No Racial Profiling at All… Nothing to See… Moving Right Along…

Paging Todd Krohn, my favorite critical criminologist, about this:

Let us review: Blacks and Hispanics may show up in higher proportion in crime statistics NOT because they commit more street crimes, but because they are subjected to police scrutiny to an extent disproportionate to their proportion in the general population. If cops were constantly monitoring us white folks that way, the crime statistics would look different.

The constant stopping and frisking of certain segments of the population also generates resentment in said population and lowers the respect they have for police officers perceived as harassing them. Hence, community – police interactions are also more likely to be conflictual.

For Pete’s sake, don’t they read The Saints and the Roughnecks in criminal justice programs anymore?

Saints and Roughnecks Excerpt

Book Review – Inside Toyland

Among the sociological topics I like reading about, I particularly enjoy sociology of labor, especially those based on deep ethnographic work combining micro-analysis of social relationships in the workplace with macro-analysis of structural inequalities.

So, this is why when my colleague Mike recommended Christine L. Williams‘s Inside Toyland: Working, Shopping, and Social Inequality, it was a no-brainer for me to jump on that book. It also has to do with the fact that I am always on the lookout for potential sociological readings for my freshmen / Sophomore classes.

For this audience, good qualitative sociological work is often much more palatable than peer-reviewed articles with incomprehensible statistics (for their level). Part of it is because I remember, as a first year student, how refreshing it was to read Howard S. Becker’s Outsiders or anything by Goffman compared to Lazarsfeld.

Inside Toyland is an ethnography of work in toy retail. Williams spent time working at two different toy stores, catering to different social classes and therefore with different normative expectations of what service is and of employee relations. It is a book that is a rather quick read, with very little jargon but a lot of sociological content as Williams closely relates her ethnographic experience with social theories and works relating to her work. One will find references to Bourdieu’s cultural capital and habitus as well as domination, alongside Hochschild’s classical study of emotional labor and time bind, among many others. But overall, the writing is fairly informal and the insertion of a lot of examples from her field notes breaks up the reading in pleasant ways.

Inside Toyland is a rather short book but it covers all the bases of sociology of work and labor relations. Williams addresses a multiplicity of topics from changes in the US workforce, to the stratification within each toy store along with the privileges associated with each status. The book deals with class, gender and racial issues in the workplace within and between stores as structural inequalities are a major topic. It does a great job of exposing the invisible flip side of racial discrimination: white privilege and the naturalization of white entitlement.

But the book is also a study in the sociology of consumption, that is, not simply where people buy toys (by social class, for instance) but also what and how people consume toys and the various meanings and social relations symbolized through toy consumption.

In other words, Inside Toyland covers all the aspects I emphasize to my students in terms of the sociological imagination: SHiP, structure, history and power. In that last respect, the book goes into some details into the ways in which management tries to control shop floor workers (associates) in contrast to the ways in which associates find ways to resist such attempts at control and how social interactions in the workplace contribute to the reproduction to social inequalities on the macro level.

The fact that the ethnographic locus of the book is toy stores also means that there is a lot in the book about parent-children relationship (with obligatory reference to Lareau) based on social class, within the context of US individualistic and consumerist culture. Overall, the book shows how much Lareau’s class-based parenting styles are incarnated in shopping practices.

As I mentioned above, this book is a rather quick read that covers a lot of sociological territory at a level acceptable for undergraduates. It certainly illustrates the rich aspects of participant observation and introduces a lot of sociological thinkers in an approachable manner.

Ethnic Cleansing – Italian Style

But never mind the human rights issues. Read the allocation of blame (with the terrorist metaphor) along with a summary of what the problem ultimately is: not the mistreatment of human beings but the fact that crops won’t be harvested because the damn ticking bombs had to be expelled because they could not behave and the authorities had to protect the population from them:

Institutional Discrimination 101 – Stimulus Edition

Via Venus Evans-Winter: First, use this neat interactive map…

Does this have to do with the lower numbers of minority-owned businesses or the lower numbers of minority in the overall US population?

And, of course, having a lower probability of receiving stimulus aid has a negative impact on the capacity of a business to recover. So, how does this happen?

Nice try but we know that minority are discriminated against at that level as well and end up with lower credit scores, all things being equal.

Book Review – The Myth of Individualism

In my never-ending pursuit of sociology books that I could use in my introduction classes that would show sociologists “in action”, I stumbled upon Peter Callero‘s The Myth of Individualism – How Social Forces Shape Our Lives. Anything titled “The Myth of…” is attractive to me as one of main objectives, I think, of introduction to sociology courses is to debunk all sorts of false notions through the use of sociological concepts, theories and methods – sociology as myth-buster, as Callero puts it (I love that phrase and might borrow it!). See my review of The Meritocracy Myth on that.

In many respects, The Myth of Individualism (TMoI) has a lot in common with the Meritocracy Myth (TMM). Both books set out to debunk the idea that one’s trajectory in life is almost exclusively based on innate and personal merits (good genes and hard work). Both books cover topics such as social class and institutional discrimination with a detour by Bourdieu, habitus and cultural capital.

The main difference is that TMM was more sociological than TMoI, that is, it goes more systematically to the data to explore different topics. TMoI is more narrative-based. It tells stories that are illustrative of the sociological point it tries to make. Personally, I prefer the former approach. I find it more persuasive and unassailable than the story-based format (after all, freshmen students tend to think that if they have a story that contradicts the story you’re telling them, they cancel out and that is enough to convince them you don’t have a point, they have a harder time arguing data).

Another aspect of the book I found less than persuasive is the use of personal anecdotes. Ok, actually, I really don’t like that in academic books. I don’t care that the author had an epiphany about a phenomenon by watching his 5-year-old kid do something or other. I know the intended audience is freshmen students, taking sociology for the first time and telling stories is a nice and simple way to ease them into the sociological perspective but I simply don’t think that personal anecdotes belong in such a book.

Now, some of the stories that Callero uses are interesting and sometimes riveting (like the story of the Unabomber or that of the Salem’s trials, based on Kai Erikson‘s excellent classical study of deviance Wayward Puritans). But I would confess that sometimes, I would have preferred less abstract discussion of topics such as identity and more nitty gritty data stuff (but again, I am not the audience for the book).

Actually, I finished the book thinking that it would be great to use alongside TMM. They complete each other pretty well, attack the same notions (individualism and meritocracy are intimately related), and debunk them with sociological concepts and theories. The narrative-based structure of TMoI makes it an easier and less dry read than TMM, but TMM is a more satisfying book from a sociological standpoint. At the same time, they complement each other as TMoI deals with more culture / socialization / identity / groups whereas TMM deals more with structural issues of gender, class and race (and the other isms). Put together, they are much better than traditional textbooks (which are of appalling quality anyway) and they cover almost every required topics of an introduction to sociology class (minus maybe issues of global stratification, population and environment). I think that would be worth it for both the students and the instructor.

Mandating Equality

This is interesting:

Needless to say, this is a good idea. At the same time, ideas like these (think affirmative action) are often misunderstood because they examined as if the only existing form of discrimination was interpersonal. Actually, such a program is designed to fight structural / systemic discrimination, that is, the form of discrimination that exists even in the absence of interpersonal sexism. Rather than wait for cultural change to affect social structure, the idea is to change the social structure to change the culture. It is also a recognition that economic relations are embedded in structurally discriminatory relations and practices. Finally, such programs are also designed to progressively make up for the cumulative effect of institutional discrimination: by pushing for a proportion of representation, the idea is to allow a previously disadvantaged category to start accumulating cultural and social capital that it was previously denied.

It is also in this line of thinking that I agree with banning the burqa as part of holding the secular line and it was interesting to see Turkish-born, German sociologist Necla Kelek state the following:

As I see it, a ban on religious practices that contradict established secular values and are directly repressive is part of the same process as mandating quotas of women as seen above. It is fighting inequality and disadvantages.

Social Stigmas That Kill

Burned alive in Kenya:

This is horrifying, of course, but it is even more so to see how casually people who have participated in these lynchings behave afterward and how just a touch of rationality could put a stop to this:

I have already mentioned how these cases seem to increase as the economic situation deteriorates and people see their conditions degrade and experience even more uncertainties than before. In such conditions, it is not uncommon for scapegoating mechanisms to emerge and for the population to turn against a specific category of people who have no way of avoiding their being stigmatized and targeted, in this case, the elderly targeted by the youth.

Lest we think these things are limited to Kenya (or Tanzania in the case of stigmatized Albinos), case number two: poisoned in Kosovo.

Violence against Roma is not limited to Kosovo… not even to Eastern Europe:

Stereotypes abound about the Roma and here again, economic deterioration makes them an even easier target for violence and institutional discrimination.

In both cases, there is no way the targeted population can disprove the accusations against them. How does one prove a negative ("I am not a witch")? Or how does one prove that one has the right "soul"?

There are always anecdotes available in public discourse that support the stereotype (along with "personal knowledge" stories taken as sufficient evidence). And confirmation bias is commonly used: any information that reinforces the stereotype is easily believed without questions whereas information or data that does not support it is treated with suspicion and questioned. And if that is not possible (the information is factual), then, the new information only proves that there are a few exceptions ("they’re not all bad") but that these do not invalidate the rule.

One argument often invoked to justify racism attitudes and behaviors is that the target (as representative of a whole category and proxy for it) must have done something to the racist perpetrator(s). There is something about the Roma that predisposes them to be victims of violence. This conveniently turns the table and blames the victims for their own victimization.

Research, however, has shown that prejudice and discrimination against one category of people is usually accompanied by prejudice against other categories (racism, sexism and homophobia often go hand in hand). So, unsurprisingly, once the Roma were gone, more violence followed against other categories:

Gated Communities as Alternatives to Residential Segregation

Elena Vesselinov, “Members Only: Gated Communities and Residential Segregation in the Metropolitan United States”, Sociological forum, Vol. 23, No. 3, September 2008, 536 – 555.

This is another article that would be a good read for undergraduate students because it follows step by step the different stages of the research process, all condensed in a relatively short space. This articles takes a serious statistical look at the gated communities around the United States, based on census data. The research question, based on existing literature positing that gating (the increase in gated communities) increases residential segregation and therefore urban inequalities, is as such:

"Do the factors that affect segregation also affect gating?" (537)

In other words, it seems that the existing research assumes similarities between gating and segregation, but are they really similar phenomena? Vesselinov summarizes the research as such:

"Residential segregation has long been under scrutiny as a salient dimension of urban inequality. Segregation, together with other forms of urban inequality such as occupational, racial, and gender inequality, constitutes a central subject of inquiry within urban sociology, for it has serious implications for public policy and everyday life in large cities." (537)

Which then leads to the hypothesis:

"The expectation is that the same structural characteristics that determine the level of segregation will influence the process of gating. The expectation reflects the notion that gating and segregation are closely related as dimensions of urban inequality. Both processes work together to perpetuate social exclusion. (…) First and foremost, gating is a process of social exclusion, based on race, ethnicity, and income. Second, gating, as well as segregation, is rooted in the idea of preservation of property value. Third, people flee to the suburbs or gate in order to avoid crime and the increase in minority populations. Fourth, both processes are related to privatization of space and a certain level of neighborhood autonomy." (543-4)

Indeed, in the 1940s and the 1950s, redlining was a main institutional process to establish residential segregation precisely to prevent blacks and other minorities to settle in mostly white and affluent neighborhood. Protecting property value was related to this. So, homeowners’ covenants and neighborhood improvement associations could then play little government and create their own rules that kept undesirables out of certain areas just as effectively as walls.

So, Vesselinov’s starting point is that indeed, there will be similarities between the processes of residential segregation and gating, such as mechanisms and causes, which then perpetuate urban inequalities. The main things that gated communities are suppsoed to provide are

  • prestige
  • privacy
  • protection

And they do so through physical barriers that enclose their inhabitants and reflect an increased privatization of space in the sense that restricted access applies to streets and sidewalks. Private governments rules these spaces. What, according to Vesselinov, drives gating is the fear of the other in an increasingly diverse society. It is therefore not surprising that a major wave of gating occurred during the Regan years, as social inequalities increased.

However, Vesselinov’s research shows that gated communities are no longer limited to the upper class. Actually, lower and middle class Latinos are more likely to live in GCs (as renters or owners) than affluent whites. The existence of renter communities is indeed an underreported aspect of GCs, especially in the form of gated apartment complexes occupied by renters or area newcomers that belong to the professional middle class. But some degree of diversification does not mean that the image of GCs as homogeneous enclaves does not hold true.

What do the results show? First, gating is more correlated to the presence of immigrants (especially Hispanic) but not the presence of blacks. Gating and segregation tend to go together in areas that have experienced an increase in proportion of immigrants. Secondly, residential segregation and gating do not always appear together (as one reinforcing the other) but rather as alternatives (places with lower segregation but higher gating), for instance in the South and the West.

Vesselinov then concludes that, depsite similarities, residential segregation and gating should be seen as alternatives based on the same causes: fears of "strangers" (anyone socially different). In areas of declining residential segregation, the data shows an increase in gating. Hardly social progress. But why is this the case? Vesselinov offers one possible explanation: fighting the Fair Housing Act of 1964 while stil separating oneself from those deemed undesirable as neighbors.

"Gating seems to be this new mechanism. (…) The increase, particularly, of the Hispanic population in the South and the West seem to have led also to an increased desire for clear demarcation of residential lines and, again, gating provided the option of secluded residential space. Moreover, gated residences offer one important advantage compared with the process of residential segregation: residents do not have to escape to second, third, and forth rings of suburbs in order to avoid poverty or an increase in minority groups. A more efficient method is the walling off, which generally can take place anywhere in the metropolitan area. In addition, gating, unlike residential segregation, is not regulated by any federal legislation (Schragger, 2001). In fact, many local governments have a vested interest and encourage the building of GCs (McKenzie, 1994, 2004)." (553)

So, when segregation is no longer possible for a variety of reasons, gating becomes the preferred alternative.

My Commenters Are Smarter Than Me – Collective History And Public Policy

In a previous post, commenter Outremer added two important data points related to the ways in which debates and controversy over contemporary French public policy are shaped by collective history. So, I’ll just reproduce them here:

"These issues have been profoundly in play, in similar and very different ways, in the French overseas departments (states) Martinique and Guadeloupe, where the vast majority is black, and where hostility towards whites is systematic and intense, as well as ignored, and usually is also often overcome by an overarching sense of equality and a set of very respectful manners that discounts race differences. Other factors here are the history of colonialism since 1600s, with some few thousands of surviving progeny who draw on their communal and ancestral ties with France, and strong local culture and language (creole which is not understood by most French). France has many proudly quasi-independent nationalities within (Basque, Corsican, Creole, etc.) which seem to coexist and partake of the French polity while continuing strong local traditions. I find that discrimination is encoded very differently here than in the US South, or US Northwest where I’ve lived most. I have been disappointed that here in Martinique, access to learning about local creole culture is starkly absent from the curriculum, and intercultural sharing is challenging if also accelerating by drinking rum together. Cultural traditions dissipate less when closed."

I think there are several dynamics at work and that not every ethnic group is treated the same. After all, Corsican nationalist groups (literally) get away with murder and systematic terrorism (not to mention all sorts of fraud and large-scale subsidizing by France and the EU) whereas French youth from North African descent get to experience the TLC from the anti-criminality brigades. The French state has always (for some incomprehensible reasons) accommodated the Corsicans but repressed "les jeunes de banlieues." Whiteness might be a factor along with the fact that Corsicans, for better and for worse, have a longer history with France (along with the misfortune of having produced Napoleon and his power and money-grabbing family).

Similarly, Britons and Basques have been largely treated with kid gloves with the exception of ETA in the latter’s case. Even though Basque nationalist have been subjected to extensive surveillance by the French state, one needs only consider their treatment by the Spanish state to see the difference. As for the Britons, well, in a country with such a strong tradition of centralized and national curriculum, they managed to get les écoles diwans.

Colonial territories such as Martinique and Guadeloupe are a different story altogether. Suffice to say here that nationalist (often racialized) demands are usually not kindly treated by the French state.

Outremer also added this:

"Of course I should have mentioned that there have been dramatic and intense strikes here that have demonstrated the local power of the unions; which also echo and draw strength from French and local cultural traditions of opposition and even more from ethnic politics of solidarity aggravated by ethnic discrimination. The entire economy here was shut down for well over a month (no schools, no gas, no postal service, no supermarkets or stores), until agreement was secured on lowering prices on common food items and on increasing salaries for the lowest paid workers."

It is indeed interesting that forms of protest use a well-known repertoire of contention in the French context: the labor strike.

And to add some more to this topic, this was in the news today:

It remains to be seen what this Committee for the Measurement of Diversity will actually measure and whether it will be able to detect forms of discrimination that have gone unnoticed before. I am glad though to see that Michel Wieviorka (current president of the International Sociological Association and very well-known sociologist) is part of the group.

When Bad Collective Memories Influence Public Policy

France does not like the idea of collecting ethnic data because the last time we did it was before we sent the Jews to the concentration camps, going above and beyond the demands of the Nazis. In 1978, the government passed a law prohibiting the collection of ethnic data.

France also does not like the idea of ethnic data because it goes against the myth (because it is a myth) of a unified Republic where all that matters is the national identity. France is not a multicultural country and significant segments of the population (both from the left and right wings of the political spectrum) do not want a multicultural country. They want an assimilationist Republic (that is, one where immigrants make all the efforts to assimilate but nothing is due from the dominant group). The problem is that one of the necessary conditions of assimilation is acceptance of assimilated minorities by the dominant group: that is both cultural and institutional assimilation, which means no discrimination. Many studies have shown this is far from the case and that discrimination, both individual and institutional is widespread.

In this way, France is a very Durkheimian society where the educational system is still very much perceived as the frontline of the Republic (and public school teachers were the main soldiers of the Republicm wrestling young minds from the dreadful clutches of the Church), where children are taught the value of being French and living in a republic and where collective conscience is clearly internalized. Not a big surprise here: Durkheim was very instrumental in the development of the French public system of education.

As a result, France is notoriously hostile to policies such as affirmative action which are perceived as promoting communautarianism and separatism, that is, the slicing and dicing and allocation of rights and benefits along ethnic lines (France already allocates many benefits either universally, such as the health care and educational systems as well as family benefits, or on the basis of income). This deeply-held attitude is the basis for the controversy over the veil in schools and demands for special privileges by some Muslim groups.

There is no doubt that the current economic situation will not provide a calm context for rational discussions of immigration policies and persistent discrimination.

Such nationalist fears of national undermining from within are also accompanied by fears of undermining from above, notably through assimilation into the European Union. As much as mainstream political parties have made France a main engine of the European Union (along with Germany), there has always a clear and vocal anti-EU current in French politics, both on the left and the right reflecting fears of imposition of neo-liberal policies along with fears of the loss of cultural specificity (don’t touch my camembert!).

Of The Invisibility of Social Privilege and Institutional Racism

Via the indispensable Ampersand:


This should be mandatory material for any introduction to sociology course to explain the simple yet often hard to understand for our students fact that we do not all experience the social structure and interact with its social institutions in a similar fashion. Our social statuses, here race, generate a whole set of social circumstances, privileges and disadvantages that are often left unexamined. Which is why it is absurd to even discuss "equal opportunities" as something other than clever propaganda and foundational myth.

Moreover, social disadvantages and privileges are invisible, especially for the dominant categories (and sometimes even to the disadvantaged who might buy into the dominant ideology). That society is overall experienced as more structurally and interpersonally violent for the disadvantaged is a greatly under-discussed social fact that contributes to the reproduction of these forms of violence.

The Surveillance Society Goes Global

Via the Guardian, the surveillance society is going global:

"A comprehensive transatlantic pact clearing the way for the unprecedented supply of private data on European citizens to the American authorities is to be promoted by France in support of the US-driven campaign to combat terrorism and transnational crime.

The French government is expected to use its six-month presidency of the EU, starting tomorrow, to build on 18 months of confidential negotiations between Washington and Brussels aimed at clearing the complex legal obstacles to the exchange of personal information with the Americans.

The controversial proposed pact, a "framework agreement" on common data protection principles, is likely to enable the Americans to access the credit card histories, banking details and travel habits of Europeans, although senior officials in Brussels deny US reports that the Americans will also be able to snoop on the internet browsing records of Europeans."

Have I ever mentioned how much I dislike President Sarkozy and his administration?
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