License

Blogroll

Search

Archive for Nationalism

Book Review – Planet Sport

September 8, 2012 by and tagged , , , , , , ,

I have to confess that I found Kath Woordward‘s Planet Sport to be a little mess of a book. As I have mentioned before, I am always on the lookout for short books that might make for some interesting readings in sociology for my freshmen / introduction to sociology class.

Naturally, sports is a topic that would definitely generate interest with my students. And this is a very short book (about 90 pages of text). So, my hopes were that I would be able to integrate this one as well, especially with a basic thesis such as this one (Kindle edition):

“This book demonstrates why sport matters and how, by arguing that we should take sport seriously and explore what is social about sport. Sport is not just another domain to which social theories can be applied, sport is also distinctive and generates new ways of thinking about social issues and debates. Sport is affected by the global economy and social, political and cultural processes, but also has effects on the wider social terrain of which it is part. Sport is much more than play.

Sport is particular in its combination of personal pleasures and pain, embodied practices, collective commitment and globalised politics and conflicts. Sporting events are also sites of resistance and protest as well as the reiteration of traditions and conformity. Sport is divisive and collaborative, conflictual and democratic; it combines people in very particular, positive and energising ways, but also recreates tensions, ambivalences, hostilities and conflicts. The role and status of sport in contemporary societies is thus crucial to an understanding of the nature of social and cultural change as part of the iterative practices of micro narratives and encounters as well as being part of global transformations.” (Loc. 92)

But I am afraid, this book will not make it into my list of freshmen readings. My number one and main issue is the writing. Good grief is it convoluted, heavy-handed and full of jargon. I mean, seriously:

“There is some confusion between philosophical and empirical categories of sex gender that could be clarified by exploring some of the specificities of lived experiences and the plasticity of flesh, by combining flesh and experience, perception of self with the perception of others and of situating enfleshed selves within the social world.” (Loc. 835-837).

And yes, I know what she is referring to but who wants to read something like this (the whole repeated reference to “sex gender” throughout the book annoyed me as well).

The second major issue I had was the organization of the book itself. It felt messy to me. I say “felt” because of the fact that Woodward is a famous and much respected sociologist, I perfectly consider the possibility that I missed the point entirely. I understand that when you write a short introduction to something, shortcuts have to be taken and not everything can be put in but I really do question the selection of materials and how they were addressed.

There is, for my taste and, I think, for an introductory book, way too much abstract theoretical stuff that will be incomprehensible to undergraduates. For instance, chapter 6, Everyday Routines – The Ordinary Affects of Sport is a perfect illustration of that, full of phenomenology and is more directed at the researcher in sociology of sports than a reader looking for an introduction to it. It is a very abrupt break from the rest of the book that makes you wonder what it is doing there, in the middle of it.

The issue is not the topic itself, of course, sport is at the center of so many social processes and structures that certainly justify introductory writing as Woodward herself suggests:

“Sport is a central part of contemporary life and widely enmeshed with and constitutive of social relations and social divisions; planet sport is made up of the intersection of very different power axes. For example, whilst in the wider cultural and social terrain of western neoliberal democracies categories of sex gender may be seen as more fluid, in sport the binary logic of sex persists, albeit largely called gender in the contemporary discourse of sport. The vast majority of sports are classified as women’s or men’s competitions, even though men’s are not always marked, as in the football ‘World Cup’; the female counterpart of which is the ‘Women’s World Cup’. The ways in which networks of hegemonic masculinity endure make sport a rich field for research into social and cultural continuities as well as change, especially as more women worldwide are joining in and enjoying the pleasures of sport as well as its rigorous regimes.” (Loc. 151)

All these topics are addressed in the book but in such a confusing and/or repetitive fashion that it makes following the thread of the book rather painful. There are some elements that are really interesting but either they are not pursued or they get a confusing and jargonian treatment. For instance, there are important sociological aspects: sports as disciplinary regimes under rationalized systems of training, sport as bodily projects within the framework of individualized technologies of the self, sports are displays and structuring of hegemonic masculinity. After all there is a whole continuum of sports from individuals working out at the gym to professional athletes training for the Olympics in professional settings and regimes.

There is also the globalized economics of sports and their embedding in global neoliberal logics and logics of commodification, as was amply demonstrated by the just-ended 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

At the same time, sports in embedded within a series of regulatory regimes at the local, national and global level that coexist alongside unregulated sport practices such as parkour:

Sports is also shot through with issues pertaining to gender (or “sex gender” as Woodward puts it), race and social construction of the able body. Of course, the able body, as opposed to the disabled one, are socially constructed categories that get challenged by technology as the case of Oscar Pistorious recently demonstrated as he competed in both the Olympic and the Paralympic Games (Gold in the former, Silver in the latter). The use of blades as effective leg substitute calls into question the clean cut binary of “able / disabled”.

Actually, this binary is not the only one being called into question. The case of Caster Semenyia, already discussed here, also calls into question the neat binary “men / women”, which has been central in the structuring of sports.

As for race,

“The classification of people into racial categories has played a key role in segregation in sport by means of criteria of visible corporeal difference too. Race and racialisation have been elements in the classificatory systems of sport and are constitutive of racialised categories in other social worlds. Racialisation has been a powerful element used to justify exclusion from particular sports historically by formal means and more recently still by biologically determinist essentialist discourses about racial types as well as through social and cultural forces.” (Loc. 262)

It is not hard to find examples of that, especially in the context of the apartheid system. [In addition, social class plays a part in there as well. After all, Pistorious himself enjoys the benefits of technology thanks to his privileged class status.] Moreover, when it comes to race,

“Black athleticism can be used to support theories of racialised difference and the suitability of black people, usually men, not only for particular sports, generally not those with the distinction of association with the upper classes, such as polo and golf, but also for athletic rather than intellectual activity.” (loc. 274)

One only has to remember the utterly stupid commentators arguing that Africans are fast as “natural selection” from slavery. At the same time, blacks have been long excluded from certain sports such as polo and golf. There is, of course, politics at the intersection of race and sports:

“Politics has dominated sport in places as diverse as Nazi Germany, the USA during the period of racial segregation and South Africa in the apartheid era when boycotts became the most powerful tool of resistance. Racism in sport has most strongly militated against competitions between people classified as belonging to particular racial or ethnic groups; fights between black and white boxers were banned in the US for a long period of time (Simmons, 1988). At some periods in sporting history the politics of inequality played out through institutionalised exclusions, at others through less formal mechanisms, such the impossibility of black players joining the clubs of the sports of the affluent, privileged white classes, such as golf clubs. Class and racialisation are widely imbricated in the politics of sport. Recognition of the processes of exclusion has been one step along the way to promoting diversity, albeit a very slow step in many sports.” (Loc. 294-300).

The global aspect of sports is quite obvious and I wish it had been treated better and in more specific. Woodward does note the multilayered aspect of global governance as well as sports loyalties. I wish there had been more on the neo-colonial flows of players from the periphery to the core, especially in soccer, for instance. There are also global flows of money, corporate sponsorship, etc.

At the same time, sports have benefited from the rationalized and bureaucratized (in the Weberian sense) of technologies of performance through pharmacology (hello, Lance Armstrong) as well as scientific training through a variety of professionals in various degrees of specialization (such as physical therapists or sport psychologists or even nutritionists). This leads to the creation of highly paid, scientifically trained athletes getting read for global events (such as the Olympics) where they will perform for (almost) the entire world through the global media (a nexus of corporatism and global communication technologies) in global spectacles.

The global nature of sports also points to the global inequalities in sports. The global flows are far from even in the world-system by class, race and gender. This relates to the fact that sport is big business. I wish more data had been included here:

“Some stakeholders have benefited and these developments have created new stakeholders, media networks, broadcast services, promoters, agents and notably a new class of sports stars, a relatively small number of whom earn massive fees not only for their performance on the field but also in the commercial synergies created by the sport media nexus and expansion of sites for the purveyance of popular cultural products. Such benefits have increasingly been concentrated for example on the celebrity stars, mega leagues and top clubs through sponsorship deals. Many have not benefited, notably the focus and site of the channelling of resource has been in men’s sport while women’s teams and clubs struggle to gain any sponsorship. Global inequalities mean that resources are distributed according to the rationality on irrationality of market forces, which again lead to particular emphasis on sports such as the men’s big team games.” (Loc. 720-726)

Woodward also provides some interesting developments on the deployment of technology and power in order to reduce uncertainty in sports:

“Sport is a field where records and measurement count. It matters that times and speeds are accurately measured in athletics, especially given the high rewards that are now involved. Other sports demand visualisation and filming techniques and heat-sensitive equipment as well as additional human resources; cameras at the wicket in cricket, at the touch line in rugby to adjudicate tries amidst an ever more voluble demand for more and more accuracy to judge outcomes, ensure fair play and redress the inadequacies of the human eye and the lack of all-round vision of the referee. Technologies are constantly developing more sensitive and precise means of ensuring accuracy to ever-higher standards of precision. These developments are inspired by the expanding technoscience that is the motor to much sporting innovation and the quest for certainty.” (Loc. 739-745).

And that is on top of the already-mentioned procedures designed to ensure that a woman is a woman or that a man is not doped up (note the distinction in testing in the context of hegemonic masculinity).

Similarly, if one has followed the preparations to the 2012 Olympics – and any other such global events – it is easy to see how much work went into the reduction of risk and uncertainty on multiple levels: guaranteeing that sponsors would recoup their money, the major emphasis on security and surveillance, crowd control, etc. As such, and this is not something mentioned in the book, the sport megaevent become thoroughly embedded in the surveillance society.

So those are the main aspects of the book that I wanted to highlight. As I said, the issue was not so much the content as the writing and organization. Not recommended for undergraduates. A shame, really, because the sociology of sport is such an interesting field.

I’d be curious to see what Dave Mayeda thinks. Sociology of sports is more his field than mine.

Posted in Book Reviews, Commodification, Corporatism, Gender, Global Governance, Globalization, Nationalism, Sociology, Sports | No Comments »

Nationalism, Militarism and Epistemological Elites

July 17, 2011 by and tagged , , , , ,

Peter Berger (2011):

“Looking at this dissertation from my present vantage point, I find most interesting a number of observations that adumbrated my later formulations in the sociology of knowledge. I discussed the claim to superior knowledge typically made by sectarian groups, and I extended the discussion beyond the area of religion. In this context I coined the term epistemological elite, applying this not only to sects, but also to certain churches, notably Roman Catholicism, and to Marxism and psychoanalysis. Any epistemological elite, religious or secular, must develop a system of cognitive defenses to defend its claims against outside criticisms but also, very importantly, to assuage the doubts harbored by insiders.” (36-7)

Let’s extend this to nationalism and militarism:

“An off-the-cuff remark by the Norwegian-born presidential candidate, Eva Joly, has plunged France into a four-day orgy of patriotic moralising and political name-calling.

Why, asked the official Green candidate, does France insist on celebrating its national day with a military parade? How can tanks and fighter bombers represent the republican values of liberty, equality and fraternity? Why not have a “citizens’ parade” on Bastille Day instead, she argued?

Ms Joly’s remarks initially provoked indignation from rival politicians of both right and left, who said her comments were insensitive as last Thursday’s parade came the day after six French soldiers were killed in Afghanistan.

Then the centre-right Prime Minister, François Fillon, set off another political depth charge. He recalled that Ms Joly, 67, had come to France from Norway as an au pair in 1963. Her comments, he said, proved that she had “not been steeped for very long in French traditions, French values and French history”. In other words, Ms Joly, the official Green-Europe Ecology candidate in next spring’s election, was not truly French.

(…)

The row entered its fourth day yesterday, leading all news bulletins and newspapers. Other ministers came to Mr Fillon’s defence and junior members of the governing centre-right party plunged into outright anti-Norwegianism. Lionel Tardy, a centre-right member of parliament, said: “It’s time for Eva Joly to go back to Norway.”"

Nice bit of exclusion and othering as well since the power to exclude and determine who’s a member of a community or an outsider is a definite marker of power.

Posted in Ideologies, Militarism, Nationalism, Social Theory, Sociology | No Comments »

Book Review – Traȋtres A La Nation

April 16, 2011 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Stephane Béaud’s Traîtres À La Nation – Un Autre Regard Sur La Grève Des Bleus en Afrique du Sud (en collaboration avec Philippe Guimard) is perfect and great example of public sociology. It very nicely and powerfully shows what sociological analysis can do, especially with respect to a very high-profile event, such as the “strike” by the French football team during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

I really do hope that this book will get an English edition. If that were the case, I would jump on it and make my students use in my undergraduate classes. It is written at the perfect level, uses a lot of concrete examples. There isn’t too much jargon but the sociological analysis is crystal clear and very powerful. And, of course, the topic is guaranteed to get people’s attention. One can point at this book and say “this is what sociology does.”

The starting point of the book, obviously, is the strike by the players of the national French team during the World Cup, followed by their shameful exit from that competition in the early stages (after a very controversial qualification), and the social and political fallout from these events. Considering how discussed these events have already been, what does sociology have to bring to the table? First off, most of the discussion has been tainted by moral, classist and racist considerations. Exit the glorious days of the “black, blanc, beur” winning team of 1998, now, the strike is denounced by politicians as the work of low-class, highly-paid little bosses and the hapless followers. The media and politicians engaged in moral condemnations. Putting oneself in the position of judge, prosecutor and jury is not what sociology does. The job of the sociologist, for Béaud, is the Weberian injunction of Verstehen.

The point of sociological analysis then is to put these events in the proper context (what I call SHiP – structure, history, power) and to retrace the sociological factors that shaped this French national football team (especially in contrast with the 1998 team). What Béaud engages in is what he calls “live sociology” in which moral judgment is suspended and social action is re-situated in is (muli-layered) context, understood as a system of constraints in which individual behavior occurs. That is, the challenge is to treat this event as a social fact (in Durkheim’s sense): the strike is a product of the deregulation of French professional football, structural causes, changes in recruitment, training and socialization of French footballers, the internationalization and precarization of football careers (based on changes in the legal framework). Alongside these structural factors are more institutional and symbolic factors, such as relationships between players and the media, as well as the group dynamics within the French team.

For those of you who don’t remember, the strike of the French team occurred after France’s main sports daily newspaper published the photo to the right, on its front page, after the defeat against Mexico. The comment between quotation marks is supposed to have been said by Anelka against French coach Domenech in the locker rooms. Following the alleged incident, Anelka was expelled from the team by the French Federation.

Arguing the fact that what goes on in the locker rooms is supposed to stay there, and never be divulged to the public, the players went on strike and issues a communiqué (actually drafted by the attorney of one of the players) also blaming the Federation for mismanaging the situation.

For Béaud, this reflects the growing tensions that have been building up between players and the media as well as the changes in these relationships. Whereas these relationships used to be simple and straightforward, if not friendly, they have become more formal, complex and marked by the professionalization of the players. While players used to be approachable, and locker rooms were not closed off to the press, interactions with players are now mediated by the entourage that is characteristic of the main players (attorneys, PR consultants, etc.) and the creation of mixte zones in stadiums is a perfect reflection of that. As a result, it is more difficult to get more than canned talking points out of the players who are already uncomfortable with public speaking.

At the same time, Béaud shows that what happened was not the product of the “little bosses” from the projects pushing the other players into the strike. The French team was indeed divided but not along racial and ethnic lines but rather into group statuses such as established players (incumbent players, those more or less guaranteed to play) versus substitutes. The established group is composed of players who have the most sport legitimacy and credibility, which puts them in positions of leadership.

Compared to other players also from the project, the established players are more sensitive to any feeling of symbolic humiliation and injustice, and they are more likely to experience a relative frustration with the poor game strategy of the French team in recent years, under the leadership of a discredited coach. So, in the 2010 French team, one finds the dominated group, the newcomers, and the recently selected players from African origin. Their lack of either integration in the team or football capital reduced the probability that they would go against the decisions of the established group. And the newspaper frontpage gave the team a unity it had never achieved before.

Add to this the role of the French Football Federation and its incomprehensible to reappoint a discredited coach (which appointing his successor right before the World Cup, thereby undermining him even further), the respective relationships between the players and this coach (certainly, several players from the established group had a grudge against him), the conflict between the FFF and the other major institution involved, the Professional Footballers League. And finally, the infiltration of the political and social tensions from the housing projects into the team all created a bundle of tensions that were bound to explode at some point… and did.

These events are also a reflection of the change in recruitment of players in French football. In the post-War period, one finds most French football players came from the blue-collar working-class (especially the clubs from Northern France). The trajectories of these players are quite different than what they are today. They usually spent their youth years in amateur football, still going to school to obtain technical and vocational qualifications. They become professional relatively late (in their 20s). Therefore, they receive a rather typical working-class socialization. The 1998 team is basically the last fling of that generation of players, with a specific sport and social ethos based on humility, collectivism, respect for the elders and explicit patriotism. This is the working-class before the precarization of the working-class of the deindustrializing years and the defeat of its political power. And the players of the 1998 team who did grow up in the housing projects did so before the ethnic contraction and marginalization of these areas and increased polarization.

There are three major differences between the 1998 team and the 2010 team, sociologically speaking:

(1) There are now more players in the great and economically powerful European teams of England, Italy and Spain. A minority of them now play for French teams.

(2) Players are now recruited by training centers (famous institutions that detect football talents and develop them over several years, with hopes of professionalization right after graduation. These centers have made France the second exporting countries – after Brazil – when it comes to footballers, but they also close off earlier and earlier any real education and occupy a greater part of the players’ socialization) at an earlier and earlier age, and especially from the lower classes. Fewer players now come from the working-class French heartland, and more and more from the housing projects on the outskirts of France’s largest cities.

(3) There are now more players of African origin, especially sub-saharan Africa, as opposed to the Maghreb, and from players from France’s territories (Antilles, Guadeloupe, etc.).

This greater internationalization of football out of France is directly connected to the legal context created by the Bosman Ruling, which allowed players to have greater freedom of movement from one club to the next. This greater freedom has also led to the massive inflation of footballer compensation. All of a sudden, the most powerful European clubs were able to recruit players from all over Europe, and the players were able to demand higher pay for their services. These teams have been accused of pillaging other countries for their own benefit. If French football creates great players, the French teams are not economically strong enough to retain them once these players fully develop their potential. This has led former players to deplore the lack of “fidelity to the jersey”. This also means that teams are less likely to have a trademark style of play, as the recruitment is no longer local and long-term.

Now, a player will typically enter a training center around 15 years old (if not pre-training centers that recruit even younger players) and they may leave for a non-French team even before their training is complete to start playing for the club that has recruited them. And the Bosman Ruling allows these young players to change club more easily (making more money in the process). As a result, their trajectories are much less smooth and their socialization more chaotic as they leave their families at a fairly young age. For the lower-class parents of these players, to sign a professional contract is a way out of the project for their son and club scouts start contacting parents as early as possible (the competition is extreme), making them incredible offers. From the clubs’ perspective, these young players are commodities, and they expect rather rapid returns on investment, so as to re-sell the players at an even higher price than they paid for him.

This means that, at a young age, players have to be surrounded by a whole entourage of agents, attorneys for themselves and their parents, along with the usual trainers, PR people, etc. But in the context of increased precarization for the lower classes, social tensions in the projects, and the ever-more repressive policies put in place by the Sarkozy government, who could resist?

So, Béaud argues that the strike of 2010 in South Africa is an act of civil disobedience and also a reflection of all these structural and cyclical factors: the changes in socialization of the players, transformation of the labor market for French football players, the impact of geographical and sport migration and the corresponding social uprooting, along with the pressures tied to the obligation to perform earlier, faster and better in a very competitive context… on top of the group dynamics and the interpersonal and institutional issues mentioned above.

Béaud wraps up his study with an analysis of the evolution of the players of Maghreb origin in French football, inserting it as well in the social context of immigration and integration. The last two chapters of the book are less directly related to the 2010 fiasco but they additional layers to an understanding of French football in its social context.

As I mentioned above, this book is a great read (something that does not happen enough in sociology!) and a great example of public sociology and live sociology. Highly recommended… if you can read French.

<p style=”text-align: justify;”><a href=”http://www.amazon.fr/Tra%C3%AEtres-nation-autre-regard-Afrique/dp/2707167169/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1302999785&amp;sr=1-1″ target=”_blank”><img style=”margin: 5px;” src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41FnLegOc1L._SL500_AA300_.jpg” alt=”" width=”300″ height=”300″ /></a>Stephane Béaud’s <a href=”http://www.amazon.fr/Tra%C3%AEtres-nation-autre-regard-Afrique/dp/2707167169/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1302999785&amp;sr=1-1″ target=”_blank”>Traîtres À La Nation – Un Autre Regard Sur La Grève Des Bleus en Afrique du Sud</a> (en collaboration avec Philippe Guimard) is perfect and great example of public sociology. It very nicely and powerfully shows what sociological analysis can do, especially with respect to a very high-profile event, such as the “strike” by the French football team during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”>I really do hope that this book will get an English edition. If that were the case, I would jump on it and make my students use in my undergraduate classes. It is written at the perfect level, uses a lot of concrete examples. There isn’t too much jargon but the sociological analysis is crystal clear and very powerful. And, of course, the topic is guaranteed to get people’s attention. One can point at this book and say “this is what sociology does.”</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”>The starting point of the book, obviously, is the strike by the players of the national French team during the World Cup, followed by their shameful exit from that competition in the early stages (after a very controversial qualification), and the social and political fallout from these events. Considering how discussed these events have already been, what does sociology have to bring to the table? First off, most of the discussion has been tainted by moral, classist and racist considerations. Exit the glorious days of the “black, blanc, beur” winning team of 1998, now, the strike is denounced by politicians as the work of low-class, highly-paid little bosses and the hapless followers. The media and politicians engaged in moral condemnations. Putting oneself in the position of judge, prosecutor and jury is not what sociology does. The job of the sociologist, for Béaud, is the Weberian injunction of Verstehen.</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”>The point of sociological analysis then is to put these events in the proper context (what I call SHiP – structure, history, power) and to retrace the sociological factors that shaped this French national football team (especially in contrast with the 1998 team). What Béaud engages in is what he calls “live sociology” in which moral judgment is suspended and social action is re-situated in is (muli-layered) context, understood as a system of constraints in which individual behavior occurs. That is, the challenge is to treat this event as a social fact (in Durkheim’s sense): the strike is a product of the deregulation of French professional football, structural causes, changes in recruitment, training and socialization of French footballers, the internationalization and precarization of football careers (based on changes in the legal framework). Alongside these structural factors are more institutional and symbolic factors, such as relationships between players and the media, as well as the group dynamics within the French team.</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”><a href=”http://e-blogs.wikio.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/LEquipe_Anelka_Domenech_UNE1.jpg” target=”_blank”><img style=”margin: 5px;” src=”http://e-blogs.wikio.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/LEquipe_Anelka_Domenech_UNE1.jpg” alt=”" width=”320″ height=”217″ /></a>For those of you who don’t remember, the strike of the French team occurred after France’s main sports daily newspaper published the photo to the right, on its front page, after the defeat against Mexico. The comment between quotation marks is supposed to have been said by Anelka against French coach Domenech in the locker rooms. Following the alleged incident, Anelka was expelled from the team by the French Federation.</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”>Arguing the fact that what goes on in the locker rooms is supposed to stay there, and never be divulged to the public, the players went on strike and issues a communiqué (actually drafted by the attorney of one of the players) also blaming the Federation for mismanaging the situation.</p>
<p align=”center”><object classid=”clsid:d27cdb6e-ae6d-11cf-96b8-444553540000″ width=”480″ height=”390″ codebase=”http://download.macromedia.com/pub/shockwave/cabs/flash/swflash.cab#version=6,0,40,0″><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true” /><param name=”allowscriptaccess” value=”always” /><param name=”src” value=”http://www.youtube.com/v/GBl8Ia5_dCA?fs=1&amp;hl=en_US” /><param name=”allowfullscreen” value=”true” /><embed type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” width=”480″ height=”390″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/v/GBl8Ia5_dCA?fs=1&amp;hl=en_US” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true”></embed></object>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”>For Béaud, this reflects the growing tensions that have been building up between players and the media as well as the changes in these relationships. Whereas these relationships used to be simple and straightforward, if not friendly, they have become more formal, complex and marked by the professionalization of the players. While players used to be approachable, and locker rooms were not closed off to the press, interactions with players are now mediated by the entourage that is characteristic of the main players (attorneys, PR consultants, etc.) and the creation of mixte zones in stadiums is a perfect reflection of that. As a result, it is more difficult to get more than canned talking points out of the players who are already uncomfortable with public speaking.</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”>At the same time, Béaud shows that what happened was not the product of the “little bosses” from the projects pushing the other players into the strike. The French team was indeed divided but not along racial and ethnic lines but rather into group statuses such as established players (incumbent players, those more or less guaranteed to play) versus substitutes. The established group is composed of players who have the most sport legitimacy and credibility, which puts them in positions of leadership. Compared to other players also from the project, the established players are more sensitive to any feeling of symbolic humiliation and injustice, and they are more likely to experience a relative frustration with the poor game strategy of the French team in recent years, under the leadership of a discredited coach. So, in the 2010 French team, one finds the dominated group, the newcomers, and the recently selected players from African origin. Their lack of either integration in the team or football capital reduced the probability that they would go against the decisions of the established group. And the newspaper frontpage gave the team a unity it had never achieved before.</p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”></p>

Posted in Book Reviews, Collective Behavior, Commodification, Globalization, Identity, Institutional Racism, Media, Migration, Nationalism, Organizational Sociology, Racism, Social Institutions, Social Interaction, Social Sanctions, Social Stigma, Social Structure, Socialization, Sociology, Sports, Teaching Sociology | No Comments »

Manuel Castells on The Great Disconnect

March 2, 2011 by and tagged , , , ,

In the Spanish publication La Vanguardia, Manuel Castells takes stock of the role of information and communication technologies as used by social movements against authoritarian regimes. In the context of the network society, Castells notes the great disconnect (pun probably intended) between the global connectedness of the global civil society and the protest movements on the one hand, and the futile attempts at controlling messengers and message by governments on the other hand. As Castells puts it, this is the “new specter haunting the hall power around the world: free communication across Internet networks”. It is a justice globalist imaginary versus old and tired nationalism.

As the recent protest movements have exposed, governments may try to censor, shut off networks, arrest or even kill but this is a wasted effort because whoever controls communication has power. Shooting the messengers (sometimes literally) did not stop the message. And even though democracies have free speech protections, they are not immune to trying to control what goes on on the Internet. In China, such control may take the form of blocking social networking websites but that does not stop blogs and chatrooms. So, governments are beginning to design systems to shut down the Internet and mobile networks when they fear a crisis. Ahmadinejad tried that in 2009 and Mubarak as well more recently.

There is no big button allowing a head of state to shut down the Internet (although the US Congress is considering such a technology, FSM protect us if they seriously get to it, keeping in mind the moonbats current in the House of Representatives). What Mubarak did, though, was simpler: to order ISPs to shut down. It was not a complete shutdown and it did not work because the global civil society then kicked into gear to provide substitute access and networks. So, there was no Twitter revolution but there certainly was a global solidarity network, composed of hacker networks, networks of volunteer computers, use of proxies, smartphones used as modems, connections routed via phone numbers and use of old-fashioned fax machines.

Castells notes the role of entities like Telecomix in keeping communication open with Egypt. Telecomix created a program that searched Google automatically to find all the possible phone and fax numbers that could be used to send information in and out of Egypt. In addition, Google and Twitter made available speak-to-tweets applications.

What mattered, for Castells, was the combination of a variety of media, including graffitis, printed materials and occupation of urban space, and face-to-face networks along with all the virtual activity and the central role of Al Jazeera despite the black-outs the network suffered. Ultimately, attempts at blocking the Internet proved costly and futile. Castells cites the OECD estimates of $90 million. The additional economic costs were estimated at $3 million per day. And, of course, it did not work. Information still circulated between urban space and cyberspace with no disconnect.

However, Castells notes that this is not what was decisive at the local level. What made the difference is that the protestors had lost their fear. The usual violence and intimidation did not work. He argues that, as with Iran, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, Kuwait, Libya and Tunisia, the governments “have already lost the battle of/for the minds.” And the global networks made that disconnect very visible. And governments around the world should take note.

Posted in Global Civil Society, Global Imaginary, Media, Nationalism, Networks, Social Movements, Sociology, Technology | No Comments »

What is Sociology For? Doom, Gloom And Despair

January 19, 2011 by and tagged , , , , , , , ,

Apparently, as beautifully demonstrated by Edgar Morin and William I. Robinson in separate publications. Both sociologists have a very bleak outlook as the current global state of affairs.

First Edgar Morin in Le Monde. To paraphrase, the op-ed and roughly translate the gist of it, 2010 continued disturbing trends that show no sign of abating. What are these trends, according to Morin? First and foremost the continuing unregulated financial globalization, which he sees are related to ethnic, nationalist and religious “closures” (something reminiscent of McWorld versus Jihad). Both are major sources of social dislocations and conflicts. Both lead to reduced freedoms (economic, social and political) and fanaticism (both economic and political). They have replaced the totalitarian forms of the 20th century. And both lead to increased inequalities, themselves sources of conflict. So, far from creating a harmonious global village (do people believe it might / would / could?) or planetary humanism, globalization has led to financial and neoliberal cosmopolitanism (without the global social covenant called for by David Held, I might add) and a return to particularism.

And so, everywhere, capital is the decision-maker, and speculation and financial capitalism have triumphed (despite their obvious massive failure). Banks have been saved and preserved, as governing ideologies have integrated the notion of global financial capital as inevitable and uncontrollable force (all the while taking very real action to save it, ironically). In this state of ideological hegemony, there is no room for alternative thinking, dismissed as non-serious discourse by media elites. And the trends in education, where encompassing critical thinking should be taught, are on segmented bits of knowledge supposed to be of immediate use to get disappearing jobs.

No wonder, according to Morin, political thinking is so poor and unable to deal with fundamental global issues. I would add that this is all by design. It is the same categories of people in power who have no interest in dealing with such global issues, who also want to transform education into McDonaldized job training. Morin notes, as I have noted before, that the knowledge society is actually an ignorance society. The more segmented the forms of knowledge, the more atomized the masses will be.

Morin sees some optimistic signs in forms of resistance that have recently emerged, such as libertarian developments such as Wikileaks. These forms of resistance are decentered, dispersed, yet loosely connected. It is no wonder that these forms of resistance are the targets of state repression. State have no interests in reining in the excesses of capital and financial speculation but they sure work hard to control protests forms and movements through dismantling of civil liberties apparatus. Most likely, they will fail, for Morin.

I have made no secret that William I. Robinson is one of the most interesting sociologists on globalization. I wish he joined the socblogging crowd. In this interview, he examines what is happening in Mexico to identify some general trends as well. Now, you must click on the link and read the whole thing over there because Robinson is hard to quote, as he tends to pack a lot of stuff in a few words.

So, what is going on in Mexico (this is based on a phone conversation)?

“One level of course is in an age of global capitalism, and unbridled inequalities, and massive polarization between the rich and the poor, between the haves and the have nots, the social fabric breaks down and the state can no longer try and juggle multiple interests, it can’t even attempt to do so.

“So you have a breakdown of social order, and the breakdown of social order is more general, worldwide we’re seeing that, whole pockets and whole countries where social order and the ability of political authorities to manage these contradictions generated by massive inequalities and by global capitalism is breaking down. And so in part that’s what’s going on in Mexico, the central state really can’t hold the system together.

“Another part of the story is that the drug trafficking is wildly profitable, but in Mexico what’s also happened is that increasingly, a portion of the population has become dependent on drug trafficking.

“There’s massive unemployment in Mexico, there’s what we call los sin sin, those without work, and without school. So there’s a whole generation of youth that are not studying, they don’t have the opportunity to because the economy is in total crisis and because of massive inequality, and they have no work, because there is massive unemployment and underemployment.

“Drug trafficking has become a source of income, including petty income. It used to be you know the top level there were drug traffickers which were, if they weren’t interfered with they only fought against each other, you know, cartels for control of the drug trade. Now right down to each neighborhood people who are unemployed and young people who are unemployed have been swept up into drug trafficking, and they’re fighting each other literally, in some cities, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, for control over the pettiest level of making some money off of drug trafficking.”

And the state’s response has been to militarize the Mexican society by deploying roughly half of the Mexican military already, and the rest come be deployed later. And this seems to be the uniform response to social issues: militarization, repression, and curtailment of civil liberties all in the name of security, as defined as under threat by either, criminals and traffickers or terrorists, depending on the social context. Again, nothing gets done on the social issues, poverty and social inequalities because the states have divested themselves of the will and ability to deal with those. Repression is all that is left as major state function, and protection of capital.

What this leads to, for Robinson, is 21st century fascism:

““I don’t want to fall into too much cynicism and pessimism, I haven’t lost my optimism, but I want to be realistic, and what I see taking place is in the face of this global crisis, which is a deep structural crisis, very close to a systemic crisis, and so I see that there are different responses to the crisis and a very quick polarization between a response on the one side, which is resistance, from poor people, from below, from poor peoples’ movements and the resurgence of the left, and attempts to create 21st century socialism in South America, and these mass protests and you know general strike in France and in Greece, and all around the world, we can follow the rise of progressive resistance, radical resistance, leftist resistance, and a new awakening of masses of people.

“But then this polarization around this response to the crisis, the other side of that is the rise of what I call 21st century fascism, these different, it doesn’t look like 20th century fascism because everything has changed, but the force which is most insurgent right now in the United States is the right. The rise of the fascist right.

“They’re organized in the Tea Party, and the right wing of the Republican party, the Minute Men, White power movements, and so forth. And so you see the rise of a fascist movement in the United States.

“But a rise of the fascist right we see it all around the world as well. We see it in Europe, all of the European countries, we see it in the Latin American countries, there was just a meeting, Uno América, these bring together the fascist Latin American right, the Latin American right that used to be happy when there were military dictatorships, and authoritarian regimes.

“Colombia is really a model of 21st century fascism: a democratic façade, a polyarchic political system, and beneath that there’s total social control, total domination by elites and by capital, and if you resist you’re massacred, and four million people have been displaced from the countryside.

“Yes, there’s major cracks and that opens up space for both the fascist right and the resurgence of the left. And I don’t know what the outcome of that is… We’re entering into a very dangerous period of uncertainty.”

So, is sociology the depressing science? I would say yes. And I would add that this is a good thing. In the context of a popular culture where “positive thinking” is not the antidote to negative thinking but the antidote to critical thinking, there is a need for negative (that is, critically-based and grounded in reality) thinking. Moreover, positive thinking is not the bearer of all sorts of benefits as popular psychology would have you believe. Actually, we could use more negative thinking. When all is said and done, positive thinking is an ideological construct to ban some topics and ways of discussing issues, from polite discussion (hence, these equally exclusionary calls to civility).

So, yes, let sociology be the bearer of bad news. We have been clamoring for decades that increasing social inequalities were bad for society as a whole and we were right.

Let sociology especially be the bearer of bad new when it comes to questioning previously unquestioned mechanisms of power and dominance.

I would only disagree with the despair part. What was that Gramsci quote? Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. I would argue that sociologists have done well on the first part, but not nearly enough on the second part.

Posted in Corporatism, Failed States, Globalization, Ideologies, Mass Violence, Nationalism, Religious Fundamentalism, Social Movements, Sociology | 1 Comment »

Habermas on Nasty Times in Germany

October 29, 2010 by and tagged , ,

Via Peter Levine, from the New York Times, it is not a big surprise for the social theorist who brought us the legitimation crisis to take note of the nasty times in his own country:

“SINCE the end of August Germany has been roiled by waves of political turmoil over integration, multiculturalism and the role of the “Leitkultur,” or guiding national culture. This discourse is in turn reinforcing trends toward increasing xenophobia among the broader population.

These trends have been apparent for many years in studies and survey data that show a quiet but growing hostility to immigrants. Yet it is as though they have only now found a voice: the usual stereotypes are being flushed out of the bars and onto the talk shows, and they are echoed by mainstream politicians who want to capture potential voters who are otherwise drifting off toward the right.

(…)

To the present day, the idea of the leitkultur depends on the misconception that the liberal state should demand more of its immigrants than learning the language of the country and accepting the principles of the Constitution. We had, and apparently still have, to overcome the view that immigrants are supposed to assimilate the “values” of the majority culture and to adopt its “customs.”

That we are experiencing a relapse into this ethnic understanding of our liberal constitution is bad enough. It doesn’t make things any better that today leitkultur is defined not by “German culture” but by religion. With an arrogant appropriation of Judaism — and an incredible disregard for the fate the Jews suffered in Germany — the apologists of the leitkultur now appeal to the “Judeo-Christian tradition,” which distinguishes “us” from the foreigners.

(…)

I don’t underestimate the scale of the accumulated nationalistic sentiment, a phenomenon not confined to Germany. But in the light of current events, another trend is of greater concern: the growing preference for unpolitical figures on the political scene, which recalls a dubious trait of German political culture, the rejection of political parties and party politics.

(…)

Of even greater concern is the sort of street protests we are now witnessing in Stuttgart, where tens of thousands of people have come out against the federal railway corporation’s plan to demolish the old central train station. The protests that have been continuing for months are reminiscent of the spontaneity of the extraparliamentary opposition of the 1960s. Unlike then, though, today people from all age groups and sectors of the population are taking to the streets. The immediate aim is a conservative one: preserving a familiar world in which politics intervenes as the executive arm of supposed economic progress.

(…)

The motivations underlying each of the three phenomena — the fear of immigrants, attraction to charismatic nonpoliticians and the grass-roots rebellion in Stuttgart — are different. But they meet in the cumulative effect of a growing uneasiness when faced with a self-enclosed and ever more helpless political system. The more the scope for action by national governments shrinks and the more meekly politics submits to what appear to be inevitable economic imperatives, the more people’s trust in a resigned political class diminishes.”

Emphasis mine. However, Habermas is wrong about his assessment of the US. He has obviously not been paying much attention.

But that last paragraph is important because it points, to me, to a related phenomenon: the dream of consumer society without democracy:

“In Dubai ‘there is no such thing as society’. Dubai, instead, is one of the real-existing authoritarian market societies of today, according to Syed Ali in his Dubai. Gilded Cage (Yale University Press, 2010). Dubai’s limitless consumers culture attracts people from all over the world. Freedom is the freedom of consumption.

Dubai became the Middle East center of financial services, tourism and real estate, a paradise for developers, architects and construction companies. Here we find the highest skyscraper in the world, the biggest shopping mall and the most beautiful gated communities.

In Dubai exists a dual class system for ’expats’. Construction workers from Pakistan and India live in worn out camps. A huge amount of Indian shopkeepers, underpaid nannies from Indonesia and the Philippines and lawless prostitutes live in Dubai as well. Labour protest is punished by expulsion from the country.

The well-off expats, working in the financial services and real estate, share the same legal residential situation with the nannies and construction workers. They are all subordinated to the so-called kafala-system of the Gulf States:  ’a system of modern slavery’, according to Syed Ali. Kafala, whose purpose is that migrants cannot profit from Dubai wealth, implies that in all companies Dubai-natives must have a majority share. Visa (3 years maximum) for foreign workers are only given to the Dubai-employers, not to individual workers. Change of jobs therefore in fact is impossible, so is becoming a Dubai national.

By the kafala-system all foreigners in Dubai (up to 90 percent) are deliberately transformed into temporary citizens, suffering from ‘permanent impermanence’. They are not allowed to engage, as citizens in political or social affairs, risking expulsion, but are restricted to be consumers of luxury only. Dubai is the wet dream of global market fundamentalism. An authoritarian state governs a market society for rootless, non-participatory consumers-inhabitants.

The signs are already very clear in many Western societies with the extension and deepening of surveillance mechanisms (justified in the name of security) from both the state (reduced to its oppressive functions: police and military) and the private sector, often in joint partnership for data-gathering. This is combined with the rise of reactionary and xenophobic social movements and complicit politicians. To use Habermas’s concept, this is the last state of the colonization of the lifeworld by the system.

Posted in Consumerism, Corporatism, Nationalism | No Comments »

Book Review – Brave New War

October 8, 2010 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

BNW John Robb ‘s Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and The End of Globalization (Global Guerrillas Blog) adds a few concepts to the topic of new wars and the changing nature of warfare. At the same time, for those of us who have studied the changing nature of warfare and are familiar with the writings of people like Mary Kaldor or Herfried Munkler, there is a lot that is neither new nor original.

At the same time, John Robb’s perspective is different Kaldor’s or Munkler’s because he has worked in intelligence and counterinsurgency. His first hand experience in this field provides interesting insights as well as some issues.

Let me get out of the way the things I did not really like in the book. I think the author has a tendency to latch on to easily on all the fashionable concepts of the day: black swans, long tails, etc. And the author’s contention regarding resilient communities (the author’s idea of empowered communities able to resist oppression and terrorism) smells a bit too much of the fetishism of the local for my taste. Again, the local is not an automatic equivalent to empowered autonomy and resistance.

Things get a lot more interesting when we delve into the changing nature of terrorism and conflict in the global context. Specifically, Robb argues that one of the strengths of insurgent groups, such as the ones in Iraq is their open-source networked nature that lacks a clear center for greater flexibility. This has allowed for smooth and flexible connections between terrorist groups and organized criminal networks and these connections permeate the global economy.

According to Robb, the Iraq insurgency is the future of insurgency and terrorism with a new method: systems disruption: the disruption of basic services that are essential to smooth societal functioning and whose disruption damages the legitimacy of governments and nation-states. One problem here: this is not new. This used to be the tactic adopted by white African groups (the Executive Outcomes type) again newly independent African nations. To attack power plants and water treatment centers repeatedly would force these new governments to spend enormous resources rebuilding them. And if it led to government failure, then, it would prove that Africans were unable to govern themselves.

However, one can clearly see, as the author argues, the rise of “virtual states” in the sense of “superempowered groups” who can challenge national governments (and, I would say, especially, failed states) and connect to other groups and criminal organizations through ICTs. Which is why many peripheral conflicts are not fought between states but between a mix of sub-national actors dedicated to system disruption.

“This new method of warfare offers clear improvement (for our enemies) over traditional terrorism and military insurgency. It offers guerrillas the means to bring a modern nation’s economy to its knees and thereby undermine the legitimacy of the state sworn to protect it. Furthermore, it can derail the key drivers of economic globalization: the flow of resources, investment, people, and security. The perpetrators of this new form of warfare, however, aren’t really terrorists, because they no longer have terror as their goal or method. A better term might be global guerrillas, because they represent a broad-based threat that far exceeds that offered by terrorists or the guerrillas of our past.” (14-5)

But global guerrillas are not only distinctive because of system disruption. Their organizing structure – the decentralized network – is also a specificity, as opposed to hierarchies. These global guerrillas are main actors in what Robb calls fourth generation warfare (4GW), the first three being

  • Mass warfare: use of massive firepower on clear conflict fields, such as the Napoleonic wars or the US Civil War.
  • Industrial warfare: wearing down of the opposing state through greater mobilization and firepower, such as World War I.
  • Blitzkrieg: taking down of an enemy army and state through maneuvers, deep penetration and disruption, such as World War II (I would argue that WWII was also industrial warfare).

And here, Robb was prescient:

“The use of systems disruption as a method of strategic warfare has the potential to cast the United States in the role that the Soviet Union held during the 1980s – a country driven to bankruptcy by a foe it couldn’t compete with economically. We are staring at a future where defeat isn’t experienced all at once, but through an inevitable withering away of military, economic, and political power and through wasting conflicts with minor foes.” (32)

As an aside, this is something Michael Mann had already written about in Incoherent Empire.

The issue I have then is the supposed big discovery of the changing nature of warfare (decentralization, networks, etc.) as if this were the first book about this. Seriously, Mary Kaldor is not even mentioned or referenced even though she wrote the book (literally) on New Wars. And P.W. Singer and others have also written quite extensively about the de-nationalization of warfare and the emergence of non-state actors and their prevalence in contemporary conflicts. And it has been long known that these global guerrillas and global criminal networks have been pretty savvy with ICTs.

Robb also argues that global guerrillas be distributed according to the long tail model (as opposed to Gaussian distribution).

There are several reasons for this:

(1) War is cheap. The barriers of entry due to costs have declined considerably and one can conduct warfare with AK-47s and child soldiers at really low costs (which create some incentives).

(2) Also, the decentralization of warfare and system disruption mean that small events can create massive costs for the injured party.

(3) Networking technologies allow for a “long shelf life” on ideas driving the guerrillas whose number don’t have to be large. Social networking allows like-minded people to easily find each other. Here, I would add that the strength of weak ties is also relevant as absolute consensus and strong ties are not necessary for a global guerrilla to be operational (and for someone so in love with concepts, I am surprised – disappointed – that Robb did not consider that one).

So, beyond the Iraq insurgency groups, who would count as a global guerrilla? Robb mentions the Chechen guerrilla as well as the Niger Delta movement or the Balochs in Pakistan. How do states fight back against guerrillas that are so adept at asymmetrical warfare? Robb mentions the use of paramilitaries including the US minutemen. And here is another source of annoyance for me:

“Armed to the teeth with semi-automatic weaponry and survival gear, this paramilitary force has formed organically to police the U.S.-Mexican border.

Though many Americans have lamented their existence, few have tried to explain it.” (87)

Really? I guess David Neiwert has not been writing about all this for years now, and showing how such movement has not arisen “organically”. And Robb displays a disturbing respect for these paramilitary groups (including those the US used in Central America) even as he acknowledged their corruption and human rights abuse. It is unconscionable to me to legitimize their use.

Also included in the global guerrillas category are what Robb calls third generation gangs (3GG).

  • First generation: turf protection, unsophisticated leadership, opportunistic petty crime.
  • Second generation: organized around business and financial gain; broader geographical footprint, violence used for intimidation of commercial competition and against government interference.
  • Third generation: global, sophisticated transnational operations, political control in failed government and state areas, high interference in state function.

“Third generation gangs fit the model of global guerrillas perfectly. They operate, coordinate, and expand globally. They communicate worldwide without state restriction, often via the Internet. They engage in transnational crime. They participate in fourth-generation warfare, and their activities disrupt national and international systems. Finally, they coerce, replace, or fail states that stand in their way. In all these categories, they parallel the development of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Like Al-Qaeda, these gangs are rivals of nation-states.” (93)

All these groups engage in system disruption as main tactic, targeting specifically (or trying to) what Robb calls Systempunkt, the crucial point in a system whose disruption can create system collapse. These may be economic or infrastructural. Anything whose disruption will trigger a collapse in global flows (Appadurai’s scapes) is such a Systempunkt. In the current context, one could argue that global guerrillas are not the only ones who can engage in such system disruption. “Legitimate” economic actors seem to do so as well.

For global guerrillas, then the structuring in scale-free, decentralized and flexible networks allows for capillary kinds of disruptions (Foucault’s micro-power) that can trigger cascading failures, as opposed to coordinated yet non-networked attacks of former generation terrorist groups.

Finally, the last characteristic of global guerrillas is open-source warfare (OSW):

“In OSW, the source code of warfare is available for anyone who is interested in both modifying and extending it. This means the tactics, weapons, strategies, target selection, planning, methods, and team dynamics are all open to community improvement. Global guerrillas can hack at the source of warfare to their heart’s content” (116)

As with open-source software, the main characteristics are as follows:

  • Early release and continuous updates
  • Constant problem solving through community sharing
  • Community members as allies and co-developers rather than competitors
  • Simplicity and easy adaptability of solutions

OSW is one big bazaar of warfare solutions.

I have already mentioned above and throughout this pose the issues I had with the book. I would add that there is too much conflation of security = protection of assets and defense of the capitalist system as it is (or whatever is left of it at this point). Too much defense of paramilitary seen as legitimate actors. And not enough recognition of the work done before on this topic. Some of the ideas in the book are useful in terms of conceptualization but there is too much grasping of fashionable concepts from a variety of fields.

That being said, the book is a quick an interesting read and I would recommend also bookmarking the blog (link above). But I would also say: go read Mary Kaldor first.

Posted in Book Reviews, Failed States, Global Guerrillas, Globalization, Hollow States, Mass Violence, Nationalism, Networks, New Wars, Organized Crime, Religious Fundamentalism, Risk Society, Social Change, Technology, Terrorism | No Comments »

Sociology of the World Cup

June 16, 2010 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

First, to put us all in the mood for this, here is Acoustic Alchemy, The Beautiful game:

As the first games of the World Cup are being played, a lot has already been written about the social aspects of the competition itself that illustrate the fact that there is more to sport events than sport and the embedding of this major event into social, economic and political processes and structures.

Which is why what looks like an old-fashioned functionalist view seems quite naive:

“Why do we love watching sport so much? Because it lifts our loneliness. We feel that we are participating in something huge and communal.

When a big sporting event is on, the world feels a bit less chaotic, fragmented, various. There is a focus. A focus that can be understood – by contrast the meaning of politics is contested and obscure. Here is something that matters (sort of), and that a 10-year-old can fully grasp.

(…)

And international football offers the most intense version. The experience spills out beyond the actual viewing of the game. Before and after the game there is something to talk about, with those acquaintances I usually just mumble hello to, and even with complete strangers. All the complications of the class divide suddenly melt away: we’re all in this together. And for the game itself I have cause to get together with my old mates, for some beer and banter. There will be thousands of little parties, all wired up to the same action.

What else in our culture can create this mood of social togetherness? I suppose there is a common mood at Christmas, and a big royal event makes most of us feel connected to something big and grand – that’s about it.

What about religion? Going to church, or mosque or temple, certainly gives one a regular dose of communal spirit, common purpose with one’s fellow worshippers. But can it provide a sense of solidarity with society in general? Only if there is a dominant form of religion, such as the C of E used to be. In some churches there is still a sense that worship unites the local community, but one has to suspend disbelief a bit to feel that this is the ritual lynchpin of society at large. The fact is that most people see religious worship as strange, naff, alien, politically suspect. It marks one out as a bit unusual. Religion is too awkward, contested. It divides rather than unites. Express interest in religion round a pub table, and you’ll get an awkward silence or a brittle argument. Mention a big sporting event and bonhomie is likely to descend.

So in our culture sport is the only form of ritual that really works, on a large scale. It is really capable of conjuring up a sense of social harmony. The grand occasions of state have struggled to do this for decades, we just have a few relics of that national religious culture, like Remembrance Day.”

That is certainly a very simplistic and superficial understanding. First off, the World Cup is not some collective ritual but the product of an international organization (FIFA) with specific interests. Also, one can only watch the games because rights have been negotiated and sold at a very high price to a variety of television networks around the world, and this is big money we are talking about here. Advertising revenues are expected. There will be a ton of World Cup related merchandise sold before, during and after the competition. Such a collective ritual is facilitated by information and communication technologies that have shrunk distances (although there is no abolishing the time zones).

As Fabien Ollier notes in this interview in Le Monde, the World Cup can be seen as planetary alienation:

“Il suffit de se plonger dans l’histoire des Coupes du monde pour en extraire la longue infamie politique et la stratégie d’aliénation planétaire. Le Mondial sud-africain ne fait d’ailleurs pas exception à la règle. L’expression du capital le plus prédateur est à l’œuvre : les multinationales partenaires de la FIFA et diverses organisations mafieuses se sont déjà abattues sur l’Afrique du Sud pour en tirer les plus gros bénéfices possibles. Un certain nombre de journalistes qui ont travaillé en profondeur sur le système FIFA ont mis en évidence le mode de fonctionnement plutôt crapuleux de l’organisation. Ce n’est un secret pour personne aujourd’hui. De plus, il y a une certaine indécence à faire croire que la population profitera de cette manne financière. Le nettoyage des quartiers pauvres, l’expulsion des habitants, la rénovation luxueuse de certains townships ont été contrôlés par des “gangs” qui n’ont pas l’habitude de reverser les bénéfices. Avec la majorité de la population vivant avec moins de 2 euros par jour, cet étalage de richesse est pour le moins contestable.

Le déploiement sécuritaire censé maintenir l’ordre, assurer une soi-disant paix civile n’est autre en réalité que la construction d’un véritable Etat de siège, un Etat “big brother”. Les hélicos, les milliers de policiers et de militaires ne sont là que pour contrôler, parquer la misère et protéger le luxe, pour permettre aux pseudo-passionnés de football de vibrer. La mobilisation de masse des esprits autour des équipes nationales induit la mise en place d’une hystérie collective obligatoire. Tout cela relève d’une diversion politique évidente, d’un contrôle idéologique d’une population. En temps de crise économique, le seul sujet qui devrait nous concerner est la santé de nos petits footballeurs. C’est pitoyable.”

For my non-French readers, the history of the World Cup is one more expression of political infamy and predatory capital with transnational corporations partnering with FIFA and the presence of organized criminal organizations. They will be the true beneficiaries of the Cup, not the local population. Indeed, as with the Olympics, ghettos and poor urban areas will be “cleaned up”, their dwellers expelled. In South Africa, townships will be renovated and gentrified under the control of gangs.

Also, any international sports events inevitably involves the technologies of the surveillance society that turns the hosting country into a state of siege that mostly has to ensure that the “right” people have access to the games and that misery and poverty remain invisible. This involves a great deal of militarization.

And then, there is the political diversion and the channeling into nationalistic ideologies. In times of economic crisis, for two weeks, there will be much talk about everything regarding “our” players. In France, this is the time that the government has chosen to “reform” retirement, a topic that normally triggers general strikes. Probably not this time.

Moreover, as Tony Karon noted, far from being the temporary forgetting of political conflict, the World Cup can be a reflection of it:

“Payback for wartime humiliation was also the Argentine narrative for Diego Maradona’s notorious “hand of God” goal against England at the 1986 World Cup (and the “goal of the century” he added later in the game). Sure, Maradona used his fist to prod the ball over Peter Shilton for the opening goal, but for a country still smarting from the wounds of the Falklands/Malvinas War four years earlier, England had to be beaten by any means necessary. As Maradona said afterwards: “We knew they had killed a lot of Argentine boys (in the Malvinas), killed them like little birds. And this was revenge.” Sure, Maradona had cheated, but so had the British, in Argentine minds, by sinking an Argentine warship outside the zone of exclusion around the islands, killing some 323 sailors. Jorge Valdano, who was on the field that day, knew Maradona had cheated, but said “at that moment we only felt joy, relief, perhaps a forced sense of justice. It was England, let’s not forget, and the Malvinas were fresh in the memory.””

Moreover, the World Cup is one of these global sports events that reflect the thickening of global governance structures that have designed global rules and regulations, similar to the WTO and other such global institutions. There is indeed no doubt that globalization and the rules of global governance have affected football, the rules regulating movements of players and other aspects of the game. Tony Karon:

“International football often demonstrates just how fluid and fungible the notion of nationality can be. In the same 2006 World Cup, when Croatia played Australia, three players in the Croatian squad were actually Australian, while seven of the Socceroos were eligible to represent Croatia.

And then there are the Brazilians: not those representing their own country, but the likes of Portugal’s Deco and Pepe, Spain’s Marcos Senna, Croatia’s Eduardo da Silva, Poland’s Roger Gurreiro, Turkey’s Mehmet Aurelio, Tunisia’s Francileudo Dos Santos and dozens more who have represented a total of 26 other national teams.

Switzerland’s electorate may be increasingly hostile towards immigrants, but the country’s fortunes in South Africa in June will depend heavily on the Turkish forwards Gokan Inler and Hakan Yekin, Cabo Verdean holding midfielder Gelson Fernandes, Ivorian defender Johan Djorou, Kosovar Albanian wide man Valon Behrami and a half-dozen other players from former Yugoslavia. Let’s just say that in international football, these days, the Zulu Scotsman named Makhathini in the Cadbury’s Lunchbar TV ad would no more raise an eyebrow than does Scottish striker Chris Iwelumo, whose dad is Nigerian.

Many of these shifts in identity are enabled by Fifa policies allowing a player to effectively “choose” a country to represent at senior level (even if they’ve played for a different one all the way up to under-21 level). But they are also the fruits of accelerated human migration that has accompanied economic globalisation. So eroded are national boundaries in the modern game that it mocks the very idea of a flag, anthem and passport that distinguishes “us” from “them”.”

For instance, as Tony Karon notes, the game is thoroughly globalized in terms of movement of peoples. This is anything but a neutral process. Power is at work here as well as core clubs (in Wallerstein’s sense of “core”) plunder the Global South from their most promising players and treat them as valuable investments and national considerations do not apply:

“The fact that the European game now features all the world’s soccer heroes is the reason you’re as likely to see a Chelsea or Arsenal shirt being worn at a mall in Shanghai or San Diego as in a Baghdad demonstration or Mogadishu firefight.

Almost without exception, today the world’s best players play their club football in Europe. Brazil’s and Argentina’s World Cup squads will be picked almost entirely from Europe-based players, and those will also be the mainstay of the likes of Uruguay, Chile and Honduras. Ivory Coast took just one home-based player to the recent African Nations Cup in Angola, and Ghana is likely to do the same at the World Cup. Don’t expect any in Cameroon’s squad, while there are unlikely to be more than two or three in Nigeria’s squad.

Although there are comparatively few South Africans playing in Europe, they’ll be among the key players for Bafana Bafana.

Having assembled so much of the world’s football talent at considerable cost, Europe’s top clubs have begun to organise themselves to protect their investment. They are pushing back against Fifa rules that force them to make players available for international matches, particularly friendlies, often returning home crocked.

The European clubs are particularly irked by the African Cup of Nations, during which they lose many key players for up to six weeks at the height of the European season. (The fact that so many African players now play their “domestic” football in Europe makes it likely that Fifa will eventually succumb to pressure to reschedule the Nations Cup to coincide with the European summer.) But tension between the clubs and national teams is likely to intensify in the years ahead.”

So here again, we face more than just a benign globalization process. Indeed, a lot of ink has been devoted to detailing the winners and losers of globalization. The dividing lines run across and between societies and countries. This is reflected in the world Cup as well, except that this is an aspect that the organizers would rather remain invisible.

Actually, structuring processes are designed to ensure that only the “right” kind of businesses and traders benefit from the World Cup:

“Under strict bylaws enforced at the insistence of football’s governing body, informal traders – a crucial part of any African economy – have been banned around the 10 stadiums where matches will be played. Even the future of the most important legacy project of the tournament – public bus transport – is in the balance, amid government reticence to stand up to South Africa’s powerful minibus-taxi industry.”

And then there is the “softer” discrimination, that of the digital divide and the neglect of the fact that a lot of people in the world do not have easy access to the Internet and credit cards to book tickets:

“The African credentials of the event have also been called into question after it became clear that Fifa’s ultra-secure internet ticketing system had left most of the continent unable to buy seats. With Visa as a major sponsor, Fifa kept ticket sales online until 15 April when poor sales forced them to open ticketing booths in the host country. As a result, only 11,000 African fans outside South Africa have purchased tickets, even though a record six African teams – the hosts, as well as Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Nigeria and Algeria – have qualified. Local organising committee chairman Danny Jordaan admits the African sales have been a disappointment. “Tickets sold best in countries like the United States, where internet penetration is the highest. Yet we know that African fans often do not have credit cards and access to the internet, and they prefer to hand over their cash and get their ticket. It is a lesson for the future.”"

So, for the locals, it is hard to avoid the impression that the World Cup is “just for the rich.”

But surely, there are economic benefits to hosting such an event, right? Well, according to The Grumpy Sociologist, that in itself, is questionable:

“Those who support major sporting events going to various locales often argue the events will bring in international money via tourists and build a long-term infrastructure that supports the local economy. That might be true for locales that are already well off, but for regions that are hurting, the sporting events do little if anything in the form of long-term sustenance. The 2004 Olympics were held in Greece, and look at Greece now.”

After all, who will be footing the $4bn bill for the World Cup, South Africa itself, in the context of declining revenue.

“In 2004, when Fifa awarded the tournament to the country, consultants Grant Thornton predicted costs of just $300m on stadiums and infrastructure and a boost to gross domestic product of $2.9bn.

Today we know that $300m would not have even covered the cost of rebuilding Soccer City, where the opening game and final will be held, let alone the other $1bn needed to build and refurbish the other stadiums.

When the costs of upgrading airports, inner city transport, telecoms infrastructure and the actual running of the show are counted, the total bill for the World Cup has risen more than tenfold, to almost $4bn.

So, as the costs have increased, have the likely economic gains for South Africa also increased?

At this stage, it looks like South Africa may struggle to make the $3bn originally forecast.

On the other side of the global economic downturn, the projected figures on visitor numbers and their anticipated spend look very optimistic.

Fifa’s ruthless defence of its brand and the interests of its main sponsors mean that there are restricted opportunities for traders and small businesses to get a slice of the tourist pie.”

So, the World Cup already has winners and losers, and I don’t mean the winning and losing teams.

Posted in Collective Behavior, Commodification, Consumerism, Corporatism, Economy, Embeddedness, Global Governance, Globalization, Labor, Nationalism, Social Inequalities, Social Institutions, Social Stratification, Social Structure, Sociology, Sports | 1 Comment »

World Cup, Nation-States and Globalization

April 25, 2010 by and tagged , , , , ,

Tony Karon neatly sums up how the world of soccer, although still organized along national lines for international competition, and local (and corporate) lines for domestic championship, is a thoroughly globalized one where individual players seamlessly navigate across global flows (of money, mainly):

Go read the whole thing.

On the sociology of sports and globalization, see this, and this.

Posted in Global Governance, Globalization, Identity, Nationalism, Sociology, Sports | 1 Comment »

Book Review – Euroclash

January 7, 2010 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Book Reviews, Corporatism, Culture, Economic Sociology, Economy, Education, Embeddedness, Identity, Labor, Media, Migration, Movies, Music, Nationalism, Networks, Politics, Public Policy, Social Capital, Social Change, Social Disadvantages, Social Inequalities, Social Institutions, Social Interaction, Social Movements, Social Privilege, Social Research, Social Structure, Social Theory, Sociology, Sports | No Comments »

Two Tales of The Patriarchy

November 25, 2009 by and tagged , , ,

Both involve the issue of control of women’s lives in the context of patriarchal religion.

First:

Note the very patriarchal photograph. The article itself is interesting in that it reveals a mix of religious fundamentalism and nationalism. The women themselves may reclaim suicide terrorism as a form of regaining control over their own lives but it is clear that these operatives function completely under the control of men… only to be arrested by more men (the smiling guys in the photo) when they fail to blow themselves up. Moreover, as the article notes, it is only once the US and Iraqi military started suspecting pretty much every man of being a potential suicide bomber that the insurgent groups turned to women.

Another ultimately futile attempt at regaining control has to do with the ever-so-important-to-the-patriarchy virginity of girls… Meet the artificial hymen, made in China:

In both cases, ultimately, these women end up submitting to the patriarchy.

In case you’re wondering:

http://blairwaldorfs.tumblr.com/post/213215425/no-more-worry-about-losing-your-virginity-with

Artificial Hymen Kit via kwout

Posted in Gender, Nationalism, Patriarchy, Religious Fundamentalism, Terrorism | No Comments »

Book Review – Scapegoats of September 11th

October 4, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I picked up Michael Welch‘s Scapegoats of September 11th – Hate Crimes & State Crimes in The War on Terror based on Todd Krohn’s recommendation (He’s made Welch his Sociologist of the Semester). In this book, Welch retraces the emergence of the discourse that emerged after 9/11 that ultimately materialized into the apparatus of the War on Terror, grounded in religious dichotomy of good versus evil, and provided the basis for scapegoating. Such scapegoating had very real consequences in terms of both domestic and foreign policy: hate crimes, profiling, erosion of privacy and civil liberties, torture, renditions and other state crimes. Welch then analyzes both these policies and the discourse sustaining them.

Welch is a criminologist, so there is a lot in the book about the legislative and legal work that went into the crafting of the whole GWOT apparatus. There is a lot that is not new at this point in the book. A lot of “ink” has been spilled detailing the gory details of the Bush administration policies, and their continuation under the Obama administration. Similarly, several books have been written on the whole torture / rendition issue.

The strongest aspect of the book, in my view, lies in Welch’s mobilizing sociological and social-psychological theories and concepts to address the larger cultural aspects of the GWOT, and how the administration was successful in building up cultural support for its policies and creating a culture of denial, facilitating scapegoating. This is what I will focus on.

“Scapegoating involves displacing aggression onto innocent people selected as suitable enemies due to their perceived differences in race, ethnicity, religion and so on. As a social psychological defense mechanism against confronting the real source of frustration, scapegoating provides emotional relief for people racked with fear and anxiety. That solace inevitably short-term, prompting scapegoaters to step on a treadmill of endless bigotry and victimization.” (4)

Welch argues that after 9/11, there was indeed quite a bit of scapegoating against Muslim men and the level of hate crime against Muslims in the US increased significantly. Sometimes, it was cheered on by right-wing talk radio (the usual suspects, the same “Obama is a Muslim” crowd). This was accompanied by more systematic policy of rounding up Muslim men by the Department of Homeland Security. In that logic, Muslim man = terrorist prevailed both discursively and institutionally.

Similarly, Welch argues that the reaction to 9/11 can be best explained through the lenses of both moral panic framework and that of risk society:

“Moral panic, simply put, marks a turbulent and exaggerated response to a perceived social problem whereby there is considerable concern and consensus that such a problem actually exists. Blame is then shifted to suitable villains who absorb societal hostility. Along the way, the perceived threat exceeds proportionate risks, forming a disaster mentality from which it is widely believed that something must be done urgently or else society faces a greater doom.” (13)

Therefore, according to Welch, there are four elements of moral panic:

  • Concern
  • Consensus
  • Hostility
  • Disproportionality

Moral panics tend to be fairly circumscribed in time. They are specific events, with a beginning and an end. They are not perceived as systemic issues but as moral tales of good and evil. Risk society, on the other hand, establishes that the risks that are the conditions of the post-industrial, information age, are systemic risks. They are less moral in nature, less easily framed in terms of good and evil. Less conducive to scapegoating. Moral panics call for punishment of the scapegoats. Risk society would call for systemic reform that would call into question the social, economic and political arrangements of the global system (hence the hot potato attitude that prevails then). Which is why powerful actors (politics and media) may be seen as cheering on moral panics (calling for drastic policy and keeping the panic alive) while trying to calming things down on global risks (don’t run to the bank when it looks like we’re going into economic recession, don’t sell your stocks).

In the case of 9/11, the dominant theme that emerged and eclipsed all the other is that of safety and security. What can make America secure and Americans safe. For Welch, security and safety became the major sites of social anxiety (a major precondition for moral panic). But this fits very well as well with the risk society approach where risks are man-made (terrorism) and the solution is neither clear nor clear-cut: what is security, after all? What is safety? And the solutions are not easy either: it is impossible to eliminate terrorism from the face of the earth. Not only that but the risk of terrorism it self is unpredictable and incalculable.

The GWOT shares elements of both moral panic and risk society but they operate at different levels and trigger different reaction as mentioned above. They are both sources of social anxiety. Moral panics are sites of social anxiety because the political and media organizations amplify the actual dangers. Risk society is a source of social anxiety because the risks themselves may be invisible and unpredictable. How does one protect oneself against that? The need for security and safety then presents a political opportunity for “tough on (whatever)” political attitude and rhetoric. There was no shortage of that in the Bush administration and their cultural cheerleaders (think Toby Keith and others).

Institutionally speaking, the need for security and safety makes possible the unquestioned (and unquestionable) emergence of the homeland security-industrial complex (the latest version of the military-industrial complex, then the corrections-industrial complex) composed of

  • Private corporations
  • Government agencies
  • Professional organization

And that is alongside the intelligence-industrial complex. Both benefit financially (corporations) or in terms of institutional power (government agencies) or respectability for expertise (professional organizations) from the state of anxiety.

Scapegoating, of course, is one way in which individuals and groups try to regain control over their safety in the absence of clear solution to the risks  to which they are exposed. Social anxiety prepares the ground for the type of “frustration / aggression” that precedes scapegoating, as many social-psychological studies have shown. Scapegoating is even easier if the targeted group can be seen as “different”, “not as human” (Erikson’s process of “pseudo-speciation”). This also involves the classical Authoritarian Personality theory.

Both theories are adequate to explain scapegoating. Sociologists are equally interested in the consequences of scapegoating, increased in-group solidarity, sense of belonging and superiority and denial of one’s responsibility for the problems. It is therefore not uncommon to see disasters turned into morality plays with heroes and villains, leading to punitive policies, and more generally, a punitive culture, as is the case in the US where more and more behavior come under criminal sanctions and where incarceration levels are the highest in the world. This also leads to a culture of control where the only the consequences of crime matter, rather than its causes. It is simply assumed that criminals are “different”, “not like law-abiding citizens”. Not considerations is given to structural factors.

And when one adds fundamentalist religion to the mix, when social problems are formulated in religious terms, when the GWOT is posited as a crusade, then the risk of scapegoating is increased. It is then not surprising to find an increase in hate crimes directed at the scapegoated religious group.

“In Justice and The Politics of Difference, Iris Marion Young (1990) identifies five ‘faces of oppression’ that generally typify experiences of minority groups” exploitation (e.g., employment segregation); marginalization (e.g., impoverishment); powerlessness (e.g., underrepresentation in political office); cultural imperialism (e.g., demeaning stereotypes); and violence (e.g., hate crimes).” (64-5 emphasis mine)

Combined, these structural and cultural factors render a minority more likely to be scapegoated and targeted for mistreatment and violence perceived as justified, or at least excusable. Scapegoating is also a means of social exclusion and social control towards “them” (whoever the target happens to be) to keep them in line so that violence is then legitimate and seen as the victim’s fault. But of course, if a population is going to be targeted for mass, symbolic or structural violence, perpetrators’ responsibility and agency has to be denied. So, this leads to what Welch calls a culture of denial that makes acceptable all the ways in which scapegoats are mistreated. It is this culture of denial that allows the US society to hardly question the practice of torture, rendition, detention, erasure of civil liberties and mass surveillance.

Following Stanley Cohen’s States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering, Welch identifies three forms of denial that have been used in the GWOT:

  • Literary denial: “We don’t torture” as former President Bush stated. It is a blanket denial that something happened.
  • Interpretive denial: the facts are not refuted but their meaning is reinterpreted (waterboarding is not torture, it’s enhanced interrogation).
  • Implicatory denial: the facts and their meaning are not denied but their psychological or moral impact is denied or minimized (yes, people were tortured but they were not permanently harmed).

When denial becomes embedded into the cultural narrative, then, certain things happen:

“Unlike totalitarian regimes that go to great lengths to rewrite history and block out the present, denial in democratic societies is subtle, often taking the form of  spin-doctoring and public agenda setting. But similar to totalitarianism, democratic nations also build denial into the ideological facade of the state, turning to fraud rather than to force (Cohen 2001; Willis 1999). Eventually, entire societies are subject to slipping into collective modes of denial and when that occurs, citizens adopt potent defense mechanisms against acknowledging atrocities within their own nation. In the war on terror, cultural denial and official denial operate in tandem, developments that pose great threats to civil liberties and human rights (see Neier 2003; Schulz 2004).” (174)

Which is why the antidote to the culture of denial, according to Welch, is the pursuit of the truth and bringing it to light, for instance through court litigation.

This is an important book for the obvious: its topic. It is a one-stop shop regarding all the policies of the Bush administration and all the ways in which scapegoating became policy and trickled down into the culture, where hate crime and state crime coexist. From my narrower perspective, it is also a book that neatly weaves together sociological theory and research with real world stuff and shows the explanatory power of sociological theories and concepts to real-life phenomenon.

Posted in Book Reviews, Human Rights, Ideologies, Mass Violence, Nationalism, Politics, Prejudice, Privacy, Public Policy, Racism, Social Deviance, Social Exclusion, Social Institutions, Social Theory, Sociology, Surveillance Society, Technology, Terrorism | 1 Comment »

The Diverse Paths of Cultural Diffusion – Baseball Edition

September 25, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , ,

H/T Pierre Maura,

Le Monde has a very interesting article regarding the trajectory of diffusion of baseball around the world and the national social contexts that made baseball attractive (or unattractive) outside of the United States. The article is based on an interview with Peter Marquis who just completed a thesis on the subject.

So, for instance, Marquis explained the fact that baseball never took root in France because of the popularity of other sports, such as soccer (or rugby as well I would add), because of the persistent anti-Americanism, and because American immigrants in France tend to be intellectuals and artists. Whatever baseball teams there are in France were more the product of immigration from Quebec.

On the other hand, Italy and the Netherlands have solid baseball teams. Why is that? In the case of Italy, American occupation after WWII is the main explanation for the popularity of baseball in the post-War era, reinforced by the presence of well-known and popular Italian-American players (Joe Di Maggio) and large immigration. This popularity is no longer the case anymore. For the Netherlands, it has more to do with colonialism and the proximity with cricket-playing British teams. It is in the Dutch Antilles that one can trace the roots of this.

One would think that American occupation is also the main explanation for the strong presence of baseball in Japan. Actually, baseball was introduced there in the 19th Century, at the beginning of the Meiji Era. The Japanese reformers used baseball to open their country to the world but they also saw cultural similarities between baseball and samurai skills and spirit.

And then there is Cuba. Is it military presence as well? Not so. Baseball takes root in 1860 thanks to Cuban exchange students who came back to Cuba as well as American sailors. In addition, baseball was played in opposition to bullfighting, perceived as the symbol of Spanish colonization. Decolonization movements used baseball as a symbol of equality and freedom. As a result, Cuban baseball was always open to black players, as opposed to the US where desegregation only occurred in 1947. So, some African American players from the Negro Leagues would migrate to Cuba to play there, in the national leagues. As Marquis notes, in the 1950s, the Cincinnati Reds even had a branch in Havana, named the Sugar Kings. All this came to an end with the Castrist revolution. This was the end of professional leagues and a return to amateur leagues. At the same time, in the context of the Cold War, Cuban baseball was also used as a provocation: beat the US at their own game.

What this all shows is that whether or not a foreign sport is adopted or rejected has a lot to do with national culture, international cultural relations. As with any type of diffusion, adopting societies might also transform the sport to their own society and change a few rules (as is the case for Japanese baseball). In any events, cultural debate determines whether the sport gets adopted (and in what form) or rejected.

Marquis emphasizes the importance of the media in these cultural discussions. Any nation wants a strong national team especially if that team can distinguish itself in a foreign sport. So, there is no singular trajectory of cultural diffusion from the originating society to the recipient society. Each cultural practice gets translated, adapted or rejected based on a variety of social and cultural factors.

Posted in Culture, Media, Nationalism, Sports | 8 Comments »

SocProf Would Like to Thank…

September 11, 2009 by and tagged , , ,

All the institutional actors who contributed to this wonderful demonstration of what stigmatization means:

Also, read The Grumpy Sociologist,

Posted in Gender, Nationalism, Patriarchy, Sexism | 1 Comment »

Gender Stabilization – Correction and Additions

September 8, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , ,

It looks like Caster Semenya will get to keep her Gold Medal irrespective of the results of the sex test… so, what was the whole fuss about if not the “she can’t be a girl if she runs that fast so she has to be a dude” argument (if you can call it that).

Anyway, I am bumping yet again a couple of comments from The Grumpy Sociologist as they correct a couple of things in my previous post and add racial and nationalist elements to the mix / mess. As always, my comments are in blue.

“Anyhow, kind of a minor correction. Semenya is not the world record holder in the 800m. In fact, she’s quite a bit off, and there is some significance to that. The world record is 1:53.28, held by Jarmila Kratochvilova of the Czech Republic set back in ‘83. Semenya “only” ran around 1:55.something if I remember correctly. Semenya’s time — awesome as it is — is quite far off from the world record by track & field standards at that distance (I would say anything over 1.00 seconds is still quite a bit for the 800m). So why the hell is she being questioned so much as a female athlete when she didn’t even challenge the world record?!?!?

[It is indeed interesting, isn't it? Especially considering the fact that we easily accept exceptional performances by men quite commonly even when the use of performance-enhancing drugs is almost a given (See: France, Tour de)]

Some say it’s partly, if not largely, because of her race. See here -

“Caster Semenya: that’s our girl you’re messing with” by Pinky Khoabane
http://www.thetimes.co.za/PrintEdition/Insight/Article.aspx?id=1053572

Interview with Pinky Khoabane on NPR
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112286208

Basically, white track & field female athletes of similar build and who have such amazing athletic success are no longer questioned as women. Another example – Martina Navratilova was never questioned as a biological woman back in the ’70s/’80s despite her musculature and athletic success, certainly not in the same way as Semenya. Perhaps because she was (1) white, and (2) in an acceptably feminine sport. [note: I know, Navratilova experienced other, very unfair forms of discrimination.]

[Heck, as much as there was general shock with the female East German swimmers back in the 1970s, the fuss was nowhere near what it has been for Semenya!]

Also I’d like to point out that there’s also a nationalism issue to this. Back in 1988, Florence Griffith-Joyner (rest her soul) of the USA truly smashed the world records in the 100m and 200m races (it is much, much more difficult to break records in those races by large increments), and she split 47.x seconds in the 4X400 relay, which is extremely rare for women. She was also extremely muscular, more so in my opinion than Semenya. True, Flo-Jo specialized in different events than Semenya that often result in different body types. However, Flo-Jo was questioned for taking steroids. She was never questioned as a woman, and I think that had Semenya been from the US, her sex wouldn’t have been an issue. Perhaps roids would have been more of an issue (speculation of roids has been raised for Semenya, albeit not strongly).

[But you're right, roids testing is just a matter of blood testing and is probably done more or less routinely. Gender testing is a whole other ballgame. The entire athlete's identity is questioned.]

Also, for those interested in sports and gender, there’s an interesting book, “Playing with the Boys: Why Separate Is not Equal in Sports” by Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappnao which addresses some of the issues you raised here regarding society not being able to accept gender along a continuum.”

[Link and image added]

The other comparison worth noting is Usain Bolt. He smashed his own world records in the 100m and 200m races at this year’s world championships. His times are unreal. Being male, his gender simply won’t be questioned, period. Because there are only two sexes available according to the IAAF, guys just don’t have to deal with this issue irrespective of their athletic successes/build. Only certain female athletes must cope with this testing.

[Ha, but it's because of the gender hierarchy thingie: a high-performing woman has to be a dude, but a high performing man has to be... what?? A mutant? Being a man is already the top of the gender hierarchy. There is no higher step. A high-performing man is just an exceptional athlete whose abilities have to be celebrated (and the examples of that can be multiplied: Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, etc.). Not to mention that being a high-performing athlete is the consummate demonstration of one's masculinity.  To be a high-performing FEMALE athlete is to challenge norms of femininity by building up muscles (Navratilova got away with it BECAUSE of her sexual orientation... well, of course she's big and strong! Compare her to Chris Evert, her arch-rival at the time... and Navratilova was a political refugee, a trophy in the Cold War, so, she got a pass on a few things) and displaying traits perceived to be masculine (competitive, combative, etc.)... like Brandi Chastain taking her jersey off on the field after kicking the winning goal for the US at the World Cup.

At a lower level than world championship, sometimes, when girls are really good, they get to play with the boys... do we make low-performing boys play with the girls? Nah, that would be too demeaning, wouldn't it "Ewww, you play with the GIRLS!" I bet parents would be up in arms against it.]

Posted in Gender, Institutional Racism, Nationalism, Patriarchy, Racism, Social Inequalities, Social Institutions | 5 Comments »

« Previous Entries