Book Review – Les Places et Les Chances

I confess to being a big fan of the République des Idées collection from publisher Seuil. This collection is great for short works on sociology of inequalities, work as well as economic sociology. François Dubet‘s Les Places et Les Chances is no exception. In this book, Dubet explores the old sociological debate over equality of position (roughly similar to equality of results in the anglo-speaking world) and equality of opportunity, and pretty much settles the issue in less than 120 pages.

The book has a very clear structure. First, Dubet reviews the idea and application of equality of position using the French example. Then, he details the critiques of this model. He then turns to equality of opportunity, using the example of the United States, and then explores its shortcomings. Finally, based on this exploration, he explains why he thinks equality of position is actually better as a matter of policy and social justice.

The differences between these conceptions of equality is based on different conceptions of social justice. Equality of position is based on the idea of reducing inequalities of income or quality of life, or inequalities in access to vital social services and inequalities in security. These inequalities exist between social positions occupied by individuals that are different in terms of age, qualification, talent, etc. The point of equality of position is then to “tighten” the gap between position that organize the social structure. The point is not to prioritize individual mobility but to reduce the gap between positions. As Dubet puts it, the point is not to promise to the children of blue-collar workers that they will be able to move up the social ladder, but rather to reduce the gap in quality of life between SES. Egalitarianism is central.

On the other hand, equality of opportunities (égalité des chances, in French) is based on meritocracy, that is, to offer everyone a chance to reach the best positions in society. The point is not to reduce inequalities between positions but to try to eliminate discrimination and other obstacles that would distort competition between individuals that create preexisting hierarchies. This conception considers inequalities to be fair only if positions are open to all. The point is to have a fair competition without calling into question the gap between positions. In this model, diversity of racial and ethnic background have to be taken into consideration as well.

So, depending on which conception of social justice prevails, one might end up with very different social policies: reducing inequalities between position versus eliminating discrimination without touching the structure of inequalities. As Dubet notes, under the former configuration, one might push for an increase in minimum wage and improvement in living conditions in housing projects versus promoting access to higher positions for children from these areas. On the one hand, one can work to eliminate unjust social positions, or work to allow some to escape from them based on merit.

Similarly, these different conceptions of equality and social justice have been promoted by different social movements. Traditional left-wing, labor and unions movements have pushed for equality of position whereas identity-based movements have tended to promoted equality of opportunities.

For Dubet, the French system is based on a very Durkheimian conception of equality of positions combined with an organic conception of social solidarity. It is less an egalitarian system than a redistributive one based on social rights. Less inequalities leads to greater social integration. This system has its problems, though in that it enshrines regimes of social redistribution based on protected statuses and positions, often tied to work and organized labor. It is not a system that is well adapted for higher levels of unemployment and precarization. When this happens, resentment can happen as privileged workers resent paying for those excluded from the system and these excluded resent their very exclusion from it. This system does not prevent gender and racial discrimination and the presence of a glass ceiling.

This is usually when discourse to equality of opportunities: those left-behind by equality of position. For Dubet, then, the discourse of equality of opportunities gives voice to traditionally invisible categories: women and racial / ethnic minorities and other discriminated categories. In this conception, society is a mosaic of individuals with categorical privileges and disadvantages that define their life chances. This conception of social justice then involves fighting against discrimination and promoting access and reducing exclusion. This may involve compensatory policies. Cultural identities, as carried by individuals are central to this.

This conception focuses on individual mobility and individuals are seen as active agents, responsible for their actions as long as the competition is fair and the most meritorious have opportunities to advance as far as their merits will allow. Society is not seen as an integrated whole but as a dynamic entity based on individual choices and actions. Therefore, public policy is based on empowerment. Initial equality is provided but after that, every individual is on his/her own. There is no social contract, only individual ones.

For Dubet, this conception is based on a statistical fiction. The focus is on the elite of society: one counts the number and percentages of women and minorities in high position in politics, business, academia, etc. and deplores their underrepresentation, while relatively ignoring that their overrepresentation at the lower levels of society is just as unfair. For Dubet, the equality of opportunity model is more sensitive to success and the few Horacio Alger success stories than to the larger numbers stuck without possibilities of mobility for structural reasons that are the fate of the larger number.

Also, to conceive of inequalities in terms of discrimination leads the oppression Olympics and the establishment of hierarchies of oppression whereby individuals get to make the case for their victimization. This kind of accounting is a source of resentment (see poor whites resentment against African Americans for instance). For this model to work, individuals have to be obligatorily assigned to reified categories and identities, attached to certain amounts of privileges and disadvantages.

So, the social contract, instead of being based on equal dignity for all labor, becomes one of sports competition just as long as one ensures that the race is fair and some do not have greater socially-established obstacles than others. After that, let the best man/woman wins, and those finishing last can only blame themselves, their poor choices and lack of certain ethos. The moral order becomes one of personal responsibility. In this sense, the winners deserve what they get and should not have to share with the losers. The wealthy (a product of their superior characteristics) can individually decide to engage in charity, but it is indeed an individual decision, not a socially-enforced one in the name of social solidarity. This individualization of success and failure has been thoroughly discussed by Ulrich Beck and Zygmunt Bauman.

In this sense, for Dubet, such a conception is reactionary as it harks back to the day of social assistance only to the deserving poor based on moral criteria decided by their benefactors.

Another way in which this model fails, for Dubet, is that it categorizes (locks one into one’s identity) only to individualize. This model is incapable of truly reducing structural inequalities that would allow minorities, as category, to improve its conditions. That is only available to select individuals. So, the social justice granted to individuals does not translate into social justice for categories.

So, which model provides greater social justice, considering the fact that neither is perfect and has its problems? For Dubet, equality of position because it is more sensitive to the weakest members of society and is more likely to lead to greater equality of opportunities (whereas the opposite is not true). Furthermore, in an argument reminiscent of The Spirit Level (which makes the statistical argument for equality of positions as well), an equal society works better and is healthier and less structurally (and therefore interpersonally) violent than an unequal one, even for the wealthiest. Inequalities are corrosive to social life especially when the wealthiest categories disconnect themselves from the rest of society through gated communities or living in Richistan. Unequal societies are also more likely to face a political crisis of legitimacy which may promote extremist movements.

So, if equality is a social good in and of itself, it makes sense to promote policies of redistribution within a framework of equality of positions. Moreover, Dubet shows that equality of positions is more likely to reduce inequalities of opportunities and to increase social mobility. Indeed, data show that social mobility is greater in more equal societies. After all, smaller inequalities make upward mobility easier and downward mobility less painful (and let’s be spared once and for all the arguments about reduced productivity, freedom and creativity, these are bogus). Overall, equality of positions creates a less cruel society and certainly a less hypocritical one where the elite accepts the idea of equality of opportunities while using all means to block access to their own level through policy, social networks and all forms of capital.

Ultimately, following Nancy Frazer, Dubet states that social rights (redistribution) have to be separated from cultural rights (recognition). Social rights are matters of social justice whereas cultural rights are matters of ethics and democratic participation, but not necessarily social justice.

In the end, for Dubet, only equality of positions can lead to a sustainable egalitarianism and is a prerequisite to equality of opportunities and has fewer negative externalities.

I have to say that the demonstration is thoroughly convincing. Highly recommended.

Book Review – Chavs

I have already posted on Owen Jones‘s Chavs: The Demonization of The Working Class (see here and here). Another good subtitle for this book could be “the not-so-hidden injuries of class” (to riff on Richard Sennett’s classic book). If Jones is not a sociologist, he should be one because his book is a perfect illustration of the sociological imagination with its focus on structure / history /power regarding the treatment of the working class.

If one expects an exotic description of the Chav culture, one will be disappointed. What Jones does is take this social phenomenon: the stigmatization of the working class by the political and media sphere (with their capacity to spread prejudice and stereotypes) and retraces the roots of that phenomenon, culturally, structurally and politically. He examines when the concept of Chavs as the target for so much social contempt emerged, who created it, who benefits from it and what are the real social consequences for the targets of such stigmatization.

For Owens, the roots of the stigmatization of the Chavs are to be found in Thatcherism. The policies implemented by Margaret Thatcher and pretty much every British administration have resulted in deliberately breaking the backs of the unions and destroying the industrial working class, thereby succeeding in deindustrializing Great Britain. As a result, and unsurprisingly, these policies left a lot of working class communities devastated with no job prospects, surviving on precarized and low-paying occupations and public benefits.

Out of this devastation emerged the myth that everyone who had the drive and aspiration of becoming middle class did so and that those left behind were the lazy, irresponsible, feckless, etc. Since their being stuck at the bottom of the social ladder is the product of their own failing and moral faults, why should they get help? This myth, because it is a myth, has thoroughly been incorporated into the culture so that it hardly questioned.

And so, where the traditional unionized working class was feared, the post-Thatcher working class is both an easy target for stigmatization as racist throwbacks or as the butt of jokes in the media and popular culture.

Case in point, the Slobs:

Vicky Pollard:

Lauren Cooper:

Stupid, ugly, uncouth, obnoxious and loud-mouthed, filthy, ill-mannered, and happy to spend their ill-gotten taxpayers money on dumb stuff. Have I left anything out?

And they can sometimes be dangerous because they’re out of control (too much sex, too much food, too many kids, too much welfare) and therefore the only legitimate state intervention is disciplinary: slap them with ASBOs or throw them in jail:

And so, the Chavs provide convenient ideological cover:

“It is both tragic and absurd that, as our society has become less equal and as in recent years the poor have actually got poorer, resentment against those at the bottom has positively increased. Chav-hate is a way of justifying an unequal society. What if you have wealth and success because it has been handed to you on a plate? What if people are poorer than you because the odds are stacked against them? To accept this would trigger a crisis of self-confidence among the well-off few. And if you were to accept it, then surely you would have to accept that the government’s duty is to do something about it – namely, by curtailing your own privileges. But, if you convince yourself that the less fortunate are smelly, thick, racist and rude by nature, then it is only right they should remain at the bottom. Chav-hate justifies the preservation of the pecking order, based on the fiction that it actually a fair reflection of people’s worth.” (137)

But of course, such a crisis of self-confidence would never occur in the first place as there is the opposite myth that the rich are that wealthy because they deserve it, earned it, and are worth it. It is a toxic mix of Weberian Protestant Ethic, social Darwinism and Ayn Rand thrown in as well. The upper classes and power elite have convinced themselves that they are not at the top because of inherited privilege but because of their own superiority. And this is based, of course, on class denialism, which I have already discussed.

The key here, according to Jones, is that the working class then have been the recipients of devastating public policy that have decimated their communities, and they are now left to find individual solutions to social problems, and will be blamed if they fail to do so. Downward mobility was socially-induced and collectively experienced but survival has been individualized. And, of course, if the solutions they find – informal employment, for instance – are not found to fit within the normative expectations of work and employment, they will be blamed for that too.

Jones also touches upon the political backlash that has not surprisingly emerged out of that state of affairs, namely, the rise of the British National Party, driven mostly by the political marginalization of the working class. After all, which major political party, in England, represents the interests of the working class and working poor? The Tories, never, and New Labour, certainly not:

“The demonization of the working class has also had a real role to play in the BNPs’ success story. Although ruling elites have made it clear that there is nothing of worth in working-class culture, we have been (rightly) urged to celebrate the identities of minority groups. What’s more, liberal multiculturalism has understood inequalities purely through the prism of race, disregarding that of class.” Taken together, this has encourage white working-class people to develop similar notions of ethnic pride, and to build an identity based on race so as to gain acceptance in multicultural society. The BNP has made the most of this disastrous redefinition of white working-class people as, effectively, another marginalized ethnic minority. ‘Treating white working-class as a new ethnic group only does the BNP a massive favour,’ says anthropologist Dr Gillian Evans, ‘and so does not talking about a multiracial working class.’

It is unlikely that the BNP will ever win significant power, not least because of chronic incompetence and infighting, of the kind that crippled the party after the 2010 general election. But its rise is like a warning shot. Unless working-class people are properly represented once again and their concerns taken seriously, Britain faced the prospect of an angry new right-wing populism.” (225)

This issue is not unique to England. As Western economies collapse, so obviously because of the actions of the upper financial classes, and as many countries are implementing drastic austerity measures that will hit the middle and working classes very hard why leaving the actual culprits to their comfortable bailouts, the level of anger is guaranteed to rise. What the crisis has made so blatantly and painfully obvious is that Western governments are dedicated to the protection of the elites and the financial institutions and class, at the expense of everyone else.

I would argue that everything written in Jones’s book shows us that they have been preparing the ground for the past 30 years to neutralize any dissent, from the mechanisms of the surveillance society to the cultural work of stigmatizing the poor and glorifying the wealthy, to the progressive dismantlement of the social protections that had been built in the post-War period.

So, this book is extremely relevant beyond the English case. It is written in a very engaging style but is very well sourced and documented. For sure, it is clear where Jones stands but it does not negate the facts of policy and results that are also presented in details. Highly recommended.

Fighting Back Against Spontaneous Sociology

This is one of the very first things that students should learn in a sociology class (and the first paragraph of the first part of The Craft of Sociology):

“The sociologist’s struggle with spontaneous sociology is never finally won, and he must conduct unending polemics against the blinding self-evidences which all too easily provide the illusion of immediate knowledge and its insuperable wealth.” (13)

Case in point, this column by sociologist Fabien Truong in Libération, arguing that there is no such thing as a “jeune de banlieue”, which, in the French context, refers to adolescents from the suburban housing projects, low-class, often of North African background although most of them are French. This category has been a catch-all for all sorts of social deviances, from petty delinquency to quasi-organized criminal networks, to easy recruits for Muslim fundamentalist preachers. That category was especially solidified in the collective mind with the 2005 riots.

Truong strikes back:

“Ainsi, parler du «jeune de banlieue» revient à enfermer une jeunesse plurielle sous un stigmate unique – et donc bien pratique, la réduisant à l’image de la racaille incivile ou à celle de la victime sociale. Condamnable ou excusable. La réalité, c’est que ces images mentales font pschitt lorsque l’on observe les statistiques et que l’on travaille au quotidien avec cette jeunesse stigmatisée. Le jeune de banlieue n’existe pas. Il y a des jeunes en banlieues. Avec leurs trajectoires, leurs aspirations, leurs échecs et leurs succès individuels. En 2005, après la 21e nuit d’émeute, il y a eu 2 921 interpellations sur tout le territoire. A titre de comparaison, il y a, dans la seule Seine-Saint-Denis, 65 919 collégiens et 46 062 lycéens, soit plus de 110 000 jeunes… Tous les jeunes ne brûlent donc pas des voitures en banlieues.

Dans les lycées du 93, les difficultés scolaires sont bien réelles : 77,8 % de réussite au bac général contre 88,8 % en France. Soit un différentiel de 11 points de pourcentage. Mais elles ne sont finalement pas plus fortes qu’ailleurs si on prend la peine de s’interroger sur l’origine sociale de ces élèves : 43,7 % des collégiens du département ont des parents issus de CSP (catégorie socioprofessionnelle) défavorisées contre 33,9 % pour l’ensemble des collégiens de France. Un différentiel de près de 10 points de pourcentage !

Les lycéens du 93 ne réussissent donc pas scolairement moins bien que les autres. Ils réussissent moins bien parce qu’ils sont issus des classes populaires, ce qui est un résultat malheureusement classique de la sociologie depuis les années 60 et qui s’explique par d’autres facteurs que celui du seul lieu d’habitation. Ils ont, au final, un comportement statistiquement normal et, si on ajoute au handicap social les effets pénalisants pour les carrières scolaires de l’immigration, de la stigmatisation et de la relégation urbaine, ils réussiraient même plutôt mieux que ce que leur profil sociologique laisse espérer ! Si on s’en tient au seul système scolaire, les jeunes en banlieues ne sont en aucun cas surdéterminés à devenir des adolescents en situation d’échec.

Ils n’ignorent rien du décalage qui existe entre leurs conditions de vie objectives et leur perception subjective par le reste de la société.


Il est temps d’en finir avec la vision stéréotypée du jeune de banlieue qui ne fait qu’accroître l’incompréhension entre la jeunesse plurielle de ces quartiers et le reste du pays. C’est dans l’usage incontrôlé de la langue que commence la discrimination, le sentiment d’injustice et la confusion des genres.”

Let me provide a rough summary of the argument for my non-French reading readers.

To speak of “jeune de banlieue” (youth from the projects, singular, because it’s one big one-dimensional category) is to create a stigmatized and stigmatizing homogeneous category. It reduces a variety of individuals to stereotypes such as the uncivil riff-raff or the social victim. They are to be condemned or to be excused. Either way, there is a denial of nuance and agency (beyond delinquency). In reality, when one looks at the statistics of this population, these stereotypes are out the window (aren’t they always?). For Truong, there is no such as thing as “youth from the projects” but rather “youths IN the projects”.

Moreover, these adolescents do struggle in school. There is no denying it. Their rate of success at the Baccalaureat (the grueling end-of-secondary education exams) is lower than the national average (77.8% versus 88.8% respectively), so, yes, an 11% gap but this has a lot more to do with their unprivileged background than anything else. For instance, 43.7% of middle-school students are from lower-class in the projects, compared to a national average of 33.9%. A 10-point gap. So, it is not that these adolescents do significantly worse in school, it is that they accumulate disadvantages. Something that sociology has pointed out since, oh, the 1960s. Class and social disadvantages count more than just residency.

If anything else, these students are not doing so badly when one adds to their social disadvantages the stigmatization of an immigrant background, of living in the projects, which, in France, means living in the periphery and to be part of what Manuel Castells has called the Fourth World. But being a youth from the project in and of itself does not over-determine one’s trajectory towards failure and delinquency.

So, for Truong, it is time to end this stereotypical construction and perception of these adolescents as these construction and perception only increase a complete lack of understanding of these youths. It is through this uncontrolled use of language that discrimination, feelings of injustice and confusion emerge and muddy the water of social policy. Actually, I would take it one step further than Truong and argue that that is exactly the political point.

In other words, for me, “jeune de banlieue” is as much a moral category (a stigmatized one, to be sure) rather than a social one, but it makes for easy resonance with public opinion. People know exactly who is being talked about under that label that has the merit of glossing over if not totally eliminate the social conditions of production of said label. Once the label has been created, one that associates asocial behavior with place and location, then, the next step is to explain everything by “culture” and contrast such culture of the project with the equally socially construction “mainstream” culture, note the differences and then explain what is social disadvantage in reality, as a product of dysfunctional culture (the culture of poverty argument). Neat trick.

That is why one of Durkheim’s first precept of the sociological method was to reject spontaneous sociology and its illusion of transparency. Hence the centrality of the principle of non-consciousness. Back to The Craft of Sociology:

“Artificialism, the illusory representation of the genesis of social facts according to which the social scientist can understand and explain these facts merely through ‘his own private reflection’ rests, in the last analysis, on the presupposition of innate wisdom which, being rooted in the sense of familiarity, is also the basis of the spontaneous philosophy of knowledge of the social world. Durkheim’s polemic against artificialism, psychologism, or moralism is simply the counterpart of the postulate that social facts ‘have a constant mode of being, a nature that does not depend on individual arbitrariness and from which there derive necessary relationships’ [Durkheim, text no. 7]. Marx was saying the same thing when he posited that ‘in the social production of their life, men enter into determinate relations that are necessary and independent of their will’; and so was Weber, when he refused to reduce the cultural meaning of actions to the subjective intentions of the actors. Durkheim, who insists that the sociologist must enter the social world as one enters an unknown world, give Marx credit for having broken with the illusion of transparency: ‘We think it a fertile idea that social life must be explained, not by the conception of it created by those who participate in it, but by profound causes which escape awareness. [Durkheim, text no.8]” (15)

And that is tough one, as most sociologists know:

“If spontaneous sociology reappears so insistently and in such different guises in would-be scientific sociology, this is probably because  sociologists who seek to reconcile the scientific project with affirmation of the rights of the person – the right to free action and the right to full consciousness of action – or who simply fail to subject their practice to the fundamental principles of the theory of sociological knowledge, inevitably return to the naive philosophy of action and of the subject’s relation to his action which is applied in their spontaneous sociology by subjects concerned to defend the lived truth of their experience of social action. The resistance that sociology arouses when it endeavours to dispossess immediate experience of its gnoseological  privilege is inspired by the same humanistic philosophy of human action as a certain type of sociology, which, by employing, for example, concepts such as ‘motivation’, or preferring to address questions of ‘decision-making’, fulfills, in its own way, the naive wish of every social subject. Seeking to remain the master and possessor of himself and of his own determinations (even if he grants them unconsciousness), the naive humanist who lurks inside every man resents as a ‘sociologistic’ or ‘materialist’ reduction every attempt to establish that the meaning of the most personal and ‘transparent’ action does not belong to the subject who performs them but to the complete system of relations in which and through which it is enacted.” (17)

Emphasis mine. Artificialism, psychologism and moralism all belong to that category that miss the main point of explaining the social by the social and only the social and unveiling the set of relations (structure, history and power) embedded in every action.

I cannot emphasize enough how central the principle of non-consciousness is:

“The principle of non-consciousness requires one to construct the system of objective relations in which individuals are located, which are expressed more adequately in the economy or morphology of groups than in the subjects’ opinions and declared intentions. Far from the description of individual attitudes, opinions, and aspirations being able to provide the explanatory principle of the functioning of an organization, it is an understanding of the objective logic of organization that leads to the principle capable of additionally explaining individual attitudes, opinions and, aspirations.” (18)

And so, to accept the label “jeune de banlieue” at face value, as an objective category is precisely to engage in artificialism and moralism. It is also to contribute to the reproduction of structural violence and power embedded in the label itself. As such, “jeune de banlieue” is not an objective description of a set of social relations but rather a stigmatized label carrying with it political implications. To use this as a starting point to sociological argument would be to make exactly the mistake described above of using prenotions and rejecting the principle of non-consciousness.

The Invisibility of Structural Discrimination

This is one of the hardest things to teach when one teaches the sociology of race and ethnicity: that racism and discrimination is not simply a matter of racist individuals, burning crosses and white sheets but a systemic matter, that which results in inequalities in results. It is hard to teach to white students because it is largely invisible and has no obvious cause (as opposed to individual discrimination).

This is why this post by Tim Wise is really useful in exposing structural discrimination:

“How many have heard that persons with “white sounding names,” according to a massive national study, are fifty percent more likely to be called back for a job interview than those with “black sounding” names, even when all other credentials are the same (5)?

How many know that white men with a criminal record are slightly more likely to be called back for a job interview than black men without one, even when the men are equally qualified, and present themselves to potential employers in an identical fashion (6)?

How many have heard that according to the Justice Department, Black and Latino males are three times more likely than white males to have their vehicles stopped and searched by police, even though white males are over four times more likely to have illegal contraband in our cars on the occasions when we are searched (7)?

How many are aware that black and Latino students are about half as likely as whites to be placed in advanced or honors classes in school, and twice as likely to be placed in remedial classes? Or that even when test scores and prior performance would justify higher placement, students of color are far less likely to be placed in honors classes (8)? Or that students of color are 2-3 times more likely than whites to be suspended or expelled from school, even though rates of serious school rule infractions do not differ to any significant degree between racial groups (9)?

Fact is, few folks have heard any of these things before, suggesting how little impact scholarly research on the subject of racism has had on the general public, and how difficult it is to make whites, in particular, give the subject a second thought.”

It is also a subject of annoyance to students to have it pointed out to them that assuming that one knows better than minorities when it comes to racism and discrimination is a blatant assertion of privilege and yes, it is racist. This form of racism occurs especially when minorities are accused of “playing the race card” when they point out examples of racism or discrimination. The difference in perspective is neither new nor limited to race (it is present in class and gender inequalities as well). The underlying assumption is that if the white person does not see racism, then, it is not there and to invoke it is playing the race card, which minorities are accused of playing too much of.

It is indeed a major social privilege not only to have one’s perspective never questioned and taken as the default, objective stance (while minorities are seen as “overreacting” or “being too sensitive”, note the feminization), but also to be able to make claims that one knows better about minorities’ experiences.

Read the whole thing.

Social Mobility and Transfer of Privileges

In its report Going For Growth 2010, the OECD examines intergenerational mobility across its member countries. It also provides a good definition of intergeneration mobility:

Intergenerational Mobility - OECD

So, how do OECD countries fare when it comes to the transmission of privileges (and disadvantages) and intergenerational mobility?

Intergenerational Mobility OECD Graph1

So, the UK, Italy, US and France are the countries with the least amount of intergenerational mobility and persistence of earnings across generations whereas Nordic countries tend to have more mobility.

As Filip Spagnoli notes, these data (and others that can be found in one chapter of the Report, which is to be fully published in March) debunks the myth of the efficiency and openness of the Anglo-Saxon model of public policy as opposed to the continental (or mainland, as Spagnoli calls it) model based on stronger social safety net:

The neoliberal framing of public policy has worked as the continental model is believed to be less efficient, less motivating (“why would people work hard if they are going to pay taxes to support welfare-dependent deadbeats?”), more flexible (FSM knows neo-liberals love flexibility!) and that inequality is a reflexion of individuals’ work ethics and motivation and a small price to pay for the freedom to succeed.

Data such as those above are not new but they do highlight how simplistic these beliefs are. As Spagnoli notes,

Actually, as The Spirit Level notes, high inequality is bad for society, even when accompanied with economic growth in affluent countries. And as Lane Kenworthy has noted as well, the often-mentioned trade-offs to greater equality are weak to non-existent once one looks at the data.

Actually, I would argue that if we truly believed in meritocracy, we would ban inheritance so that everyone truly starts with an economic blank slate and provide education to provide equality of opportunity on the social and cultural capital fronts.

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 – Euroclash

Neil Fligstein‘s Euroclash: The EU, European Identity, and The Future of Europe is an application of Fligstein approach to economic sociology developed in his previous book, The Architecture of Markets (which, if I were remotely consistent, I would have reviewed first). A very simplified version of this approach is that markets do not fall from the sky but are institutionally grounded and developed by social actors.

Markets are also fields, in Bourdieu’s sense, where dominant actors try to establish rule to promote the stability with respect to the newcomers in the fields who might try to establish different rules. Markets are social structures defined by property rights, governance structures, rules of exchange, and conceptions of control.

“A field can be defined as an arena of social interaction where organized individuals or groups such as interest groups, states, firms and non-governmental organizations routinely interact under a set of shared understandings about the nature of the goals of the field, the rules governing social interaction, who has power and why, and how actors make sense of one another’s actions.” (8)

By definition, fields are dynamic in that power and resources are unevenly distributed among social actors and there are potential lines of tension and conflict over how the field is organized and function. And so, with the emergence and evolution of the EU, there has been the emergence of Europe-wide fields in a variety of social domains.

“Firms have moved from being participants in national markets to being involved in Europe-wide markets. They have come to invest all around Europe and employ citizens of many countries. Interest groups and social movement organizations have been part of constructing European political domains both in Brussels and occasionally emergent across national borders.  National nonprofit associations have pushed forward cooperation for professions, trade associations, charities, and hobby and sports groups on a trans-European basis. What these social fields have in common is that national-level organizations have formed larger groupings that have reoriented their attention from nations or single states to their counterparts across borders. These fields of action have brought people together from across the continent and now form one of the main supports for a more integrated Europe. Indeed, these horizontal linkages that cross borders form the basis for what can be described as a European society.” (1-3)

Indeed, the institutionally-based EU integration has facilitated an increasing variety of social interactions (beyond trade) between different kinds of actors: education, human rights, tourism, sports, to name a few. As people travel for work or leisure or education, they develop great social networks with like-minded Europeans with shared interest. These horizontal networks  contribute to changing the way these actors see themselves: as more European.

At the same time, those individuals who feel the most European are those who have developed the denser social networks of interactions within the EU, that is, those who have benefited the most from it: business people, academics and students and various categories of professionals. Those are the winners of the EU integration. Unsurprisingly then, being European has become a greater part of their identity as functioning within the structures of the EU is part of their lives.

On the other hand, the EU integration has also generated losing categories of people who have not benefited from integration (blue-collar workers, seniors) and have also less interaction with the institutions of the EU. They are more likely to perceive the EU as a threatening force responsible for dismantling national structures that used to protect their status. They are what is known as the “Euro-sceptics”. They still identify mostly with national interest and tend to see EU integration as a threat to national sovereignty.

The winners of EU integration are more likely to analyze social issues within a Europe-wide frame and push for EU solutions whereas the losers of EU integration see the EU as a source of problems that should be solved nationally. And so, the social distribution of winners and losers structure potential tensions and conflicts when it comes to further EU integration. In between these categories of people is an “on-the-fence” group (roughly, middle-class) whose views on the EU vary depending on issues and this group can sway EU-related vote one way or the other, for instance, in the case of France, they voted for the Maastricht Treaty, but against the EU Constitution.

In order to understand these fields. of course, one has to understand how the EU was created and evolved, the different institutions that structure markets. Fligstein, probably keeping in mind that his audience will be mostly US, devotes a couple of chapters to these topics. Indeed, the dynamics of EU integration and conflicts are impossible to understand without such background as these institutions shape (and have shaped) the current state of the EU and what domains are regulated at the EU level (trade, movements of goods and people) and which are still governed at the national level (welfare, labor and pensions, for instance), and which ones are somewhere in between (education and sports). After all, the EU is not like the US.

Fligstein also devotes a fascinating chapter on three examples of market creation within the EU: defense, telecommunications and football industries. For each case, the reader is treated with a thorough description of the field, the different actors, the EU institutional framework that restructured these industries and the current state of these industries (as the EU integration is an uncertain and unfinished project). The complexity involved in EU integration has to do with the fact that national states within the EU have different systems of governance and different interests. There is no such thing as capitalism but national capitalisms and a great deal of the EU institutional apparatus is dedicated to negotiating directives and treaties agreeable by all the member-states (and as Fligstein shows, this does not always end up with a race to the bottom).

These case studies perfectly illustrate how the struggles for power by different actors (say the UEFA, the G-14, individual players and national leagues) using EU institutions (such as the Court of Justice) to shape the structure of the field (EU football) to their advantage, in the context of technological developments and media restructuring that considerably increased streams of revenues for leagues.

“The three case studies were chosen because they represent cases where European firms became organized on a European basis. They show clearly the dynamics by which previously nationally oriented firms turned toward a Europe-wide market as opportunities emerged, governments changed policy, and the EU intervened to create new collective governance. These processes have been messy and are not yet complete, but they demonstrate how organizing on a European wide basis provides for growth in firm size, revenues, and markets.” (122)

Fligstein then turn to the issues of European identity. Who are the European? That is, who are the people who identify as European to varying degrees alongside their national identity. I have already hinted at the answer above, so, I’ll just provide a longish quote that summarizes the confirmed hypothesis:

“As European economic, social, and political fields have developed, they imply the routine interaction of people from different societies. It is people who are involved in such interactions that are most likely to come to see themselves as Europeans and in a European national project. In essence, Europeans are going to be people who have the opportunity and inclination to travel to other countries, speak other languages, and routinely interact with people in other societies in the Europe-wide economic, social, and political fields. They are also going to be amongst the dominant material beneficiaries of European economic integration. They include owners of businesses, managers, professionals, and other white-collar workers who are involved in various aspects of commerce and government. These people travel for business, live in other countries for short periods of time, and engage in long-term social relationships with their counterparts, either in their firms or among their suppliers and customers, in their cohorts in other governments, or in the practice of their professions. Young people who travel across borders for schooling, tourism, and jobs (often for a few years after college) are also likely to be more European. Educated people who share common interests with educated people around Europe, such as similar professions, interests in charitable organizations, or social and cultural activities. (…) Finally, people with higher income will travel more and participate in the diverse cultural life across Europe. They will have the money to spend time enjoying the good life in other places.

If these are likely to be the people who are most likely to interact in Europe-wide economic, social, and political fields, then it follows that their opposites lack either the opportunity or interest to interact with their counterparts across Europe. Most importantly, blue-collar and service workers are less likely than managers, professionals, and other white-collar workers to have work that will take them to other countries. Older people will be less likely to be adventurous than younger people, and less likely to have learned other languages, or to hold favorable views of their neighbors; moreover, they will probably remember who was on which side on World War II. They will be less likely to want to associate with or have curiosity about people from neighboring countries. People who hold conservative political views that value ‘the nation’ as the most important category will be less attracted to travel, or to know and interact with people who are ‘not like them.’ Finally, less educated and less rich people will lack attraction to the cultural diversity of Europe and be less able to afford to travel.” (126-7)

The data do indeed confirm these trends even the pro-European numbers are still small, but then, the European project is still quite recent compared to the centuries of nation-building.

Another limit that Fligstein notes is the lack of strong social movements across European countries, organized horizontally. Indeed, social movements seem to be still organized nationally: groups that have grievance against the EU tend to petition their national governments for redress. [I would add that only movements that seem to have some European footing are those that relate to global issues, such as the opposition to GMOs… my view on this is that SMOs have done a great work to raise awareness globally and therefore scaling down to the EU level is not that hard. Scaling horizontally on EU-specific issues is trickier.]

In other words, there is no European civil society in a strict sense, no more than there is a Habermasian public space but a multiplicity of fora without actual coordination. This means that the groups that positioned themselves early on to have influence over the EU (businesses) are still the vastly dominant segment of the civil society as they have a strong lobbying presence in Brussels. This points to what has been called the “democratic deficit” of the EU.

This lack of horizontally-organized, EU-wide social movements and lack of public space also contributes to a still large lack of European identification and solidarity.

Since economic integration is largely complete, EU members have turned their attention towards building a European society. Fligstein identifies several threads leading to such a project: loosening up of intra-European migration which has increased movement of people within EU countries, the rise of Europe-wide civic associations (although a lot of Europe-wide are trade associations that emerged with the Single market in 1985). Education is the next big work-in-progress for the EU, with the Europeanization of the curriculum, the strengthening of language education and the harmonization of higher education degrees along with specific programs like Erasmus.

Here again, Fligstein notes one of the barriers to facilitating the rise of a European society: the lack of European culture. National cultures still largely dominate the field and popular culture is dominated by US media products. European culture is still largely limited to exchange of national programs between national tv networks along with movie co-productions. Music is still largely a national business with global corporations.

In the political field, national politics still dominates what happens at the European level. However, most mainstream political parties are now pro-integration (with the notable exception of England where resistance to integration has always been the strongest). Anti-European attitudes and platforms are political losers and relegated to nationalist / neo-fascist fringes who see the EU as an infringement to sovereignty and a dilution of the nation, or far left parties that see it as a neo-liberal plot.

On the other hand, certain groups, such as regional groups, have been able to use the EU human rights system to make gains against national states. All in all, the political field is far from stable and this is where the potential for euroclash is the greatest.

This is obviously a very detailed (and chock full o’data) book that perfectly demonstrates the strength of economic sociology and its capacity to bring back the social to explain the economic AND the consequences of embeddedness. It’s not an easy read especially for people completely unfamiliar with the EU but otherwise, it will be equally valuable to organization sociologists.

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.

Women Live Longer but Less Healthy Lives Than Men

This seems appropriate after the US healthcare bill fiasco:

The differential then has to do with structural discrimination an social stratification. Women are on the receiving end of many more social disadvantages than men.

The WHO report notes that societies need to specifically address the health needs of women which means more than just suppressing reproductive health. Reproductive health is central to women’s health. If one wants to know how women are treated in a given society, one needs only look at reproductive health and rights.

Book Review – The Meritocracy Myth

When one teaches introduction to sociology courses, one is always on the lookout for a good, readable book that makes a powerful case for the relevance of sociological analysis without dumbing it down or turning it into “you can have better relationships thanks to sociology” kind of drivel. After all, introduction to sociology textbooks are mostly horrendous and I don’t know who could ever be drawn to sociology just by reading a textbook (hence my own personal revolt and work-in-progress).

One of the things that sociology does well is debunking: take commonly accepted ideas and show systematically and with data how these ideas are actually false. That’s why when my new colleague mentioned The Meritocracy Myth by Stephen McNamee and Robert K. Miller jr., I was immediately interested because if there is one thing American students reject outright, it’s the durkheimian idea of social facts that are constraining on individual behavior or the supposed “natural” idea that some people are just smarter than others (I teach at a community college, you’d think they’d be more critical of that one, but nope, and rationalizations abound) or that people’s social positions reflect their moral worth.

In the book, McNamee and Miller review the roots of meritocratic individualism and then proceed to deconstruct all the different aspects of meritocracy and explore how social privileges and disadvantages are socially allocated based on a variety of factors mediated through various social institutions. They provide a strong demonstration for the power of the social structure. Seamlessly combining social theory (like Bourdieu on social and cultural capital) and recent data, the authors mercifully work towards a welcome “everything you believe is wrong” conclusion.

“The acceptance of meritocracy in America is predicated not on what ‘is’ but on the belief that the system of inequality is ‘fair’ and it ‘works.’ According to the ideology of meritocracy, inequality is seen to be fair because everyone presumably has an equal (or at least adequate) chance to succeed, and success is determined by individual merit. The system supposedly works because it is seen as providing as individual incentive to achieve that is good for society as a whole; that is, those who are most talented, the hardest working, and the most virtuous get and should get the most rewards.” (4)

This is the mark of an ideological construct that it is promoted by a variety of institutional arrangements (schools, media, etc.) so much so that it becomes natural (after all, how different is this from the structural-functionalist view of inequalities). And like many ideologies, this belief is a cultural underpinning of the maintenance of the status quo, politically, economically and socially while making increasing levels of inequalities acceptable. And like many such ideological constructs, they are based on scrapping from view the nasty side of the history of social privilege, as perfectly illustrated by this Ampersand comic found at Eric Stoller’s website:

So, McLemee and Miller deconstruct this belief, taking on the sub-arguments one by one and showing how they do not survive scrutiny. They demonstrate how social privileges and disadvantages are allocated before birth and are accumulated every step of the way as the privileged accumulate social, economic and cultural capital by sending their children to “the right kind” of kindergartens, pre-schools and schools. Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Chamboredon’s thesis on Social Reproduction is well known: schools reward upper-class habitus and privileged kids’s possession of the right kind of social and cultural capital and allow them to accumulate more of it.

The authors also examine and discard the “attitude” argument (“those with the right attitude succeed”) as well as the moral argument (success comes to the virtuous, those who postpone gratification, as opposed to the poor who, as often repeated, have the wrong values, go for immediate gratification and have their own self-defeating subculture, as the culture-of-poverty argument goes). One would think that with the economic collapse and the exposure for the whole world to see of the incompetence and immorality of the financial class, that argument would have been put to rest, but no, the mortgage crisis was the fault of all these poor people who could not defer gratification and had to buy houses they could not afford (never mind that reality shows otherwise and points the blame higher on the social ladder).

“But,” my students often argue, “what about athletes, and Oprah?” (Why do they ALWAYS have to bring Oprah to the conversation??):

“One could argue that these ‘elites’ are truly talented and have extraordinary physical qualities not available to the average person (e.g., size, speed, agility, hand-eye coordination). Raw talent alone, however, is not enough. Talent has to be cultivated through recruitment and opportunities for training. Potential talent can go unnoticed, particularly in the absence of opportunities to develop and exhibit it. Training may be expensive and not easily available to people of modest means, particularly in such sports as golf, tennis, swimming and figure skating.” (28)

And then, there is, of course, the question of inheritance, the most obvious mechanism of transmission of privileges. Advocates of meritocracy should militate for the abolition of any form of inheritance, after all, it is unearned. Of course, it would be impossible to scrap any unearned privilege from one generation to the next as it would be impossible to eliminate social and cultural capital. Indeed, what is captured under the “silver spoon” expression covers a wide range of behavioral and dispositional traits and symbolic advantages that go beyond material wealth.

There are also all the different forms of structural discrimination by race and ethnicity, gender and sexual preference, age and others. Being part of the dominant group constitutes an invisible (and therefore deniable) form of unearned privilege (as the comic above also illustrates) that has cumulative effects.

And then there’s luck, just plain and simple: being born in the right place at the right time, at times of economic transitions (as opposed to economic recession… the structure of opportunities is pretty bleak right now, especially for those already disadvantaged because they have nothing to fall back on, which is another advantage to the privileged who can then engage in greater risk-taking behavior with bigger potential pay-off because they have greater resources to fall back on).

“In thinking about who ends up with what jobs. Americans tend to first think about what economists call the ‘supply side.’ In labor economics, the supply side refers to the pool of workers available to fill jobs. The ideology of meritocracy leads Americans to focus on the qualities of individual workers: how smart they are, how qualified they are, how much education they have, and so on. These ‘human capital’ factors, however, represent only half of the equation. The other half, the ‘demand side,’ is about the number and types of jobs available. How many jobs are available, their location, how much they pay, and how many people are seeking them are important but often neglected considerations in assessing the impact of merit on economic outcomes.” (137)

So, once we have the picture of an unequal system that is a far cry from the claims of the meritocratic ideology, why should we care? We should care because increased stratification, first, is unfair. Some people are gaming the system intentionally or not, and for others, the system is gamed in their favor. So, basic social justice applies. As the book demonstrates, most of the privileges are unearned.

More than that, as demonstrated in The Spirit Level, social inequalities are bad for society on a variety of indicators. An unequal society is even bad for those who benefit the most from unearned privileges, so egalitarian policies are the solution to provide equality of opportunities, or even, as Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett recommend, equality of results (somehow, always a more controversial claim). Most of the remedies McLemee and Miller suggest are well-known: progressive taxation, government spending, etc. Nothing really new here.

As I mentioned above, this is a book really for undergraduate students. The professional sociologist will not find anything really new in the book, but clear conceptual definitions and some pretty nice argumentative retorts to usual students defending the meritocracy myth. It’s a book that should be mandatory reading for any sociology department’s undergraduates.

Book Review – Punishing The Poor

I cannot emphasize enough what an important book Loïc Wacquant‘s Punishing The Poor – The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity is. Except, I have already done that by posting various quotes that I thought were important and made essential points as I was reading the book.

The main argument made by Wacquant is that the social policy of transition from welfare to workfare cannot be understood unless it analyzed in conjunction with the rise of prisonfare (mass incarceration of certain categories of the population). Workfare and prisonfare are two sides of the same coin: the areas where the neoliberal state can still assert its authority once depleted of its economic and social policy functions.

As neoliberal policies get implemented (in the name of globalization or moralization of society through work or punishment), a lot of people find the rug pulled from under their feet, mostly the poor and more specifically single women with children and minorities. What to do with these? Well, for the women, it will be workfare. For the men, it will be prisonfare.  This seems a bit simplistic but the data clearly show such a trend. In the United States, this is combined with the inherent structural and institutional racism at the heart of society. Prisonfare is the lastest mode of black subjugation and control along with ghettoization.

For Wacquant, the combination of workfare and prisonfare fulfills both economic and symbolic functions for the neoliberal punitive state (as workfare is equally punishing as prisonfare) fight the crisis of legitimacy that pervades all developed democracies as the state divests itself from its capacity to set economic policies and abandons policies of social justice and redistribution. With the help of the media, public attention is directed not at the massive transfer of wealth to the top of the social stratification ladder but rather on designated “incorrigible” deviants: welfare cheats and parasites, criminals and pedophiles against whom the ever-more intrusive mechanisms of the surveillance society are applied.

Of course, this all is based on a series of lies that nonetheless produced and dispersed throughout society, mostly, again, through the media: that the US is spending enormous amounts of money on welfare (False: AFDC never accounted for more than 1% of the federal budget) or that crime is on rise, perpetrated by ever younger and more dangerous “predators”. Here again, this is false: crime has been on the decline for a long time irrespective of the policies implemented or not. See below, for instance as Americans still believe that there is MORE crime (and by that, they think street crime):

Wacquant himself explains it in this video:

Regulating the poor is indeed the major outcome of these policies but there is not, according to Wacquant, some large-scale conspiracy as such a conspiracy would require much more competent coordination and centralization as is available in the United States. What we see are the logical conclusions and results of separately adopted neoliberal policies: liberalization / privatization on the economic domain, shrinking of the state in the name of efficiency, and de-socialization of waged labor (along with waves of outsourcing and off-shoring) along with a moral cultural outlook on social deviance. Such economic policies are bound to be devastating on certain segments of the population which then need to be controlled for their individual moral failings, largely depicted in terms of lack of self-control and responsibility.

Either way, the victims of neoliberal policies are irresponsible, unproductive individuals who need to be disciplined (in Foucault’s sense) and that is the job left to the state, with the recourse of private sector actors such as private welfare / child welfare administrations and private prisons. In this sense, in this punitive environment, structural conditions leave the most vulnerable members of society to fend for themselves even though their ghettoization prevents them from improving their conditions. Then, they are blamed for their lack of ability to get out of them.

There is, of course, one type of economic activity which would lead to better economic results: illegal economy. This is where the policies of the War on Drugs work to prevent those deprived of socialized wage labor from one exit from poverty, lending them, of course, in prison, serving large sentences for which there is no parole.

These very real economic impact of the neoliberal state on the poor is coupled with a persistent stigmatization that successfully covers the fact that these policies, workfare and prisonfare, do not have much to show for themselves almost 15 years after their implementation. But this is also the one weak point I found in Wacquant’s book: it needs some major statistical and data updating. Most of the data date back from the 1980s and the most recent date from the 1990s. One would want to know the state of these trends now. A lot can happen over 10 years, especially since these 10 years cover the entire Bush presidency.

Moreover, Wacquant also demonstrates that this double regulation of poverty (through workfare and prisonfare) has been exported to Europe, stating with the liberalization of the state through Thatcherism in the UK, the Kohl years in Germany and the oh-so memorable Chirac years as PM in France. Even the various left-of-center parties, such as the socialist parties in Western Europe have embraced the law-and-order view of the state and neoliberal economic “reforms” all the way to Sarkozy’s slogan to “work more to earn more”… we all know what happened to that in these past years.

In a way, this book truly illustrates the best of sociological analysis: it is a combination of solid data analysis, identification of patterns and trends and use of theory to pull it all together and a very convincing and critical demonstration. In this, this is a powerful book. I am not sure it is readable at the undergraduate level though and that is unfortunate because I am always on the lookout for great sociological books for my students to read to get a sense of how powerful sociological analysis is. Or at the very least, it should be offered as guided reading, with a lot of work to be done on the instructor’s part to guide the students through it many levels of analysis.

A very powerful book.


The Double Regulation of Poverty Through the Assistantial-Correctional Mesh

“Probing the gestation, operant philosophy, and early results of the welfare ‘reform’ of 1996 highlights developments fostering the penalization of public aid and thence the emergent coupling with the penal wing of the state. (…) In both the political debate leading to the passage of the law and the body of the legislative text itself, poor single mothers have aggressively typecast not as deprived but as deviant, a problem population whose civic probity is by definition suspect and whose alleged work-avoiding ‘behaviors’ must be urgently rectified by means of preclusion, duress and shaming, three techniques typical of crime control. The shift to workfare accentuates their status not as citizens participating in a community of equals, but as subjects saddled with abridged rights and expanded obligations until such a time as they will have demonstrated their full commitment to the values of work and family by their reformed conduct. This makes them sociological similes of convicts released on parole who, having served most of their custodial sentence, recover their membership only after a protracted period of surveillance and testing establishing that they have mended their errand ways.


The social silhouette of AFDC beneficiaries turns out to be a near-exact replica of the profile of jail inmates save for the gender inversion.


This verifies that the primary clients of the assistantial and carceral wings of the neoliberal state are essentially the two gender sides of the same population coin drawn from the marginalized fractions of the postindustrial working class. The state regulates the troublesome behaviors of these women (and their children) through workfare and those of the men in their lives (that is, their partners as well as sons, cousins, and fathers) through criminal justice supervision.


PRWORA was never meant to fight poverty and alleviate social insecurity; on the contrary, it was intended to normalize them, that is, to inscribe them as modal experience and accepted standards of life an labor for the new service proletariat of the dualizing metropolis, a task which is indivisibly material and symbolic. It was the culmination of a train of measures  deployed over the preceding two decades whereby the American state has turned away from passively protecting the poor toward actively making them into compliant workers fit or forced to fill to peripheral slots of the deregulated labor market.” (98-101)

Public Agitation as Pornography

In which Loïc Wacquant proves yet again that he is one of the greatest sociologists around:

“The public agitation over criminal “security” (insécurité, Sicherheit, seguridad) that has rippled across the political scene of the member countries of the European Union at century’s close, twenty years after flooding the civic sphere in the United States, presents several characteristics that liken it closely to the pornographic genre, as described by its feminist analysts.


The law-and-order merry-go-round is to criminality what pornography is to amorous relations: a mirror deforming reality to the point of the grotesque that artificially extracts delinquent behaviors from the fabric of social relations in which they take root and make sense, deliberately ignores their causes and their meanings, and reduces their treatment to a series of conspicuous position-takings, often acrobatic, sometimes properly unreal, pertaining to the cult of ideal performance rather than to the pragmatic attention to the real. All in all, the new law-and-order geste transmutes the fight against crime into a titillating bureaucratic-journalistic theater that simultaneously appeases and feeds the fantasies of order of the electorate, reasserts the authority of the state through its virile language and mimics, erects the prison as the ultimate rampart against the disorders which, erupting out of its underworld, are alleged to threaten the very foundations of society.” (xi-iii)

So what are y’all waiting for? Get your copy! From what I have read so far, this book is a tour de force.

Social Stratification – Class, Race and Gender

Via Susie,

Ten Dollars an Hour from Ben Guest on Vimeo.

This is a great video to use if you teach introduction to sociology. The class, racial and gender dynamics are unmistakable (“she’s eager to please!”… well duh, if you make attitude a condition to continued employment, yes, the lowest paid employees are the ones who have to do most of the emotional work).