing confidence in fair pay. But again, these structures are only likely to thrive where employees are seen as real stakeholders. Too often employee forums are concerned with issues of work organisation and have little influence on strategic issues, unable to penetrate the board room agenda.

The question for the centre-left is whether to challenge the dichotomy between the domain of politics and the domain of markets in order to take a more developmental approach to the economy and the role of the workplace within it. A centre-left party entering government in the next few years will face considerable pressure to deliver growth, employment and public sector investment, but a return to the economic model of the 1990s is unlikely to deliver the sustainable capitalism on which confidence in Labour’s long-term economic competency will rest. A low-growth economy and changing public attitudes provide grounds on which to formulate a new response, tackling the inequality of power and resources at the source, not solely through a redistributive state.

Different models of ownership will be part of the solution, but the centre-left must be prepared to put in the hard work of developing democratic structures and cultures within workplaces capable of challenging and holding leaders to account. However, the success of democratic structures in influencing decision-making will rest on the extent to which they are seen as true stakeholders; for this, further reform of corporate governance will be necessary.

Work is not only a means of securing wages and adequate living standards; it is an intrinsic source of satisfaction and a core part of the growing interest in issues of quality of life and human satisfaction. Making such a reconnection between the domain of politics and markets might enable the centre-left in Britain to attain a new radicalism and a new vibrancy, forging a new economic settlement for the post-crisis age.”

Center-left… something missing in the US.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Today, Jay Livingston deplored the lack of respect that sociologists get compared to “real” scientists:

“Duncan Watts, in a Scientific American Q & A, describes how other people’s perceptions of him changed – good-bye Einstein, hello Rodney Dangerfield:

I started out life in physics and then mathematics, and at some point I switched over to become a sociologist—and in the process of transitioning, I noticed this interesting phenomenon: When people perceived me as a mathematician, and I would describe my research, they would say, “Wow, that’s really fascinating. How do you figure these things out? It’s complicated and difficult.” But when a few years later I was describing the same work in terms of social phenomena and the behavior of people, fads and historical events, success and failure, and so on, people would say, “That sounds kind of obvious. Don’t we all know that?”

It’s probably because we study people. Everybody has a working theory– probably several theories – about why people do what they do. Those ideas are dime a dozen. Ah, but scientists . . .

When someone tries to explain to us how electrons behave, we think it’s amazing and completely unintuitive, but when we explain how people behave, it always seems trivial.”

Incidentally, or maybe not so incidentally, über-sociologist Zygmunt Bauman makes a related point in a column in the Social Europe Journal, on the topic of inequalities:

““The Spirit Level”, the eye-opening Richard Wilkinson’s and Kate Pickett’s study that demonstrated and explained why “greater equality makes societies stronger”, is at long last beginning to worm its way into the American public opinion (thanks Nicholas D. Kristoff’s comment in the New Year issue of the NYT). The delay all the more thought-provoking, as for the US, the country firmly perched at the very top of the global premier league of inequality (according to the latest statistics, the wealthiest one per cent of Americans masters more wealth than the bottom ninety per cent), and one that supplied the researchers with the most extreme instances of inequality’s collateral damages, Wilkinson-Pickett’s message should have sounded most urgent and closest to the red-alarm level.

Even at this late stage Kristoff prefers to introduce the authors of the study to the American readers as “distinguished British epidemiologists” (rather than connecting them to social studies, redolent as they are in the opinion of American opinion leaders of the condemnable and contemptible leftist-liberal bias and for that reason dismissed before being heard, let alone listened to). Guided probably by the same prudent caution, Kristoff quotes from the reviewed study mostly the data concerning macaques and the relations between low- and high-status macaques and other, unnamed “monkeys”. And having quoted for support John Steinbeck’s sentence on the “sad soul” that is able to “kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ”, he placates the possible alarm of readers spying out a tax-hike menace, and pre-empts their violent protests, by setting the bad news in the less wallet-threatening order: the toll of inequality, he points out, is “not just economic but also a melancholy of the soul”. He admits though, even if is a somewhat round-about and innocuous way, that “economic” it is as well, when pointing out that the choice is between less inequality and more prisons and police – both alternatives known all too well to be costly in rates-of-tax terms.

Inequality is bad not as such, not because of its own injustice, inhumanity, immorality and life-destroying potential, but for making souls bad and melancholic… And for its morbid connection with biology, now finally scientifically confirmed: “humans become stressed when they find themselves at the bottom of a hierarchy. That stress leads to biological changes” like the accumulation of abdominal fat, heart disease, self-destructive behaviour and (sic!) … persistent poverty. Now, finally, we know, as endorsed and certified by distinguished scientists unsuspected of wicked sympathies and illicit connections, why some people are sunk in misery and why, unlike us, they can neither avoid sinking in it nor climb out of it once sunk. This scientific finding comes, at long last, as the much needed sweetener in the bitter reminder of our world-record inequality: the silver lining under that particularly nasty and threateningly murky cloud. It’s all biology, stupid!”

Here is my explanation for this: with the economic recession, and the middle class taking a beating, we, sociologists, could be all “we told you so!”. But because we are a subordinate subject in our field (whether that field is the social sciences or academia), the logic of the field would be challenged if it were acknowledged that we were right and other disciplines were wrong or missed the increasing inequalities entirely (*cough*psychology*cough) and their deep consequences.

So, even though sociologists have been clamored about increasing inequalities for a while, it is only once REAL scientists concur that the phenomenon is acknowledged and deemed worthy of public debate, except, of course, that said debate is depoliticized and desocialized.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go work out that accumulated abdominal fat.

Prejudice and Discrimination

One of the things I emphasize in my lectures on prejudice and discrimination, it is their arbitrariness presented as natural (often because based on biology), but if races are socially constructed out of physical characteristics (that have no social or individual properties in and of itself), we could just as well create “races” based on height.

Here is a nice (and satirical) illustration from the Catherine Tate Show: