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Academic Affirmative Action Is a Really Bad Idea. Here’s Why

 

If professors like Elizabeth Warren want to be taken seriously, then they should admit what every academic knows: race matters.

In 2003, with my doctoral dissertation approved and my PhD certificate in the mail, I went on the academic job market looking for an assistant professor position in sociology. I applied for more than eighty jobs and got just three interviews. One of them was at the sociology department of the University of Pittsburgh.

It was the middle of winter, I had a chest infection, and Pittsburgh was very cold. I was flying in from Arizona. There was a two-hour time difference and the Pittsburgh recruiting committee wanted me to start my day by meeting the director of the Center for Latin-American Studies at 7:30 a.m.

I pleaded for a later meeting since my next appointment wasn’t until 10:30 a.m. I pointed out that, due to jet lag, a 7:30 a.m. meeting would be like 5:30 a.m. for me, that I was very sick, and that I didn’t study Latin America. But the center’s director wanted to meet me, and he couldn’t meet me at any other time.

The chair of the sociology recruiting committee told me that he thought it was “very important” for me to meet with the Center for Latin-American Studies. I pointed out that I didn’t study Latin America in any way whatsoever, but he was insistent. He wouldn’t tell me why it was important. But when I threatened that, given my illness, I might just have to cancel the interview, he relented.

Over the course of my interview day in Pittsburgh, several people gently probed my family background. What sort of name was Babones? Was I perhaps from Argentina, a Latino of Italian origins? I readily told everyone the truth: my paternal grandparents came from Greece, my maternal great-grandparents came from Italy, and I came from New Jersey. Babones was just an Ellis Island misspelling of Bebonis, our proper Greek family name.

When the hiring decision came, I was informed that I was rated “exactly equal” to one of the other candidates. Since that candidate was African-American, and I was unremarkable-American, the university’s affirmative action policy dictated that the other candidate be offered the position first. If he or she declined the job, then it would go to me. (What would happen if we had both been minority candidates and had been rated “exactly equal” was left unsaid.)

That we were rated “exactly equal” was a funny bit of bureaucratic posturing. If I had been rated second, and the minority candidate turned down the job, then the sociology department would have had to admit that it was “unable to attract its preferred candidates”—i.e., that they had a problem. So we were both the preferred candidate. The department got to have its affirmative action cake and eat it, too.

What Did the Senator Know—And When Did She Know It?

Senator Elizabeth Warren has copped a lot of flak for claiming Native American heritage on the basis of old family stories of the kind that circulate in many white American families that have been in the country for a long time. Some of this criticism, like when Donald Trump calls her Pocahontas , is boorish bordering on racist. But inappropriate criticism doesn’t exonerate Warren for her own behavior. And that behavior has been questionable, if not outright duplicitous.

Warren first publicly identified herself as “Native American” in 1986 in the directory of the Association of American Law Schools. She was thirty-seven years old at the time and had been a law professor for eight years. By that point in life, and having been not just a professor, but a law professor, she must have known that publicly identifying as a minority scholar could have a dramatic impact on her career prospects. Only the most disingenuous or dimwitted academic could claim to be ignorant of this, and Elizabeth Warren is certainly not dimwitted.

Quite the contrary: in true lawyerly fashion, she officially identified herself as Native American only after receiving employment offers from both Penn State and Harvard. In 1987, she was hired at Penn as “white,” then updated her forms three years later to become “Native American.” Even stranger, in 1995, while legally identifying herself as Native American at Penn, she marked herself as “white” on her job application at Harvard. Only after winning the position did she change her Harvard status to “Native American.”

As a result, so far as all of the public records are concerned, Warren’s minority status never played a role in her career advancement. And maybe it never did. But when Senator Warren flatly states in her video defense that “my background played no role in my hiring,” she is making a claim that, as she has carefully ensured, cannot be disproved. Harvard law professor, indeed.

The Mendacity of Truth

Elizabeth Warren is, no doubt, a highly accomplished legal scholar and educator. She certainly seems to have merited the confidence placed in her by her academic peers. But any professorship at Harvard attracts hundreds of highly accomplished applicants. Undergraduate admissions at Harvard attract tens of thousands. In both professorial hiring and student admissions, the truth is that most of those rejected could do the work just as well as the lucky few who are accepted.

And not just at Harvard. As American society has become more open and democratic, it has become more competitive. Rising inequality has further increased the payoff for winning the Ivy League sweepstakes. Even subtle advantages can produce massive rewards. No Harvard professorship, no Senator Warren, no President Warren. It may not be quite that simple, but it’s not much more complex.

When I applied at the University of Pittsburgh, I never asked to be considered as a minority applicant. I checked “white” on all my forms. But the pressure to hire minority hiring targets is so strong that I was still interviewed as a possible Hispanic. Universities routinely use foreigners from Spain, Portugal, or Latin America to meet Hispanic hiring targets, just as they use African immigrants to meet African-American targets. If you can pick up a “Native American” while hiring a woman, too, then all the better.

But opponents of affirmative action must reckon with the consequences of identity-blind admissions and hiring. Is it really acceptable to have an all-white law faculty or an all-male engineering school? There are so few female economists that when the Nobel Prize committee finally recognized a woman’s contribution to the discipline, they turned to a political scientist , Elinor Ostrom. Whatever your opinion about affirmative action, that’s a problem.

If Elizabeth Warren wants to be taken seriously, then she should admit what every academic knows: race matters. Gender matters too. Maybe it shouldn’t matter, and maybe it should. Either way, it does. If she doesn’t realize that, then she is too clueless to serve as a United States senator—never mind contend for the presidency of the United States.

As for myself, I am now an associate professor at the University of Sydney in Australia. I’d like to return to the United States, and I just applied for a job at City University of New York. The CUNY system is distinctive for extending affirmative action protections to Italian-Americans, a long-time disadvantaged group in New York City. As a result, in addition to other races and ethnicities, candidates can self-identify as Italian-American. And yes, I checked that box.

 

Salvatore Babones is the author of The New Authoritarianism: Trump, Populism, and the Tyranny of Experts.

 

By : Salvatore Babones
Date : October 23, 2018
Source : The National Interest
https://nationalinterest.org/feature/academic-affirmative-action-really-bad-idea-heres-why-34157

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Cultural stereotypes drive negative perceptions of undocumented immigrants

 

Study uncovers how biases shape Americans’ perceptions of what it means to be ‘illegal’

Heated political rhetoric on immigration has dominated the media for the past few years, with politicians including President Donald Trump often portraying undocumented immigrants as dangerous criminals.

According to new University of Chicago research, that kind of dialogue may be fostering a national sentiment of fear and hostility toward already disadvantaged populations.

“They are promoting the perception that if someone doesn’t have papers, they must be very bad,” said René D. Flores, the Neubauer Family Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology. “The actual data show a consistent, negative correlation between immigration and crime. All of that political rhetoric is data-free.”

Flores explores the shifting idea of what it means to be “illegal” in his latest research, published by the American Sociological Review. The paper, which he co-authored with sociologist Ariela Schachter of Washington University in St. Louis, uncovers stereotypes among white Americans about who is most likely to be “illegal.”

In the study, Flores and Schachter applied a survey experiment to a nationally representative sample of more than 1,500 non-Hispanic whites. These respondents were shown profiles of different immigrants with randomly assigned traits including national origin, age, gender, occupation and criminal history, among others, then they asked the subjects if they thought these immigrants were undocumented.

The study reveals that national origin, social class and, especially, criminal background powerfully shape perceptions of illegality. On the basis of these traits, some people are being classified by others as “illegal,” regardless of their actual documentation status, a condition Flores and Schachter refer to as “social illegality.”

The results show that Mexicans and other Latin Americans, but also Africans and Middle Easterners, were significantly more suspect than immigrants from Europe or Asia—despite the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of undocumented European and Asian immigrants in the country. Flores noted that many Asian, European and Canadian immigrants are “invisible illegals.”

“They are able to live their lives without being constantly confronted about their immigration status,” Flores said.

Subjects’ opinions also were shaped by immigrants’ class background. When immigrants were described as low-educated, and working in informal roles as gardeners or nannies, they were more likely to be considered undocumented than those with formal, white-collar jobs, he said.

The most dramatic results were respondents’ reaction to criminal background. Keeping other traits constant, subjects consistently believed that if someone committed crimes like rape or murder, they must be illegal, he said.

Flores said that in all of his years as an experimentalist, he has rarely seen such dramatic effect sizes in his research. “It tells us that the American public is increasingly internalizing the idea that undocumented immigrants are in fact criminals, even if this is not supported by empirical facts.”

Fear mongering

These engrained biases have led to countless scenarios in which individuals, even some who are born in the U.S., have come under scrutiny from immigration authorities, Flores said. He points to a recent story of ICE agents flagging individuals with Latin-sounding last names from guest lists provided by Motel 6 workers, or the State Department refusing to recognize birth certificates of some U.S. citizens who were born along the U.S./Mexican border. “It’s a hot-button issue that politicians use to inflame people,” Flores said.

“Social illegality” may also negatively influence the decisions of hiring managers, landlords and other members of the public, potentially affecting access to jobs, housing, health care and education for people who happen to “fit the profile,” regardless of their actual citizenship status. “If a teacher thinks a student is undocumented, they may decide not to invest in that child.”

For a long time being undocumented was considered a mere labor infraction. But some politicians have figured out that they can use immigration to activate their bases. “Immigrants make great punching bags,” Flores said. Nativist politicians use them to incite fear in voters because they know they face minimal backlash in the short term. “Undocumented folks can’t vote, so unlike prior immigrant waves, they have limited power to fight back politically.”

Flores hopes this research will highlight how national rhetoric may be negatively affecting some of the most disadvantaged people in our society, and that future scholars will use it as a baseline to track future immigration biases. He is optimistic that it will contribute to creating a more equitable society for immigrants in the future.

“The first step is becoming aware of the biases that shape perceived illegality and how they may affect immigration enforcement,” he said.

 

Citation: “Who are the “Illegals”? The Social Construction of Illegality in the United States.” René D. Flores and Ariela Schachter, American Sociological Review. Oct. 1, 2018. doi: 10.1177/0003122418794635

 

By : Sarah Fister Gale
Date : October 23, 2018
Source : UChicago News
https://news.uchicago.edu/story/cultural-stereotypes-drive-negative-perceptions-undocumented-immigrants

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Life & Death

 

Every year in early November, Mexican citizens celebrate Día de los Muertos or “Day of the Dead,” a celebration that honors the death of loved ones and remembers those who have died. The holiday has gained popularity with the movie “Coco” and in popular culture.

“The tradition is pre-Hispanic, before Christopher Columbus arrived in America,” Jaime Retamales, LU assistant professor of Spanish, said. “The tradition dates to when Mexico was ruled by the Aztec empire and is probably older than that because ancient Mesoamericans celebrated Día de los Muertos over 3,000 years ago.”

Retamales said the older Mexicans were not all part of the Aztec empire and were made up of different groups like the Zapotecans and Mayans.

“They believed that death is a transition into the eternal life,” he said. “When someone dies their souls will go to Mictlān, the underworld in Aztec culture. The translation of Mictlān means ‘the place of the dead.’ Mictlān is ruled by a god named Mictlāntēcutli, the god of the dead, and his wife Mictēcacihuātl, the queen of the dead.”

Retamales said souls go on a difficult four-year journey through Mictlān’s nine levels to move on into eternal life.

“In pre-Columbus times, the nine levels depended on how you died,” he said. “During the journey the souls must pass several challenges like crossing mountain ranges and traveling across a blood-filled river with jaguars.”

The ancient people would celebrate during the month of August and hold festivals for the dead, Retamales said.

“During the four years that the soul journeys through Mictlān, the people prepare the dead bodies in celebration of the dead,” he said. “Sometimes they burned dogs to go along and travel with the dead body to help the soul find their way through Mictlān. They also keep the skulls of the dead to celebrate the lives and aid in the journey of the soul. The queen of the dead, Mictēcacihuātl, presides over the ancient festivals and watches over the bones of the dead.”

The ancient traditions were celebrated before the Spanish came to introduce the indigenous people to Catholicism, Retamales said.

“When the Spanish saw the Mexicans celebrate this way they were shocked,” he said. “The Spanish did not like them celebrating the dead and said that they were acting like savages. They tried to stop the celebration but couldn’t because the natives said that if the Spanish did not allow them to celebrate the dead then they will reject the Catholic church.”

Jessie Garcia, assistant professor of sociology, said the Spaniards incorporated Catholic beliefs as a way to get the indigenous people to convert.

“The Spaniards moved the day as a way to incorporate the indigenous beliefs into Spanish society with All Souls’ Day,” he said. “The indigenous people were incorporated as the lowest of society. Mexican history pretty much ignores them and anything about their culture as Mexico is trying to be a modern society. Mexico thinks of the beliefs as a past that they do not want to bring up. In the 1820s is where the prevalent attitude was recognized. Only indigenous communities celebrated the holiday and it wasn’t as spread as it is now.”

Garcia said that commercialization of Day of the Dead grew its popularity and spread the celebration throughout the region.

“Mexico, in about 1960, tried to promote itself on the world stage because they were going to host the Olympics in ’98,” he said. “During this time, the government put a concerted effort to incorporate the indigenous culture and turned the day into a national holiday. They also included it in the public school curriculum. At the time, only from Mexico City downward celebrated the holiday, but with the integration of the holiday in schools it spread north and throughout the country.

“Movies have also been a part in the commercialization of the holiday. The Mexican government realizes that there is money to be made from this, so they continue to incorporate new ideas and traditions every year. Immigration has played an integral part in its spread to America.”

Garcia said that certain communities within Mexico have their own interpretation to how Day of the Dead is celebrated.

“Some use different incense or the different characters that they utilize,” he said. “The most common character is La Calavera Catrina, who is the queen of the dead, and is based off the goddess Mictēcacihuātl from Mictlān. Some light candles in their homes or put them on the graves with food. Of course, they make the sugar skulls that you see around, but none of what they use goes to waste, so after the celebration they end up taking the leftovers and eating them.”

There are differences between what is celebrated in Mexico and what is celebrated in the United States, Garcia said.

“In Mexico, they hang out in the cemetery, have a picnic and commune with the dead,” he said. “Here in America, we just have an altar to celebrate the dead — we don’t go all out like they do in Mexico. The Mexicans believe that death is just another phase in life and here in the United States, we see death as the end of life and don’t really talk about it afterwards.”

Garcia said most people do not know that Día de los Muertos is a three-day long celebration that runs Oct. 31 through Nov. 2.

“The first day is for the kids, the second day is for the departed and the third is for all souls,” he said. “In the hometown that I grew up in, the people one year decorated the Catholic church in the community with flowers and have since left it there year-around.”

Retamales said people decorate altars to preserve the memory of loved ones and the legacy they left behind.

“Some altars include the person’s favorite things they enjoyed when they were alive,” he said. “The altars have pictures of the person to show the souls that they are remembered and are an invitation for the dead to join the living in celebration. People put food and drinks at the altars to invite the dead. It is a celebration of life. When Día de los Muertos takes place is the time of the year where flowers appear — people use the flowers as representation of life and death.”

Most Latin American countries don’t celebrate Day of the Dead, Retamales said.

“For example, I am from Chile and we don’t have Day of the Dead,” he said. “Rather, we have All Saints’ Day which is very different. On All Saints’ Day, we just go to the cemetery where we clean the graves and pray.”

While Americans enjoy the fun of decorated sugar skulls and brightly-colored costumes borrowed from their neighbors to the south, the celebration is more to remember the ones who you love and cherish the ones that are living.

 

By : Cade Smith
Date : November 1, 2018
Source : Lamar University Press

Life & Death

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Sociologists are using the Bachelorettes’ Instagram posts to study modern Femininity

 

Many reality TV fans watch to unwind from the stress of their workday. Reality TV is where Evie Psarras’s work begins.

Psarras, a PhD candidate in media studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago, studies reality TV and celebrity culture; her master’s thesis was on the Real Housewives franchise, and in her most recent work, she’s turned a critical eye towards The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.

It’s easy to write off these shows as just brain candy, but for sociologists, they offer a unique lens on how society operates. Shows like The Bachelorette and their stars can reflect current norms and values, like what we believe is beautiful or how we think we should behave. In Psarras’s latest analysis, presented at the Association of Internet Researchers’ annual conference last weekend (Oct. 13-14), she and fellow UIC PhD student Nicole Nesmith examined the Instagram accounts of Bachelorette contestants for clues about how they craft their online identities to appeal to fans.

Image can make or break the career of a Bachelorette contestant. To stay in the limelight after they give their final rose, Bachelorettes need to have a relatable social media presence. That’s a cultural phenomenon that’s developed over time, Psarras says. When the franchise first started in 2002, contestants often returned to their pre-reality show lives when their season ended. But by now, the franchise has become such a cultural touchstone that many contestants use their appearances as springboards into other careers as TV hosts, entrepreneurs, or spokeswomen.

For their analysis, the researchers compared and contrasted Instagram accounts of three “early” Bachelorettes— Trista Rehn (Season 1), DeAnna Pappas (Season 4), and Jillian Harris (Season 5)—with three more recent ones—Andi Dorfman (Season 10), Kaitlyn Bristowe (Season 11), and JoJo Fletcher (Season 12).

They found that all six of these Bachelorettes projected a specific type of femininity: conventionally beautiful (white, thin, made-up, and trendily styled), and effortlessly balancing relationships and careers.

But there were some differences. The researchers found that the newer Bachelorettes had “more evolved” strategies for projecting the image of the ideal modern woman. For instance, they were more likely to post on Instagram about their relationships. Presumably, the researchers argue, these more recent Bachelorettes were aware of the fact that people today are fascinated by women’s love and sex lives, and want an inside look at successful coupledom.”It’s just how capitalism operates [today]; the more they post about their relationships, the more likes and followers they’ll get, and that fills out their fame,” says Psarras. For example, JoJo Fletcher has an upcoming web-series about her relationship with fiancé Jordan Rodgers, who she chose as the winner of season 12 of The Bachelorette.

More recent Bachelorettes were also more likely than those of earlier seasons to blur the line between the personal and professional by using their brand to sell products. These ads are often posed-yet-candid-looking paparazzi shots; Psarras points to Andi Dorfman as especially adept at this. “She posts all these pictures of her walking the streets, not looking at the camera, but a photographer very clearly takes these photos, and she tags designers in them,” says Psarras. While the earlier Bachelorettes do also have partnerships and sponsors, their promotional posts are generally more obviously posed or taken on a professional set.
Social-media posts that glorify loving your flaws were another common theme among newer Bachelorettes, but less so among the previous generation. Psarras points out that these in these posts, the more recent Bachelorettes often share images that convey the opposite of the accompanying captions. Take, for instance, make-up-free selfie Kaitlyn posted to Instagram on Jan. 10 this year. She gets down on herself about not looking done-up (and tags it “#Realstagram!”) but still looks more chic than I do when I’m full-out trying.

Overall, says Psarras, it seems the generational divide among the Bachelorettes reflects how younger women have developed new social-media strategies that play up the feminine identity we, as a society, like to see. ”The earlier Bachelorettes did the show at a time when they didn’t know what was going to happen after; it was more experimental,” says Psarras. “The newer Bachelorettes came in knowing how to perform.”

 

By : Jane C. Hu
Date : October 21, 2018
Source : Quartzy
https://qz.com/quartzy/1426363/sociologists-are-using-the-bachelorettes-instagram-posts-to-study-modern-femininity/

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What Sports Reveal About Society

 

Sociologists find that sports are inextricably intertwined with the people, countries, and politics surrounding them.

Sports have been in the news lately, from Serena Williams’s controversy at the U.S. Open to Caster Semenya’s fight to be allowed to race as a woman. Perhaps most dramatically, Nike and Colin Kaepernick have set some parts of the country aflame (sort of) as they force consumers to reckon with questions of power structures, race relations, and patriotism.

In traditional views, sports are a recreational pastime and often positioned as the cultural antithesis of intellectualism. But anyone who is actively engaged in sports knows that they’re far from simple. Any sport is inextricably intertwined with the people, countries, and politics surrounding it, as sociologists Rick Eckstein, Dana M. Moss, and Kevin J. Delaney writing in Sociological Forum discovered.

Eckstein and colleagues posit that sports extend beyond games and individual athletes. They also found that sport fed into “ideologies of gender, affect gender relations, and support or challenge racial and social class hierarchies.” They examine how micro-studies in sports could yield profound structural insights if broadened in scope, and urged the field to see how small-scale athletic culture and phenomena have important underlying statements about our world.

For example, one study examined how women athletes balanced intensive training with other obligations. Most of the study participants were upper-middle-class, with access to subtle but powerful privileges. They might be able to afford sitters or outside help. They might have jobs with flexible hours, or private transportation that cut down their commute.

In contrast, the scholars point out, “working-class women (who may or may not have a domestic partner) who cannot afford sitters, and who must take three buses to reach their tenuous minimum wage job, do not have the option of training for such an intense sport even if they so desired.”

Another athletic phenomenon with eloquent subtext that they point out is the seeming arbitrary nature of whether a certain country prefers baseball or soccer.

Our students inevitably focus on cultural preferences and argue that some people just seem to like certain sports. But when we introduce the macro notion of imperialism and empire, those micro-level decisions take on a whole new meaning and the students begin to see the interrelationship between agency and structure.

There are myriad examples, but the authors come to the same conclusion that we can see reflected in our newspapers, our talk shows and our social media: that sports are a powerful reflection of ourselves, and that they warrant investigation both up-close and on an international, global scale.

They conclude: “we believe that sports sociologists, perhaps more than most sociologists, have a great untapped potential to practice meaningful public sociology.”

 

By                            :               Farah Mohammed

Date                         :               October 4, 2018

Source                     :               JSTOR Daily

What Sports Reveal about Society

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Kavanaugh is lying. His upbringing explains why.

 

The elite learn early that they’re special — and that they won’t face consequences.

Brett Kavanaugh is not telling the whole truth. When President George W. Bush nominated him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2006, he told senators that he’d had nothing to do with the war on terror’s detention policies; that was not true. Kavanaugh also claimed under oath, that year and again this month, that he didn’t know that Democratic Party memos a GOP staffer showed him in 2003 were illegally obtained; his emails from that period reveal that these statements were probably false. And it cannot be possible that the Supreme Court nominee was both a well-behaved virgin who never lost control as a young man, as he told Fox News and the Senate Judiciary Committee this past week, and an often-drunk member of the “Keg City Club” and a “Renate Alumnius ,” as he seems to have bragged to many people and written into his high school yearbook. Then there are the sexual misconduct allegationsagainst him, which he denies.

How could a man who appears to value honor and the integrity of the legal system explain this apparent mendacity? How could a man brought up in some of our nation’s most storied institutions — Georgetown Prep, Yale College, Yale Law School — dissemble with such ease? The answer lies in the privilege such institutions instill in their members, a privilege that suggests the rules that govern American society are for the common man, not the exceptional one.

The classical root of “privilege,” privus lex, means “private law.” The French aristocracy, for instance, was endowed with privileges, primarily exemption from taxation. Today’s equivalents are not aristocrats, yet they have both the sense and the experience that the rules don’t really apply to them and that they can act without much concern for the consequences. Elite schools like Georgetown Prep and Yale have long cultivated this sensibility in conscious and unconscious ways.

What makes these schools elite is that so few can attend. In the mythologies they construct, only those who are truly exceptional are admitted — precisely because they are not like everyone else. Yale President Peter Salovey, for instance, has welcomed freshmen by telling them that they are “the very best students.” To attend these schools is to be told constantly: You’re special, you’re a member of the elect, you have been chosen because of your outstanding qualities and accomplishments.

Schools often quite openly affirm the idea that, because you are better, you are not governed by the same dynamics as everyone else. They celebrate their astonishingly low acceptance rates and broadcast lists of notable alumni who have earned their places within the nation’s highest institutions, such as the Supreme Court. I heard these messages constantly when I attended St. Paul’s, one of the most exclusive New England boarding schools, where boys and girls broke rules with impunity, knowing that the school would protect them from the police and that their families would help ensure only the most trivial of consequences.

This narrative of the exceptional student rests on a fiction with pathological consequences: Economist Raj Chetty has shown that children whose parents are in the top 1 percent of earners are 77 times more likely to attend an Ivy League school than are the children of poorer parents — meaning that, in cases like this, admission is less about talent and more about coming from the right family. In that way, privilege casts inherited advantages as “exceptional” qualities that justify special treatment. No wonder that, when the poor lie, they’re more likely to do so to help others, according to research by Derek D. Rucker, Adam D. Galinsky and David Dubois, whereas when the rich lie, they’re more likely to do it to help themselves.

Such selfish tendencies extend well beyond the way the privileged use untruths to their advantage. According to research by psychologists Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner, elites’ sense of their own exceptionalism helps instill within them a tendency to be less compassionate. This may have its roots in the fact that there seem to be two different sets of consequences for the rich and the rest. Take drug use. While the poor are no more likely to use drugs (in fact, among young people, it’s the richer kids who are more likely to drink alcohol or smoke marijuana), they are far more likely to be imprisoned for it, and they experience vastly disproportionate imprisonment for all crimes compared with the wealthy. In the end, it is impossible to separate success from class.

Kavanaugh’s privilege runs deep, and it shows. He grew up in a wealthy Washington suburb where his father spent three decades as CEO of a trade association. There has been a sense among his supporters that his place is deserved, which mirrors the climate of aristocratic inheritance he grew up around. His peers from the party of personal responsibility have largely rallied around him, seeking to protect his privilege. As a Bush-era White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, put it: “How much in society should any of us be held liable today when we lived a good life, an upstanding life by all accounts, and then something that maybe is an arguable issue took place in high school? Should that deny us chances later in life?” American Conservative editor Rod Dreher wondered “why the loutish drunken behavior of a 17 year old high school boy has anything to tell us about the character of a 53 year old judge.”

This collective agreement that accountability doesn’t apply to Kavanaugh (and, by extension, anybody in a similar position who was a youthful delinquent) may help explain why he seems to believe he can lie with impunity — a trend he continued Thursday, when he informed senators that he hadn’t seen the testimony of his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, even though a committee aide told the Wall Street Journal he’d been watching. In his furious interview with the panel that afternoon, Kavanaugh appeared astonished that anybody might impugn his character or try to keep him from the seat he is entitled to. “I’m never going to get my reputation back,” he complained.

Yet we cannot ignore that instead of dedicating his life to the relentless accumulation of wealth, Kavanaugh has pursued a career of public service. As a Justice Department aide to Kenneth Starr and, later, a judge, he earned a fraction of what he might have in the private sector. This represents another critical lesson of elite schools: servant leadership. The mission statement of my alma mater, for instance, professes “a commitment to engage as servant leaders in a complex world.” You are bred to be a leader who serves a higher ideal than your own advantage. Whatever you believe of his politics or his background, Kavanaugh’s commitment to public service cannot be denied.

While they seem contradictory, servant leadership and privilege are often bedfellows. Both suggest not a commonality with the ordinary American, but instead a standing above Everyman. Both justify locating power within a small elite because this elite is better equipped to lead. (Retired justice Anthony Kennedy, according to some reports, hand-picked Kavanaugh as his successor — a rather astonishing circumvention of the democratic process and the separation of powers.) Both have at their core not a commitment to shared democracy but a moral imperative to lead because of one’s exceptional qualities. And both allow space for lying in service of the greater good. Privilege means that things like perjury aren’t wrong under one’s own private law.

 

Shamus Khan, the chair of the sociology department at Columbia University, is the author of “Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School.”

 

By            :               Shamus Khan

Date         :               September 28, 2018

Source     :               Washington Post

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/kavanaugh-is-lying-his-upbringing-explains-why/2018/09/27/2b596314-c270-11e8-b338-a3289f6cb742_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.f430f18940c3

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South Africa’s white right, the Alt-Right and the alternative

 

There has been a global rise in populism, especially of the right wing variety. In South Africa this has manifested in the increasingly strident Afriforum. This pressure group purports to advance the rights of Afrikaners, the ethnic group most closely identified with the former apartheid regime.

The prime ministers and presidents who ran the country from 1948 until 1994 were all Afrikaners.

Afriforum is usually ignored outside of Afrikaner ranks. But it attracted the ire of South Africans more broadly when two of its leaders, CEO Kallie Kriel and his deputy Ernst Roets, undertook a mission to the US in May this year. Their aim was to convince alt-right figures that white farmers were being targeted for murder.

Roets even secured an interview with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson. The interview on the right wing broadcaster apparently inspired US President Donald Trump to tweet that his administration will investigate the “large scale killing of (white) farmers” in South Africa.

Afriforum calls itself a “civil rights organisation”. Until recently its primary approach was to use the country’s human rights based constitution to launch court cases in defence of white Afrikaans speakers and, at times, of black people amenable to its agenda.

But it has since become the face of white denial about the past, and of defiance of the need for redress in the most unequal country in the world. Afriforum has successfully translated a growing resentment about the loss of Afrikaner control of the state into a political project.

State capture

During the last decade of the country’s 24-year-old democracy a form of Schadenfreude has emerged among white rightwingers. State capture, in the shape of massive corruption, and factional infighting in the governing African National Congress (ANC) have harmed state capacity. Multiple political, economic and constitutional crises have in the minds of white rightwingers confirmed their racist narrative that “black people can’t govern”.

An increase in public expressions and incidents of racism suggests a return to an intransigence that’s unapologetic about continuing white privilege and colonial and apartheid abuses. A more antagonistic Afriforum stepped into this moment rife with political opportunity.

Its politics is a cunning combination of Afrikaner nationalist mobilisation from the past with contemporary neoliberal elements and alt-right rhetoric from the US, Australia and Europe. Afriforum is part of the Groter Solidariteit-beweging (Greater Solidarity movement) that includes a trade union, a media house and companies selling education and other services.

According to Solidariteit, its movement has 350,000 members – sizeable in relation to a white population of 4.52 million. Solidariteit and Afriforum are the 21st century versions of the cultural entrepreneurs of the volksbeweging (people’s movement) that constructed and advanced the Afrikaner’s identity a century ago.

This movement, which included Soldariteit’s earlier manifestation as the whites-only Mineworkers’ Union (MWU), rose to state power in 1948 on the back of the promise of an expanded form of colonialism named apartheid.

Class alliance crumbled

Upward mobility due to apartheid benefits caused the Afrikaner nationalist class alliance to split between the middle class verligtes ( “the progressives”) and the working class verkramptes (“the reactionaries”). Verligte reform of apartheid to suit the changing operation of capitalism was detrimental for remaining Afrikaner workers.

It resulted in the formation of the Conservative Party (CP) in 1982. At the referendum 10 years later the verkramptes voted against the continuation of talks for the establishment of a non-racist, non-sexist democracy.

Afriforum hails from this political tradition. Not only is its parent organisation the former Mineworkers’ Union, but the same names appear. For example, Kriel was a youth leader of the Freedom Front Plus, a party that continues the CP legacy with four seats in parliament.

Afriforum is a political expression of what I call neo-Afrikaner enclave nationalism. This is a post-apartheid phenomenon that combines an “inward migration” to white spaces (suburbs, institutions, media) with connectedness to global whiteness. In their discourses racism is recast as “culture”, and heteropatriarchy as “family values”.

It’s channelled through the consumption of products. Individuals become Afrikaners by being consumers of Afrikaner culture, media products and related services, and spaces.

In a historic irony, democracy has brought together what apartheid rent apart. Verligtes and verkramptes meet each other under the sign of the market. Afrikaner identity becomes enacted through consumption.

Enclave nationalists

The tradition that the enclave nationalists draw on has historically only represented about 30% of white people, judging by the CP’s support and the “no” vote of the 1992 referendum. Solidariteit, Afriforum and their verligte media allies are eager to expand their constituencies.

Alt-right rhetorical devices are employed. Prejudice, half-truths and distortions are combined with insults and threats of violence. For example, in a 31-minute late night monologue on YouTube Roets attacked law professor Elmien du Plessis for criticising Afriforum’s US visit.

He concluded by quoting Jewish writer Victor Klemperer, who wrote that if the tables were turned after the Holocaust he,

would have all the intellectuals strung up, and the professors three feet higher than the rest.

It’s relevant to mention that Du Plessis is a white Afrikaans-speaking woman. As other examples also show, the ranks of patriarchal whiteness are again closing in defiance of racial and gender justice. The policing of the boundaries of the Afrikaner identity has been stepped up.

As happened during apartheid, alternative voices are delegitimised. Afriforum and its allies actively seek to suppress positions that contradict theirs. Gauging the extent of dissidence among Afrikaans-speaking whites is difficult. Many no longer identify as Afrikaners. Many are getting on with their contributions to make South Africa’s democracy work.

Most would be loathe to organise as Afrikaners. But, given responses that show that many among their compatriots and in the outside world see the white right as representative of all white Afrikaans-speakers, the time may have come for those in support of justice and equality to be more vocal in keeping the record straight.

 

By            :               Christi van der Westhuizen (Associate Professor, Sociology, University of Pretoria)

Date         :               October 4, 2018

Source     :               The Conversation

https://theconversation.com/south-africas-white-right-the-alt-right-and-the-alternative-103544?utm_medium=ampfacebook&utm_source=facebook

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Class – not race nor religion – is potentially Singapore’s most divisive fault line

 

That is the finding of the latest, and one of the largest, surveys on this topic, raising questions on whether the society is still based on equality and meritocracy. The documentary Regardless of Class examines the issues.

SINGAPORE: The fault lines that have been the most worrisome in Singapore since the nation’s independence are, after 53 years, no longer so in the eyes of its people.

Instead of race and religion, what worries Singaporeans more is the class divide.

That is the finding of the latest, and one of the largest, surveys on this topic, which Dr Janil Puthucheary, the chairman of OnePeople.sg – the national body promoting harmony – worked with Channel NewsAsia to commission.

Almost half of the 1,036 citizen respondents felt that income inequality is the likeliest to cause a social divide here.

As sociology professor Tan Ern Ser said after examining the data: “What we’re seeing here is that if you compare between race, religion, sexual orientation, nationality (country of birth) and class, class matters.”

It matters so much that only about 20 per cent of the respondents felt that race was likeliest to cause a social divide, and an almost similar proportion felt that way about religion.

That is a “huge gap” between the worries over income inequality and those traditional fault lines, noted Dr Puthucheary, who found some of the survey results quite “unsettling”.

“Today, it’s the divide between the haves and the have-nots that’s creating the most tension,” he said. “This is going to be an explosive issue because it challenges some of the values that we hold so firmly and dearly”.

Values like fairness, meritocracy and the “founding ideal that there’ll be no such thing as a second-class citizen”. But has the nation been living up to that standard for every Singaporean?

Do people believe that Singapore is a city of opportunity where they can make it so long as they work hard? Is education effective as a social leveller today?

Those are some of the questions explored on the documentary, Regardless of Class. And the answers reflect some “uncomfortable realities”, said host Dr Puthucheary.

CLASS-BASED DISCRIMINATION

The treatment that security guard Mohammed Syukri receives is instructive. It may vary from resident to resident at the condominium where he works, but they can get “harsh”.

“Sometimes, even when the barrier isn’t open properly, they’d start shouting at us. They’d say ‘useless security’ and ‘stupid security’ and things like that,” he related.

He was “a bit shocked” by this when he started out in this low-paid profession. “But after a while, I go site to site, and everything and everywhere is also the same, so I get used to it,” he added.

When that kind of thing happens to me, I can’t vent my anger on anyone, so I just keep it to myself.

When asked to voice his thoughts, however, he said nervously: “They’re treating us like not humans but … like slaves.”

Stories like his are not new. Dr Puthucheary said: “I hear them all the time in my work as a Member of Parliament, from waiters, security guards, cleaners (and) salespeople. They tell me about a deepening class divide.”

He asked some of them to write down their stories, to find out if people are guilty of creating an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ situation.

One McDonald’s cleaner wrote: “I know I’m invisible. I have to get used to this, and learn to stop caring.”

Similarly, a public estate cleaner wrote: “I just sweep the floor, and then you throw rubbish from the top of the block. Then after that residents complain … The blame is always on me.

“We live our lives as if we’re apart. They go about doing their own work, I go about living mine.”

It is the “little things”, such as a look or a throwaway comment, that cause a sense of separation, said Dr Puthucheary. “And it’s these social cues that slowly widen the divide.”

Another security guard, Mr Pugalenthi, can attest to that. “People think … a security guard is a low-class job. They say, “Ah, you’re only a security guard,’” he said.

“Sometimes I feel, like, alamak … This job, why do people look down on it? Work is work.”

COMMON STEREOTYPES

The class divide has been a buzz phrase since an Institute of Policy Studies survey last year found the gap to be more pronounced than it seemed.

Most researchers define class by income, housing type and education. But people can make class markers out of anything, from the way others speak to the way they dress, even if it may be off the mark.

That has been the experience of freelance actress Nadiyah Ramlan, who has received comments about her “low-class” dress style and has also been asked about her education level. “That’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” she said.

In the documentary, to determine a person’s social class, participants asked questions about the stranger’s hobbies, travel destinations, favourite brands and where he or she shopped, among others.

On the website Quora, some people have suggested that one’s occupation as well as state of mind, such as confidence level and social etiquette, can also contribute to the perception of socio-economic class in Singapore.

Recently, a social studies guidebook (not on the approved textbook list) even codified stereotypes of the classes into text, causing an uproar.

So in July, the CNA survey asked the respondents, aged 18 to 74, what they thought of others from different classes.

Given a choice of over 20 characteristics, the top three perceptions Singaporeans had of the upper class were: Able to speak good English (chosen by 98 per cent); tended to plan ahead; and domineering (both 94 per cent).

As for perceptions of the lower class, most people thought they were friendly (92 per cent), caring and tended to speak Singlish.

What Dr Puthucheary found more interesting were the differences between the ways people saw the upper classes versus the lower classes. Some 91 per cent thought the former were arrogant, versus 35 per cent who thought that of the latter.

People also thought someone from the upper class was likelier to be luckier than someone from the lower class (90 vs 48 per cent).

These are more than just perceptions, however; they also affect interactions between the different ends of the divide.

The middle and lower classes have to “be somebody else” to blend in with the upper class, which is “very uncomfortable”, said Malay language instructor Rohati Januri. But the alternative – being one’s own self – leads to feeling excluded, she admitted.

WHAT THE CHILDREN SAY

Is Singapore’s class consciousness starting in school, however? To find out, CNA interviewed several groups of nine- to 11-year-olds. And as Shievon Cheah put it, “If you have the most expensive things, you’re the most popular also.”

Asked what she thought of those who get a lot of pocket money, she said: “They’re rich or their parents just don’t care how much they give their kids.”

Grayden Tan, who classified himself as “a little above average”, said hesitantly: “I think rich people treat poor people badly … because they think they’re rich, so they don’t really know what it’s like to be poor.”

Asked how the poor treated the rich, he replied: “They don’t treat them badly. They don’t say anything. It’s just that they’re a bit hurt and sad that these rich people say these things like ‘go get a job’.”

Both Marcus Lee and Renee Phua have fathers who told them to study hard to earn more in future, or risk ending up with a low-paid job.

Asked what he thought of poor people, Marcus said: “They may be good socially, but maybe they don’t have the (job) skills.”

When another group of students, aged 15 to 17, from the Integrated Programme (IP) and the Normal streams came together, the differences were clear.

The parents of the IP students and the students themselves expected at least ‘A’s and to go to university, locally or abroad.

The parents of the Normal stream students and the students themselves expected a pass in all their subjects and a little bit of improvement, and also to get into the Institute of Technical Education.

How much did they interact with students from a different stream? “Most of the people in the Express stream look down on us,” said Normal (Academic) student Joey Heng.

They think we’re quite stupid, so they seldom talk to us.

Normal (Technical) student Muhd Nadiy Razin has friends from the Express stream but does not usually hang out with them. “They’re very quiet and neat in school, not like us. We usually create chaos,” he said.

N(T) student Muhammad Sufa Aniq has tried talking to some Express students, and they have reciprocated. But the gap is hard to bridge. “The way they speak and the way I speak are very different,” he said.

Such friendships require a lot of effort, agreed IP student Maniyar Kareena Tushar. “The kind of activities my school may expose me to outside of school generally tend to be quite populated by the higher express streams,” she said.

She doubts that mixed-ability classes are a viable solution. “It might even increase the gap if the students feel as if they can’t cope, so they just give up completely,” she explained.

Nadiy and Aniq, on the other hand, think it could work, but only if the teachers are willing to help them.

EDUCATION – LABELLER OR LEVELLER?

The discussion the students had was awkward, acknowledged Dr Puthucheary. “But I think the reality is that’s what they face every day – we want to remove ourselves from situations where we feel embarrassed,” he said..

“Maybe that’s one of the reasons why it’s so difficult for kids of different backgrounds to interact regularly all the time and develop deep friendships.”

The class divide can have an impact beyond just friendships, however. Playwright Faith Ng, who was from the Normal stream, said worries at home about her family’s finances did affect her studies. She was not motivated and had poor self-esteem.

“The teachers would say things like ‘even though you’re from Normal’. And that ‘even though’ already would imply a lot. So you kind of deduce that it means you’re not as good as everybody else,” she said.

It took her a decade to get over the stigma, but she went on to get a master’s degree and is now a part-time university lecturer.

Dr Puthucheary saw her story as a “silver lining”, as not just one of class bias but “also one of social mobility”.

“That’s what we’ve always been proud of: People are given the opportunity to rise above their circumstances. And I’ve always believed in this too. It’s your ability, not your connections – your worth, not your birth,” he said.

But CNA’s survey showed that not everyone felt the same way. Asked what it would take to get them out of poverty, those respondents suggested, in ascending order: Knowing the right people; education; and, most importantly, hard work.

In contrast, when people from the upper class were asked how to get rich, they suggested: Hard work; ability; and, most importantly, knowing the right people. Education did not factor into their top three reasons.

When it came to social mobility, only half of the people from the lower class were confident that their next generation’s financial situation will improve.

Anglican High School literature teacher Samuel Chan said family “has a big part to play”, where some parents have the familial, cultural and financial resources to give their children a head start.

“We’re seeing a gap in achievement for different students,” said Mr Chan, who also teaches low-income students at non-profit organisation Readable.

Then there is the perception among parents that “unless you’re going to certain schools, your avenues for success are closed off to you”.

But he thinks that education is a symptom, rather than a cause, of the “felt sense that society is more unequal” and that it can still function “very much” as a social leveller.

WHY IT MATTERS

Ultimately, however, why should the average Singaporean care about income inequality?

The Straits Times opinion editor Chua Mui Hoong thinks it should be because “so much of the Singaporean identity has been built on the idea that we can all have a fair go, that you can do well in life regardless of your family connections (and) wealth”.

And she wants to see this not only preserved but entrenched and enhanced.

“It becomes a problem if we’re increasingly having a society where people who are already privileged and with access to resources are able to pass on those advantages to their children,” she said.

A divided society, she believes, would be “a very unhappy one, full of resentment, full of envy, full of talk about the divide between the best and the rest, full of criticisms of the elite … (and) totally fractured politics”.

That society could become quite ungovernable.

Currently, people from the higher classes are likelier than those from the lower classes to participate in society by, for example, volunteering in labour unions, sports clubs, professional associations and non-governmental organisations, or engaging in arts and cultural activities.

Dr Puthucheary believes that probably explains why the survey found that class affects people’s feelings about the country: 70 per cent of the higher classes felt a strong sense of belonging, compared with 46 per cent of the lower classes.

And 76 per cent of the higher classes felt proud to be Singaporean, compared with 50 per cent of the lower classes.

“This is the gap that really matters to me, that the rich feel connected to Singapore, and the poor don’t,” said the senior minister of state.

“This class gap is really an inclusion gap. So solving this problem, to me, can’t just be one more thing on our to-do list. It can’t only be a line item on a ministry’s budget.

“Tackling this divide is central to what makes us Singaporean – that no one should consider themselves a second-class citizen,” he concluded.

 

By            :               Derrick A. Paulo

Date         :               October 1, 2018

Source     :               Channel News Asia

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/cnainsider/regardless-class-race-religion-survey-singapore-income-divide-10774682

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Hey, Sociologists! Speak Up!

 

There’s an academic discipline that studies economic questions in illuminating ways. But it’s too quiet about it.

Sociologists Matthew Desmond of Princeton University and Nathan Wilmers of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have written what by all appearances is going to be a blockbuster paper. I can tell you what it’s called: “Do the Poor Pay More for Housing? Exploitation, Profit, and Risk in Rental Markets.” I can also tell you that their answer is “yes.”

I could tell you a bit more than that, based on the notes I took when Desmond presented the results at the American Sociological Association annual m1eeting in Philadelphia last Monday. But that feels like it would be bad form, given that when I approached Desmond afterwards he said he wasn’t ready to share the paper or discuss it with the media, and hadn’t really thought yet about when he would be (he later passed on an estimate: January).

Now, Desmond is among the most brilliant and acclaimed scholars studying poverty in the U.S. He received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 2015, and his book “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction. He and Wilmers (who just got his Ph.D. from Harvard this year) won’t have any trouble getting media attention for their study when the time comes, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t get to choose when that time is. But to somebody who has spent decades writing about economic research, the notion that researchers have completed a paper on a topic of economic interest — according to Wilmers’ website, it’s already been accepted for publication in the American Journal of Sociology — and I can’t get my hands on it is novel, and more than a little aggravating.

Economists, you see, put draft versions of their papers online seemingly as soon as they’ve finished typing. Attend their big annual meeting, as I have several times, and virtually every paper discussed is available beforehand for download and perusal. In fact, they’re available even if you don’t go to the meeting. I wrote a column two years ago arguing that this openness had given economists a big leg up over the other social sciences in media attention and political influence, and noting that a few sociologists agreed and were trying to nudge their discipline — which disseminates its research mainly through paywalled academic journals and university-press books — in that direction with a new open repository for papers called SocArxiv. 1 Now that I’ve experienced the ASA annual meeting for the first time, I can report that (1) things haven’t progressed much since 2016, and (2) I have a bit more sympathy for sociologists’ reticence to act like economists, although I continue to think it’s holding them back.

SocArxiv’s collection of open-access papers is growing steadily if not spectacularly, and Sociological Science, an open-access journal founded in 2014, is carving out a respected role as, among other things, a place to quickly publish articles of public interest. “Unions and Nonunion Pay in the United States, 1977-2015” by Patrick Denice of the University of Western Ontario and Jake Rosenfeld of Washington University in St. Louis, for example, was submitted June 12, accepted July 10 and published on Wednesday, the day after it was presented at the ASA meeting. These dissemination tools are used by only a small minority of sociologists, though, and the most sparsely attended session I attended in three-plus days at their annual meeting was the one on “Open Scholarship in Sociology” organized by the University of Maryland’s Philip Cohen, the founder of SocArxiv and one of the discipline’s most prominent social-media voices. This despite the fact that it was great, featuring compelling presentations by Cohen, Sociological Science deputy editor Kim Weeden of Cornell University and higher-education expert Elizabeth Popp Berman of the State University of New York at Albany, and free SocArxiv pens for all.

As I made the rounds of other sessions, I did come to a better understanding of why sociologists might be more reticent than economists to put their drafts online. The ASA welcomes journalists to its annual meeting and says they can attend all sessions where research is presented,2  but few reporters show up and it’s clear that most of those presenting research don’t consider themselves to be speaking in public. The most dramatic example of this in Philadelphia came about halfway through a presentation involving a particular corporation. The speaker paused, then asked the 50-plus people in the room not to mention the name of said corporation to anybody because she was about to return to an undercover job there. That was a bit ridiculous, given that there were sociologists live-tweeting some of the sessions. But there was something charming and probably healthy about the willingness of the sociologists at the ASA meeting to discuss still-far-from-complete work with their peers. When a paper is presented at an economics conference, many of the discussant’s comments and audience questions are attempts to poke holes in the reasoning or methodology. At the ASA meeting, it was usually, “This is great. Have you thought about adding …?” Also charming and probably healthy was the high number of graduate students presenting research alongside the professors, which you don’t see so much at the economists’ equivalent gathering.

All in all — and I’m sure there are sociological terms to describe this, but I’m not familiar with them — sociology seems more focused on internal cohesion than economics is. This may be partly because it’s what Popp Berman calls a “low-consensus discipline,” with lots of different methodological approaches and greatly varying standards of quality and rigor. Economists can be mean to each other in public yet still present a semi-united face to the world because they use a widely shared set of tools to arrive at answers. Sociologists may feel that they don’t have that luxury.

They also may not have the luxury, though, of continuing as they have. Economics, physics and other fields with more open publishing cultures have been able to partially crowdsource quality control by letting anybody who wants take potshots at research findings rather than relying on the increasingly creaky institution of peer review. If sociology sticks with its behind-closed-paywalls approach, it risks falling even farther behind not only in visibility but in quality. In an era when higher education is under increasing economic and political pressure to justify its existence, that seems dangerous.

Meanwhile, the world actually is clamoring for more input from sociologists. At least, economics journalists (myself and my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Noah Smith included) occasionally clamor for it. As Neil Irwin put it in the New York Times last year:

Sociologists spend their careers trying to understand how societies work. And some of the most pressing problems in big chunks of the United States may show up in economic data as low employment levels and stagnant wages but are also evident in elevated rates of depression, drug addiction and premature death. In other words, economics is only a piece of a broader, societal problem. So maybe the people who study just that could be worth listening to.

To this I would add that the sub-discipline of economic sociology has evolved in recent decades from complaining about how simplistic economics is to doing original research into economic topics such as the two papers cited above, and that a slew of sociologists in and outside of business schools do important research into how organizations function and how work-life is evolving. Also, it was apparent at the ASA meeting that academic sociology is much less male-dominated and has a different racial and ethnic mix than economics, which presumably leads to usefully different ways of seeing the world. (For better or worse, academic sociology is also much more overtly left-leaning than economics.)

Sociologists surely don’t have all the answers, but they at least have different ones than economists do. If only they’d be willing to share more of them.

(Corrects name of sociology publication in fifth paragraph in article published yesterday.)

  1. Pronounced “sosh (with a long “o”) archive”
  2. As opposed to business meetings of the ASA and its sections.

 

By : Justin Fox
Date : August 21, 2018
Source : Bloomberg Opinion
https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-08-20/economics-needs-help-from-sociology

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The sociology of the United Nations

 

To change the dysfunctional sociology of the United Nations, a freedom of information statute is required. There is seldom good reason to keep the operations of the United Nations a secret. The only hope for a tolerantly efficient public bureaucracy is that the administration complies in good faith with transparent rules. This is a principal tool in improving the dysfunctional operation of the United Nations.

All organisations have their own bureaucratic culture. Ludwig von Miss wrote a famous short book about bureaucracy, in which he characterised the malfunctions inherent in any large public administration. What he neglected to note was that his observations apply to private sector organisations as well. And, in turn, they apply to international (that is to say, intergovernmental) organisations. This is a subject about which I have written at greater length, in my “Essay on the Accountability of International Organisations”. My goal here is more modest: to draw out the distinctive features of intergovernmental organisations that render their bureaucracies even more pathological than standard government and private sector organisations.

The essential problem of any bureaucracy is one of a complex and interlocking set of agency problems. The goal of the organisation is unlikely to be the same as that of any of the people who work within its administrative structure. For all the skills employees may have, the larger the bureaucracy the greater the amount of time must be spent by staff on reconciling the agency problems and perverse, conflictual incentives upon the bureaucrats; and the ever smaller proportion of any individual’s time that an be spent upon using his or her skills to pursue the goals of the organisation.

Consider the following. I am a sole trader. I have an organisation of one. I sell widgets in town. My incentive is to sell as many widgets as possible. Suppose how I hire two salesmen, to cover the town: east and west. They may have incentives that are inefficient: each to beat the other in a competition to impress me. They may fight over the extent of their mandates (what territory is covered by “east” and what by “west”), to try to show that the other is not getting their figures right, or to try to hide or exaggerate the fact that east and west may not naturally be the most lucrative market for widgets. To manage these problems, the business-owner may hire a line manager to whom the two salesmen report. Then everyone starts undertaking analyses, writing reports and the like. There is ever less selling of widgets (proportionate to the size of the workforce) and ever more bureaucracy, as we expand the workforce. And on it goes.

The problem is more acute for a public sector bureaucracy, because the goals are contested and more difficult to measure. Private sector bureaucracies can be self-disciplining, because the owners of the business want maximum returns and will remove the director of the business if they do not maximise revenues and minimise expenditures. Public sector bureaucracies do not work in this way. In democracies, the politically elected (or appointed) minister in charge of a department may be replaced if the department is not perceived as working correctly. But for the most part, politicians are hostage to unexpected events that are far more determinative of their career prospects. Instead the prevailing rationale for a bureaucracy in the public sector is budgetary augmentation. The starting assumption is that a public administration has an annual budget that it wants to increase (or it wants to increase its share of a broader public budget). The reason public bureaucracies think like this is because the source of their funding is compulsory taxation rather than voluntary sales.

Taxpayers cannot elect to opt out of being taxed. (At least, the vast majority of taxpayers cannot. There is an international elite that can change their jurisdiction of residence for the purposes of minimising their tax liabilities, but this group is sufficiently small that their effect upon a government’s net tax revenue is nominal.) Therefore, all things being equal, the tax revenues available to fund a bureaucracy will be the same as they were last year. Or at least that will be the starting assumption. If there are lower tax revenues in general for government, for example because the economy has dipped over the last twelve months or political considerations have mandated reductions in tax rates, then government will typically borrow to cover the gap. Western democracies seldom balance their budgets.

On the other hand, if tax revenues have gone up then there is an increased pie for any government department to take a share of. The bureaucratic incentive for a public sector organisation is to increase its budget share. It does this by creating additional functions, needs and problems that the bureaucracy is required to resolve. The incentives of civil servants at all levels in a bureaucracy are to increase the prestige, importance of perceived need for what they are doing; to increase the number of people who work for them; and to spend the budget allocation they receive because otherwise it might be taken away.

Hence bureaucracies want to establish new departments and new functions, and identify new public needs that they can meet. Public bureaucracies proliferate new projects, preferably ones that involve procedures rather than outcomes because outcomes might be capable of measurement and therefore criticism. Their only restraint – aside from legal review (and that is usually confined to cases where bureaucracies do things that affect individuals in substantial ways – only a proportion of public sector bureaucrats do that) – is the risk of a diminution in budget when, once every few years, an “austerity” government is elected that cuts back on bureaucratic activities; or criticism of them that causes the bureaucracy to be reorganised (i.e. people being demoted to irrelevance or fired).

This is why abdication of responsibility is so important in a bureaucratic context: if these decimatory events come to pass, then the individuals who took responsibility will be the first to be sacrificed by their colleagues in the bureaucracy. Those colleagues would rather others suffer than that they do, and bureaucratic downsizing is a zero-sum game.

Now let us transfer this conceptual framework to the politics of an international organisation. For international organisations, there are no taxpayers. There are only voluntary contributors, at least as a practical matter. The people who fund international organisations are states, not citizens, and irrespective of what a treaty may say, no international organisation can force any member state to pay what they owe. Member states of international organisations might therefore be considered as more akin to customers of private corporations, particularly as regards their so-called “voluntary contributions”, being funds contributed by states to specific UN agencies and projects and subject to conditions.

However the consumers are not typical, because member states are not spending their own money. In turns they are spending their own taxpayers’ money. Why do they do this? Part of the reason is path-dependance: they always have done. This is the same explanation as to why the starting point for a government department’s budget for the year is the figure it was for the prior year. But another reason is that the United Nations allows its member states to internationalise problems. “This matter is being dealt with by the United Nations.” Therefore if and when it goes wrong, it is the fault of the United Nations, that is corrupt, wasteful and inefficient. It is not the fact of the nations who mandated the United Nations to get involved in the problem at stake, and who paid the UN to do it. Everyone that is a member of the United Nations loves to moan about its poor performance, because then the UN is under scrutiny and not them.

In this regard, the sociology of the UN’s interactions with its shareholders are somewhat akin to a private banker investing his or her client’s funds in a highly risky hedge fund. Safe, well-performing hedge funds have been closed to new entrants for years. If and when the risk goes south, the private banker can blame someone other than himself or herself.

As with a regular government bureaucracy, the United Nations can suffer short- to medium-term adjustment to its liquidity or revenues, because it can borrow and expect to make up the shortfall later. It is only when the flame of criticism is alight that the sudden panic amongst UN bureaucrats to avoid responsibility comes to the fore. Because there are no freedom of information rules inherent to the United Nations – in fact quite the opposite (most UN treaties provide that the archives of the UN ad its specialist agencies are “inviolable”, mean confidential and secret from absolutely all outside prying, including that of citizens, member states, police, prosecutorial and judicial authorities worldwide), public criticism is rare. Diplomats know what is happening inside the UN, but diplomats are not usually publicity-focused people. Hence they just attack the UN in private, and they risk becoming entwined within its web of gossip and scandal.

Journalists cannot get access. National politicians do not usually much care. Where activities of the United Nations are particularly precarious – for example, dangerous peacekeeping missions that may well end up in public failure – it is typical to appoint retired or failed politicians to the heads of such missions, so that they can be blamed when things go wrong rather than the long-term UN functionaries themselves being blamed.

Aside from this, the power relations within international organisations are much the same as within public sector bureaucracies. The two features of public international bureaucracies that render them distinctly dysfunctional are the following. (a) The fact that the quantity of money sent to the United Nations, and other agencies, per head of population consisting of final taxpaying voters from each member state (at least for the taxpayers who live in democracies and hence can vote) is insufficiently significant for the activities of the United Nations to make any difference to their voting intentions. (b) The United Nations has the power, which it exercises effectively, to control the information flow out of it as to what it is doing. Its media divisions release whatever information they want, leaving the greater remainder of the information about the UN’s activities unexposed to the media.

For these reasons, the propensity for hydra-headed bureaucratic growth in the United Nations, with ever-greater layers of management, incomprehensible procedures, new departments and divisions, programmes, agendas, goals, publications, consultation papers, partnerships, agencies, directors, officers and the like – quite ad nauseam. The United Nations is awn unleashed public sector bureaucracy on steroids.

The absence of legal accountability (the United Nations and its employees are generally immune from suit in domestic courts) compounds the problem But the UN seldom does things that might give aggrieved external individuals legal rights to sue the organisation, even if it did not have immunity. The one exception is where UN peacekeepers commit abuses over their charges, a phenomenon that has unfortunately emerged recently as far more prevalent than is excusable. In such circumstances the UN seeks to uphold immunity because UN peacekeepers are not, of course, actually UN troops operating under genuine multilateral command structures (however much things might be set up to give that appearance). UN peacekeepers are national soldiers loaned by their governments in exchange for money.

By far the majority of UN peacekeepers are deployed in the Great Lakes region at the current time. The three biggest state contributors to UN peacekeeping are India, Pakistan and Rwanda. They operate de facto within their national command structures. The United Nations does not want to find itself assaulted with lawsuits in New York courts (the UN headquarters being situated in New York) in respect of human rights abuses committed in a remote region of central Africa by troops from these three nations. This is comprehensible to a degree. Indeed it is inconceivable that DPKO (the UN’s “Department of Peacekeeping Operations”) would authorise any troop deployment in respect of which it could be held vicariously liable for the actions of troops, from these nations and others, operating under de facto national command structures. The United Nations would never be able to recoup the moneys it paid out to successful plaintiffs as a practical matters, so it would just cancel all UN peacekeeping missions: something it is hard to see as an unqualifiedly good thing.

The prohibition upon UN employees beginning lawsuits before domestic employment tribunals is substantially more controversial. The internal court system the UN has established to hear such claims is unsatisfactory for a number of reasons: there are caps on the size of damages; discovery (compulsory document disclosure, a standard feature of civil litigation in domestic courts) is limited; witnesses may not appear; the appeals process appears rigged in favour of UN management. Moreover the internalised employment tribunal existing for employees of most UN specialised agencies – the Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organisation – is vastly more dysfunctional, not even holding any hearings although its Statute requires it to do so. Exposing the UN to national employment courts could help a lot in shining a light of publicity upon the operations of the UN system, particularly if the media were able to attend and report upon those court hearings.

To change the dysfunctional sociology of the United Nations, a freedom of information statute is required. There is seldom good reason to keep the operations of the United Nations a secret. The procedure for obtaining access to documentation would need to be quick, unbureaucratic, a refusal would need to be signed by a manager with actual day-to-day access to the documentation, and there would need to be an impartial tribunal procedure to adjudicate a refusal or ignorance of a request. As with all freedom of information regimes, this would need to be very strict. It would not serve as a universal panacea to the problems of the United Nations. No public sector bureaucracy is perfect. But it could only improve things, that currently are bad. The notion that freedom of information legislation just makes bureaucrats prepare compliant documents is misplaced. Bureaucrats should prepare compliant documents. The only hope for a tolerantly efficient public bureaucracy is that the administration complies in good faith with transparent rules. This is a principal tool in improving the dysfunctional operation of the United Nations.

Matthew Parish is an international lawyer based in Geneva, Switzerland and a former UN peacekeeper. He has published two books and over 250 articles on the subject. In 2013 he was elected as a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum and he has was listed as one of the three hundred most influential people in Switzerland. He is currently a candidate for appointment to a position of Under Secretary General of the United Nations with an agenda for institutional reform.

 

By            :               Matthew Parish

Date         :               August 13, 2018

Source     :               Transconflict

The sociology of the United Nations

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