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Archive for Social Sanctions

What Does This Say About These Societies?

June 7, 2012 by and tagged , ,

Compare this:

“The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a federal lawsuit Thursday on behalf of prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison who have spent between 10 and 28 years in solitary confinement. The legal action is part of a larger movement to reform inhumane conditions in California prisons’ Security Housing Units (SHUs), a movement dramatized by a 2011 hunger strike by thousands of SHU prisoners; the named plaintiffs include hunger strikers, among them several of the principal negotiators for the hunger strike.

(…)

SHU prisoners spend 22½ to 24 hours every day in a cramped, concrete, windowless cell. They are denied telephone calls, contact visits, and vocational, recreational or educational programming. Food is often rotten and barely edible, and medical care is frequently withheld.

More than 500 Pelican Bay SHU prisoners have been isolated under these conditions for over 10 years, more than 200 of them for over 15 years and 78 have been isolated in the SHU for more than 20 years. Today’s suit claims that prolonged confinement under these conditions has caused “harmful and predictable psychological deterioration” among SHU prisoners. Solitary confinement for as little as 15 days is now widely recognized to cause lasting psychological damage to human beings and is analyzed under international law as torture.

Additionally, the suit alleges that SHU prisoners are denied any meaningful review of their SHU placement, rendering their isolation “effectively permanent.” SHU assignment is an administrative act, condemning prisoners to a prison within a prison; it is not part of a person’s court-ordered sentence for his or her crime.”

To this:

“Prison authorities are considering hiring people to socialise with the mass killer Anders Behring Breivik should he be found guilty and sentenced to a long spell in jail, to avoid him being kept in total isolation.

The director of the Ila prison, Knut Bjarkeid, told the Verdens Gang newspaper that security surrounding the man who has admitted killing 77 people last year would make it “impossible to allow normal contact with others”.

The prison may therefore allow him to “play sports with the guards and hire someone to play chess with him”, said Mr Bjarkeid.”

This is, of course, on top of a bloated American prison system that incarcerates a greater share of its population than any other country in the world, with very little to show for it beyond the general collective satisfaction of “locking them up and throwing away the key”. See the difference in rates between the US and Norway where Breivik is incarcerated:

But beyond that, there is a very different approach to punishment and its meaning. A crime as severe as the one for which Breivik is being tried would certainly carry either the death penalty or as the very least a life sentence without parole. He would be dumped into one of the hellholes across the US, AKA: maximum security facilities and that would be it: pure retribution, pure neutralization.

The Norwegian approach considers him still a human being and if the state takes complete control of his person for a certain period of time, especially if it is long, then the state has to provide some measure of mental care: still retribution, still neutralization, but some rehabilitation and care.

One society is perfectly satisfied with a highly expensive, counterproductive, and massive punitive system that is purely retributive (heck, prison rape is a source of jokes). Another one does not consider it should stop being humane because it has to deal with a really bad person in the context of a small carceral system.

Kinda says a lot about both societies, doesn’t it?

Posted in Culture, Social Deviance, Social Sanctions | No Comments »

Pre-Crime and Street Corner Society 2.0

August 22, 2011 by and tagged , ,

From this interesting article in which Malcolm James explains how law enforcement polices public spaces against youth pre-crime:

“Even before the riots, the streets were dangerous places for young people to be. Young people at Leeside talked of community support officers and police prowling the streets, assuming they were up to no good.

The community support officer who came to Leeside was part of a local partnership initiate. He was there to liaise with young people, but his role outside the youth club did not make him a popular figure.

One evening, as we were standing in the back-lobby of the youth club, he justified his role to me through stories of moving young people on from street corners and stairwells. They were not actually causing trouble, he told me; rather, they were thinking about it. Like the two young men who recently received four-year sentences for imagining civil disobedience on Facebook, the young people I worked with, by virtue of interacting in public space, were criminalised before they had done anything wrong.

If you’re aged between 12 and 21 it’s this threat of criminalisation that is the real urban terror. Cameron’s backing of ‘gang injunctions’ – court orders that ban groups of young people (gangs) from certain geographical areas –will criminalise innocent working-class urban young people for associating with friends in one of the only public spaces available to them.”

Time for us all to brush up Whyte’s classical Street Corner Society.

Also, this:

This has to do with the criminalization of poverty and youth culture, perceived, in a moralistic view of social issues, as moral defect.

Posted in Social Deviance, Social Sanctions, Social Stigma, Sociology | No Comments »

It’s Not “Overcrowding”, It’s “Over-Incarcerating”

August 3, 2011 by and tagged , , , , , , ,

This editorial from Le Monde finally calls it what it is: there is no prison overcrowding problem, there is people over-incarcerating problem. And this is not because criminality has increased but rather because the criminal justice system sends more people to prison for activities that did not use to carry prison sentences and for less and less severe offenses. So, the hardening in sentencing – in the absence of higher criminality – is what has caused the prison population to swell. Culturally, this has translated into a narrative where “softness on crime” – an unfounded statement – is seen as an offense against society.

Le Monde does not take this idea to its large conclusions though. Who gets over-incarcerated? Mostly, the young, the minority, the poor. Incarceration, along with a whole range of other neoliberal policies designed to discipline the poor, something that Loic Wacquant has been writing about for 15 years and here again:

“The increasing penalization of poverty is a response to social insecurity; a result of public policy that weds the “invisible hand” of the market to the “iron fist” of the penal state.

(…)

First, the expansion and glorification of the police, the courts and the penitentiary are a response not to criminal insecurity but to the social insecurity caused by the casualisation of wage labor and the disruption of ethno-racial hierarchy. Second, we need to reconnect social and penal policies and treat them as two variants of poverty policy to grasp the new punitive politics of marginality. Third, the simultaneous and converging deployment of restrictive “workfare” and expansive “prison fare” partake of the forging of the neoliberal state.”

Note how the whole debt ceiling / spending cuts debate was also a class-based discourse of moralization and social disciplining applied only the disadvantaged. The whole notion of “shared sacrifice”, that is, a social notion, does not apply to the elite or the financial sectors whose sociopathy is accepted and rewarded. As Doug Henwood notes, the austerity programs implemented across Western countries are presented as programs of moral renovation and purification for sins of profligacy and lack of discipline.

This is the latest stage of a very socially neoliberal and culturally puritan program imposed from above, enforced through massive surveillance, that will result in both poverty and precariat trap.

Posted in Precarization, Public Policy, Social Deviance, Social Institutions, Social Sanctions, 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>
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<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 »

Book Review – The City and The City

October 25, 2010 by and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The City and The City is the first book by China Mieville I have read. I got myself a Kindle copy when it got the Hugo Award. It is an awesome novel, and as usual, it is a great source for sociological analysis. At its most basic, The City and The City is a murder mystery coupled with a touch of conspiracy theory. But, as usual for sociologist me, the most interesting part of the book is the social context underpinning the story.

The story takes place in an unusual urban context of two city-states, Besźel and Ul-Qoma, that occupy the same physical space somewhere in Eastern Europe. The cities are divided between areas that are total (totally in one), alter (totally in the other) or crosshatched (in either). In areas that the cities share, citizens of either city have been socialized to unsense the other: to unsee, unhear, unsmell everything from the other city. And at the center is Copula Hall, the official border between the city and the city.

What this means is that when one is walking – or driving through – the streets of Besźel, for instance, one must NOT see, hear or smell anything from Ul-Qoma (and vice-versa). People from either city practice this constant act of dramaturgy of not sensing the other city that exists in the same physical space. Goffman would have had a field day with all the studied non-0bservance that takes place as people, more or less automatically and immediately unsee things happening in the other city. In fact, the entire social structure of both cities is based on that unsensing so much so that when things happen that make that almost impossible, social order is on the verge of collapse and extreme measures are taken.

So, this common space has two social structures, one for Besźel and one for Ul-Qoma, two different cultures, languages, food, clothing, etc. And it looks like Ul-Qoma (a vaguely communist country, boycotted by the US) is the more economically dynamic of the two.

In this context, people are expected to thoroughly respect the division between the city and the city. If they violate the separations, they breach. They are then spirited away by Breach, the mysterious force in charge of enforcing the division. No one knows what happens to people who have been taken by Breach. In this society, breaching is the most serious offense that deserves the most serious punishment (although what that is remains a mystery, for most part of the book). It is a given that, at some point, someone will breach and we, readers, will get to figure out what Breach really is and what it really does. Breach is perceived as a kind of omniscient Big Brother with the power to detect any breach and swing into action when that happens. Not breaching is a major fear for all the citizens of the city and the city.

Needless to say, the city and the city are themselves marked by social conflicts: each city has its own nationalist movement, strict supporters of the Cleavage (the separation between the city and the city) as well as its Unifs, the unificators, the movements promoting the reunification of the city and the city.

Throughout the book, we follow the detective in charge of solving the murder as he navigates the complexities of this intricate structure in the course of his investigation. He is from Besźel, but at some point is assigned to Ul-Qoma so that we get to compare the two cultures.

Ultimately, his own breach is what gives us an insight into the way Breach works and to the conclusion of the book, which one could read as a perfect manifesto for the social construction of reality or ethnomethodology as his Breach avatar explains to him:

“Nowhere else works like the cities,” he said. “It’s not just us keeping them apart. It’s everyone in Besźel and everyone in Ul Qoma. Every minute, every day. We’re only the last ditch: it’s everyone in the cities who does most of the work. It works because you don’t blink. That’s why unseeing and unsensing are so vital. No one can admit it doesn’t work. So if you don’t admit it, it does. But if you breach, even if it’s not your fault, for more than the shortest time … you can’t come back from that.”” (5664)

“Doing” the city and the city is a matter of minutiae of social interaction (accomplished and denied at the same time) and constitutes an enormous amount of interactive collaboration (also as necessary as it is denied). It is this architecture of interaction that sustains the dual social structure and collective underpinning of the city and the city.

A fascinating read.

Posted in Book Reviews, Culture, Dramaturgy, Science-fiction, Social Interaction, Social Sanctions, Sociology, Surveillance Society, Symbolic Interactionism, Urban Ecology | No Comments »

Saints And Roughnecks 2.0… Only Worse

September 14, 2010 by and tagged , ,

Todd Krohn, over at The Power Elite, continues his exposing of the criminalization of adolescence through a variety of measures often under the banner of “zero tolerance”, the educational version of the oh-so-effective broken windows theory of crime.

What is the broken windows theory of crime?

“The concept of broken windows was developed by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling who published their article titled Broken Windows: The police and Neighbour Safety in the March, 1982 edition of The Atlantic Monthly. The authors posited their theory in the following words: “Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in run-down ones. Window breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers whereas others are populated by window-lovers; rather, one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing (it has always been fun).”[2] “The essence of Broken Windows,” explains Charles Pollard, “is that minor incivilities (such as drunkenness, begging, vandalism, disorderly behaviour, graffiti, litter etc.), if unchecked and uncontrolled, produce an atmosphere in a community or on a street in which more serious crime will flourish.”[3] In other words, crimes flourish because of lax enforcement.”

Loic Wacquant makes mincemeat of it:

“According to Wacquant it is not the police who make crime go away. A trenchant critic of Giuliani-Bratton police work, Waquant puts forth the view that six factors independent of police work have significantly reduced crime rates in America. First, the boom in economy provided jobs for youth and diverted them from street crimes. Even though the official poverty rate of New York City remained unchanged at 20% during the entire decade of the 1990s, Latinos benefited by the deskilled labour market. The blacks, buoyed by the hope of the flourishing economy, went back to school and avoided illegal trade. Thus even though under-employment and low paid work persisted there was decline of aggregate unemployment rates which explains 30% decrease in national crime rates.

Second, there was twofold transformation in drug trade. The retail trade in crack in poor neighbourhoods attained stability. The turf wars subsided and violent competition among rival gangs decreased. The narcotic sector had become oligopolised. This resulted in a sharp drop in drug related street murders. In 1998 it dropped below the one hundred mark from 670 murders in 1991. The change in consumption of drugs went from crack to other drugs such as marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamines, a trade which is less violent as it is based on networks of mutual acquaintances rather than anonymous exchange places.

Third, the number of young people (age group between 18-24) declined. It must be noted that the young people in this age group are found most responsible for crimes. The AIDS epidemic among drug users, drug overdose deaths, gang related homicides and young criminals imprisoned eliminated this group by 43,000. This decline of young people resulted in the drop of street crimes by 1/10th.

Fourth, the impact of learning effect that the deaths of earlier generations of young people had on the later generation, especially those born after 1975-1980, avoided drugs and stayed away from risky life styles.

Fifth, the role played by churches, schools, clubs and other organizations in awareness and prevention campaigns exercised informal social control and helped to control crimes.

Sixth, the statistical law of regression states that when there is abnormally high incidence of crime it is likely to decline and settle towards the mean.[10] Wacquant concludes that the dynamic interplay of the six factors was largely responsible for the drop in crime rates in America and the claim that policing alone was responsible for the drop in crimes at best rests on shaky empirical data.”

Zero tolerance is the same idea often applied by school authorities against adolescent behavior. In reality, the application is always biased against certain categories of the population (surprise, surprise). Krohn:

“Back in the 1970′s criminologist William Chambliss published an infamous study of juvenile delinquency entitled “The Saints and The Roughnecks.” In it, Chambliss documented how school teachers and principals often discipline students based merely on their appearance, social class and race and ethnicity (he would also show disparate treatment in the larger community, by law enforcement, in the court system, and so on).

But in school, students who were minority or working class in appearance were often punished and suspended for infractions their white, middle class-looking brethren would often escape punishment. And now we can conclude that things have only gotten worse in the last 30+ years.

Racial Disparity in School Suspensions Grows:

The study analyzed four decades of federal Department of Education data on suspensions, with a special focus on figures from 2002 and 2006, that were drawn from 9,220 of the nation’s 16,000 public middle schools.

The study, “Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis,” was published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization.

Throughout America’s public schools, in kindergarten through high school, the percent of students suspended each year nearly doubled from the early 1970s through 2006, the authors said, an increase that they associate, in part, with the rise of so-called zero-tolerance school discipline policies.In 1973, on average, 3.7 percent of public school students of all races were suspended at least once. By 2006, that percentage had risen to 6.9 percent.

Both in 1973 and in 2006, black students were suspended at higher rates than whites, but over that period, the gap increased. In 1973, 6 percent of all black students were suspended. In 2006, 15 percent of all blacks were suspended.

Among the students attending one of the 9,220 middle schools in the study sample, 28 percent of black boys and 18 percent of black girls, compared with 10 percent of white boys and 4 percent of white girls, were suspended in 2006, the study found.

Beyond the racial, ethnic and class disparities lies the issue of “zero-tolerance” which, as we now know, means “zero-sense.” The ongoing criminalizing of childhood and adolescence has had a real effect, via the suspension process, on a generation of kids.”

And as Krohn notes, with the Duncan Department of Education dangling money under the noses of the states in exchange for charter schools and higher test scores, there are really no incentive to not suspend or expell.

Posted in Education, Social Deviance, Social Sanctions | 1 Comment »

First, Deviance, Then Stigma, Then Degradation Ceremony – Cat Dumper Edition

August 25, 2010 by and tagged , , ,

I have blogged about this yesterday. After the visible deviance, the strong social reaction (death threats via Facebook… that’s gonna make Todd Krohn warm up to Facebook!) and stigma (the woman was outed within hours of her deed), now comes the more or less obligatory shaming ritual, or, as Harold Garfinkel would call it, degradation ceremony:

“In a statement released on Wednesday, Ms Bale, a bank worker from Stoke, in Coventry, said: “I want to take this opportunity to apologise profusely for the upset and distress that my actions have caused.

“I cannot explain why I did this, it is completely out of character and I certainly did not intend to cause any distress to Lola or her owners.

“It was a split second of misjudgement that has got completely out of control.

“I am due to meet with the RSPCA and police to discuss this matter further and will co-operate fully with their investigations.

“I wish to reiterate that I am profoundly sorry for my actions and wish to resolve this matter to everyone’s satisfaction as soon as possible.”"

The problem, Ms Bale, is that stigma tends to stick. It is not easy to shed especially if a catchy nickname has been attached to the offender, like the “cat dumper” (or “the Octomom” to use another example). Which means that this is very likely to become your master status for quite some time. Further social rituals may be required, such as volunteering at the British version of the ASPCA, in order to be able to get rid of that stigma.

From a purely selfish point of view, my deviance lectures just wrote themselves here.

Posted in Social Deviance, Social Sanctions, Social Stigma, Sociology | 1 Comment »

The Patriarchy Continuum – Paying The Price for Refusing to Conform

August 9, 2010 by and tagged , , , , , ,

I have blogged before about the fact that patriarchy is both structural and normative. It exists through institutions that reproduce patriarchal privilege and inequalities. But it is also a cultural system entirely contributing to the normative acceptance of patriarchal symbols, discourse and values. And as with any normative system, there is a price to pay for deviance. And the sanctions may be imposed by different social institutions (this is one of their functions), such as the family or the medical establishment.

Case number 1:

“A British couple were shot dead in an apparent honour killing in Pakistan after they refused to let their two daughters marry their nephews, a friend said yesterday.

Gul Wazir and his wife, Niaz Begum, were visiting relatives in Salehana, a remote village in Nowshera province, with their 28-year-old son Mehboob Alam when three men burst into the house and carried out the “revenge” attack.

Earlier in their visit, a row had erupted when Mr Wazir, a taxi driver, was asked by his Pakistan-based brother Noor if he would allow his daughters to marry his sons Awal Zamir and Rehman. The daughters, who had stayed at home in Alum Rock, Birmingham, rejected the proposals.

Hassan Ahmed, a friend of the family, said yesterday that Mr Wazir had refused the offer because his daughters were worried about the language barrier and cultural differences. As a result, a meeting of four village elders was called, who sided with Mr Wazir.

The family had thought the matter was closed, but on Friday three men sprayed bullets at the couple as they chatted over breakfast, Mr Ahmed said. Their son was upstairs taking a shower. Hearing the gunfire, he rushed downstairs to find his parents dead.”

Case number 2:

“Gangs of men dressed in black from his newly opened Centre for Spiritual and Moral Education roam the streets lecturing passers-by about the evils of alcohol and the right kind of Islam. Women too are targeted by Mr Kadyrov’s reforms. In 2007, in violation of Russian law, he issued an edict banning women without a headscarf from schools, universities and other public buildings. Since June, unidentified men with paintball guns have driven round the centre of Grozny shooting at girls with uncovered heads. On state television, Mr Kadyrov said he didn’t know who was responsible for the attacks but added: “When I find them I will express my gratitude.” The Chechen President has also boasted that Chechen men can take “second, third and fourth wives” and that he believes polygamy is the best way to revive his war-ravaged republic.

According to some estimates, one in five Chechen marriages begins when a girl is snatched off the street and forced into a car by her future groom and his accomplices. The internet is full of videos of these “bride stealings”, set to romantic music. The practice has seen a resurgence since the end of the conflicts with Russia and, in a nation that is awash with guns, violence is prevalent and the abductors of women enjoy a culture of impunity. More often than not, the girl is pressured into marrying her kidnapper to preserve family honour and avoid triggering a blood feud. Some are resigned to their fate and make a surprising success of their marriages.

For others, that is far from the case. Lipkhan Bazaeva, who runs an organisation called Women’s Dignity, says brides are often brought in by mothers-in -law who believe the girl is possessed by evil spirits. “Just imagine – her son has stolen a girl he liked and married her. What they want is a nice, quiet, hard-working woman in the house, not someone who’s feeling down from the moment she wakes up and who’s hysterical in the evening. So they take them to the mullah.” The mothers-in-law do not help, she adds, typically making scant effort to be compassionate or nice to the reluctant bride.

Mullah Mairbek Yusupov is a small bearded man dressed in a green surgeon-style top and skull-cap. He appears pleasant and softly spoken – until he gets to work. The patient was lying blindfolded on her back, wearing a long flowery robe. Mr Yusupov began yelling verses from the Koran into her ear and beating her with a short stick. “She feels no pain”, he said. “We beat the genie and not the patient.”

The woman, probably in her early 20s, was writhing on the bed : “Shut up! Leave me alone!” she growled. Mr Yusupov claimed this strange voice belonged to the genie possessing her. He shouted back: “Take your claws out of this woman. Aren’t you ashamed? Go on! Leave her body like you did last time, through her toe.”

With a deadpan expression, Mr Yusupov explained that the genie inside the girl was 340 years old. He was not a Muslim – he was a Russian man called Andrei and he had fallen in love with his victim. The genie was so jealous that he made her leave her husband. This was already the seventh time he’d treated this patient.

The girl’s aunt who had watched the exorcism said her niece was “stolen” at the age of 16 and had since been through two divorces. “She wants to be alone all the time,” she sighed. “She doesn’t want to talk or see anyone and nothing makes her happy.” The girl’s despairing family was hoping doctors at the Centre could turn her into an obedient wife so they could marry her off again.”

Posted in Gender, Patriarchy, Social Deviance, Social Institutions, Social Norms, Social Sanctions | No Comments »

Parenting Without Social Safety Net in the Age of Risk

July 16, 2010 by and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, one of the myth sociology teachers have to debunk at the undergraduate level in the US is the idea that the family, as a social institution, is where society begins and ends, everything rests on it, it is the basic core of society. Every other institutions is subaltern.

It follows from such a beliefs not just that social policy is based on such a conservative and misguided idea as “strengthening the family”, but that because this is a puritan conservative belief, “strengthening the family” does not mean good subsidized childcare or paid parental leaves, but moral injunction and shaming.

Add to this that, because of its weak social safety net, the US is the Western society where the Great Risk Shift has hit the harshest, and the individualization of risks. This has translated into intensive and competitive parenting, stratospheric increase in expectations and obligations (and major social stigma and disapproval for anything less than perfect parenting).

So, in this context, this article is a perfect reflection of that (thanks, Jim King for pointing it out to me!) and a solid dose of reality as to what conditions culture, social structure, and symbolic violence create for parents, at the very same time that these are culturally denied (parenting and motherhood are never-ending bliss!!).

The article is longish but well worth it, all based on the most contemporary research on the subject of happiness and parenting and does a great debunking job.

I’ll extract just this short excerpt because it best fits what I just wrote above:

One hates to invoke Scandinavia in stories about child-rearing, but it can’t be an accident that the one superbly designed study that said, unambiguously, that having kids makes you happier was done with Danish subjects. The researcher, Hans-Peter Kohler, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, says he originally studied this question because he was intrigued by the declining fertility rates in Europe. One of the things he noticed is that countries with stronger welfare systems produce more children—and happier parents.

Of course, this should not be a surprise. If you are no longer fretting about spending too little time with your children after they’re born (because you have a year of paid maternity leave), if you’re no longer anxious about finding affordable child care once you go back to work (because the state subsidizes it), if you’re no longer wondering how to pay for your children’s education and health care (because they’re free)—well, it stands to reason that your own mental health would improve. When Kahneman and his colleagues did another version of his survey of working women, this time comparing those in Columbus, Ohio, to those in Rennes, France, the French sample enjoyed child care a good deal more than its American counterpart. “We’ve put all this energy into being perfect parents,” says Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, “instead of political change that would make family life better.””

The point is that social policy, in these cases, is designed not to make people do certain things (unlike marriage incentives or making women watch the ultrasound of the fetus they want to abort) but to remove risks for the entire population and produce desirable outcomes (healthier or more educated people) through open doors. It is not perfect but it makes more sense (unless the austerity puritans triumph and get all that stuff dismantled).

In other words, it is a matter of creating the social, economic and cultural conditions where parenting is not a competitive rat race and the only acceptable outcome is perfection (whatever the heck that means) but a part of life protected from the most severe economic and social risks.

These European models embed family policies within the social and economic contexts as a way of protecting them whereas the American model extracts family policies and moralize them based on conservative ideas themselves based on what Gilbert Ryle would have called a category mistake.

As the saying goes, read the whole thing.

Posted in Culture, Economy, Embeddedness, Ideologies, Public Policy, Social Institutions, Social Norms, Social Research, Social Sanctions, Social Stigma, Social Structure, Sociology | No Comments »

The Evacuation of the Social in Socially-Themed Movies

January 16, 2010 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

There is nothing I can add to this great post by Jeremy Levine on two movies I decided not to go see precisely because what he writes was entirely predictable from the trailers:

Precious:

And The Blind Side:

Because, you see, there was never any real need for social movements and policies on racial equality. White Christian folks would have done it all anyway, on their own terms. After all, that is what wealthy White Christians do, save black kids because their families can’t take care of them (as illustrated in Precious).

So, these socially-themed movies completely evacuate the social except in its negative consequences seen as the a-historical and a-social product of dysfunction and deviant behavior only to be solved by the goodness of white and upper class people. Social policy (automatically equated as welfare which codes as “bad and inefficient and ineffective” in American social unconscious) does not work and is unnecessary.

These movies are part of the common American discourse that systematically rejects the idea of social determination (as opposed to meritocracy) by social allocation of social privileges and disadvantages, in favor of a childish view that one has “to believe in oneself” and have the “right values” to succeed. The significant result is the absence of coherent social policy in the US since this underlying view indicates that the poor are deviant to be sanctioned. Or, in “inspirational movies” (code for “sappy”, childish, and fit to be aired on the Hallmarks channel), individuals saved by other individuals (or families since in such a view, the family is the only social institutions that matters and is therefore undermined by non-family related mechanisms such as social policies).

Oh, and in both movies, the black dysfunctional individuals to be saved are grossly overweight.

I am not saying that every socially-themed movie should be a thorough lesson on structural violence but some movies have done it much better than these two apparently, for instance, City of God.

Posted in Culture, Ideologies, Institutional Racism, Movies, Social Deviance, Social Disadvantages, Social Inequalities, Social Institutions, Social Privilege, Social Sanctions, Sociology, Structural Violence | No Comments »

Medicalization of Deviance as Strategy!

January 16, 2010 by and tagged , , ,

Medicalization removes part of the stigma and mitigates the potential social sanctions.

Posted in Social Deviance, Social Sanctions, Social Stigma, Sociology | No Comments »

Ethnic Cleansing – Italian Style

January 10, 2010 by and tagged , , , , , ,

But never mind the human rights issues. Read the allocation of blame (with the terrorist metaphor) along with a summary of what the problem ultimately is: not the mistreatment of human beings but the fact that crops won’t be harvested because the damn ticking bombs had to be expelled because they could not behave and the authorities had to protect the population from them:

Posted in Institutional Racism, Labor, Mass Violence, Migration, Racism, Social Sanctions, Social Stigma, Structural Violence | No Comments »

Punishing The Poor – Children Edition

December 12, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

For those of you who remember my review of – and multiple posts on – Loïc Wacquant’s Punishing The Poor, this will seem a perfect illustration. As you remember, Wacquant’s thesis is that the neoliberal state, as it loses power on the economic and social fronts as a result of neoliberal policies it embraced, reasserts itself by punishing the poor, through prisonfare for men, and workfare for women. But what of the children?

Here is the answer (via Lambert over at Corrente):

So, shall we add “drugfare” after prisonfare and workfare? It’s a trifecta. Also, in addition to material punishment, the poor often have to endure a variety of indignities that are part of the symbolic violence they receive as well, such as being blamed and stigmatized for a variety of conditions deemed to be the results of their lack of self-control and a general “too much” attitude: too much sex, too much violence, and too much food…

That is in the context where children living in poverty are more likely to be on food stamps and therefore less likely to receive a healthy diet.

Of course, another important structural part of the story is the American health care system which makes it cheaper to prescribe drugs than use other forms of therapy along with the fact that a lot of doctors do not accept Medicaid patients. The options are severely limited. I would also bet that poor children are more likely to be labeled and diagnosed with psychiatric disorders and seen as disruptive. So, that works well with the idea of poor as a category of people whose behavior has to be controlled and normalized (middle class white norms, that is).

Poverty as socially constructed and engineered deviance and therefore legitimate target for various forms of social control is what it is.

Posted in Health, Health Care, Poverty, Public Policy, Social Deviance, Social Disadvantages, Social Inequalities, Social Institutions, Social Sanctions, Social Stigma, Sociology, Symbolic Violence | No Comments »

Arbitrary Roots and Oh-So Very Real Effects of Cultural Gendering

December 11, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

A very good article in the Guardian regarding gender and color stereotyping. Saussure and Levi-Strauss established long ago that signifiers are arbitrary, hence the variability:

If I remember correctly, blue used to be the color of the Virgin Mary whereas pink was the color of angels. Bottom line: we divide the world into neat categories of signified supported by arbitrary signifiers that have very real effects. For instance, all this stuff about color and texture shapes gender socialization in ways that have been extensively studied by many scholars.

So now, pink is a girls’ color and blue is a boys’ color. In spite of such obvious arbitrariness, we still get this type of nonsense when evolutionary scientists who are always so keen on proving that everything gendered is encoded in our genes and innate:

Oy. Right, because, of course, these women were absolutely not influenced by their socialization, and other socio-cultural factors, so it just HAS to be biology.

We see how strongly we use these arbitrary cultural signifiers and how much they organize our perceptions when they get questioned, as with the Pink Stinks campaign:

Cultural standards, especially those pertaining to gender, are not to be messed with. That kind of deviance gets attacked very quickly and nastily:

Anyone who has taught gender has encountered that kind of aggressive resistance from students who feel personally attacked when the social and cultural logic of gender (and its oppressive effects) are exposed.

That is how social structures and cultural standards reproduce themselves: by being not only embodied in social actors, but by also shaping perception not just of “what is normal” but of the very self. Hence, any deconstruction is perceived as a personal attack. Social control mechanisms then get into high gear through a variety of (passive-)aggressive behaviors like the nasty emails above, or students providing anecdotal evidence that supposedly invalidates the point being made.

This is the same logic underlying the phenomenon of corrective rape or any type of gender violence whose goal is to force individuals back into the narrow yet socially and culturally-defined boxes of gender roles. They are at the roots of various forms of symbolic violence (which is no less real than interpersonal, physical violence) as ways to make deviance very costly to those tempted to step outside of the box (and encourage others to do so, as the Pink Stinks campaign ladies do).

Posted in Culture, Gender, Identity, Patriarchy, Sexism, Social Deviance, Social Norms, Social Sanctions, Social Stigma, Social Structure, Socialization, Sociology, Symbolic Violence | No Comments »

The Exempts – Social Privilege 101

December 11, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , , , ,

This

reminded me of this, that is, a blog post where I used Denis Colombi’s starting point on traders as exempt from social norms that the rest of us are expected to follow. In other words, up until recently (that is when proverbial !@#$ hit the proverbial fan), we still lived on the “greed is good” ideology, based on the popularized notion that if we let the traders run loose and anomically, we would all benefit either specifically through the higher returns on our investments (forget the class il-logic here) or more generally through greater wealth throughout society.

The main similarity is indeed that traders are not the only “exempts”. Celebrities of various types also enjoy exemption from the norms (as long as they entertain us in one way or another, if they become too creepy, then it’s game over and stigmatization falls down on the debased celebrity who then – if said celebrity is a she – becomes a regular feature as number one segment on misogynist Olberman’s Countdown).

But one aspect that is often forgotten is not the constant temptation on celebrities morality, as Williams contends, but rather the sense of entitlement that comes with exemption from deviant stigmatization: traders are entitled to their bonuses despite the consequences of their financial behavior, and male celebrities are entitled to unrestrained sexuality (if heterosexual, of course) covered by the alibi of the “constant temptation.”

Note that whether we are talking about celebrities or bankers and traders, it is mostly male behavior we are implicitly discussing.

Here is a big difference as well: we tolerate celebrity deviance because the assumption is that “these people” are different and a rare category. There aren’t that many Tiger Woods. And the deviance itself may be a form of entertainment (and a lucrative industry), again, up to a point, as also illustrated by the case of Michael Vick or Tom Cruise. And this (although I find the analogy a bit unfortunate),

True enough, the other factors involved might be that, before it all collapsed, bankers and traders were also exempt as a result of race and social class translated into political clout and cultural validation (“ownership society” trope as well as “running things like a business” as automatic signifier of efficiency) itself translated in the popularity of MBA programs. Paging Jürgen Habermas on colonization of the lifeworld by the system, and now crisis of legitimation.

So, now that we have transgressions on the part of the exempts, as a society, we demand some degree of contrition and restitution depending on the transgression. Mostly, it is going to be largely symbolic: Tiger Woods will apologize profusely, get counseling and find religion.

As for the bankers, racial and class privileges means that they never have to say they’re sorry. Because the bottom line is that the economic collapse has not altered the structured system of privileges. A few (again, largely symbolic) punitive measures might be enacted (probably more severe in the UK and France than the US), but no structural regulations will emerge. Again, a punitive outlook is never a sound basis for public policy.

Either way, significant systemic change through serious regulation and redistribution will have to wait for another day.

The crisis of legitimation, though, is quite real and its effects (visible in the US through the Palin / Teabaggers social movement) could be potentially dangerous in the face of looming environmental catastrophes and more economic devastation.

Posted in Culture, Gender, Media, Patriarchy, Social Deviance, Social Privilege, Social Sanctions, Social Stigma | No Comments »

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