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Archive for the 'Sociology' Category

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

Soul Dollars

Down the Up Staircase

“Harlem was full of contradictions for anyone who dared to look. Mamie Canty, my mother’s seamstress, was also a fulltime bookie for Harlem kingpin Nicky Barnes, one of the biggest drug dealers in the city.” — Bruce D. Haynes and Syma Solovitch

This week, our featured book is Down the Up Staircase: Three Generations of a Harlem Family, by Bruce D. Haynes and Syma Solovitch. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s preface.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Down the Up Staircase!

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

Introducing Down the Up Staircase: Three Generations of a Harlem Family

Down the Up Staircase

“We owned a three-story brownstone in Harlem, the kind built for a rising moneyed class. Now it stood as a testament to our family’s rise and demise over the century. Its walls echoed the voices of three generations of a black middle-class family: the hard-won glories of my grandfather, the whispered regrets and concessions of my parents, the fall from grace of their firstborn, and the wrenching blow that came with the death of their second.” — Bruce D. Haynes and Syma Solovitch

This week, our featured book is Down the Up Staircase: Three Generations of a Harlem Family, by Bruce D. Haynes and Syma Solovitch. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s preface.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Down the Up Staircase!

Monday, April 17th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Down the Up Staircase: Three Generations of a Harlem Family

Down the Up Staircase

“Bruce D. Haynes’s story is a classic American tale—which combines the big themes of history with the gritty reality of a single family’s extraordinary story.” — Jeffrey Toobin

This week, our featured book is Down the Up Staircase: Three Generations of a Harlem Family, by Bruce D. Haynes and Syma Solovitch. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

Why I Chose to Research What Slaveholders Think

What Slaveholders Think

“The public square is celebrated by scholars of democracy as a pillar of free and open society. But to slaveholders this space is a cauldron of ‘enmity, ego, and hatred’. Free workers spending their free time talking about life is what gives democracy its vitality – no wonder it’s perceived to be a threat to those who have benefitted from the caste hierarchy. To the erstwhile slaveholder, leisure activities – talking, idling, drinking – are vices, tangible manifestations of social decline.” — Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick

This week, our featured book is What Slaveholders Think: How Contemporary Perpetrators Rationalize What They Do, by Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick. In today’s post, an excerpt from an article published at The Huffington Post, Choi-Fitzpatrick explains why he took his unique approach to researching modern slavery.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of What Slaveholders Think!

Why I Chose to Research What Slaveholders Think
By Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick

I often get asked why I wrote a book about contemporary slaveholders. Once people get over the fact that slavery still exists they want to know who on earth is out there, right now doing what it takes to exploit their fellow humans in the worst sort of way?

At the moment the contemporary anti-slavery movement has raised over a billion dollars, reduced the vulnerabilities of untold millions, and brought thousands out of exploitation. Yet we know little about the individuals committing these crimes. I’ve been doing this work for almost 20 years and can tell you this: we know as much about slaveholders today as we did about victims two decades ago; hardly anything.

I set out to change that. In conversations with hundreds and hundreds of people—perpetrators and their victims, local government officials and rights activists—a picture of the life and times of contemporary slaveholders began to emerge.

In case after case, slaveholders targeted by human rights groups told me that they missed the old days. They told me that they wished for a brighter future for their children but that they themselves had been overlooked. Rights groups, broad economic factors, powerful political players, and even their victims, now had all the power.

Some solutions to slavery and trafficking are easier to see once we factor in what slaveholders think. Recognizing that they themselves are only doing what they can to get by doesn’t justify criminality and abuse, but it does suggest that some more traditional development solutions—alternative livelihood projects and microcredit included—may hold potential for emancipation among both perpetrators and victims. Of course. for freedom to be sustainable minds must be changed—that’s why it’s as important as ever to focus community organizing and human rights empowerment efforts at grassroots struggles for freedom.

The goal is not to equivocate between bonded labor and impoverished slaveholders, but instead to emphasize that slavery is relational, emancipation is complex, and the goal of ending slavery in our lifetime will require strategies that address the reality of the situation rather than the way it may appear in our imagination.

Read the article in full at The Huffington Post.

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

What do slaveholders think?

What Slaveholders Think

“The public square is celebrated by scholars of democracy as a pillar of free and open society. But to slaveholders this space is a cauldron of ‘enmity, ego, and hatred’. Free workers spending their free time talking about life is what gives democracy its vitality – no wonder it’s perceived to be a threat to those who have benefitted from the caste hierarchy. To the erstwhile slaveholder, leisure activities – talking, idling, drinking – are vices, tangible manifestations of social decline.” — Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick

This week, our featured book is What Slaveholders Think: How Contemporary Perpetrators Rationalize What They Do, by Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick. Today, we are happy to present a short excerpt from an article by Choi-Fitzpatrick published at Aeon.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of What Slaveholders Think!

What do slaveholders think?: It is everywhere illegal yet slavery persists in many corners of the global economy. How do its beneficiaries justify it?
By Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick

Withholding pay and limiting opportunities to mobilise are important strategies for controlling workers. But all of this is done for the workers’ own good, Aanan insists. Though landlords complain about alcohol, such indulgences are also tactics for increasing debt. Rowdy festivals allow workers to blow off steam, effectively directing frustration away from their abusers. These events also allow workers to spend what little money they have, increasing the likelihood that they will remain dependent on the landlord’s line of credit.

When asked if he needs the workers or the workers need him, Aanan explains that: ‘The worker is my cash machine, my fate.’ In this one statement, he has captured a central contradiction inherent in most human-rights violations worldwide: exploitation takes place at the intersection of culture and capital, in the overlap between relationship and extraction, at the moment where care and exploitation intersect.

Long accustomed to power, slaveholders work hard to sustain their status and baulk at any hint of equality. One previously powerful employer confided to me that his community was in decline. ‘In the olden days … labourers used to work in their fields, they used to think of their work,’ he told me. Now, however, they freshen up after work and drink coffee and tea while talking about ‘unnecessary things’, an opportunity for democratic discourse that is ‘deviating their minds’.

The public square is celebrated by scholars of democracy as a pillar of free and open society. But to slaveholders this space is a cauldron of ‘enmity, ego, and hatred’. Free workers spending their free time talking about life is what gives democracy its vitality – no wonder it’s perceived to be a threat to those who have benefitted from the caste hierarchy. To the erstwhile slaveholder, leisure activities – talking, idling, drinking – are vices, tangible manifestations of social decline.

Read the article in full at Aeon.

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

In All Its Forms: Slavery and Abolition, Movements and Targets

What Slaveholders Think

“It is imperative to understand variation in exploiters and exploitation as well as the exploiters’ own perspectives on how their lives are changing. Perhaps we will then better understand the difficulties involved in securing sustainable emancipation.” — Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick

This week, our featured book is What Slaveholders Think: How Contemporary Perpetrators Rationalize What They Do, by Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick. To start the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from Choi-Fitzpatrick’s first chapter: “In All Its Forms: Slavery and Abolition, Movements and Targets.”

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of What Slaveholders Think!

Monday, April 10th, 2017

Book Giveaway! What Slaveholders Think, by Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick

What Slaveholders Think

“A much-needed and unique work. Our understanding of modern slavery holds virtually nothing on slaveholders. Such a study has always been seen as the Holy Grail, truly critical knowledge if we are to move forward, but always outside our ability to grasp. Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick also goes somewhere that few scholars in this area have gone—raising important, challenging questions about how slaveholders might be understood and rehabilitated.” — Kevin Bales, cofounder of Free the Slaves

This week, our featured book is What Slaveholders Think: How Contemporary Perpetrators Rationalize What They Do, by Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Whose Identity? Which Politics?

Desegregating the Past

“Even when museums like the NMAAHC explore into painful content like racial violence and terrorism, it is seen as delving for the purpose of presenting a resilient identity narrative. And they do. But so does the National Museum of American History in its presentation of Americana, from Dorothy’s ruby red slippers to the two hundred year-old flag from the American Revolution. The relegation of museums like the NMAAHC to the stuff of identity politics neutralizes those driven by white nostalgia.” — Robyn Autry

The following is an excerpt from an article by Robyn Autry, author of Desegregating the Past: The Public Life of Memory in the United States and South Africa, originally posted at the Huffington Post.

Whose Identity? Which Politics?
By Robyn Autry

In the weeks following the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in late September, a historic presidency ended, and then hundreds of thousands of people converged on the National Mall as another shocking one began. The NMAAHC hosted a widely popular alternative inauguration organized by Busboys and Poets, increasing its symbolic power as a place of resistance and celebration. How can we make sense of the throngs of people still flocking to the Mall to visit that nation’s first black history museum in a political climate openly hostile to so-called identity politics?

The NMAAH is not an identity museum per se. Neither is the National Museum of the American Indian, nor the Latino and Asian Pacific history museums also under consideration. Or, at least they are no more driven by the desire to celebrate identity than the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum or the National Museum of American History, or even the National Air & Space Museum. In fact, all historical products, whether they be national museums or history textbooks, contain facts and fictions about who we are, or dream of being in relation to lives already lived and lost and those still in the making. In effect, they all offer different interpretations of how great America was (or wasn’t) and how we can all do better.

While there is nothing wrong with projects aiming to interpret or represent collective identities, ‘identity-driven’ is a label used to distinguish them from those museums viewed as more objective or less biased. Museums dedicated to representing the lives and cultures of people of color are seen as self-affirming celebrations that some see as divisive and fixated on what makes us different. Critics also charge that these museums offer less historical context and material evidence or artifacts, relying instead on personal testimonies, multimedia displays, and sweeping summaries. In short, they are thought to be touchy-feely. Even when museums like the NMAAHC explore into painful content like racial violence and terrorism, it is seen as delving for the purpose of presenting a resilient identity narrative. And they do. But so does the National Museum of American History in its presentation of Americana, from Dorothy’s ruby red slippers to the two hundred year-old flag from the American Revolution. The relegation of museums like the NMAAHC to the stuff of identity politics neutralizes those driven by white nostalgia.

After decades of political maneuvering, fundraising, and development, the NMAAHC opened on September 24, 2016. Televised and streamed online, the extraordinary occasion was marked by heartfelt words from President Obama, Congressperson John Lewis, Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith, and musical performances of Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle and Angélique Kidjo. Even more noteworthy, were the 30,000 ordinary people who visited the first weekend, and the tens of thousands who have followed them. With lines circling the building, the museum has been so popular that timed-passes are still being used to manage crows and to allow more people to traverse the 350,000 square foot museum. The passes available online are booked through June 2017, with a limited number being offered for same-day visitors.

How can we account for such keen interest in the museum, from the millions of dollars raised to the thousands of people clamoring to get inside? It’s as much about an insistence that identity is indeed political, as it is about collective yearnings to see that which has been kept off limits, to venture into those spaces that unsettle official accounts and expose the social fissures we already fully know exist.

Read the article in full at the Huffington Post.

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

A Look Inside a “Conversational Firm”

The Conversational Firm

“Most interesting to me was the fact that this company, which was so vocal about rejecting conventional bureaucracy, ended up adopting some bureaucratic practices over time—but this happened precisely because employees used their voices to speak up and say when certain conventional practices that had been rejected would not be useful. It struck me that a whole new model was emerging, one in which cross-hierarchical conversation was a central mechanism for confronting business challenges.” – Catherine Turco

This week, our featured book is The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media, by Catherine J. Turco. Today, for the final post of the week, we are happy to provide a short excerpt from an interview with Turco conducted by Kara Baskin for MIT Sloan School’s Newsroom. You can read the interview in its entirety here.

What new approach to communication did you find inside TechCo?

What most excited me was the realization that there is a new organizational model that companies can shoot for today. I believe this model has become possible—and perhaps even necessary—on account of the communication technologies now available and the habits and expectations that today’s employees bring into the workplace. I call the model the “conversational firm,” and it’s the idea that organizations can have far more open dialogue across the corporate hierarchy than we ever before thought possible. (more…)

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

Employees Speaking Up: The TechCo Wiki

The Conversational Firm

“Perhaps most interesting, the employees’ upward communication on the wiki was so startlingly open at times that I found myself wondering if this might be a setting in which employees had finally transcended all the theorized barriers to ‘speaking up’ to hierarchy…. Such public voice and dialogue simply have no precedent in past accounts of corporate life.” — Catherine J. Turco

This week, our featured book is The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media, by Catherine J. Turco. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from Turco’s account of the TechCo internal wiki.

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

A Conversational Firm for a Conversational Age

The Conversational Firm

“[The Conversational Firm] will demonstrate that even if we retain certain elements of conventional Weberian bureaucracy (including a hierarchical decision-making structure), it is now quite possible to build firms in which the opinions of employees are heard, firms very much engaged in public discussion of their techniques. In this conversational age, with our new tools and platforms for voice, it is possible to build more conversational firms.” — Catherine J. Turco

This week, our featured book is The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media, by Catherine J. Turco. Today, we have an excerpt from The Conversational Firm, in which Turco explains her concept of the “conversational firm,” and tells how TechCo is a perfect vehicle for her to use in exploring what a “conversational firm” can be.

A Conversational Firm for a Conversational Age
By Catherine Turco

Despite bureaucracy’s apparent indestructibility, The Conversational Firm offers hope that it is possible to pry open the iron cage if we approach things from a new angle. By following what works and what does not work about TechCo’s various attempts to transcend bureaucracy with openness—and by examining when and how conventional bureaucracy slips back in along the way—the book provides insight into the opportunities and challenges of shooting for openness as well as the nature and durability of bureaucracy. Ultimately I argue that TechCo has found its way to something quite new and different from the iron cage—a new organizational form I call the “conversational firm.”

Such an organization does not do away with all the vestiges of conventional bureaucracy. In particular, it does not become an open, democratic decision-making environment. However, it does maintain a radically more open communication environment than we have ever seen before, and this fosters a more engaged workforce and a more adaptive organization. Using multiple communication channels to promote and sustain an ongoing dialogue with its employees, the firm is able to confront the tradeoffs of openness and bureaucracy directly and to leverage the collective wisdom of its workforce to navigate them. Through its ongoing conversations, the organization finds a way to challenge the market’s—and even its own— conventional wisdom, continually iterating and improving upon both the open and bureaucratic practices it adopts as it goes. (more…)

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

Introducing “The Conversational Firm”

The Conversational Firm

“‘The old ways of doing things don’t work anymore,’ TechCo’s CEO told me the first time we met. The ‘old ways’ he was referring to were most everything we think of when we think of a conventional bureaucratic firm: vertical hierarchy, centralized decision making, formal rules and guidelines to control employee behavior, corporate communication that follows the rigid lines of the firm’s organizational chart, and a staid culture that stifles individual expression.” — Catherine J. Turco

This week, our featured book is The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media, by Catherine J. Turco. To get the week’s feature started, we have excerpted Turco’s Preface to The Conversational Firm, in which she takes us a TechCo “Hack Night” and explains how TechCo is trying to get rid of what the company sees as outdated organizational structures and theories.

Monday, September 19th, 2016

Book Giveaway! The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media

The Conversational Firm

“Will twenty-first-century social media technologies finally liberate organizations from stifling bureaucratic hierarchies? After spending ten months closely observing a software firm, Catherine J. Turco, one of sociology’s brightest young stars, surprises with fascinating and nuanced answers. Brimming with vivid examples, The Conversational Firm will not only shape scholarly debate but also engage general readers interested in corporate life.” — Viviana A. Zelizer, author of Economic Lives

This week, our featured book is The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media, by Catherine J. Turco. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Conversational Firm. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, September 23 at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, September 16th, 2016

Resistance Against Criminal Identities

Exiled in America

“Because many residents at the motel did not distinguish between types of sex offenders, a sex-offense conviction was automatically equated with victimization of a child…. Therefore parolees and those with sexual offense histories took different steps to resist the stigma of their offenses and create boundaries between themselves and the pedophile label.” — Christopher Dum

This week, our featured book is Exiled in America: Life on the Margins in a Residential Motel, by Christopher P. Dum. Today, for the final post of the week’s feature, we have excerpted “Resistance Against Criminal Identities,” part of the book’s third chapter, in which Dum explains the stigmas (or, sometimes, the surprising lack thereof) associated with the criminal records of inhabitants of the Boardwalk Motel.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Exiled in America.

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

People on Food Stamps Aren’t Feasting on Filet Mignon

Exiled in America

“To be sure, there are individuals who may not use their resources wisely. But that is true across the socioeconomic spectrum. We should not waste our creative energy on coming up with new restrictions that dictate how the poor should behave. Instead, we should do just the opposite and direct our efforts toward policies that help people out of poverty.” — Christopher Dum

This week, our featured book is Exiled in America: Life on the Margins in a Residential Motel, by Christopher P. Dum. Today, we are happy to present an article originally published on The Conversation, in which Dum argues that regulations dictating how the poor can spend government aid are unnecessary and counterproductive. Read the original article.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Exiled in America.

People on Food Stamps Aren’t Feasting on Filet Mignon
By Christopher Dum, Kent State University

There is a popular myth that welfare recipients are using food stamps to purchase luxurious food items such as filet mignon and lobster.

Commonly referred to as food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is designed to provide low-income individuals and families with nutritious meals. And it is a popular target for political attack. In 2014 Congress passed legislation that cut US$8.7 billion from the food stamp program. That’s a lot of money, but less than the previously proposed cuts $20.5 billion and $39 billion.

At the state level, a recent bill introduced by Republican Missouri State Representative Rick Brattin sought to prohibit SNAP recipients from using their benefits to purchase items such as seafood and steak, as well as cookies, chips, energy drinks and soft drinks.

The problem with this sort of legislation, and the thinking that goes with it, is that it ignores the harsh reality of extreme poverty. For many individuals receiving SNAP benefits, purchasing expensive raw seafood or steak is illogical, because they are so poor that they lack the means to prepare them. This sort of behavior also quickly drains SNAP funds that residents need to stretch out over an entire month.

How do I know this? From June 2012 to June 2013, I rented a room at a “welfare” motel in upstate New York. As a sociologist, I wanted to explore how residents of that motel actually lived.

While not all motel residents received SNAP benefits, all of them were by definition homeless, and all of them had to eat. As I grew to know dozens of them, they allowed me to observe their daily lives and in doing so, allowed me to observe how and what they ate. And trust me – it’s not steak and lobster.

(more…)

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

Photos of Life in the Broadway Motel

Exiled in America

This week, our featured book is Exiled in America: Life on the Margins in a Residential Motel, by Christopher P. Dum. During the course of Dum’s research in the Broadway Motel, he took a number of photographs, which we have collected here along with Dum’s brief descriptions of the shots in order to give readers a sense of life in the Broadway.

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

Introducing “Exiled in America”

Exiled in America

“These revelations about the Boardwalk made it clear to me that the motel was not just a home for sex offenders. Rather, it housed a variety of marginalized populations (such as people who were mentally ill, disabled, struggling addicts, or working poor) who lived hidden from the public eye, in squalid conditions that many of us would consider unfit for habitation. I had found not only an interesting group of potential reporters but a unique location where they were socially embedded.” — Christopher Dum

This week, our featured book is Exiled in America: Life on the Margins in a Residential Motel, by Christopher P. Dum. Today, we are happy to present Dum’s preface, in which he describes how his unique study came about, and what he hopes to reveal with his ethnographic account of the Boardwalk Motel.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Exiled in America.

Monday, September 12th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Exiled in America: Life on the Margins in a Residential Motel

Exiled in America

“It is not often, after forty years in the field, that I actually get excited by a new scholar’s tone—that I find it so fascinating, so rich, so theoretically and analytically thick, that I go agog over it. Such is the case with Dum’s work.” — Peter Adler, University of Denver

This week, our featured book is Exiled in America: Life on the Margins in a Residential Motel, by Christopher P. Dum. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Exiled in America. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, September 16th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Monday, August 15th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left

Karl Polanyi

“One of the best biographies ever written of any intellectual emerging from the horrors of mid-twentieth-century Europe. It meticulously covers the whole ground—from the Jewish roots in Budapest through the First War, brilliantly reconstructs the milieu and debates of interwar Vienna, and adds enormously to our understanding of The Great Transformation. A compelling portrait, it is successful not just as an intellectual biography but as a personal one as well.” — John A. Hall, author of Ernest Gellner: An Intellectual Biography

This week, our featured book is Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left, by Gareth Dale. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, August 19th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

M. Pilar Opazo at elBulli

Appetite for Innovation

This week, our featured book is Appetite for Innovation: Creativity and Change at elBulli, by M. Pilar Opazo. Today, we are excited to present a slideshow of photographs taken by Opazo in her time researching elBulli on site at the restaurant itself and at the elBulli test kitchen.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Appetite for Innovation!