Public Sociology

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New Book: The Sociologist’s Eye: Reflections on Social Life


Author : Kai Erikson
Date : August 22, 2017
Pages : 432 pages
Publisher : Yale University Press
A masterful introduction to and appreciation of sociology as a window into our world

The culmination of a distinguished career, this fascinating exploration into the nature of human social life describes the field of sociology as a way of looking at the world rather than as a simple gathering of facts about it. Kai Erikson notes that sociologists look out at the same human scenes as poets, historians, economists, or any other observers of the vast social landscape spread out before them, but select different aspects of that vast panorama to focus on and attend to. Erikson’s lively and accessible volume considers how sociology became a field of study, and how it has turned its attention over time to new areas of study such as race and gender and what Erikson calls “social speciation.” This book provides readers with new ways of thinking about human culture and social life—an exhilarating sense of what the world looks like when viewed with a sociologist’s eye.

Kai Erikson is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor Emeritus of Sociology and American Studies, Yale University. He is former President of the American Sociological Association, and has twice won the ASA award for writing the best book published in the year preceding.
“An Erikson classic. This remarkably ambitious book by one of sociology’s very best practitioners is a unique intellectual invitation into the sociological imagination. It is a marvelous way to be inducted into thinking sociologically.”—Eviatar Zerubavel, author of Social Mindscapes: An Invitation to Cognitive Sociology

“With rich detail, intellectual deft, and an extraordinary gift for storytelling, Erikson delivers a tour de force. It is stimulating, eloquent, comprehensive, yet accessible. A must read for every young scholar.”—Cecilia Menjívar, University of Kansas

“Expertly executed and highly engaging, The Sociologist’s Eye renders the complex history of our discipline more clearly and elegantly than any other book of its kind.”—Jennifer Johnson, Kenyon College

“The Sociologist’s Eye is an immediate classic in the company of Berger and Mills; Erikson’s elegant analysis within the framework of perspectives, places, and processes will captivate generations to come.”—Diane L. Pike, Augsburg College

“This is a book like no other. Read one way it is the most elegant of introductions to our field. Read another way it is an intellectual memoir by one of American sociology’s most respected scholars and leaders. And read in still another way it is a book that seasoned sociologists and other social scientists of all kinds will read to freshen a sense of what our work can be.”—Charles Lemert, author of Social Things: An Introduction to the Sociological Life

“Erikson draws the reader in, revealing how social scientists view the world via unexpected description and persuasive explanation. Even for an old hand like me, there were things I learned for the first time. Bottom line: a great book.”—Immanuel Wallerstein, Yale University
“Erikson is a master of two sociological arts, gracefully guiding his readers through a global landscape to help us understand human beings and the myriad ways we live together. A beautiful book.”—Daniel F. Chambliss, Hamilton College

“More than a text for students, this is an overview of what sociology has to teach anyone. It is a joy to see good ideas and critical findings come alive in Erikson’s uniquely masterful renditions.”—Harvey Molotch, New York University

“With rich detail, intellectual deft, and an extraordinary gift for storytelling, Erikson delivers a tour de force. It is stimulating, eloquent, comprehensive, yet accessible. A must read for every young scholar.”—Elliott West, University of Arkansas

“A man who has devoted his life to studying society delivers a final report on everything he has learned . . . [Erikson] proves to be a wise guide to a broad field of study. A useful, illuminating analysis.”—Kirkus Reviews


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The promise of public sociology


Think of the era we are in. Do you some­times feel a sense of un­cer­tainty and dis­cord? It is un­der­stand­able if you do. How many of you worry about how you will pay back your stu­dent loans in a time of per­va­sive wage stag­na­tion and elu­sive mid­dle class em­ploy­ment? We are more cog­nizant these days of mass shoot­ings and gun vi­o­lence; it gives us fur­ther pause when we re­al­ize that the like­li­hood of gun vi­o­lence is far greater in the US than in other mod­ern na­tions. How do you feel about the state of race re­la­tions in a time of mass in­car­cer­a­tion and em­bold­ened white na­tion­al­ism? What crosses your mind when pow­er­ful men, from the pres­i­dent to Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­ers, en­gage in sex­ual as­sault and/​or ha­rass­ment? I would think such thoughts leave us with sad­ness, anger, and some­times even de­spair.

Hav­ing said that, we may also look on in won­der and awe at the de­ter­mi­na­tion and re­silience of the hu­man spirit, and ad­mire how changes to so­cial in­sti­tu­tions can in­deed pos­i­tively trans­form the lives of many. Just over a half cen­tury ago our na­tion held on to a re­gion­ally-based sys­tem of racial apartheid (i.e. Jim Crow seg­re­ga­tion) and the op­por­tu­ni­ties for women to live in­de­pen­dent lives were clearly blunted when com­pared to to­day. How do you feel know­ing that you can no longer be kicked off of your health in­sur­ance plan due to a pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tion? I would think such changes give us hope that things can get bet­ter.

Of course, this is what hu­mans do: we col­lec­tively cre­ate these so­cial forces that en­able and con­strain us. We de­velop ideas and they be­come cod­i­fied into cus­toms, laws, and so­cial or­ga­ni­za­tions; some­times these forces ap­pear as though they are cre­ated by an im­mutable force of na­ture and at other times we watch them col­lapse like a house of cards to see new sys­tems come into be­ing. This is a so­cial fact and it is ex­actly what the dis­ci­pline of so­ci­ol­ogy stud­ies—those in­sti­tu­tions and cul­tural sys­tems that cre­ate pat­tern so­cial re­la­tions and con­sti­tute our iden­ti­ties.

You would be mis­taken, how­ever, to see so­ci­ol­ogy as only an aca­d­e­mic method to bet­ter un­der­stand the hu­man con­di­tion. It is more. It is through so­ci­ol­ogy that we can both study the so­cial world and en­gage it—and with so­ci­ol­ogy we can take on the ma­jor so­cial is­sues of our time. This is what the great 20-cen­tury so­ci­ol­o­gist C. Wright Mills dubbed the “promise” of so­ci­ol­ogy. To­day, it is what we in the dis­ci­pline call “pub­lic so­ci­ol­ogy.” The prac­tice of pub­lic so­ci­ol­ogy is to take the dis­ci­pli­nary skills of so­ci­ol­ogy to the pub­lic for the ben­e­fit of the greater good. Pub­lic so­ci­ol­ogy is about shar­ing im­por­tant re­search to cit­i­zens that could trans­form their lives; it is about us­ing so­ci­ol­ogy to cre­ate so­cial and pub­lic pol­icy; and it is about show­ing how so­ci­ol­ogy can be used in non­profit and pri­vate en­ter­prise. This is ex­actly what the so­ci­ol­o­gist Matthew Desmond did. He stud­ied the low-in­come rental mar­ket where he found evic­tions are now com­mon. He then wrote the Pulitzer Prize win­ning book Evicted, cre­ated a non­profit called just­shel­ to help low-in­come renters gain ac­cess to so­cial and le­gal ser­vices, and now he writes for ma­jor me­dia out­lets and tours the na­tion talk­ing about the evic­tion cri­sis. Desmond has met with politi­cians and has in­no­v­a­tive ideas on how to re­duce both evic­tion and poverty. Does­n’t that sound like ap­peal­ing work? This is what so­ci­ol­ogy can do, and it is you who could be the next one to de­velop a non­profit or busi­ness to solve a ma­jor so­cial prob­lem.

If you share these con­cerns and har­bor such hopes, you should come ma­jor in so­ci­ol­ogy. Here at AC, you will find a newly de­signed cur­ricu­lum that is built around the tenets of pub­lic so­ci­ol­ogy. Our goal is to pro­vide you with the skills that will pre­pare you for both pro­fes­sional work and grad­u­ate school ed­u­ca­tion—so that you can help make a dif­fer­ence in the so­cial world. Please come visit us and learn more.


Pro­fes­sor Farough is a so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at As­sump­tion Col­lege. He is a staff writer for Le Provo­ca­teur.


By : Professor Farough (Sociology, Assumption College)
Date : November 17, 2017
Source : Le Provocateur  (

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Memoir of Growing Up Fat Forces France to Look in the Mirror


PARIS — When a fledgling alternative press published Gabrielle Deydier’s plaintive memoir of growing up fat in France, there was little expectation that the book would attract much notice. Frenchwomen are among the thinnest in Europe, high fashion is big business, and obesity isn’t often discussed.

“To be fat in France is to be a loser,” Ms. Deydier said.

So no one, least of all Ms. Deydier, expected “On Ne Naît Pas Grosse” (“One Is Not Born Fat”) to become a media sensation.

Using her life as a case in point, bolstered by scientific studies, Ms. Deydier exposes in 150 pages the many ways the obese in France face censure, as well as frequent insensitivity from the medical profession. Soon, the 330-pound author was being interviewed by a broad range of news outlets.

The coverage provoked a public reaction, and a variety of comments, including empathy and offers of support for those who are overweight, but also statements denigrating them. Some people complained Ms. Deydier was trying to normalize obesity.

“To be close to someone obese in a train or a plane haunts me,” Mathieu B. wrote in a comment on Le Monde’s website. “It’s like being close to someone who smells bad. One has a very bad journey, that’s a fact.”

In short, Ms. Deydier had touched a nerve. Her small publisher, which ran a limited first printing, has ordered a second.

“A book like this had not been done,” said Clara Tellier Savary, Ms. Deydier’s publisher at Éditions Goutte d’Or. “For an obese person to be aware of all the issues and step back is very rare.”

Unlike in the United States, where TV regularly features programs urging viewers to take a positive view of their bodies and where a plus-size clothing industry is booming, celebrating one’s girth is almost unheard-of in France.

Yet more and more French people are obese. A report published last year by Inserm, the National Institute of Health and Medical Research, found that 16 percent of the adult population was obese, up from about 12 percent eight years ago.

That is still low compared with the United States, where 36.5 percent of the adult population was clinically obese in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (International standards define being obese as having a body mass index of 30 or higher, and overweight as a B.M.I. of 25 to 29.)

Activists trying to increase public awareness about the problems the obese face, and demanding that the French Health Ministry disseminate more information about treatment options, are only beginning to get a hearing, said Anne-Sophie Joly, president of an umbrella association of groups representing obese people.

“Society is very harsh with women,” Ms. Joly said. “Women face the most demands: She must be beautiful, but not too much; she must be thin, but not too thin; she must be intelligent, but not too much because you mustn’t put the man in the shadows.”

Ms. Deydier, a native of the southern city of Nîmes, studied literature as well as a bit of politics and philosophy in Montpellier and has worked in journalism. In her book, she describes with sometimes caustic candor the daily humiliations of “grossophobie,” or fat-phobia, in France.

France is one of few countries prohibiting job discrimination based on physical appearance, in a 2001 law, but the measure appears to be more often ignored than observed.

Jean-François Amadieu, a sociologist at the Sorbonne in Paris who tracks public perceptions of obesity, said that obese men were three times less likely to be offered job interviews, and obese women six times less likely. (It is customary in France for job applicants to include photographs with their résumés.)

Ms. Deydier recalled applying for a job at McDonald’s as a university student, when she weighed around 200 pounds. The manager “didn’t want customers to see me working there,” she said, “because he didn’t want them to think they would look like me if they came often.”

Later, during a trial period working with autistic children, a senior teacher told her, “You are the seventh handicapped person in the class,” Ms. Deydier recalled. She was told that she made the children feel doubly like misfits because they were saddled with an obese teacher. At the end of her six-month trial period, her bosses suggested that she look elsewhere for a job.

“I was ashamed to bring a complaint,” Ms. Deydier said about filing a discrimination suit, adding that people had told her that she would never win one anyway, given her weight.

One indicator of French views on obesity is the rising rate of extreme treatments like bariatric surgery, in which part of the stomach or intestine is removed or bypassed. The number of such operations has doubled in France in the past six years, to 50,000 annually.

Ms. Deydier, who has tried dieting repeatedly and lost weight only to regain it, said she had considered having the operation but had been disturbed by the idea of choosing “to amputate a functioning part of my body.”

Of the possible complications, she added, the most upsetting was the risk of social isolation: It can be difficult to share a meal after such surgery, which leaves people needing five small meals a day instead of the traditional three.

Yet for many, the desire to be svelte prevails over health risks or discomfort.

“In France, people are much more invested in ideas about physical appearance” than in other places, said Mr. Amadieu, the sociologist. “Norms have changed from the 1960s and 1970s; they have become thinner and thinner.”

Ms. Deydier describes her reluctance to take trains or buses because of frequent derision from fellow passengers, the discomfort of being out of breath even after walking a short distance and the sense of having her eating habits watched hawkishly.

Over a cup of coffee far from the high-fashion redoubts of the Avenue Montaigne, Ms. Deydier described walking into a bakery in her neighborhood in Paris late one morning and, having missed breakfast, ordering two croissants.

Before she even had time to put away her change, she recalled, the woman behind her in line said to the attendant, “One will be enough for me, thank you.”

“She spoke as if I couldn’t hear her,” Ms. Deydier said, “but I was standing right there.”

Sociologists link such censure to a strong emphasis on appearance, to attachment to rules and to fears that order will dissolve if conventions are flouted.

Abigail Saguy, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has studied attitudes toward appearance in the United States and France, said that obesity is seen in France as a sign of being out of control.

“Even if you’re not heavy, you can receive criticism if you are eating in a way that is perceived as out of control, such as not at meal times,” she said, citing a book whose French author described with horror seeing Americans eating alone, or at any time of day.

“France is a very rules-based society,” Ms. Saguy said. “There are rules about eating in France, about mealtimes, and you need to follow the rules.”


By : Alissa J. Rubin
Date : October 21, 2017
Source : The New York Times (

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Why public sees foreign workers as more helpful than locals


In September, a group of foreign workers were hailed for helping to move a car that had been stuck on a flight of stairs at Waterway Point in Punggol – while Singaporeans looked on and snapped pictures with their phones.

After the video circulated online, there was an outpouring of goodwill from Singaporeans, many of whom compared the foreign workers favourably against locals.

The workers, The Straits Times understands, had in fact been asked to move the car. But public response was telling, with many Singaporeans saying that foreign workers here are helpful and friendly – perhaps even more so than locals.

People ST spoke to suggested reasons that foreign workers are seen in such a positive light, although they were cautious not to generalise.

Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser, from the National University of Singapore’s department of sociology, said: “It could be that we tend to be generous in our views of people who are no threat to us. Here, we are speaking of foreign workers who perform the menial tasks that we avoid doing ourselves.”

An unequal relationship of power could affect the way foreign workers interact with locals.

“Because the foreign workers see themselves as of lower status to middle-class Singaporeans, they may tend to display what could be deemed to be deferential, even subservient, behaviour, but manifested as friendly or helpful behaviour.

“Consequently, we may actually develop some positive stereotypes about them… along with some negative stereotypes. The latter could be activated should they, for instance, compete with us for public space or amenities,” Prof Tan added.

Citing a famous 2012 study published in PNAS journal that showed that underprivileged people tend to be more generous and ethical, Singapore Management University sociology professor Nicholas Harrigan said: “It could be this trend that people are noticing with foreign workers, but I am hesitant to draw conclusions because there are so many other potential factors.”

Mr John Gee, former president and current head of research at non-governmental organisation Transient Workers Count Too, said that Bangladeshi migrant workers here tend to come from rural areas in the neighbourhood of Dhaka.

In big cities like Singapore, people tend to mind their own business, he said. The sizeable Bangladeshi population here could also make it easier for the temporary migrantsto “perpetuate the tradition they brought from home”.

Bangladeshi construction worker Mahbub Hasan Dipu, 30, who hails from Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, said he has many friends from villages in Bangladesh.
He described these village communities as “one big family… They are all very helpful”. But he said there could be another reason for such friendliness: “We need this job. We want to stay here. We are scared that if we are rude, bad things will happen.”

Another Bangladeshi, Mr Belal Hassan, 29, who helps manage a stainless steel shop, said: “There are so many workers on MRT trains, buses who give up their seats.” His desire to do good, he said, is driven by his Muslim values.

The upswelling of goodwill towards foreign workers, however, could be a reaction to some negative stereotypes that still persist.

Mr Gee noted that there are Singaporeans who think foreign workers are “dishonest”, or subscribe to “the idea that South Asian workers may be sexual predators”.

He hopes to see more open spaces and affordable cafes where locals and foreign workers can meet.

Meanwhile, Prof Tan said that aside from public education, there could be more opportunities for both groups to interact in “non-hierarchical, collaborative fun activities” such as games and sports.

Said Mr Belal: “Some people say we are smelly, sweaty, that we just come here for the money. But we also need your love, your appreciation because we are also human.”


By : Toh Wen Li
Date : November 13, 2017
Source : The Straits Time

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The culture and sociology of rape


To understand why rape takes place and why it is so pervasive, is to be willing to explore the relationship between men and women and who our community has given more power.

We must start by exploring patriarchy and the way its social and cultural norms lend weight to sexism and a gender inequality which create risks for women.

“Where is Mere and John? It’s 6pm and getting dark out. Go and tell Mere to come home now!

“John is a boy, he will be all right.”

A form of this conversation will take place in iTaukei families as the sun sets.

Most of us will consider it normal to bring in a girl, keep her safe from harm and completely ignore that John may grow up to be the reason Mere is in danger.

By teaching our girl children to keep safe as a preventative measure, we unfortunately feed into a pervasive culture which shifts on to the victim of sexual violence the burden of preventing it; rape culture.

British sociologist Dr Nicki Lisa Cole at the University of York says rape culture is when rape and other forms of sexual violence is so common, we consider it normal or inevitable.

“In a rape culture, the commonality and pervasive nature of sexual violence and rape is fuelled by commonly held beliefs, values, and popular myths that encourage and excuse sexual violence committed by men and boys against women and girls,” Dr Cole said.

The sociologist said the rape culture composed primarily of four things:

* behaviors and practices;

* the way we think about sex and rape;

* the way we talk about sex and rape; and;

* cultural representations of sex and sexual assault.

One woman is raped by a man every day in Fiji, according to the Director of Public Prosecutions Christopher Pryde.

Mr Pryde said statistics of the past three years — since his office started to consistently keep tabs and inform the public about sex crimes — showed that the majority of these offences which reached the courts were committed by iTaukei men and in a rural setting.

Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls is the executive producer-director of femLINKpacific which operates the only gender-focused community media outlet. Their advocacy work is grounded on giving women at the very roots of the community, a national voice. Her findings support statistics in the justice system.

FemLINKPacific works with women at village level such as Mareta Tagivakatini secretary of the Labasa Market Vendors Association, Ana Ramatai president of the Bua Soqosoqo Vakamarama, Vani Tuvuki leader of the Koronubu Women’s Fellowship and Koronubu Methodist Women’s Group (Ba) and Bonita Qio executive co-ordinator of the Pacific Rainbows Advocacy Network (Lautoka) to identity the root causes of gender-based violence who are

“When women don’t understand that they have their rights … some men think that they totally own a woman. They think they can apply anything whether it’s physical or any type of violence. We have to educate women there are limits to everything. If they don’t have that knowledge, they will just follow what the men are doing to them.” Ms Tagivakatini said.

“What I’ve noticed is that women are trying to voice issues during (village) meetings … but they’re ashamed of what they are facing. It’s the culture that what happens in the house remains there.” Ms Ramatai said.

“Our tradition and religious norms are barriers. These village bylaws concentrate a lot on the men. The women are isolated from the big picture. It’s (also) surprising to see our young people don’t know their rights. We think that it is our age group — the older women and our mothers and grandmothers — but our young women don’t know where to go, what to do, what their rights are. They don’t have enough information to keep them safe even in their homes.” Ms Tuvuki said.

“We still find that marginalised women are taking their pain into themselves and hurting themselves. Whether they know their rights or responsibilities, they think that if they tell their story they will be victimised more.” Ms Qio said.

Mr Pryde suggested that maybe almost 30 years of work to change gender equality is not filtering down equally where it is needed, forcing us to examine what it is in our culture — our values, beliefs, knowledge, behaviour and practices — that allow rape to continue.

According to the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre whose leader Shamima Ali is credited with groundbreaking sociological work to eliminate violence against women and girls, the answer lies in the pillars of a Fijian’s religion and traditions.

At least when FWCC was founded in 1984, this was the reality that early Fijian feminists were confronted with, that it was not enough to counsel victims of violence but what was needed was to change societal attitudes.

In her book published by the Australian National University press, Situation Women: Gender Politics and Circumstance in Fiji, Nicole George examined the work of the FWCC and its progress on reducing the gender gap.

“The Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre challenged important socio-cultural protocols which regulated conduct within civil society generally and prevented the issue of gender violence from becoming a topic of public debate,” Ms George said.

From Ms George’s report, Ms Ali said in 2002 of the FWCC’s early days, “People didn’t talk about this issue and rape was not mentioned in the press.

You only read about it if it was rape and murder. So reports were quite rare. In terms of open debate there was none at all. Rape was seen as a private affair, it was something that was shameful.”

Fiji is for the most part, largely a patriarchal society. Males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. In the domain of the family, fathers or father-figures hold authority over women and children. (Wikipedia).

“There were cultural restrictions too, the acceptability of treating women like doormats and the mentality that if these things happen, then women deserved it. We were working in a very conservative society … there is the whole patriarchal system in operation here which sanctions the culture of men owning women,” Ms Ali said in 2002.

While some may argue a change in the psyche of the young iTaukei male, typical male is largely moulded by the vanua, the church and the media.

In most homes in Fiji, the man is likely to sit at what is considered the head of the table, get the best part of a meal and served first.

Most or maybe the leading roles in traditional iTaukei protocols and rituals are performed by men.

In most Christian organisations, of which the majority of the population belong to, leadership positions are still mostly given to men.

In August 2016, Tevita Banivanua the then president of Fiji’s largest faith-based organisation, Methodist Church, agreed there was a need to change the gender composition of the church.

“Our challenge is to support our daughters, our sisters in Christ that feel the call to serve God and offer themselves to serve as ministers and deaconesses and to encourage our circuit and division to be open to receive female ministers and deaconesses as ministry leaders in our local churches and not just as chaplain for schools,” Mr Banivanua said.

In the same speech, he called for a change to the salary structure for women who already served in the church.

For FWCC, and others working to reduce gender-based violence, the difficulty lies in encouraging traditional communities to challenge conventional interpretations of the Bible in relation to how it defines the role of women.

“We have examined culture and religion. We have read the Koran, The Hindu holy books and the Bible. We have learnt all about these religions so we can counter arguments that might do damage to women. This has been an important part of our training,” said Ms Ali.

Politics is no different with only 14 per cent of the Parliament of Fiji are women, it was 16 per cent before Jiko Luveni vacated her seat to become the first female Speaker of the House. The world average is 21 per cent and the ideal United Nations measure is 30 per cent.

An Asian Development Bank report published after the past general election confirms gender inequality “is holding back development”.

Published in 2015, the Country Gender Assessment shows that rural women in particular, the same demographic that Mr Pryde said from which most rape cases came from, have fewer economic opportunities. Research gives the absence of economic power as a reason many women remain in violent relationships.

Research shows that members of a patriarchal society, that’s us — unconsciously teach our sons who grow up to be men that they have superiority over a woman. Whether we realise the dangers that await such a world view, is a serious question.

As it stands, we will call on women to be:

* less beautiful, despite that women of all shapes, size and varying physical attributes have been raped;

* wear less revealing clothes, despite that women in the traditional Islamic garment which covers the entire body save for the eyes, have been raped;

* don’t be cheeky or forward, despite that grandmothers sleeping at home have been raped; and

* don’t drink alcohol despite that toddlers, still consuming mostly milk have been raped.

Jiokapeci Baledrokadroka meets rape survivors (a term those in the field prefer in place of victim) on a daily basis. As senior counsellor at Medical Services Pacific, Ms Baledrokadroka also hears the sometimes 179 calls (for August 2017) which come through the Child Helpline (dial 1325 from any telephone to reach free counselling, free health care).

She and the team of counsellors at their clinic, which is on Waimanu Rd in Suva and in Labasa, work hard to remind survivors of sexual violence that no one has the right to abuse them. Her experience is telling.

“Unfortunately some survivors do blame themselves due to lack of awareness about their rights and if the assault has been going on when they were too young to understand what to do,” Ms Baledrokadroka said.


By: Lice Movono
Date: September 27, 2017
Source: The Fiji Times Online

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Torah Sociology: Keeping the Mitzva of modesty


The Mitzvah of modesty us too important to be a list of do’s and don’ts. And the dilemmas are widespread.

The mitzvah of modesty is too important to be a list of do’s and don’ts (My Rosh Hashanah prayers brought me to share these thoughts with my readers.)

An important rabbi whom I admire answers questions concerning the mitzvah of modesty (halakha concerning the proper social relationships between men and women) in brief e-mails of one sentence, published in a popular Shabbat publication.

I feel very uncomfortable with this curt, technical  manner of providing rabbinic guidance on the very complex issue of what constitutes proper, halakhic, inter gender social relationships in our quickly changing social world.

In contrast, this article proposes that our rabbis and educators should provide counseling on dilemmas of modesty by working with the seeker to find the existential common denominator between the halakhic guidelines and the seeker’s life situation and personality.

Our rabbis and educators should increase the attention that we give to the challenging dilemmas that all religious Jews experience in trying to truly live the Torah laws concerning social modesty in our very gender mixed, post modern society. Our synagogues and educational institutions (including yeshivot of all ages) should provide innovative ways to seriously address the issue.

What constitutes meaningful guidance on dilemmas of modesty?

To be realistic and meaningful the guidance cannot simply consist of pulling out of books a long list of do’s and don’ts. Meaningful guidance cannot be prescribed from above in general terms. Meaningful guidance that will be taken seriously, and actively incorporated into the lives and the souls of the seekers, must be given on an individual (or very small group) basis. It must take into account both the general guidelines of the halacha, and the specific life situation and circumstances of the seeker.(individual, family or congregation). In questions of modesty, “one shoe size cannot fit all feet”.
When I talk about dilemmas of modesty, I am NOT talking about issues of pornography or aberrant intimate relationships. Rather, I am discussing in Torah terms what is proper halakhic behavior when a religious Jew (one who has happily taken upon himself the authority of the halakhic ) works side by in the work place, or educational setting, with people of the opposite gender. I am also referring to the dilemmas of a religious person who wants to partake of the healthier aspects of a primarily secular culture such as   movies, theatre, museums, literature, music and touring.

The urgent need for rabbinic initiative and leadership in this area

Our national religious rabbis have given consultation, and written a range of  halakhic responses, on these issues. But usually they have done so in response to the individual initiative of a seeker. This is insufficient.   The vast majority of members of the national religious community do not feel comfortable asking these questions, and thus do not turn for rabbinic guidance.  Even worse, many in our community do not believe, or are not aware, that social relationships with the other gender in the public domain are a legitimate halakhic question. They frequently believe that they can answer their questions relying solely on their own common sense.

I believe that common sense is an insufficient guide in the matters of inters gender social relationships. I believe (to quote Rav Soloveitchik, among others) that G-d is very much present in my social relationships. I want rabbinic guidance so that I can help G-d himself feel comfortable when he is accompanying me in my social relationships.

Our rabbinic and educational leadership should organize, on their initiative, from above, small, non-threatening frameworks for discussion and guidance on issues of modesty in the public domain.

This article is not for, or against, stricter, or more liberal, guidance in these issues. This article, however, is forcefully arguing that halakhic guidance on issues of modesty will be taken seriously by our community when it is advice that is expressed in terms that are personally meaningful, and relevant, to the life situation of the seeker.  The guidance must thus be individual, and not just a list of do’s and don’ts.

My ‘modesty’ dilemmas and my relationship with G-d
We all have many dilemmas of ‘modesty’ in various dimensions of our lives. I would like to share with my readers four examples of certain of my dilemmas. In my professional career as a social worker, I encountered dilemmas of ‘yichud’ (being alone in  closed room with a woman who is not my wife) when I paid home visits, as a provider of supportive, psychological services, to lonely widows whose sons died in army service. I also encountered dilemmas of ‘yichud  when I met with female social work students in my role as their field work  supervisor.

For many years I was the only male social worker on an otherwise all female, hospital  social social work staff, and thus I encountered questions concerning the proper ‘modesty’ boundaries between necessary professional staff work and camaraderie and mere socialization; Can I eat lunch in the hospital lunch room with other female staff members, when socialization can further professional communication and cooperation, particularly given the very stressful  human situations of life and death that hospital social workers are forced to deal with?

Relating to G-d while taking responsibility for social development in a sovereign Jewish state 

Today, my most pressing questions regarding modesty concern partaking of the healthiest parts of secular culture such as going to carefully selected , quality movies with my wife, or visiting an art museum, or reading quality fiction literature which deal with important existential issues (and are selected not to include implicit intimacy, or an ideological perverse view of life’s meaning?)

On a cognitive level I have received prescriptive, rabbinical answers to these dilemmas. Seventy per cent of the national religious public would find it hard to understand why I feel there is even a question in the first place, and why I did not just use my common sense.

But now I am at stage in my life where my real question is not simply the prescriptive do or don’t answer, but the deeper theological question, “How, and Why, is G-d with me when I live the above life experiences?”  I very much want to discuss these questions with a Torah scholar who has a much deeper grasp of the wisdom of Chazal than I  do. I believe there are a lot of other people who are like me and want to more fully understand exactly how G-d’ is present when we leave the house, beit midrash and beit Knesset and become very involved in the secular, (as yet unredeemed) society that surrounds us. This is how I would define our current challenge of the mitzvah of modesty.  Ignoring or withdrawing from our surrounding society is not a coping option for national religious Jews who believe that G-d purposefully did a open miracle and gave us the responsibility of applying His Torah to all domains of a sovereign Jewish state.

How should our rabbis/educators provide guidance on dilemmas of modesty?

The mitzvah of modesty is somewhat unique mitzvah. It is almost the ultimate example of a mitzvah that is simultaneously ‘between man and G-d’ and also ‘between man and man’. Ha Rav Soloveitchik writes in the Lonely Man of Faith that our ongoing relationship with G-d is , by definition, a triangular covenantal relationship. We build a relationship with G-d by entering simultaneously into an eternal, mutually binding and obligating relation with both G-d and his Torah AND with our fellow man in the settings of marriage, familyhood and primary community.

This means that every question of modesty must be understood as a living dialogue between the ‘man and G-d’ dimension, and the ‘man and man dimension’, of our spiritual lives.

The two basic principles of ‘modesty’ counseling

On the basis of the above understandings, as a sociologist/psychologist I recommend that our rabbinic-educator advisors approach the personal questions of modesty that their students bring them according to the following two principles.

One, the main purpose of their counseling should be to provide counseling that aims to help the seeker strengthen and develop his relationship with G-d.  Advice whose result weakens our relationship with G-d is, by definition,  poor advice.  Based on this analysis, the main task of the rabbinic adviser is to find the common existential denominator between the halakhic wisdom in this area, and the personality and life situation of the seeker.
Second, advice should be phrased in a manner that does not encourage guilt feelings. Guilt feelings are always poisonous to the development of any relationship.  Just as our marital relationships, or parent- teenager relationships, cannot flourish when guilt feelings are present, neither can our relationship with G-d when guilt is present. Within the halakhic  laws of modesty there is a generous area of discretion which can allow a rabbinic counselor to find a common denominator between the technical  halakha and the living situation of the seeker.

In cases where the seeker is crossing a red line of halakhic prohibition, and at this stage in his life is not yet capable of significantly changing his behavior, the rabbinic counselor should do two things. One, help the seeker cognitively understand, and accept in his heart, the value based, spiritual messages of the halakhic position. This can be done without generating guilt. Second, the counselor can help the seeker map out a road of graduated behavioral change, so that the seeker can eventually get to a position on the halakhically acceptable side of the red line. In this way ‘mitzvah will generate mitvah, and simcha (happiness) will generate mitzvah’

Real behavioral and cognitive change is gradual, step-by-step change

Fifty years ago I was an assimilated, middle class Jew who spent three years studying to be a Reform Rabbi. Today I, my wife and extended family have a close relationship with G-d and his Torah. The only way I could have made this journey was because G-d led by the hand down the slow, gradual   road of ‘mitzvah bequeaths mitzvah, simchah bequeath simchah’.During this journey G-d never asked or required me to do anything from a sense of guilt. G-d just required that I keep on walking towards him. I believe that this model of an existential, guilt free, walking towards G-d is also the most helpful way to counsel people with dilemmas concerning modesty.

When beginning my journey, I got tremendous spiritual support from the personal story of Franz Rosenzwieg, the Jewish, German philosopher who also began a personal journey of step by step adopting a life of Torah. Frequently his friends tried to mock his effort to include the Torah in his life. They would mockingly ask if he did this difficult mitzvah or not.  He would always respond with answer “Not yet”, and never with the negative answer “No”. There is 180 degree of existential difference between these two answers.

If when educationally counseling on dilemmas of modesty, we can help the seeker get to the position (relationship stage) of saying “Not Yet”, I am sure G-d will be quite pleased.

Summary: Coping with the anti-modesty onslaught of our surrounding secular society

Every religious Jew, every day, has to cope with a furious onslaught of the libertine, hyper sensual aspects of secular society.

Haredi society, correctly recognizing this reality, has adopted a strategy which gives the battle for maintaining modesty a central role in today’s ultra –orthodox theology (I role which I believe has no historical precedent; a role which I believe inhibits, and does not promote, a living, positive relationship with G-d) . It has also adopted a strategy of insularity which prevents haredi Jews from actively participating in the building of a sovereign Jewish state, and benefiting from the healthier aspects of secular culture.

Our national religious community feels religiously dictated to participate in the building of a modern Jewish state. In the process, we have, quite unconsciously, decided to ignore the challenge with coping with spiritual consequences of actively participating in a libertine, sensual secular society. I do not consider that the strategy of simply prescribing a list of do’s and don’ts to be an adequate method of coping with the serious spiritual challenges of participating in secular society. Answering dilemmas of modesty with a list of do’ and don’ts is not a strategy of engagement, but rather a strategy of avoidance.

Our rabbinic and educational leaders must begin to proactively engage our students and members around the issues of modesty in small, non threatening groups, and on an individual basis.

On the basis of my personal journey, and as a teacher and as a practitioner of psychology and social work, I suggest that the main goal of rabbinic/educational counseling on issues of modesty should not be a list of do’s and don’ts. The main purpose would be to listen to, and work with the seeker, in order to define the existential common denominator between the halakhic principles and the life situation and personality of the seeker. When necessary, the counseling should help the seeker set for himself a step by step, graduated path for actualizing his goal to include more modesty in his ongoing relationship with G-d.

I truly believe that for many, many national religious Jews dilemmas of modesty lie right below the surface of our religious lives. They are definitely there, and definitely not addressed. They ‘slumber’ in a troublesome ‘sleep’.


By: Dr. Chaim Charles Cohen
Date: October 2, 2017
Source: Israel National News

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More Chinese Women Now Prefer Younger Husbands, Study Suggests


A new study conducted by the institute of sociology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences suggested that women in the country are now choosing younger men for husbands.

In the 1990s, only 13% of marriages were recorded that involved a younger groom and an older wife, Guangzhou Daily reported, via South China Morning Post.

The change in the attitudes toward marriage in China are gradually progressing as the years go on. The study revealed that in the 2010s, relationships involving a younger groom increased drastically to around 40%.

According to researchers, contributing factors to breaking the centuries-old tradition of Chinese husbands being older than their wives include better educational and employment opportunities for women, and gender imbalance.

“In those days, if a man married an older woman, even if they were in love, he was seen as a loser,” Zhu Xiuyun told SCMP.

“It was considered really radical, even until as recently as the 2000s. I didn’t want my family to be seen as a joke in the neighbourhood so I gave up the relationship.”

A new study conducted by the institute of sociology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences suggested that women in the country are now choosing younger men for husbands.

In the 1990s, only 13% of marriages were recorded that involved a younger groom and an older wife, Guangzhou Daily reported, via South China Morning Post.

The change in the attitudes toward marriage in China are gradually progressing as the years go on. The study revealed that in the 2010s, relationships involving a younger groom increased drastically to around 40%.

According to researchers, contributing factors to breaking the centuries-old tradition of Chinese husbands being older than their wives include better educational and employment opportunities for women, and gender imbalance.

“In those days, if a man married an older woman, even if they were in love, he was seen as a loser,” Zhu Xiuyun told SCMP.

“It was considered really radical, even until as recently as the 2000s. I didn’t want my family to be seen as a joke in the neighbourhood so I gave up the relationship.”

For Zhu’s daughter, Yang Siwei, however, the tradition is a thing of the past. The 31-year-old public relations manager is now married to a man four years younger than her.

“For my mum’s generation, older, successful men were considered the best husband material,” she said.

“Husbands were used to being in control of their wives, but in my generation, that’s not so. Love has nothing to do with money, education or age, but is about sharing and a relationship of equals.”

This type of relationship is very much common and can be found throughout big cities in China, according to Luo Aiping, a family lawyer and the co-author of “Investigation into China’s Leftover Women”. Now, men and women usually meet socially as well as in the workplace.

“The new trend of men marrying older women means that the traditional view in China that men are somehow more important than women is changing forever. Women should be cheering for it.”


By: Bryan Ke
Date: October 6, 2017


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Women take on a more public role in Suwayda as men stream out of province


These days, coffee shops in Suwayda city are full of young women smoking water pipes—once a social taboo. Women are filling the ranks of the wait staff at local restaurants. At least one school in the Druze-majority province’s countryside is staffed almost entirely by female teachers.

The increasingly public role of women in this conservative society in Syria’s south is relatively new.

“Six years ago, this phenomenon was non-existent,” says Dalia Masoud, 27, a sociology researcher living in Suwayda city.

Masoud is a master’s candidate in sociology at Damascus University. As part of her graduate work, she spent the past four years traversing regime-held Suwayda city and its countryside, where she interviewed 100 different families about their attitudes toward gender and marriage.

Her most surprising discovery? “A general consensus among young people against the old notion of family, which is to ‘get married, have 10 or 11 kids, then figure everything out later.’”

Young people in Suwayda are more educated than ever before, says Masoud. But sparse job opportunities mean few can afford marriage and children.  

Young men in particular blame their aversion to marriage on yet another, more urgent reason. For fighting-age men evading mandatory military service with the Syrian Arab Army, a visit to the local government office for marriage registration could result in arrest or forced conscription.

Suwayda’s young men are streaming out of the province—and the country, says Masoud, unwilling to fight in the war and unwilling to remain at home. 

Left behind are towns and villages across Suwayda with a decidedly more female face. More than 63 percent of Suwayda province’s residents are now women and girls, by Masoud’s estimate. “Young women are now taking on jobs that were once primarily for men,” she tells Syria Direct’s Noura al-Basha in Suwayda province. 

“Women have started to take the place of men.”

Q: First off, can you explain exactly what is driving so many young men in Suwayda away from home?

Throughout the study, the most notable issues I encountered were a lack of job opportunities and a desire to avoid mandatory military service.

[Ed.: Two-year military service is required of all Syrian men aged 18–42. Exemptions for family circumstances or illness excuse some, while deferments for university students are also available. Legally registering a marriage in a local government court or office could leave a draft evader vulnerable to arrest or conscription.]

I found that eight out of 10 young men surveyed wanted to leave [their hometowns]. This ratio is high for a society like that of Suwayda, where social mores are firmly tied to the family and ancestral homeland.

I’ll give you an example of one man from my study—let’s call him Wael. One of Wael’s two brothers was killed [while fighting for the regime] in battles between the regime and the opposition in Aleppo. His other brother has been living abroad in Venezuela for the past 15 years, leaving Wael as the sole remaining provider for his family.

Though Wael was engaged, he faced pressure from his fiancée’s family because they weren’t sure he’d be able to support both his family and a wife. This was in addition to the [financial] pressure he already faced from his own family as the sole breadwinner. So he gave up on the idea of marriage and broke off the engagement—he couldn’t even legally register the marriage to begin with, due to his avoidance of mandatory military service.

Wael ended up travelling in secret to Lebanon and then moved to the Netherlands. His story is a very typical example of most of the cases that I’ve recorded these past three years.

Q: Tell me more about your study. When exactly did you begin to notice that young men were leaving Suwayda province en masse?

Today we see a province that is more than 63 percent female. But we in Suwayda refuse the idea of polygamy [as a solution to an imbalance in the ratio of women to men].

So in August 2016, after more than five years of war, I conducted a study [examining] the percentage of young men emigrating from Suwayda. Of the 100 families included in the study, 90 had one or more family members who left Syria. A total of 70 responded that the young men in their families emigrated because of the war, and to avoid mandatory military service. Some of those who left were as young as 17 years old.

I remember one woman in Suwayda city who told me: “Seeing my sons leave me behind is better than watching them die in this war. I have no other choice.” All four of her sons left Syria, and now live in the Gulf and Europe.

 Q: What about the young women left behind in Suwayda? Can they and their partners even afford to get married, assuming the fiancé doesn’t end up emigrating?

The cost of weddings has increased lately—now, a wedding party costs around SP1 million [approx. $2,000]. A bridal gown is SP50,000 [approx. $97], not to mention all the other details of the wedding, like the hotel [venue], which normally goes for more than SP200,000 [approx. $388].

These [high prices] were among the responses I got from young men when I asked them why they were avoiding marriage.

What made me saddest was going to the home of a family in rural eastern Suwayda province. The father was the sole provider for the family, despite his only source of income being retirement checks.

One of his sons was a university graduate who studied economics, but couldn’t find any work and now works in an apple orchard. The other son was a teacher who had to abandon his job to evade mandatory military service.

Both sons refused to consider marriage because of their economic woes. When I asked their father for his opinion on this, he surprised me: “Sweetheart, this country is no longer able to carry its children. It was my dream to celebrate [my sons’ weddings], but as you see now, their sole concern is just to earn each day’s bread.”

[I also found] a general consensus among young people against the old notion of family, which is to “get married, have 10 or 11 kids, then figure everything out later.”

 Q: So with your expertise in sociology, what can you tell me about the immediate social impacts you’re seeing from the lack of young men? What kinds of issues (or positive impacts, if there are any) are we really looking at here?

There are a few more social freedoms. For example, it’s become common to see young women smoking water pipes at restaurants and cafes. This phenomenon didn’t exist six years ago.

The biggest impact [of having fewer young men] is that young women are now taking on jobs, including waiting tables at restaurants, that were once primarily for men.

I visited one village’s middle school and was surprised to find that the entire teaching staff were women, with the exception of four male teachers who were all 45 years old or older.

So yes, we can say that women have started to take the place of men, in the absence of young men in Suwayda.

Just to be clear, however, we aren’t talking about entire villages empty of men. Rather, we are seeing villages where the number of men over age 50 is higher than the number of young men due to emigration.

Women with jobs have also started helping their fiancés financially, by setting up the home and buying furniture and other necessities. This also did not exist before the war.

Women have started to give up on some of the conditions of the mahr [money or possessions given to the bride by the groom in an Islamic marriage]. Many young women are lowering the mahr price, or are simply accepting only an engagement ring as a way to lower the financial pressures on the young man.

Of course, women in Suwayda are well educated—around 45 percent of them have a degree from a university or other institution. That being said, women here still dream about their chance to wear a white dress. They dream of a home and a family.

 Q: What about the longer-term impacts?

The most important issue we see in societies that have a low marriage rate is a decreased birth rate—and in Suwayda, the birth rate is already low. How can we have a new generation if there aren’t any births, and if the population in general is already growing older?

And recently, there has also been a rise in the murder rate in Suwayda, as well as a general sense of chaos and recklessness. Most of this is caused by the psychological pressures incurred by a lack of financial and physical security, and young people’s inability to get married and start families.


Original reporting by Noura al-Basha. This interview is part of Syria Direct’s month-long coverage of the state of the south in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and reporters on the ground in Syria.


Date: September 26, 2017
Source: Syria:direct

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A university professor suggested Harvey was karma for Texas Republicans. Then, he was fired


The University of Tampa has fired a visiting professor who appeared to suggest on social media that Hurricane Harvey is karma for Texas for voting Republican.

Kenneth L. Storey, a sociology professor, was immediately slammed on social media after he tweeted this Sunday: “I dont believe in instant Karma but this kinda feels like it for Texas. Hopefully this will help them realize the GOP doesnt care about them.” Two days later, he was out of a job.

In a statement Tuesday, the university denounced Storey’s comments, saying they were made on his private Twitter account and do not reflect the school’s views.

“We condemn the comments and the sentiment behind them, and understand the pain this irresponsible act has caused,” the university said, adding that other faculty members will take over Storey’s classes. “As Floridians, we are well aware of the destruction and suffering associated with tropical weather. Our thoughts and prayers are with all impacted by Hurricane Harvey.”

Storey, who also hosts a podcast, appears to have since deleted his Twitter account. Earlier, he followed up his initial tweet with two responses before deleting the entire thread, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

On Monday, he tweeted an apology, according to the Times: “I deeply regret the statement I posted yesterday. I never meant to wish ill will upon any group. I hope all affected by Harvey recover quickly.”

Storey told The Washington Post that his intention was to speak about the GOP’s denial of climate change, and he never intended to be offensive.

“I apologize. I never intended it to be taken that way,” he said. “Seeing the suffering of the people of Houston and knowing that I added more suffering to that, that’s heartbreaking to me. We need to do what we can to support them right now, and I do not do that with those tweets.”

He also said he understands the university’s decision to fire him.

“I don’t want others to be harmed by my actions,” he said.

Texas officials have confirmed that at least 22 people have died in the wake of Harvey, which has been battering the state since Friday night. Forecasters say up to 20 more inches of rain could fall on Texas and Louisiana by Thursday. Thousands have been rescued from high waters, and officials warn that many more could be forced out of their homes.

Ari Cohn, an attorney for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which advocates free-speech rights at American colleges and universities, said the organization is investigating Storey’s firing, which he described as problematic.

“The University of Tampa faculty handbook very clearly promises its faculty freedom of expression and academic freedom, which includes the right to speak privately as a citizen on matters important to the individual, so long as there’s no explicit claim that he’s speaking on behalf of the university,” Cohn told The Post.

Cohn said professors should be able to express diverse views and ideas in a public forum. Storey’s firing, like similar ones in the past, sets a dangerous precedent that could force faculty members to be silent for fear of offending people online and getting fired, he said.

“Administrators, especially in recent months, have been capitulating to outrage mobs and firing professors left and right because they offended someone,” Cohn said.

In June, Lisa Durden was fired from Essex County College in Newark after she gave a combative interview on Fox News.

“Boo hoo hoo, you white people are angry because you couldn’t use your white privilege card to get invited to the Black Lives Matter’s all-black Memorial Day Celebration,” Durden told anchor Tucker Carlson.

Another professor, Kathy Dettwyler, was fired the same month after she wrote on Facebook that Otto Warmbier, who was taken into custody in North Korea, then fell into a coma and died, was a “clueless white male” who “got exactly what he deserved.”

Cohn said such incidents have become more common because social media has allowed faculty members to amplify their voices and reach a wider audience.

“It also amplifies the voice of the outrage mob that eventually assembles when they offend people,” Cohn said. “If there’s one thing that university administrators are terrified of, it’s a PR disaster. With social media, it makes it much easier to cause a PR disaster. So they’re trying to make the problem go away by making the root of the issue go away.”

Social media users who commented on the university’s Facebook page have called for Storey’s firing. Several University of Tampa students also have joined the chorus of criticism, saying that as a professor, Storey should have known what not to say in a public forum.

“That was really ignorant of him to say,” Neisha Gamble, a 20-year-old entrepreneurship major, told the Tampa Bay Times. “Yes, he has free speech, but there are some things you should just keep to yourself. … There are drownings and killings happening. … Don’t wish that upon anyone, and then send a fake apology out.”

Gamble, who is from Houston, said she’s still trying to reach her family there.

“I thought it was pretty messed up,” Patrick Holt, a junior, told the Times. “Twitter’s the area of free speech, and you can say what you want, but there’s an ethical line.”


By            :               Kristine Phillips

Date         :               August 30, 2017

Source     :               The Washington Post

Posted in Latest Post, Public Sociology | Leave a comment

Belly of the Beast


Sociologist call for a systematic response to online targeting of and threats against public scholars

MONTREAL — Race, religion, gender, inequality. They’re all central to sociology, the study of social relationships and institutions. They’re also topics over which scholars — Johnny Eric Williams, Dana Cloud, Sarah Bond, Tommy Curry, to name a few — have been targeted in recent months. It’s no wonder, then, that a number of sessions at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association discussed the troubling trend of threats against professors engaged in public scholarship.

One such session, “Protecting Public Scholars From Backlash,” was actually pitched 18 months ago, before the newest round of hate mail and threats of violence filled professors’ inboxes. At the time, session co-organizer Eric Anthony Grollman, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Richmond and a columnist for Inside Higher Ed, was concerned about scholars like Saida Grundy, an assistant professor of sociology at Boston University whose sociologically sound online comments about young white men sparked ire in 2015 (she kept her job).

In the interim, Grollman said in introducing the panel, public backlash against scholars has only grown. There’s also plummeting public confidence in higher education and what Grollman described as a new level of anti-intellectualism infused with racism, legitimized by the Trump administration.

Yet while personal attacks can feel isolating and shocking, they and other panelists said, they’re part of a well-funded, systematic attack on progressive academic ideals.

“Our goal here is to think sociologically about this problem,” Grollman said, noting that marginalized scholars — people of color, women and LGBT scholars — are disproportionately targeted. “These attacks are not isolated incidents, but they’re actually part of a larger conservative assault on higher education, and it’s not limited to what we call our extramural utterances … There are scholars who’ve been attacked for what they teach in the classroom, for the type of research they do.”

Grollman and others described a common cycle of a professor’s comments on a politicized topic first appearing on a right-wing website such as Campus Reform, which is supported by the conservative Leadership Institute. It’s soon followed by other, similar websites and news outlets and, finally, Fox News. Then, they said, “ensue the death threats, the threats of sexual violence, calls for them to be fired and lose their jobs. This is not a whimsical thing — there’s an actual system in place.”

If threats against scholars are organized where, then, is sociology’s organized response? Other panelists asked this question and offered thoughts on how the discipline should both support threatened scholars and proactively work to prevent such targeting.

A Systematic Problem Needs a Systematic Response

Borrowing a term from Prudence L. Carter, dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, panelist Jodi O’Brien, professor of sociology at Seattle University, asked whether sociologists want to be “interventionist scholars.” O’Brien, who lost a deanship at Marquette University in 2010 after accusations that she was anti-family (what O’Brien and many of her supporters allege was a ruse for rejecting her for being a lesbian), said she’s deeply interested in the idea. Indeed, she said, another problem with and goal of anti-academic trolls is that they detract from the faculty mission of fostering “democratic equality in creating citizens.”

Yet as a profession, O’Brien said, “we are ambivalent about public scholarship … We talk a good talk, but we don’t support it in a myriad of institutionalized ways. We don’t support it in our training of graduate students, we don’t support it in the tenure process.”

If sociologists want to be “interventionist public scholars,” she said, amending Carter’s original phrase, they must challenge their elitism and “train, facilitate, value and support one another” in systematic ways.

Picking up on Grollman’s and O’Brien’s assertion that those in the crosshairs are often the most vulnerable, Marisa Allison, a graduate student in sociology at George Mason University, said adjuncts need extra support from their peers. She cited the case of Lisa Durden, a pop culture commentator who lost her job as an adjunct instructor of communications at Essex County College this summer after defending Black Lives Matter on Fox News.

Some More Vulnerable Than Others

“There’s a concerted thing happening here, and we need to wrap our heads around it, while also recognizing those who are the most vulnerable need the most help,” said Allison, who studies non-tenure-track faculty members. Among other recommendations, she said professors need to push for a full faculty review of scholars under threat of termination for their public comments and to start supporting scholars across disciplines.

Allison also said it’s important for scholars to know what their colleagues are working on, to be aware of any possible fallout ahead of time.

Adia Harvey Wingfield, a professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis who has contributed to Inside Higher Ed, also linked threats against scholars to the adjunctification and general neoliberalization of the university, saying labor — even academic labor — doesn’t carry the weight it once did. At the same time, she said, institutions are keen to “extract” public scholarship work from their faculty members to advance their brand, even if the they’re not prepared to support those faculty members in the face of controversy.

“The irony is that a lot of times universities want to bring, highlight or take advantage of the work of academics who are able to put their work into that public sphere,” she said. “But then what happens when people come after you for that public profile? There’s not that same match there.”

Wingfield said she’s faced public criticism before for her work. She advised against the urge to purge inboxes of hate mail, arguing that it’s important from a legal perspective to save and document everything. That’s after cluing in one’s administration to backlash before the “outrage machine” really gets going.

“That puts you in a pre-emptive position to protect yourself a little bit,” she said. That way, she added, one is in the position to later say, “See, you know what’s been going on. Don’t act all ‘brand-new’ now.”

R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, associate professor of sociology and black studies at the City College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, said he’s coached himself and colleagues through the public attacks and warned that when the coast looks clear, it’s not.

The Coast Is Not Clear

“It only calms down so it can start up again,” he said, advising scholars to “understand the cycle.” Namely, he said, “It ain’t over till it’s over and it gets worse before it gets better.”

More specifically, Lewis-McCoy said there’s the initial incident: the tweet, the mention, the comment, the reference. That then gets amplified by the “outrage machine.” Then the professor’s institution is contacted by members of the public, which prompts a meeting with administrators.

That meeting is the beginning, not the end, said Lewis-McCoy, noting that institutional responses to controversy are distinct from the faculty member’s individual response. Because one response is “never enough,” he said, the cycle typically ends only after solution or sanction. For this reason, he advised scholars in the cycle to obtain their own legal counsel, as the campus legal team will protect the institution’s interests (the same goes for union counsel, he said).

For colleagues, Lewis-McCoy advised contacting affected scholars to show personal — not just public — support. Ask them if they’re OK, he said, and offer to take over their social media feeds to upgrade their passwords to prevent hacking and off-the-cuff responses.

Over all, he said, “It’s not about avoiding what we do, but doing what we’re doing and getting greater support.”

Support for Affected Scholars

Panel co-organizer Jessie Daniels, a professor of sociology at CUNY’s Hunter College and Graduate Center, recently co-wrote a book called Going Public: A Guide for Social Scientists (University of Chicago Press). She said that even scholars who aren’t on social media can be targeted and it’s up to professors to educate their administrations about systematic attempts from well-funded ideological corners to discredit liberal and progressive professors. Sometimes, she said, they may even find sympathetic ears.

Abby L. Ferber, a professor of sociology and women’s and ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and president of Sociologists for Women in Society, attended Saturday’s session ahead of a panel she’s leading here today on protecting scholars from right-wing attacks. Ferber’s been targeted for online harassment in relation to her participation in the annual White Privilege Conference, via videos distorting her public comments and more. The changing environment for educators involved in such work has led her to teach more classes online, out of safety concerns, she said.

Ferber recently published an article in the Humboldt Journal of Social Relations based on conversations with five other women attacked in strikingly similar ways for their research, including that on climate change. Ferber says that the elements of the political right have begun to attack individual faculty members in hopes of striking from the curriculum historically overlooked subject matter. The overall effort, she wrote, is to silence these professors, with obvious implications for academic freedom.

Of her subjects, Ferber said those who had allies — especially those who read hate emails and threats of violence for them — felt least vulnerable. Only one faculty member said she felt supported by her university based on its response to the respective controversy.

Ferber’s paper suggests various suggestions for institutional responses, based on feedback from subjects. They include:

Be proactive, not reactive. Have a protocol in place.

Put safety first. Then ask faculty members what they need.

Publicly condemn the form of the attack itself. Support civil dialogue by naming abuse and harassment for what it is.

Provide faculty members with resources for help and information about what they might experience next.

Honor professors’ wishes about being kept in the loop or not.

Do not individualize the problem.

Suggested responses for faculty members include talking to local and campus police, forwarding threatening messages to police and federal authorities, saving every message, denying trolls the response they seek, and seeking support from those who know your work.

Numerous attendees at ASA have asked what the association might do further support affected scholars. Michèle Lamont, professor of sociology and African and African-American studies and the Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies at Harvard University, and association president, said its governing council will this week discuss a number of concrete agenda items for action.

Concurrently, and not only because the attacks, the ASA is working to increase public engagement. It asked the Trump administration earlier this year to rescind the travel ban on majority-Muslim countries, for example. The annual gathering also offered a several how-to-style panels on public scholarship.

“Sociologists are not a unique target for these types of attacks, but we do study topics which people do often feel the most passionate about, such as family, religion and race,” Lamont said. “We do hope that demonstrating the value of sociology to a public audience will serve as a tool in mitigating these attacks, but there are all sorts of positive, proactive reasons to engage with the public.”

Lamont said there will always be those who react negatively to the sociologists’ work, but that “they should not be the ones who get to dictate this work through threat and intimidation.”

Looking Ahead

And what of scholars who have already lived out their intimidation cycles? Williams, the associate professor of sociology at Trinity College in Connecticut who was placed on leave (later lifted) this summer for online comments on race, backed out of ASA this year. He and his family had to leave the state due to threats, and it was simply too soon to attend the meeting and talk about his experience, he said via email.

Grundy, of Boston University, attended this year’s meeting, with two years between now and her outrage cycle. Does she think the climate for scholars will improve? No, she argues in a recently published article in Ethnic and Racial Studies called “A History of White Violence Tells Us Attacks on Black Academics Are Not Ending (I Know Because It Happened to Me).” Grundy says that attacks on black academics are fundamentally anti-black attacks and do two things: attempt to stall black progress and reinforce white identities, particularly in newly digitized spaces.

“My assessment is that we have no reason to think this will get better and, in fact, the routinization and ritual of these attacks is part of the point,” Grundy said this week. “Histories of terroristic white violence have shown us the same.”


By            :               Colleen Flaherty

Date         :               August 14. 2017

Source     :               Insider Higher Ed

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