Illegal Abortion Leads to More Abortions

See? (Not that anyone who is interested in reality and data would be surprised by this):

The policy implications should be obvious to anyone, including people who do not like abortions. But we all know this is not about abortion per se, it is about patriarchal control and denial of women autonomy. Therefore, women in poorer countries will continues to have more numerous and unsafe abortions while the antichoice crowds will continue to make access to safe abortion less and less likely in the US. None of this will reduce the number of abortions but that is never the goal.

Peripheral Subsidies and Core Fairy Tales

This has already made the rounds:

“Dozens of workers assembling Xbox video game consoles climbed to a factory dormitory roof, and some threatened to jump to their deaths, in a dispute over jobs that was defused but highlights growing labour unrest as China‘s economy slows.

The dispute boiled over last week after contract manufacturer Foxconn Technology Group said it would close the production line for MicrosoftCorp’s Xbox 360 consoles at its plant in the central city of Wuhan and transfer some workers to other jobs, workers and Foxconn said Thursday.

Workers reached by telephone said Foxconn initially offered severance pay for those that wanted to leave rather than be transferred, but then reneged, angering the workers; Foxconn, in a statement, said transfers were offered, not severance, and only to some workers.

The workers climbed to the top of the six-story dormitory on 3 January and threatened to jump before Wuhan city officials persuaded them to desist and return to work, according to the workers and accounts online. The workers gave varying estimates of the numbers involved in the strike, from 80 to 200, and photos posted online showed dozens of people crowding the roof of the boxy concrete building.

“Actually none of them were going to jump. They were there for the compensation. But the government and the company officials were just as afraid, because if even one of them jumped, the consequences would be hard to imagine,” said Wang Jungang, an equipment engineer in the Xbox production line, who left the plant earlier this month.

The fracas is the latest labor trouble to hit Foxconn, a unit of Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co that makes iPads and iPhones for Apple Inc as well as Xboxes and other gadgets, helping consumer electronics brands hold down costs. Its massive China plants are run with military-like discipline, which labour rights activists say contributed to spate of suicides in 2010.”

We tend to conveniently forget (and companies are not eager to remind us, it is actually essential that we not know) that every bit of gadgetry (iPad, tablets, iPhones, etc.) or convenience (express shipping!) is always based on someone else’s exploitation and personal consequences (and let’s not get started on conflict minerals). Every extra we get is subsidized by peripheral workers either halfway around the world or the peripheral population (and precariat) within core societies.

And such subsidies come on the form of horrendous working and living conditions, assaults on one’s dignity, low wages, and generalized hopelessness. Or they are enforced by labor-oppressing governments.

Either way, we, core people, benefit from such subsidies while engaging in quite a bit of fairy take thinking as goodies magically appear on our doorsteps, for our consumption and pleasure all the while believing that we have all this exclusively because of our hard work.

Who Could Possibly Have a Problem with “Booth Babes”?

Oh, let me see… WOMEN! Women who work in this field and visit CES:

“Some women at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas have expressed their frustration at the scantily-clad “booth babes” hired by some companies to promote their stalls.”

Video at the link for the full misogyny of it.

The assumption is that only men will go to such events, and therefore, no one will notice the objectification and will assume that this is what they will want to see.

That !@#$ is othering and dehumanizing to the women being “booth babes” and the women who work in that field.

Hedging Albinos

Because that is what it is, right? A form of hedging.

Again, I have blogged multiple times about the murders of albinos in Tanzania. Here is a more recent example of this, with some connection made to the gold mining business from the excellent Aljazeera:

As noted in the film,

“Over the last five years in Tanzania, however, the situation has become much, much worse, with albinos increasingly subjected to murder and mutilation because of a completely spurious myth that albino body parts are effective in witchcraft rituals. Despite international outrage and repeated attempts by the Tanzanian government to stamp out this truly appalling practice, since it first came to light many albinos have been hunted down and attacked purely for their limbs and organs. Indeed the incidents seem to be increasing. Since 2008, at least 62 albinos have been killed in Tanzania, 16 have been violently assaulted and had their limbs amputated and the bodies of 12 albinos have been exhumed from graves and dismembered.

Against this background, it is perhaps not surprising that estimates of the numbers of albinos in Tanzania vary significantly. Officially there are around 5,000 registered, but the country’s Albino Association says the real number is in excess of 150,000. They say that many albinos are still kept hidden by their families because of the stigma some associate with the condition or because of fear that they might be attacked.”

Institutional Obsolescence

One of the things that we dutifully teach sociology undergraduate students is the functionalist idea that social institutions fulfill functions for society as a whole but this is (1) profoundly annoying, and (2) wrong. This gives a sense of monolithic arrangement that is “just the way it is”. In reality, institutional arrangements are structured as product of history and power relations. As a result, institutional change is notoriously difficult not because “it throws the system out of equilibrium” (good grief, why do we even still teach functionalism?), but because (1) historically produced institutional arrangements have a “natural”, “traditional” feel, (2) no one gives up power easily, and (3) these arrangements are sustained by ideologies promoted by other institutions (such as the media or the educational system).

And that is especially the case for the family, as social institution, where all this ideological baggage has so pervaded the collective representations that teaching a class on marriage and family is practically like doing deprogramming. Students show up in your class convinced that (1) the family is the institutional and moral pillar of society, (2) there a “traditional” family structure, and it is the heterosexual breadwinner / homemaker + children model, (3) this model has its roots (depending on the type of students) in religion or biology (thank you, functionalists, for the instrumental / expressive distinction that so fit this model, as if it were not socially constructed), and that therefore, (4) any change is a cause of moral decline and social instability, caused by deviant actors and practices. Seriously, how many books on the subject that Stephanie Coontz need to write for this to sink in?

At the same time, the family, as social institution, is treated as if it were socially and politically neutral, which it is not. Family structures and relations are shot through with power dynamics, from patriarchy to heteronormativity. But in the context of social change, especially in the economic sphere, and increased inequalities, the persistent insistence on defending or protecting the social centrality of family (i.e. the conservative ideal of the family) through surrounding institutions is socially detrimental.

Case in point 1:

“This example of transgender parenthood very vividly teases out how our ideas about law, gender and parenthood are not as straightforward as we might intuitively believe.  While the law in its current form may ‘make sense’ for the vast majority of people, it does not really grapple with the fundamental question of what makes someone a parent and why.  Is it a person’s intent to become a parent?  Is it their bio-genetic relationship with the child?  Is it an inevitable mixture of a number of factors?  Is being a ‘mother’ different from being a ‘father’, or indeed a ‘parent’? Who should decide?  The current law sends mixed messages on a number of these questions.  However, what does seem clear is that in the context of assisted reproduction our legislators have very deliberately sought to reserve the right of law to prescribe who is entitled to parental status.  This may be justified in the interests of legal certainty, but only if the legal framework is deemed fair and fit for purpose.

The transgender parenthood example highlights a number of existing problems and it is not difficult to imagine further situations where the framework will prove inadequate.  For example, the emphatic grounding of motherhood in gestation and the prohibition of legal motherhood or indeed female parenthood on the basis of the genetic link means that a woman who ‘donates’ her eggs to another woman who has agreed to act as a surrogate, has no direct claim to parental status on the basis of her genetic link.  Instead, she must apply for a parental order for legal parenthood to be transferred.  While this provides some protection for a surrogate mother who changes her mind about relinquishing parenthood once the child is born, it also arguably leaves an agreeable surrogate in a difficult legal situation if the commissioning parent(s) change their mind.   Moreover, it puts the genetic mother in a fairly precarious legal situation.  Only couples can apply for a parental order, so if the genetic mother and her partner were to separate (or her partner to die) before the birth of the child or the award of the parental order, she would have to adopt her own genetic child.  Social and adoption services may well be sympathetic to such an adoption application, but the outcome is difficult to predict, especially if the surrogate (and legal) mother raises objections to the child being adopted by a single person rather than a couple.  While single persons have been allowed to adopt a child in the UK since the 1970s, being single is not a protected status in equality and anti-discrimination law. Any ‘right’ of the genetic mother to adopt the child in question, therefore, cannot be guaranteed.

While this example of surrogacy, like transgender parenthood, may seem to relate to only a small proportion of births in the UK, it too raises fundamental questions about law, gender and parenthood.”

This is in the UK but has larger implications regarding how deeply embedded our ideas about gender, family and parenthood are power arrangements so that it is extremely hard to find a proper legal or conceptual framework once we crack that institutional nut. And this is not just a matter of time passing and technology changing things but of social redefinition that would happen even in the absence of technological change.

Case in point 2:

French sociologist of the family Irène Théry, in this interview for Télérama, lays out the concept of “pluriparentalités” (I don’t need to translate that one, you get the idea). For her, the family is not in crisis (I think that is part of the ideological work that is done to keep the institution intact) but, as always, in mutation. In the context of individualization and deinstitutionalization, studies show that people still value the idea of primary group with specific intimacy. The main difference is the greater acceptance of sexual equality (not perfect but still) which has become a central part of democratic societies. The conjugal hierarchy has lost a lot of legitimacy (hence the shrillness of its supporters). But since its supporters can only conceive of their value system, anchored in patriarchal arrangements, any change, by definition, implies a loss of values. What one sees, rather, is a value shift.

Legally, in France, the couple is now equal. Parental authority has replaced paternalistic power. The principle of co-parenting is more accepted in divorce cases. And a central phenomenon, for the sociologist, is that of demarriage, that is, marriage is losing its status as the indispensable horizon of intimate relationship for many men and women, it is no longer the framework for sexual morality. It used to be that legally, family was based on marriage. To not get married meant social marginality and stigma, especially for women. That is no longer the case. Marriage is no longer the basis for family. To marry or not marry, to demarry or not have become matters of individual decisions.

Even coupling is now a multi-faceted phenomenon: simply living together, under civil partnerships, same-sex, opposite sex. This diversity is based on the idea that couple constitutes a valuable relationship in and of itself, outside of the parent-children relationship, more outside of the patriarchal frame.

But things have also changed dramatically in the linearity department. It was not such a long time ago that a social and legal abyss separated legitimate children from illegitimate ones. This distinction has largely been erased. Socially, the distinction is between coupling challenges, which are seen as contractual and should be relatively easy to dissolve as opposed to linear ties that are supposed to be permanent and indissoluble.

Most of these changes are irreversible. There is no return to the patriarchal family norms as their weakening is tied to increased democratization. We are living under a different familial regime. Now, there is a need for clearer conceptual and legal frameworks to deal with these changes (such as co-parenting after separation or divorce). New structures create new problems, of course, such as the over-investment of parents towards their children such that many parents reformat their relationship with children as a friendship form, outside of authority. And as noted in the case above, parenting itself is no longer the straightforward structure it used to be. What is certain is that we can no longer base our laws and institutions on a parental structure that was never traditional in the first place, and no longer reflect contemporary realities.

At the same time, families still exist in a system of stratification and economic crises. Divorce and separation exist in all social classes but the price to pay is not the same. A divorce is a major cause of impoverishment. In Western countries, a disproportion of the poor are single / divorced / separated mothers. And in times where equality has been so much part of social movements (between sexes, races, children, homo / heterosexuals), one has tended to forget the increasing economic inequalities. The educational, cultural and material gap between families is widening and tackling it is a matter of public policy, not a private trouble to be solved individually. Public policy, according to the sociologist, should compensate for these inequalities.

So, case in point 3:

And predictably, the rest of the article is rather stupid.

And indeed, case in point 4:

as this analysis by sociologist Bernard Lahire, reported by the Observatoire des Inégalités shows, families are a major vector in the persistence and increase in inequalities. This is something that I discussed yesterday on the topic of cultural capital. It is through family lines that inequalities are transmitted on the cultural and symbolic register. This is the immaterial inheritance we all get, and it is as powerful as the material form.

In other words, time for throw out the obsolete institutional model and its ideological underpinnings, and open up the black box of the social structure and institution for some badly needed airing.


The Visual Du Jour – Patriarchal Control

Right here in the USA, courtesy of the forced motherhood movement and its political allies in both parties and the President:

This has been a thoroughly successful strategy: not attack Roe frontally but chip away at reproductive rights at the state level, one legislation at a time. For all intents and purposes, legal and safe abortions are made unavailable. This reflects the dominance of religious fundamentalist groups with political clout to enforce misogyny. These state measures take several forms, as the report notes:

Bans. The most high-profile state-level abortion debate of 2011 took place in Mississippi, where voters rejected the ballot initiative that would have legally defined a human embryo as a person “from the moment of fertilization,” setting the stage to ban all abortions and, potentially, most hormonal contraceptive methods in the state. Meanwhile, five states (AL, ID, IN, KS and OK) enacted provisions to ban abortion at or beyond 20 weeks’ gestation, based on the spurious assertion that a fetus can feel pain at that point. These five states join Nebraska, which adopted a ban on abortions after 20 weeks in 2010 (see State Policies on Later Abortions). A similar limitation was vetoed by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D).

Waiting Periods. Three states adopted waiting period requirements for a woman seeking an abortion. In the most egregious of the waiting-period provisions, a new South Dakota law would have required a woman to obtain pre-abortion counseling in person at the abortion facility at least 72 hours prior to the procedure; it would also have required her to visit a state-approved crisis pregnancy center during that 72-hour interval. The law was quickly enjoined in federal district court and is not in effect. A new provision in Texas requires that women who live less than 100 miles from an abortion provider obtain counseling in person at the facility at least 24 hours in advance. Finally, new provisions in North Carolina require counseling at least 24 hours prior to the procedure. With the addition of new requirements in Texas and North Carolina, 26 states mandate that a woman seeking an abortion must wait a prescribed period of time between the counseling and the procedure (see Counseling and Waiting Periods for Abortion).

Ultrasound. Five states adopted provisions mandating that a woman obtain an ultrasound prior to having an abortion. The two most stringent provisions were adopted in North Carolina and Texas and were immediately enjoined by federal district courts. Both of these restrictions would have required the provider to show and describe the image to the woman. The other three new provisions (in AZ, FL and KS), all of which are in effect, require the abortion provider to offer the woman the opportunity to view the image or listen to a verbal description of it. These new restrictions bring to six the number of states that mandate the performance of an ultrasound prior to an abortion (see Requirements for Ultrasound).

Insurance Coverage. Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Utah adopted provisions prohibiting all insurance policies in the state from covering abortion except in cases of life endangerment; they all permit individuals to purchase additional coverage at their own expense. These new restrictions bring to eight the number of states limiting abortion coverage in all private insurance plans (see Restricting Insurance Coverage of Abortion).

These four provisions also apply to coverage purchased through the insurance exchanges that will be established as part of the implementation of health care reform. Five additional states (FL, ID, IN, OH and VA) adopted requirements that apply only to coverage purchased on the exchange. The addition of these nine states brings to 16 the number of states restricting abortion coverage available through state insurance exchanges.

Clinic Regulations. Four states enacted provisions directing the state department of health to issue regulations governing facilities and physicians’ offices that provide abortion services. A new provision in Virginia requires a facility providing at least five abortions per month to meet the requirements for a hospital in the state. New requirements in Kansas, Pennsylvania and Utah direct the health agency to develop standards for abortion providers, including requirements for staffing, physical plant, equipment and emergency supplies; supporters of the measures made it clear that the goal was to set standards that would be difficult, if not impossible, for abortion providers to meet. Enforcement of the proposed Kansas regulations has been enjoined by a state court.

Medication Abortion. In 2011, states for the first time moved to limit provision of medication abortion by prohibiting the use of telemedicine. Seven states (AZ, KS, NE, ND, OK, SD and TN) adopted provisions requiring that the physician prescribing the medication be in the same room as the patient (see Medication Abortion).”

And, of course, abortion is not the issue as the same groups also target contraception, making US fundamentalists even more retrograde than their developing countries counterparts:

“The US is increasingly out of sync with developed and developing countries worldwide on these issues. Others get it: access to birth control is a linchpin in efforts to save lives. But the US continues to treat the issue as a political football. When people can choose whether or when to become pregnant, everyone benefits. Women are healthier, and their babies and children more likely to be fed, educated and healthy. The workforce is more robust; the government spends less on healthcare – study after study says so. The breadth of birth control’s benefits are matched only by the chronic magnitude of unmet need for it. Still today a staggering 215 million women around the world want, but lack, access.

Meanwhile, in October, the US house of representatives advanced a bill to cut $40m in funding from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the largest public sector provider of birth control in the world. The bill was just one part of larger efforts to undermine reproductive health, which included gutting family planning programs in the US and reinstating the “global gag rule” to punish developing countries for addressing unsafe abortion.

Although the final 2012 spending bill allocates more to global birth control than it initially threatened to, it’s still $5m shy of last year’s sum – and even that took heroic efforts to achieve. This year, the US must throw its weight behind ensuring birth control access, both at home and abroad. Other developed countries are wholeheartedly doing so. “You get it right for girls and women – you get it right for development,” said under-secretary of state Stephen O’Brien of the UK’s department for international development (DFID) recently. Last month, DFID pledged £35m in new funds to UNFPA and a day later tacked on an additional £5m for female condoms.

Women in sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia, where the vast majority of maternal deaths and unmet need for birth control lies, are struggling. Twin burdens of preventing or spacing pregnancies and dodging HIV risks are compounded by a chronic lack of health services and topped by taboos around sexuality. The US should be striving to do right by women worldwide by supporting their access to birth control. The Global Health Initiative, Obama’s novel effort launched in 2009, gave a modest bump to US global family planning programme, but more is needed. The US secretary of state Hillary Clinton rightly espouses the centrality of women to US foreign policy, yet on the issue of global birth control access the US remains a laggard.

By not prioritising birth control access within US borders or worldwide, the US is sending a message that contraceptive access is not important. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Developing countries – including Muslim nations – know this. In Dakar, dozens of health and finance ministers from across the African continent gathered to extol the virtues of family planning and strategise better ways of delivering it to those in need. Ambition and innovation are palpable, from Nigeria to Ethiopia. More and more developing country leaders are committed to improving women’s lives, and access to birth control is the first stop. Progress is imminent, especially in Africa.

Yet it would be much more so if the US were to fall into line. Other countries, wealthy, poor, and in-between, seem to have got the message: access to birth control is essential for health, rights and economic development. Millions around the world and in the US need access to a range of birth control options and the freedom to choose their reproductive futures. Addressing this should be on the top of the US’s new year’s resolutions.”

This tells you all you need to know about the so-called “pro-life” movement. It is simply a misogynistic and patriarchal movement whose goal it is to control women’s bodies and lives. Period.

Book Review – Les Métamorphoses de la Distinction

Philippe Coulangeon‘s Les Métamorphoses de la Distinction: Inégalités Culturelles dans la France D’Aujourd’hui provides an overview of the state of cultural capital and profits of distinction 30 years or so after, well, The Distinction, in the context of massification of higher education and public policies of cultural democratization and democratization of culture (and no, that’s not the same).

This is an interesting book but not an easy read. The writing is quite convoluted with a lot of intricate sentences containing qualifiers and modifiers and sub-propositions. If you are not familiar with French, you are going to need to do a lot of sentence mapping to figure it out. It is a shame because the book has a lot of good points and anyone interested in issues pertaining to cultural capital should read it.

The book explores four main questions:

1. What is today the role of culture is the structuring of class relations?

2. What are the consequences of the mass higher education starting in the 1960s and with even more intensity throughout the 1980s and 90s? Has this massification reduced the cultural dimension of class structuring?

3. What has been the impact of public policy regarding cultural democratization?

4. And finally, have all these developments transformed the norms of cultural legitimacy and the symbolic dimension of social domination?

1. So, is culture still a “classing” factor, or a class marker? Does The Distinction still hold? In the study, Bourdieu and his co-author extends the idea of cultural legitimacy and dominance to a whole range of cultural practices and lifestyles and show that the social stratification of taste, style and modes of consumption is as important that consumed goods and products. In Bourdieu’s terms, there is a structural homology between the space of social positions and the space of lifestyles.

This forms of stratification of taste and lifestyle, combined with reproduction of inequalities in education, contributed to highlight the symbolic dimension of social class relations. And in both contexts, the establishment of norms of “good taste” and proper school dispositions contributes imposing forms of symbolic violence against the subordinate classes. Ways of eating, dressing, talking, etc. mark people along class lines. The imposition of such norms, legitimated as non-class based, serve as mechanisms of closure and exclusion.

Another aspect of symbolic violence is to disguise the arbitrariness of dominant norms of taste as individualized (therefore, a lack of taste is an individual shortcoming) rather than class-based exclusion. The same goes for academic success where class-based legitimate curriculum favors the children of the dominant classes, but success and failure is promoted as a matter of  “ability” (an individual trait) or other individual characteristics. These forms of class-based institutional discrimination are still quite prevalent in a lot of social settings (such as job interviews, entrance exams and social networks).

But is it the case that class is now less important, as a social marker, than gender or race / ethnicity, for instance? Coulangeon argues that that is not the case. the data on French cultural practices still show significant social distinctions. It should not be forgotten that the consumption of cultural goods takes money. And in the context of increasing inequalities and economic crisis, the upper classes are still the ones with money to spend, as a larger part of their income, in that department. As such, access to the most legitimate cultural practices is still largely marked by strong inequalities whether these practices are public (such as museum visits, attendance at classical music concerts, etc.) or domestic (reading).

At the same time, this inertia of cultural habits has also been accompanied by a relative decline of the most legitimate practices even in the dominant classes without a corresponding democratization (the upper classes may read less but it does not mean that the lower classes read more).

And third evolution: there seems, according to Coulangeon, to have been a lowering of the profits of distinction to be gained from legitimate cultural practices, especially the domestic ones, so that upper classes are then more likely to engage in public practices.

2. What of all this in the context of the massification of higher education. Wouldn’t one expect a greater access to higher education to expand the consumption of dominant cultural practices? Coulangeon makes mince meat of two common criticism of greater access to higher education: (1) a decline in the social value of college degrees as they become more widespread, and (2) a decline in academic ability alongside grade inflation. On the first one, he argues that the fact that young people with college degrees having a hard time finding jobs may have more to do with the labor market and greater precarization than the value of degrees per se. If anything, it is more costly to NOT have a college degree today than ever before. As to the second one, the decline arguments are usually based on data that compare generations that are hardly comparable. Rather compare college students of today with college students of yore, it would be more significant to compare individuals with comparable background, and see the differences between those who received college degrees and those who did not.

Traditionally, there has been a strong correlation between level of education and cultural attitudes and practices. So, logically, the expansion of higher education should have led to a corresponding expansion of the demand for legitimate cultural goods. According to Coulangeon, that has not been the case. Part of this has also to do with the greater porosity between the educational institution and mass media culture. This means that the current generation of college students has high levels of consumption of such mass media and entertainment products, and less of legitimate, scholarly-approved cultural goods. Socially, there has also been a decrease in the  cultural authority of education as a social institution, and its ability to legitimate cultural goods and practices.

What has happened then, according to Coulangeon, is an inverted mimetism: rather than college students from the lower classes adopting the cultural habits – albeit imperfectly – of the upper class, it is students of the upper classes that have absorbed cultural tastes and practices of mass, popular culture. This does not mean that class differences have completely disappeared. Family background, in terms of cultural capital, still matters. But a main effect of the expansion of higher education is that working-class families now realistically consider college as part of the educational aspirations for their children.

However, Coulangeon notes two additional effects of the expansion of higher education: (1) a loosening of class solidarity replaced by a greater individualistic outlook on social mobility, based on equal opportunity, and (2) beyond a relative uniformization (through the irruption of popular culture into academic culture as the numbers of working-class students increased), there is a stark contrast in terms of living conditions: as upper class students see their time as students as a time of innovation and experimentation, working-class students live it as exposure to precarization (rather than the social and financial autonomy an earlier entry into the labor market gave them in previous generations). Class still matters.

Finally, the decline in cultural authority of the institution of higher education is also a product of its expansion. As more working class students gained access to college, the aura of prestige enjoyed by the institutions declined. The greater the social distance between the working class and the institution, the greater the prestige. And vice versa. Social proximity led to reduced prestige.

3. Public policy in the cultural domain has been based on two different conceptions: (1) cultural democratization, that is, increasing access to “high” culture for the masses, such greater access being defined as a universal social good; and (2) greater democratic culture, that is, legitimizing of erstwhile marginalized cultural forms (originating from specific ethnic minorities, for instance, or lower-class forms). How has this worked?

Coulangeon argues that, when it comes to cultural practices, social origins (generating dispositions) may still exert a heavy weight compared to social position (hence, greater weight to cultural habits inherited during family socialization than through education). But this needs to be qualified somewhat in the context of plural socialization that creates a volatility of cultural tastes. At the same time, with a lessening of the level of prestige and legitimacy enjoyed by the educational institution, there has a been a corresponding decline of the profits of distinction connected to the possession of high cultural capital alongside the emergence of new culturally-valued goods and practices (such as a cosmopolitan outlook and soft skills).

There is therefore a redefinition of what cultural legitimacy means.

4. Regarding this configuration of the meaning of cultural legitimacy, Coulangeon notes that the upper classes’ cultural practices, rather than being exclusionary, have trended towards eclecticism, a phenomenon captured under the metaphore of the omnivore, as opposed to the parochial working classes, univores. Therefore, cultural stratification would now look like an inverted pyramid where the upper classes are characterized by the diversity of their cultural repertoires and the lower classes by their limited ones. The definition of the cultural omnivore covers both quantity and quality (greater practice across a more varied repertoire that includes both high and mass cultural products, with a global / cosmopolitan outlook). Here again, of course, one should note that such eclecticism is facilitated by economic resources.

However, this does not mean that there is absolutely no exclusionary element to this eclecticism. Certain popular genres are still excluded (such as hip hop or heavy metal) from this more diversified repertoire that is defined more by its aversion to certain products and practices, than by its inclusion. Therefore, another distinction in cultural capital is between the active aversion of upper classes for certain practices and products as opposed to the passive ignorance of popular classes of the more traditional high culture. The lines of exclusion may have shifted but they are still present.

Coulangeon also associates this cultural eclecticism of the dominant classes to contemporary management practices, based on human capital and diversity, and in which some sort of multicultural communicative capital may be useful. But it is also connected to globalization as the cultural (and economic and political and social) elites have become more globalized (the transnational capitalist class, in all its components). Therefore, the possession of such multicultural capital is clear class marker as it reflects exposure to, and possession of, the cultural resources of globalization. This is where the profits of distinction now are located, and no longer in the classical humanities. And the acquisition of such multicultural capital is built through world travel, exchange and therefore a symbolic and material domination of space, beyond the “old” forms of distinction and cultural capital, more marked by a domination of time.

So, where does this leave us? It is rather clear that we should no bury the cultural dimension of class too quickly. This symbolic dominance attached to cultural capital is alive and well, but in reconfigured dimensions that take into account greater access to higher education, globalization, a decline in the traditional prestige of education as social institution, and the rise of new forms of cultural legitimacy, no less symbolically violent than their predecessors.

Neo-Colonialism 101 – Dance!

From the Guardian (emphasis mine):

“The Jarawa tribe have lived in peace in the Andaman Islands for thousands of years. Now tour companies run safaris through their jungle every day and wealthy tourists pay police to make the women – usually naked – dance for their amusement. This footage, filmed by a tourist, shows Jarawa women being told to dance by an off-camera police officer.”

Social mobility, Social Inequalities and Precarization as Social Pollution

Via this article from the New York Times… If there is one positive thing that has come out of the economic mess and social movements worldwide, it is a well-deserved focus on social inequalities and social mobility (or lack thereof):

As the article notes:

“Benjamin Franklin did it. Henry Ford did it. And American life is built on the faith that others can do it, too: rise from humble origins to economic heights. “Movin’ on up,” George Jefferson-style, is not only a sitcom song but a civil religion.

But many researchers have reached a conclusion that turns conventional wisdom on its head: Americans enjoy less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe. The mobility gap has been widely discussed in academic circles, but a sour season of mass unemployment and street protests has moved the discussion toward center stage.


One reason for the mobility gap may be the depth of American poverty, which leaves poor children starting especially far behind. Another may be the unusually large premiums that American employers pay for college degrees. Since children generally follow their parents’ educational trajectory, that premium increases the importance of family background and stymies people with less schooling.


Despite frequent references to the United States as a classless society, about 62 percent of Americans (male and female) raised in the top fifth of incomes stay in the top two-fifths, according to research by the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Similarly, 65 percent born in the bottom fifth stay in the bottom two-fifths.

By emphasizing the influence of family background, the studies not only challenge American identity but speak to the debate about inequality. While liberals often complain that the United States has unusually large income gaps, many conservatives have argued that the system is fair because mobility is especially high, too: everyone can climb the ladder. Now the evidence suggests that America is not only less equal, but also less mobile.”

Also: less unions, expensive education and no serious public health. this is the house that neoliberalism built: based on structural violence.

And, you know, this:

However, the big question is then, what can be done, and on that one, the current ideological drawing board is pretty empty beyond a mix of individualist exhortations and social darwinism:

“We are no longer concerned with parity, but do our best to encourage competition between schools (a system that is based on disparity).  Free schools are the latest addition to an overall provision that is almost deliberately unsystematic.  In this new (dis)order, variations in school status have transformed in our perception from potential danger to principle of organisational enhancement.  Schools vie for esteem as they endlessly compete for more pupils and a better position in the league-table.

Social mobility has lost its earlier attachment to grand mechanisms of social redistribution.  The idea that psychological experts and central agencies should administer the distribution of talent (through the distribution of education) is a rapidly fading early twentieth-century dream.  This has been replaced by theexhortation:  “We’ve tried equality.  We’ve tried social engineering… But what about just letting people get on with it?”.

According to the ideology of our times, social mobility has been elevated as if it were some sort of life-force, that will always be, by its very nature, beyond the control of the social engineer.  The most we can hope to achieve is a small amount of regulation.  Small battles are fought for a little more openness, a little more fairness, a little less patronage and so on.  But the grander projects of the social engineer are no longer in vogue.

Last year three Italian academics predicted that organisations could become more efficient if they promoted people at random.  Whether their mathematical models are to be believed or not is unimportant.  The research question itself betrays our dominant ideology: natural social systems are often better ‘left alone’.

So how exactly are people ‘left alone’ when the social engineer retreats, when wegive up on the idea that all talent must be perfectly rewarded by an appropriate position and income?  Do we end up with a situation close to Hobbes’ state of nature: ‘every man, against every man’?  Are we left with nothing more than a chaotic battle of social repositioning?

It is certainly tempting to see things this way, but that would be a mistake.  Social mobility is still wrapped up within systems of coercion, though these systems are undoubtedly becoming harder to see.  This is because mobility is taking the form of a personal responsibility to achieve and advance.  At the same time, failure is also personalised as being down to a lack of aspiration.  All of this unfolds within a well-articulated framework of power, and one of the key devices in use here is the instrument of hope.”

And that is, hope in the context of increasing precarization:

“La qualité de l’emploi s’est détériorée”, selon cette étude, qui relève qu’en Italie, Hongrie, République tchèque et Pologne, la probabilité de devoir se contenter d’un emploi précaire pour les personnes cherchant du travail a augmenté “plus que la moyenne”.

Le nombre de personnes trouvant un CDI au sortir d’une période de chômage ou d’inactivité a par exemple diminué de 14 % en dix ans en Italie, de 15 % en Hongrie et de 27 % en République tchèque. En Allemagne, les chances de signer un CDI pour un chômeur ou un inactif ont, elles, baissé de 7 %.

L’institut IAB dit avoir constaté “une forte segmentation” du marché du travail dans les pays étudiés, avec d’un côté les personnes en contrat à durée indéterminée, relativement protégées, et de l’autre les emplois précaires, qui sont les premiers àfaire les frais des crises économiques.

Les auteurs de l’étude jugent qu’il faudra à l’avenir que les gouvernements “mettent davantage en avant la question de la qualité de l’emploi”, au lieu de se focaliser sur la seule quantité (de chômeurs ou d’actifs).”

Which leads to this increase in mental illness, directly linked to precarization:

“Sur fond de crise économique, de mondialisation et de nouvelles organisations du travail, la santé mentale des travailleurs se dégrade. Tel est le constat de l’Organisation de coopération et de développement économiques (OCDE) pointé dans une étude publiée le mercredi 14 décembre, “Mal être au travail ? Mythes et réalités sur la santé mentale au travail “.

Selon l’organisation, qui regroupe 34 pays parmi les économies les plus avancées, mais aussi quelques émergents comme le Chili, la Turquie ou le Mexique, “la précarisation croissante des emplois et l’augmentation actuelle des pressions au travail pourraient entraîner une aggravation des problèmes de santé mentale dans les années à venir”. Et l’OCDE n’hésite pas à qualifier la santé mentale de“nouveau défi prioritaire pour le marché du travail”.

Par “mauvaise santé mentale”, l’OCDE entend les dépressions graves, les toxicomanies sévères (alcool, drogue), les troubles maniaco-dépressifs… tous ces maux étant établis par un diagnostic médical.

La mauvaise santé mentale des salariés, et celle des demandeurs d’emploi, encore plus vulnérables, intéresse l’OCDE, parce qu’elle coûte cher. “Selon une estimation prudente de l’Organisation internationale du travail, écrivent les auteurs du rapport, les coûts d’une mauvaise santé mentale pour les individus concernés, les employeurs et la société représentent 3 à 4 % du produit intérieur brut dans l’Union européenne.” Les taux de chômage élevés, la “forte incidence de l’absentéisme pour maladie et d’une moindre productivité du travail” expliquent les coûts de ce fléau grandissant.

Car la plupart des personnes souffrant de troubles mentaux travaillent. Leur taux d’emploi oscille, selon les pays, entre 60 % et 70 %, soit une quinzaine de points de moins que les personnes en bonne santé. “Ces salariés sont plus souvent malades, plus longtemps, et, surtout, quand ils sont au travail, ils ne font rien, ce qu’on appelle “présentéisme””, explique Miranda Veerle, économiste et responsable du rapport.

La crise économique et ses conséquences apparaissent comme l’une des explications majeures de la détérioration de la santé mentale des salariés. Ainsi, établit l’étude, “la perte de l’emploi aggrave la détresse psychologique plus que n’importe quel autre événement de la vie, comme un accident ou la perte d’un conjoint”.

Mais le chômage n’est pas seul en cause. “Les récessions peuvent en effet s’avérer très stressantes pour les salariés qui conservent leur emploi.” Le risque de perte d’emploi a augmenté pour tous les travailleurs. Cette “insécurité” est passée de 14 % en 2005 à 17 % en 2010, et de 21 % à 40 % chez les travailleurs temporaires, qui sont “plus nombreux à souffrir de troubles mentaux”.”

Book Review – Les Rémunerations Obscènes

Philippe Steiner‘s Les Rémunerations Obscènes is a pamphlet more than a book per se. With a 134 pages of text, it a short and clear read on the topic of the stratospheric compensations received by corporate CEOs and their lack of justification. However, the book is not just a rant against these compensations packages. Steiner systematically debunks one by one, armed with both economic and organizational sociology and some solid references to research, all the justifications commonly employed to rationalize the levels of CEO compensation.

The book is also shock full of data detailing the various levels of compensations, their evolution and trajectories, alongside some more well-known data on the increase of inequalities and wage stagnation for the rest of the population. The icing on the cake comes from some morceaux choisis from CEOs themselves, in their own words, explaining why they should be paid such obscene compensations. Finally, the book ends with a few suggestions as to what should be done.

The sociologists will also find in the book some constant references to classical (Weber, Durkheim) and more contemporary sociologists as Steiner goes through some SHiP (Structure / History / Power) demonstration to explain how we got to these levels of compensation, why the upward trend has been so steep and continues to this day irrespective of objective factors such as performance. Steiner has done his homework and the bibliographical references are quite extensive for such a short book.

Using Weber, Steiner argues that the obscene levels of compensation have nothing to do with capitalism, which is supposed to temper the irrational passion for profit-seeking through a variety of mechanisms. The unleashing of greed is not part of such mechanisms. The corporate übermenschen (as Steiner calls them, “surhommes”) have managed to disconnect themselves from social ties that would link them to social norms and a general sense of the way the mere mortals live. The strong ties to the political world also increase the amount control that these men (yes, men) exercise over their own enrichment. And has been recently exposed, it is Goldman Sachs world. The rest of us just live in it.

The strongest parts of the book are those where Steiner explains the organizational processes at work in determining CEO compensations, especially the work of compensation committees. These committees may be composed of other CEOs, and they may use information provided by consulting firms specialized in constructing remuneration packages. This is where social capital and social networks analysis is central. These compensation committees look like a game of revolving door and mutual back-scratching disguised under rationalizations such as preventing CEOs from leaving the country if they do not get a globally-competitive level of compensation, the ability to attract the best and brightest. In reality, this looks more like CEOs looking at each other’s compensation and saying “I want at least what they have!” The processes are those of a very close and tight-knit in-group.

What of the argument that compensations packages are often tied to performance (in terms of stock value) and therefore, there is a level of accountability? Steiner reviews the research and shows that that is simply not the case. First of all, there are all the anecdotes of golden parachutes. Second of all, compensations never decrease based on bad performance. They might not increase but that is it. Steiner shows that salaries and bonuses rise in ways unconnected to stock prices and values.

So, are CEOs so rare and so incredibly talented that their compensation levels have exploded? Steiner invokes his Micromégas regime of competition, with reference to Voltaire: minuscule differences between individuals translate into massive differences in compensation between CEOs and the rest. At the same time, CEO contribution to the value of firms is minimal. At the same time, throughout organizations and recruiting firms, there is the belief in extreme individual agency, that is, the belief that whatever firm results are fully attributable to CEO decisions. This belief is taken as religious dogma (except, of course, when the company collapse and all of a sudden, someone like Enron’s Jeffrey Skilling argues that he didn’t know anything that was going on in the firm). If “I” did all this, then, “I” deserve to appropriate such a high share of profits, not the hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands of people who have contributed to innovation, productivity, etc. And this appropriation has to be at a level comparable to that of other CEOs, worldwide.

On the other side of things, firms that design compensation packages tend to think that (1) they will not be able to attract the “right” candidates if compensation packages are not tempting enough, and (2) that a company would symbolically debase itself if it did not come up with a phenomenal compensation package (one that is more impressive than that of comparable firms). This triggers compensation inflation as chain reaction.  Companies offer enormous compensation packages as status signals that reflect on them.

Steiner also analyzes the current indignation regarding executive compensation using Durkheim’s concept of moral economy, that is, the social evaluation of the functions and compensation. The level of contestation has to do with the legitimation crisis that has been intensified by the economic crisis, itself revealing the disconnect between compensation levels and the collapse of their justifications. Of course, politicians have grabbed the theme of a moralization of executive compensation, but the tangled web of political/corporate connections guarantees that said moralization will not go beyond rhetoric.

Invoking The Spirit Level, Steiner ends by noting that obscene compensation is a social pollution, contributing to rising inequalities and their deleterious effects. The book is a bit short on solution (fiscal policy), which is a shame but changing the structural nature of obscene compensation probably would take a whole book in itself.

In light of the current crisis and the imposition of “sacrifices” on populations across the Western world, this topic is highly relevant. In the context of the upcoming French presidential election, and as the main candidates start to unveil their platforms, this book comes out at the right time and should be mandatory reading to said candidates.