Doug McAdam on #OWS

Via Alex Trillo, here:

“”If all that happens is those groups continue to try to occupy public space to express outrage, this dissipates relatively quickly,” said Doug McAdam, a professor of sociology at Stanford and an expert on social movements. “Lots of movements start out as more expressions of outrage or frustration, but that does not sustain a movement.”

While Occupy has changed the national conversation, McAdam said “two months do not a movement make.”

As Occupy approaches a fork in the movement-building road, experts and veterans compared it to other social movements as it confronts its challenges.

“People are not going to invest time and energy to come to demonstrations that don’t appear to be linked to specific outcomes,” McAdam said.


“Some movements are born with very specific goals,” McAdam said. “But lots of them are as amorphous and broadly expressive as the Occupy protest.”

The 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott was intended to be a one-day, localized action, McAdam said. But when many more people participated than even organizers expected, it carried forward, with specific goals in mind. It eventually lasted for 381 days.

“We typically look back at any of these movements as united top-down efforts,” he said. “But the civil rights movement was a collection of local struggles.”

There have been Occupy protests in more than 1,000 cities. But for the movement to flourish, suburbia needs to embrace it on its own terms.

Those at the front of the modern women’s movement in the 1960s, McAdam said, “were radical left feminists” who were “culturally anathema to middle-class suburban women.”

But “they highlighted and made visible and salient a general concern about issues about gender discrimination. And lots of women could identify with that even if they weren’t about to go out to some angry demonstration and throw bras in a trash can.”

Exposing The New Sociopathy

So, of course, everyone and their brothers is talking about this article by Joe Nocera:

“On Friday, the law firm of Steven J. Baum threw a Halloween party. The firm, which is located near Buffalo, is what is commonly referred to as a “foreclosure mill” firm, meaning it represents banks and mortgage servicers as they attempt to foreclose on homeowners and evict them from their homes. Steven J. Baum is, in fact, the largest such firm in New York; it represents virtually all the giant mortgage lenders, including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

The party is the firm’s big annual bash. Employees wear Halloween costumes to the office, where they party until around noon, and then return to work, still in costume. I can’t tell you how people dressed for this year’s party, but I can tell you about last year’s.

That’s because a former employee of Steven J. Baum recently sent me snapshots of last year’s party. In an e-mail, she said that she wanted me to see them because they showed an appalling lack of compassion toward the homeowners — invariably poor and down on their luck — that the Baum firm had brought foreclosure proceedings against.

When we spoke later, she added that the snapshots are an accurate representation of the firm’s mind-set. “There is this really cavalier attitude,” she said. “It doesn’t matter that people are going to lose their homes.” Nor does the firm try to help people get mortgage modifications; the pressure, always, is to foreclose.”

Is anyone really surprised by this? If anything, what the current economic crisis have made plainly clear is the sociopathic nature of the system that trickled down to individual behavior. I blogged about this several times here, here and here.

And there were clues to this sociopathy even before the collapse of 2008. Remember this?

This was a taste of things to come. The behavior of the traders, and their socially-acceptable sociopathy is something that I also discussed a while back here, here, and here, using as a basis this excellent post by Denis Colombi. Which is why it is somewhat ironic that the truth about neoliberal governance comes from a trader:

And, again, these photos (in response to Occupy Wall Street) have also made the rounds and are pointing in the same direction:

It is not hard to grasp the symbolic nature of these images, where the Cloud Minders are having a good laugh, drinking on the job, while looking down at the Troglytes.

Of course, what they are laughing is not so much a bunch of hippies on the ground. They are laughing at this:

“Greeks are seeing an unprecedented collapse in their standard of living. The official unemployment rate is 16.5 per cent, but the real number out of a job is believed to be much higher. Sitting in Father Christodoulos’s office is ‘Makis’ Prothremos Kastikidis, an unemployed shipyard worker who now helps organise the distribution of food by the church. Some 4,000 people lost their jobs when his yard closed three years ago and he says 90 per cent are still jobless. His own situation is becoming desperate. The electricity, water and gas in his apartment have been cut off for non-payment of bills, and, since he has no money, he has reconnected them illegally. “I still can’t pay the mortgage,” he says. “The future is very dark.”

For some in Athens the darkness is already closing in. Beside a park in the centre of Athens, Mary Pini, a journalist by profession, comes six days a week to organise the feeding of a thousand people. The distribution of food, managed and organised by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Athens, the Anglican Church and the Nigerian community, started off at Easter 2009 as a temporary measure to feed out of work immigrants. Ms Pini says that at first she fed immigrants, homeless and drug addicts “but now 35 per cent of the people who come here are Greeks, and they are just the sort of people who might be your next door neighbour.”

There is no doubt that the people she is feeding are hungry. As they crowd around her snatching at loaves of bread she is taking out of cardboard box, Ms Pini shouts at them to get back in line. Others who have already received their ration sit in a nearby park and wolf down food from tin foil containers. “I think things will get a lot worse,” she says. “They’ve taxed Greeks too much and they can’t survive on the money they get.” Even before the crisis Greece was one of the poorest and most unequal of the Eurozone countries and safety nets for the poor are limited Ms Pini complains that “help, which the government should have provided, has been left to the NGOs and the church.”

Sitting close by was a woman who gives her name as Elena and spoke fluent English with a strong American accent. She said “I was brought up in New York and in Belgium and my father, who was Greek, later admitted it was the worst mistake in his life when he brought me back here as a young girl.” She has lived for the last 25 years in Greece and, until 2009, though she speaks French as well as Greek and English, had a job in a cake factory, but was laid off. She worked for a company giving out leaflets in the street advertising shops, but her employers kept on not paying her. She says “it is very difficult to get a job here and Greece is worst place in Europe to be unemployed.” Mary, her sick husband and their seven year daughter come to the feeding point to be sure of at least one meal a day. “They let my daughter sit in their office so she doesn’t see all the people grabbing for food,” she says. “People like us never saw any of the money the government borrowed.”

Greeks of every kind agree that the economic depression is getting worse and the government is incapable of providing solutions. George Tzogopoulos, an expert on the Greek media and public opinion at the Bodossakis Foundation think tank in Athens, says the message from the public is that “the politicians who led Greece into the crisis cannot save the country.”

He believes one of the problems is that the Greek media portrays the crisis as the fault of foreigners intent on dominating the country. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a favourite target. Conspiracy theories abound, explaining why Greece has been singled out for punishment. “If you look at the Greek media you would not think we were not responsible in any way for what happened,” he says. “It never portrays the crisis as an opportunity for Greece to change.”

Austerity measures insisted upon by the Troika – the EU Commission, the European Central Bank and IMF – have been introduced, but not the structural reforms that are part of the same package. Greece is still a long way from cutting the size of its Byzantine state machine and forcing the wealthiest 20 per cent of Greeks to pay taxes.”

They are also laughing at this (which entrenches their power):

“Economists and political scientists believe the US has entered a new Gilded Age, a period of systematic inequality dominated by a new class of super-rich. The only difference is that, this time around, the super-rich are hedge fund managers and financial magnates instead of oil and rail barons.


Even for a country that loves extremes, this is a new and unprecedented development. Indeed, as Hacker and Pierson see it, the United States has developed into a “winner-take-all economy.”

The political scientists analyzed statistics and studies concerning income development and other economic data from the last decades. They conclude that: “A generation ago, the United States was a recognizable, if somewhat more unequal, member of the cluster of affluent democracies known as mixed economies, where fast growth was widely shared. No more. Since around 1980, we have drifted away from that mixed-economy cluster, and traveled a considerable distance toward another: the capitalist oligarchies, like Brazil, Mexico, and Russia, with their much greater concentration of economic bounty.”

This 1 percent of American society now controls more than half of the country’s stocks and securities. And while the middle class is once again grappling with a lost decade that failed to bring increases in income, the high earners in the financial industry have raked in sometimes breathtaking sums. For example, the average income for securities traders has steadily climbed to $360,000 a year.

Still, that’s nothing compared to the trend in executives’ salaries. In 1980, American CEOs earned 42 times more than the average employee. Today, that figure has skyrocketed to more than 300 times. Last year, 25 of the country’s highest-paid CEOs earned more than their companies paid in taxes.

By way of comparison, top executives at the 30 blue-chip companies making up Germany’s DAX stock market index rarely earn over 100 times the salaries of their low-level employees, and that figure is often around 30 or 40 times.


In a medium-term, the consequences of this societal divide threaten the productivity of the entire economy. Granted, American economists in particular have long espoused the view that inequality is simply a necessary side effect of above-average growth. But that position is now being called into question.

In fact, recent research indicates that the economies of countries experiencing periods of pronounced inequality often show considerably less growth and more instability. On the other hand, it also finds that economies grow faster when income is more evenly distributed.

In a study published in September, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) also concluded that: “The recent global economic crisis, with its roots in US financial markets, may have resulted, in part at least, from the increase in inequality” in the country.


Differences between rich and poor are tolerated as long as the rags-to-riches story of the dishwasher-turned-millionaire remains theoretically possible. But studies show that increasing inequality and political control concentrated in the hands of the wealthy elite have drastically reduced economic mobility and that the US has long since fallen far behind Europe on this issue. Indeed, only 4 percent of less-well-off Americans ever successfully make the leap into the upper-middle class.”

Bonus visual:

And such consolidation of wealth has also been accompanied by corporate concentration:

“AS PROTESTS against financial power sweep the world this week, science may have confirmed the protesters’ worst fears. An analysis of the relationships between 43,000 transnational corporations has identified a relatively small group of companies, mainly banks, with disproportionate power over the global economy.

The study’s assumptions have attracted some criticism, but complex systems analysts contacted by New Scientist say it is a unique effort to untangle control in the global economy. Pushing the analysis further, they say, could help to identify ways of making global capitalism more stable.


Previous studies have found that a few TNCs own large chunks of the world’s economy, but they included only a limited number of companies and omitted indirect ownerships, so could not say how this affected the global economy – whether it made it more or less stable, for instance.

The Zurich team can. From Orbis 2007, a database listing 37 million companies and investors worldwide, they pulled out all 43,060 TNCs and the share ownerships linking them. Then they constructed a model of which companies controlled others through shareholding networks, coupled with each company’s operating revenues, to map the structure of economic power.

The work, to be published in PLoS One, revealed a core of 1318 companies with interlocking ownerships (see image). Each of the 1318 had ties to two or more other companies, and on average they were connected to 20. What’s more, although they represented 20 per cent of global operating revenues, the 1318 appeared to collectively own through their shares the majority of the world’s large blue chip and manufacturing firms – the “real” economy – representing a further 60 per cent of global revenues.

When the team further untangled the web of ownership, it found much of it tracked back to a “super-entity” of 147 even more tightly knit companies – all of their ownership was held by other members of the super-entity – that controlled 40 per cent of the total wealth in the network. “In effect, less than 1 per cent of the companies were able to control 40 per cent of the entire network,” says Glattfelder. Most were financial institutions. The top 20 included Barclays Bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co, and The Goldman Sachs Group.

It’s their world. We just live in it.

The Visual Du Jour – Class Warfare Winners and Losers

Nothing random or “just happened because of [robotization / technology / globalization]”, this was accomplished through policy over decades, Structure / History / Power, people, never forget the SHiP!

Back to the good ol’ days, again:

And one more time:

And with a touch more details;

At least, now, it seems a few people are paying attention to these levels of inequalities.

Even more:

“IT’S a puzzle: one dispossessed group after another — blacks, women, Hispanics and gays — has been gradually accepted in the United States, granted equal rights and brought into the mainstream.

At the same time, in economic terms, the United States has gone from being a comparatively egalitarian society to one of the most unequal democracies in the world.

The two shifts are each huge and hugely important: one shows a steady march toward democratic inclusion, the other toward a tolerance of economic stratification that would have been unthinkable a generation ago.


Inequality and inclusion are both as American as apple pie, says Jerome Karabel, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of “The Chosen,” about the history of admission to Harvard, Yale and Princeton. “I don’t think any advanced democracy is as obsessed with equality of opportunity or as relatively unconcerned with equality of condition,” he says. “As long as everyone has a chance to compete, we shouldn’t worry about equality. Equality of condition is seen as undesirable, even un-American.”

The long history of racial discrimination represented an embarrassing contradiction — and a serious threat — to our national story of equal opportunity. With Jim Crow laws firmly in place it was hard to seriously argue that everyone had an equal chance. Civil rights leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were able to use this tradition to draw support to their causes. “Given our culture of equality of opportunity, these kinds of rights-based arguments are almost impossible to refute,” Professor Karabel said. “Even in today’s conservative political climate, opponents of gay rights are losing ground.”


Moreover, inequality has grown partly for reasons that have little or nothing to do with inclusion. Almost all advanced industrial societies — even Sweden — have become more unequal. But the United States has become considerably more unequal. In Europe, the rights of labor have remained more central, while the United States has seen the rise of identity politics.

“There is much less class-based organization in the U.S,” said Professor Karabel. “Race, gender and sexual orientation became the salient cleavages of American political life. And if you look at it — blacks, Hispanics and women have gained somewhat relative to the population as a whole, but labor as a category has lost ground. The groups that mobilized — blacks, Hispanics, women — made gains. But white male workers, who demobilized politically, lost ground.”


Removing the most blatant forms of discrimination, ironically, made it easier to justify keeping whatever rewards you could obtain through the new, supposedly more meritocratic system. “Greater inclusiveness was a precondition for greater economic stratification,” said Professor Karabel. “It strengthened the system, reinvigorated its ideology — it is much easier to defend gains that appear to be earned through merit. In a meritocracy, inequality becomes much more acceptable.”


Inequality has traditionally been acceptable to Americans if accompanied by mobility. But most recent studies of economic mobility indicate that it is getting even harder for people to jump from one economic class to another in the United States, harder to join the elite. While Americans are used to considering equal opportunity and equality of condition as separate issues, they may need to reconsider.”

White Saviors

We white people love to rescue poor, yet hard-working, and therefore deserving (by our own criteria) black people. And we love to have these stories to us in movies, like Blood Diamond, The Blind Side or The Help. We love these movies because they are conveniently guilt-free: the poor, deserving blacks, victims of their own dysfunctional culture (domestic violence in the Help, war in Sierra Leone for Blood Diamond, and generally messed-up black culture in the Blind Side), get the help they need from nice, kind white people (as opposed to the token nasty racist whites that provide a nice moral counter-point). The deserving blacks also get their negative counter-points in the form of “bad” black characters. In the process, of course, the white saviors get their own moral enlightenment thanks to the black people they help.

No discussion whatsoever of institutional racism and discrimination and the fact that racism is not just a few mean, racist white people doing racist stuff.

Case in point:

“If you’re an African girl in trouble, there are only two things you can rely on. Your courage … and Nicholas Kristof. At least, that’s what Kristof would have us believe.

The story Kristof tells is the story he’s told before. This time he’s in Sierra Leone. A 15-year-old girl named Fulamatu is raped by her neighbor. This happens repeatedly, and Fulamatu remains in terrified and terrorized silence. She loses weight, becomes sick. Finally, when two girls report that the pastor had tried to rape them, Fulamatu’s parents put two and two together, and asked their daughter, who reports the whole series of events. They take her to the doctor, where she is found to have gonorrhea. Fulamatu lays charges against the pastor, who flees.

That’s where Kristof comes in.

Fulamatu has the idea of having Kristof arrange, by phone, to meet with the pastor. The pastor shows up. The police arrest him. But it doesn’t end there. The pastor’s family comes to Fulamatu’s parents and begs forgiveness. The father agrees. The mother agrees. Then the mother “offers” to send Fulamatu away, to a distant village, one without a school. Then the father kicks the daughter out, but `fortunately’ Fulamatu has Kristof’s cell phone. She calls him just before the parents take the phone away. Later, Fulamatu is let, begrudgingly, back into the house, but the situation remains `fluid.’

This story is framed as part of the crisis of sexual violence, and child rape in particular, in Sierra Leone, in a delicate post-conflict zone. The only problem is that, except for the presence of celebrity witnesses, this story takes place across the United States, across Canada, across Europe. Girls are raped by family friends and by family members … everywhere. More often than not, they stay silent, sometimes forever. If they do speak, they are regularly abandoned or betrayed by surrounding adults who should care, from adult family members to police to the courts to the community and neighborhood, and beyond.

More disturbing is Kristof’s solution. He argues for US Congressional passage for the International Violence Against Women Act, but his story suggests a more important line of action. The story says, if you’re Black and a girl, in `a place like Sierra Leone’, you better have the phone number of a prominent White American Male. You need Nicholas Kristof.

That solution conveniently ignores, or erases, Sierra Leonean history. Fulamatu is indeed a courageous girl, and she is part of a history, in Sierra Leone, of courageous, hard working, truth telling, peace making girls and women. Some are in public office, like Jariatu Kamara or Mary Musa. Some are in groups that monitor public processes and empower and education women into becoming and remaining office holders, such as the 50.50 Group, a partner of WIPSEN – Africa, founded and led by Leymah Gbowee. Some of them are young women in their own movements, like Elizabeth M. Katta, of Young Voices, an organization that pushed the Sierra Leone government, in 2009, to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Some are advocates and attorneys, like Sabrina Mahtani, who work with women prisoners, to secure due process and, often, freedom. Some are businesswomen, like Admire Bio, pushing and shoving to close the gender gap … and then some. Some are village women, like Yatta Gambai, who journeyed to India to study how to bring solar energy back to the villages and now are doing just that.

Some are peacemakers, like the members of the Women’s Movement for Peace in Sierra Leone or the unnamed hundreds of Sierra Leonean women who journeyed to the Great Lakes region of the Democratic Republic of Congo to march for peace, to march for an end to violence against women. Some are women, like Hawa, struggling with a health care system that, on one hand, is free and, on the other, still doesn’t deliver, especially when it comes to pregnant women and girls. Some are women farmers, targeted by major land grabs, struggling to resist and do better than survive. Not one by one. In groups and movements.

Sierra Leone is a tough place for women and girls, maybe among the worst. But that does not mean that the courageous ones are alone, any more than anywhere else, or that they’re waiting for Nicholas Kristof’s phone number. Another narrative is possible.”

Another narrative is certainly possible but it is what privilege does: it lets some people (based on class, race and gender) set the terms of the narratives that will be propagated in the culture.

Whaddaya Know… Moral Entrepreneurs Really Should Have STFU

As I recommended they do during the British riots… let’s go to the data:

“The Ministry of Justice’s statistical report published yesterday into the riots must bring misery to the ears of those like Michael Gove who wished to argue that the root causes of the riots was a lack of morals and values and not poverty. The government’s own figures show that the rioters were in general less educated, young, and ultimately poor.


For me the rioters resembled more the people I grew up with than the people I attended University with. Of course, there are poor people who do not engage in crime, I was one, but as any criminologist worth their salt will tell you, those more likely to engage in the sort of crime that we saw in the riots, are those with less to lose. And if the above evidence proves anything, it is that those with the least to lose, were certainly those who lived in areas of London where rioting took place.

Oscar Wilde once wrote that: “There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor. The poor can think of nothing else. That is the misery of being poor.” The misery of the likes of Michael Gove is their inability to see such misery.”

As a general rule, any moral argument advanced to explain social phenomenon usually amounts to little more than privilege protection and never leads to reasoned public policy but increased discipline against the disadvantaged.

Zygmunt Bauman on Parasitic Logic


“The news of capitalism’s demise is (to borrow from Mark Twain) somewhat exaggerated. Capitalism has an inbuilt wondrous capacity of resurrection and regeneration; though this is capacity of a kind shared with parasites – organisms that feed on other organisms, belonging to other species. After a complete or near-complete exhaustion of one host organism, a parasite tends and manages to find another, that would supply it with life juices for a successive, albeit also limited, stretch of time.

A hundred years ago Rosa Luxemburg grasped that secret of the eerie, phoenix-like ability of capitalism to rise, repeatedly, from the ashes; an ability that leaves behind a track of devastation – the history of capitalism is marked by the graves of living organisms sucked of their life juices to exhaustion. Luxemburg, however, confined the set of organisms, lined up for the outstanding visits of the parasite, to “pre-capitalist economies” – whose number was limited and steadily shrinking under the impact of the ongoing imperialist expansion.

With each successive visit, another one of those remaining “virgin lands” was converted into a grazing field for capitalist exploitation, and therefore sooner rather than later made unfit for the needs of capitalist “extended reproduction” since no longer promising profits such an expansion required. Thinking along these lines (a fully understandable inclination, given the mostly territorial, extensive rather than intensive, lateral rather than vertical, nature of that expansion 100 years ago), Luxemburg could not but anticipate the natural limits to the conceivable duration of the capitalist system: once all “virgin lands” of the globe are conquered and drawn into the treadmill of capitalist recycling, the absence of new lands for exploitation will portend and eventually enforce the collapse of the system. The parasite will die because of the absence of not-yet-exhausted organisms to feed on.

Today capitalism has already reached the global dimension, or at any rate has come very close to reaching it – a feat that for Luxemburg was still a somewhat distant prospect. Is therefore Luxemburg’s prediction close to fulfilment? I do not think it is. What has happened in the last half a century or so is capitalism learning the previously unknown and unimagined art of producing ever new “virgin lands”, instead of limiting its rapacity to the set of the already existing ones. That new art – made possible by the shift from the “society of producers” to the “society of consumers”, and from the meeting of capital and labour to the meeting of commodity and client as the principal source of “added value” – profit and accumulation consists mostly of the progressive commodification of life functions, market mediation in successive needs’ satisfaction and substituting desire for need in the role of the fly-wheel of the profit-aimed economy.

The current crisis derives from the exhaustion of an artificially created “virgin land”; one built out of the millions stuck in the “culture of saving books” instead of “culture of credit cards”; in other words, out of the millions of people too shy to spend the yet-unearned money, living on credit, taking loans and paying interest. Exploitation of that particular “virgin land” is now by and large over and it has been left now to the politicians to clean up the debris left by the bankers’ feast; that task has been removed from the realm of bankers’ responsibility into the dustbin of “political problems” and recast belatedly from an economic issue into the question of (to quote the German chancellor, Angela Merkel) “political will”. But one is entitled to surmise that in the offices of capitalism hard labour is focused on constructing new “virgin lands” – though also burdened with the curse of fairly limited life expectancy, given the parasitic nature of capitalism.

Capitalism proceeds through creative destruction. What is created is capitalism in a “new and improved” form – and what is destroyed is self-sustaining capacity, livelihood and dignity of its innumerable and multiplied “host organisms” into which all of us are drawn/seduced one way or another.”

It is not entirely hard to see where the new “virgin lands” are: financial products, public education, public finances, and the last few areas not yet ruled by oil and financial capital.

The (Selective) Medicalization of Deviance

This is interesting (H/T DC Blogger over at Corrente):

“A 21-year-old Occupy Wall Street demonstrator caused quite the ruckus early this morning, when he scaled a 70-foot sculpture in New York’s Zuccotti Park, refusing to come down until Mayor Michael Bloomberg resigned.

Dylan Spoelstra of Canada climbed the park’s signature red sculpture around 6 a.m. He sat on a metal platform for three hours, with his feet dangling, as police cleared the surrounding area and tried to talk him down.

Around 9 a.m., Spoelstra was seen descending the sculpture in a police crane, looking jovial, with his arm around the officer who helped him down.

Once on the ground, Spaelstra was placed in handcuffs and transported to Bellevue Hospital, where he was to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, according to a police spokesman.”

Apparently, no one understands performance art or performance stunts as part of the repertoire of contention.

Obviously, a VERY deranged person:

However, the threshold for craziness that needs psychiatric evaluation is rather flexible. The person below was NOT taken to Bellevue. I wonder why:

The answer is, of course, only people who challenge the larger social structure (with its distribution of power, its ideological underpinnings and supportive institutions) get to be classified as deviant, or the more “humane” and medicalized label of “emotionally disturbed” and treated accordingly (remember Gulag Archipelago?).

On the other hand, supporting the existing system and the current distribution of social privileges is rationalized and normalized, and not treated as a pathological category.

The occupation movement is a systemic challenge and therefore, it gets to be depicted in all sorts of demeaning ways in the media (whose role is to provide already-mentioned ideological underpinnings): no clear message, confused people, hippies, dirty and smelly, weird, and now, mentally ill.

On the other hand, the Tea Party movement is of the “suck-up / kick-down” category and therefore gets to have its grievances treated with serious concern and granted legitimacy. This movement presents no challenge whatsoever to established structures.

The Visual Du Jour – Successfully Turning Back The Clock

Hurray! We’re back to Depression-era stratification levels… Neoliberal mission accomplished:

As the article notes;

“As you’ll notice, from the 1950s onwards, income distribution in the US remained broadly stable until the Thatcher-Reagan revolution. The neoliberal policies pursued by the Reagan administration – tax cuts for the wealthy (the top rate of tax was reduced from 50 per cent to 28 per cent), deregulation and privatisation, led to a dramatic rise in inequality.


As for the UK, we’re not doing much better. The richest 10 per cent now receives 31 per cent of national income and owns almost half of the country’s personal assets, while the poorest 10 per cent takes home just 1 per cent of the total income. The coalition’s decision to rely on spending cuts (which hit the poorest hardest), rather than tax rises, to reduce the deficit will inevitably widen the gap. Conservatives may criticise the Occupy London movement but they cannot deny that it reflects a grim empirical reality.”

Bystander Apathy 2.0 – Chinese Edition

By now, this video has made the rounds. Don’t watch if you don’t have a strong stomach. What is in there is a 2-year-old getting run over by a truck. The driver stops, then starts again and drives away, running her over a second time with the rear wheels. Then, a whole bunch of people just walk by (18 as filmed by surveillance cameras), swerving to avoid her body but nobody stops until a garbage worker does and the girl’s mother shows up, picks her up and walks away.

The scene took place in Foshan, one of these growing industrial cities in the Guangdong province. Of course, as reminiscent as this is of the Kitty Genovese case, that is often related to bystander effect and diffusion of responsibility (the lower probability of individuals offering assistance as the number of bystanders grows), this particular case is more shocking due to the fact that it’s a 2-year old.

Most explanations for this have actually centered on the fact that this area is populated with a lot of workers uprooted from rural areas and recently urbanized. So, we are getting an updated version of Ferdinand Tönnies’s idea of different modes of social integration: Gemeinschaft (the community mode of integration where ties are based on personal knowledge and similarities and where community needs might take precedence over individual preferences) as opposed to Gesellschaft (the association mode of integration, based on impersonal ties and where individualism is more likely to prevail).

The argument is that as people are uprooted from their rural communities and move on to the development zones of China, their Gemeinschaft ties disappear, to be replaced with more impersonal Gesellschaft ties where individuals are more likely to pursue their self-interest. This includes the relative indifference with which the different bystanders treat the dying / dead girl even as they acknowledge her presence, by swerving to avoid her body.

This phenomenon is not culturally specific. This bystander effect is constantly at work in many place, from the unconscious homeless people we step over, not stopping to check if he’s asleep, passed out, or dead in European cities, to the mentally ill woman, left to grovel on the ground in the middle of a busy market I witnessed in Livingstone, Zambia.

Connell / Dubet Convergence – Why We Need Sociology

It is quite interesting that, no the heels of my post on the selection of Francois Dubet as my sociologist of the semester, I have just received my copy of Raewyn Connell’s latest book, Confronting Equality: Gender, Knowledge and Global Change, which deals with exactly the topic of my Dubet post: why we need the social sciences, and especially sociology.

Having just read the introduction to Connell’s book (edited version here, thanks, Mark Bahnisch), the convergence with Dubet’s “manifesto” for sociology is striking, especially considering how different their respective trajectories are:

“We have a global social problem. Ecological crisis and injustice can only be solved by social action and institutional change.


Across a broad range of other issues, people grappling with practical dilemmas need to understand large-scale social processes. Women in organizations facing the ‘glass ceiling’, teachers troubled about over-surveillance of their work, activists dealing with domestic violence, knowledge workers grappling with marginality, all are stronger if they have reliable knowledge about how the problems arose and why they are intractable.


We need social science because social processes shape human destinies. If we are to to take control of our future, we need to understand society as much as we need to understand the atmosphere, the earth, and men and women’s bodies.

There are many dubious interpretations of the social world on offer. There is market ideology, where every problem has the same solution – private property and unrestrained markets. There is ‘virtual sociology’ (skewered by Judith Stacey in her recent book Unhitched) where pressure-groups select the research results they like, ignore the ones they don’t, and so present their own prejudices as scientific findings. The most enjoyable pseudoscience is the pop sociology of market research firms: Generation X, Generation Y, the creative class, the mommy track, the metrosexuals, the sensitive new-age guy, the new traditionals, the aspirationals, the sea-changers… The names usually define faintly recognizable types, or at any rate marketing strategies, and the audience in wealthy countries fill in the details for themselves.

Social science is harder. It is slower. Knowledge grows by a collective process of exploration that is complex and uncertain.


Social practices – including labour, care, and struggle – are endlessly bringing new realities into existence. This is easily said, difficult to keep in mind. It is easier to think of the world as composed of things that we bump against like rocks – a family, a bank, a population, capitalism, patriarchy.

But the storm of time keeps blowing: not only destroying what previously appeared solid, but creating and destroying and creating again. (…) Our collective actions, shaped by social structures precipitated from the past, make the social world we are moving into. And this social world is not a performative illusion, it becomes new fact. Social practice is generative, fecund, rich in real consequences.

This is frightening, as many of the consequences are dire. The last hundred years have generated the most intense moments of violence (Kursk, Hiroshima) and the worst famines in human history, as well as the deepening disaster of climate change. Yet, the same century has seen the greatest-ever increase in literacy and the greatest increase in expectations of life. Huge empires have been dismantled; there has been an unprecedented struggle towards gender equality; there is tremendous cultural inventiveness, even in very poor and disrupted communities.” (2-5)

And like Dubet, Connell equally celebrates the empirical and methodologically-diverse nature of the social sciences.

And Connell, again, mirrors Dubet’s argument:

“For some years sociologists have been debating Michael Burawoy’s (2005) idea of ‘public sociology’. In that debate, public sociology figures as a choice for the social scientists (Clawson et al. 2007). I would put the emphasis the other way around: social science is a necessity for the public. In a world where massive social institutions and social structures shape the fate of huge populations, participatory democracy needs powerful and accurate knowledge about society. Only with this knowledge can collective decisions be made that steer our societies on the dangerous grounds of the future.

I am not suggesting that social science can be a political movement. It is a type of intellectual work, nothing more. But nothing less. It is work which produces a kind of knowledge that has become vital. Clarity and depth of understanding on social issues matter more than ever.” (6)

Somewhat related to this topic, you might want to check Dan Hirshman’s post on 10 things sociologists know that you don’t, as well as Todd Schoepflin’s “letter” to parents of sociology majors.

Otherwise, as the old saying goes, societies: γνώθι σαυτόν.

And let’s all make good use of the Durkheimian injunction to explain the social by the social.

Also: read every Connell book you can get your hands on. Seriously.