LLILAS Honors Professor Bryan Roberts

The Sociology department shares several distinguished faculty members with the  LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections. Dr. Bryan Roberts has made an unparalleled contribution to the scholarship and communities of both and will sorely missed when he retires in December. Please take a moment to honor Dr. Roberts by viewing the tribute from LLILAS’ “International Colloquium on Social Citizenship in honor of Professor Bryan R. Roberts”

21-1024x576From Sociology Department Faculty, University of Texas at Austin

Bryan’s intellectual breadth, his natural curiosity, his international background and education, in combination with his extremely easy manner, infused the Department’s Latin American area with vitality and humanism for over thirty years. He contributed to far more than one area, though. He is a Sociologist in the best European and American traditions and his work combines deep theoretical insights and solid empirical work. He deeply touched the lives of hundreds of students and colleagues and he leaves a legacy that will animate the department and Latin American studies at UT Austin for years.
–Ron Angel, Professor of Sociology

First-hand witness to momentous transformations in Latin America, Bryan Roberts was able to make sense of them by deftly combining on-the-ground observations with high level theorization. Anybody studying urbanization, citizenship, or development in the continent is now standing on this sociological giant’s shoulders.
–Javier Auyero, Professor of Sociology

Bryan Roberts is an exemplary scholar who has had a crucial influence in the sociology of Latin America and in making UT a leader in the field. In addition to his own scholarly contributions to research on urbanization, migration, inequality, development, employment and informality in the region, Bryan has been a champion of bringing scholars from the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking worlds together. He has published extensively in both languages and, most importantly, he has led a number of collaborative research projects with Latin American scholars. The comparative nature of these projects has been crucial for the understanding of long term changes in Latin American cities. He has always tied detailed micro analysis of community change to the macro transformations experienced by the region. Bryan regularly returned to the communities in Guatemala were he conducted his early fieldwork in the late 1960s and 1970s to observe first-hand the changes brought by neoliberalism to those communities. As LLILAS director from 2006 to 2009, he expanded his commitment to collaborative research with Latin America and brought universities and research institutes in the region closer to UT. This also explains the huge number of friends he has made and the respect he commands in the world of Latin American social sciences.
–Daniel Fridman, Assistant Professor of Sociology

For those of us who have studied migration related topics he is definitely ‘maestro de maestros’ — he has mentored some of the most influential maestras and maestros in immigration studies in the social sciences. He is a kind spirit and will be missed.
–Gloria Gonzalez Lopez, Associate Professor of Sociology

Bryan has made enormous contributions to the Department of Sociology for nearly three decades and perhaps especially so in the graduate program. He has directed dozens of dissertations and served on many masters and dissertation committees. Over the years, he has given great attention to helping his students write high-quality dissertations and placing them into productive academic and non-academic positions following graduation. Perhaps most important, Bryan has been a model colleague and mentor. He is incredibly productive and smart, yet humble. He takes his work very seriously, but also has a great sense of humor and does not allow the seriousness of his work to override the joy with which he lives his life. He’s an academic superstar, yet he always pitches in to do his share of the grunt work that departments need to get done. And he gets along with everyone; he’s a genuinely nice, fair, and kind person who is as well liked and respected as it gets. Thank you Bryan…for all of your contributions, for one, but more than that, for being the humble, humorous, fun, hard-working, down-to-earth, fair, and kind person that you are. You will be missed.
–Bob Hummer, Professor of Sociology

Bryan has done an outstanding job opening roads for research in Latin America. In towns that I have visited in Mexico, Central America, and South America, people told me that Bryan had been there earlier. It is a privilege to follow in his footsteps.
–Nestor Rodriguez, Professor of Sociology

For almost thirty years, Bryan Roberts has anchored the program in Latin American Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Less well-known to outsiders, he has also been a mainstay of our programs in Sociological Theory and Ethnographic Research Methods. Bryan taught generations of qualitative researchers at UT. He is a multi-faceted scholar who communicates across scholarly divisions of geography, theory, and methodology. His geniality and collegiality have made the Sociology Department an exceptional place to work.
–Christine Williams, Professor and Chair of Sociology

My neighborhood is haunted.

That life is complicated may seem a banal expression of the obvious, but it is nonetheless a profound theoretical statement – perhaps the most important theoretical statement of our time.

-Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters.

Photo Essay

by Eric Enrique Borja

For Dr. Sharmila Rudrappa’s Feminist Theory course the class was asked to bring in a photo or two for an essay we had to write. I immediately thought of two photos, only one of which I will show, which I took about a month ago for a photography workshop.

For the workshop we were asked to take seven to ten different photos of anything. The idea was to create a photo essay out of these seven to ten different photos and then present them at the workshop. When I originally took the photos I knew I wanted to capture “something” about my neighborhood, but that “something” was unclear. That is until I read Gordon’s book Ghostly Matters for Dr. Rudrappa’s course.

Gordon writes, “Ghostly Matters is about haunting, a paradigmatic way in which life is more complicated than those of us who study it have usually granted. Haunting is a constituent element of modern social life… To study social life one must confront the ghostly aspects of it” (Gordon 2008, 7). I realize now that what my photos were trying to capture were the ghosts that haunt me in my neighborhood.

Bus Stop

This photo is of the Camino la Costa UT shuttle bus stop. It may look like any other bus stop, but for me this bus stop is haunted. Gordon writes, “The ghost is not simply a dead or a missing person, but a social figure, and investigating it can lead to that dense site where history and subjectivity make social life” (Gordon 2008, 8). For me, it is the ghost of the Austin Police Department that haunts this bus stop.

This bus stop is located across the street from where I live, so every morning I catch the CLC UT shuttle there. The funny thing about the CLC shuttle is that it was formerly the Cameron Road shuttle, but last semester Cap Metro decided to stop servicing my area – because a lot of brown people live in my neighborhood, so why help them get to UT, right?

The neighborhood I live in (Census tract 1812) is located just off of Cameron Road, east of I-35, and south of Highway 183. Compared to the demographics of Austin, my neighborhood is overwhelmingly brown. The racial makeup of Austin is: Whites 48.7%; Blacks 8.1%; Hispanics 35.1%; Asians 6.3%; and Other groups 1%. My neighborhood is: Whites 14%; Blacks 15%; Hispanics 69%; Asians 1%; and Other groups 1%. A day does not go by where I haven’t seen and heard the police in my neighborhood.

Around this time last year, I was stopped, questioned and frisked by APD on my way to school. It was a cold rainy morning and I wasn’t feeling too well. So when I woke up I was debating between staying in and sleeping more or going to class. I decided to go to class about ten minutes before I had to catch the bus. I quickly threw on a hoodie, a pair of jeans, and shoes, and bolted out the door. As I came out of my house, I saw a cop across the street in his car.

I couldn’t really see his eyes, but my body knew he was staring at me. I ignored it because, why would the cops stop me? I was just going to school. I crossed the street and waited for the bus.

Directly behind the bus stop is a large parking lot for ITT Tech. The cop must have driven past me three times that morning, each time staring at me. Finally, he stopped and parked about ten feet away from me.

At this point I was really confused and nervous.

The bus came.

As I began to board the bus, the cop stopped me.

“Come here,” he said.

“Ok.”

As I approached him, I put down my hoodie and I began to recollect all of the things my father taught me when I got my driver’s license – be respectful, keep your hands where the cops can see them, and never give them an excuse.

I walked up to the cop, and he began questioning me

“What are you doing around here?

“I live here.”

“Where you going?”

“I’m going to UT. That’s the bus I catch.”

“What’s in the backpack?”

“My laptop and some books.”

By now there are three other cops around me. I showed the cop my ID, which has my home address – which, if you don’t remember, is across the street – but he is not convinced.

“Can you show me what’s in the bag?”

“Sure.”

I open my backpack and show him my laptop and books. Still not convinced I open my laptop, and unlock it to demonstrate to him that it is indeed my laptop. He’s finally convinced. He takes down my information and lets me go. As I walked away, one of the other cops said while laughing, “We’ll call you if you turn out to be the bad guy.”

At some point between me waiting for the bus and the cop questioning me, I almost ran back home to get my headphones. Imagine what the cop would have done if I ran back home that morning.

So, really it is two ghosts that haunt my bus stop: the Austin Police Department and me.

Life is complicated indeed.

International remittances, women entrepreneurs, and social capital in Zacatecas, Mexico

By Anna Banchik

business_clinics_jerez Mexico receives approximately $20 billion (USD) in remittances from the U.S. annually (Rey 2013), an amount roughly equal to the total GDP1 of Nicaragua in 2010 (International Monetary Fund 2013). Remittances are a crucial source of income for many Mexican families who depend on these funds sent by migrants to cover basic needs, pay for expenditures related to health and education, and finance their investments. Indeed, due to their local injection of capital, remittances are often hailed as potential pathways to spur economic development in receptive communities (Márquez-Covarrubias 2010). However, it may be surprising to learn that only 2% of remittances sent to Mexico are estimated to be directed towards business investment (Ramírez, Pérez, and Hernández 2011). Why are so few of these remittances being used to catalyze small business formation? And, what are some of the barriers migrants and their families confront in attempting to create small businesses and keep them afloat?

A variety of factors are found to encourage or inhibit the establishment and growth of local economic projects in Mexico by migrants and their families. One study finds positive correlations between the creation of informal businesses, local economic dynamism, and the length of migrant stays abroad, as well as positive correlations between the establishment of formal businesses and the size of the community in which the business is based (Sheehan 2011). Another study (Mummert 2005) evaluates business formation by migrants through the influence of two forms of capital: 1) the human capital (i.e. skills, knowledge) they acquired while in the U.S. and 2) their social capital (i.e. their potential to accrue benefits by virtue of their participation in social networks) (Portes 2008).

A little understood aspect of this line of research, however, is the usage of household remittances by women entrepreneurs in the establishment and maintenance of their own microenterprises. The relevance of gender is significant, as women accounted for 52% of all small business proprietors in Mexico in 2012, according to the Encuesta Nacional de Micronegocios (ENAMIN), the country’s national survey on microenterprises (INEGI/STPS 2013). Like other benefits or products of social capital, the reception of remittances is a resource acquired by virtue of one’s linkages to family and social networks. Thus, the investigation of remittance reception and investment by women entrepreneurs through a lens of social capital permits a broader, systematic evaluation of the varied resources that women entrepreneurs obtain through social networks and use for the advancement of economic activities.

Existing literature on the social capital activation of women entrepreneurs indicates that social networks—particularly family relations and other strong ties—indeed play a crucial role in the formation of microenterprises and economic projects formed by women (Katz and Williams 1997, Greve and Salaff 2003). For instance, compared to their male counterparts, self-employed women have been found to derive more use from their family relationships and informal social networks in the establishment of a business (Greve and Salaff 2003). This is, in part, due to women’s relative lack of access to formal business networks (Ibarra 1993). Strong family bonds and norms of reciprocity are especially instrumental in the formation and administration of many women-run microenterprises in Mexico. Here it is common for goods, services, and credit to be circulated throughout the extended, multi-generational family (Villagómez 2003). Furthermore, family members may play an active role in the operations of the microenterprise by realizing daily tasks or performing other activities such as maintenance of the locale, often without monetary compensation (Arteaga 2003). Strong family involvement is especially present in lesser developed microenterprises and those run by women in low-income families (Suárez and Bonfil 2003).

These topics—international remittances, women entrepreneurs, and social capital—constitute the axes of my current research in Zacatecas, Mexico. In particular, the investigation focuses on the importance of household contributions of U.S. remittances, as well as the acquisition of other forms of support (monetary and non-monetary) obtained by the dueñas (women owners) through their social networks, in the establishment and maintenance of the microenterprises.

The concept of social capital comprises the foundation of my analytic framework. Consequently, I will be comparing the structures, quality of trust, and norms of reciprocity characterizing the social networks which constitute four separate “dimensions” of social capital: 1) the family (within and outside of the household unit), 2) networks of friends, neighbors, and compadrazgo (relationships of co-parenting common among families in Latin America), 3) participation in voluntary associations, and 4) links with governmental institutions. I will also consider the relationships between the women’s socio-demographic characteristics with their remittance reception, social capital activation, and the development of the microenterprise.

An important aspect of the research is its geographic focus on Zacatecas, a state which is characterized by historic emigration and significant reception of familial and collective remittances. It is calculated that currently there are more people of Zacatecan origin residing in the U.S. than in Zacatecas itself (Delgado, Márquez-Covarrubias, and Rodríguez 2004). Due to a history of massive regional emigration driven by intense worker recruitment from U.S. firms at the beginning of the 20th century, this northern central Mexican state is the site of well-established international migratory networks (Durand 2010). Over the last half century, these networks have spawned Zacatecan migrant clubs and federations in the U.S. which connect migrants with their local communities in Mexico and, in some cases, enable the political participation and representation of their migrant members from abroad (Delgado, Márquez-Covarrubias, and Rodríguez 2004). By leveraging collective remittances with matching government funds (as in the Three for One Program2), these clubs and federations have also succeeded in coordinating the construction of thousands of public works projects in Zacatecan sending communities (Delgado, Márquez-Covarrubias, and Rodríguez 2004).

Familial remittances also play a significant role in the household economy in Zacatecas. In the year 2000, 13% of households in Zacatecas (approximately 40,000 in total) received remittances (Guerrero 2007: 13). Among these households, remittances constituted an average of 61.9% of total household income, were a principal source of income for 61.5% of households (constituting more than 50% of household income), and were the only source of income for 34.8% of these households (Delgado, Márquez-Covarrubias, and Rodríguez 2004).

In order to prepare for my investigation, I have been conducting preliminary research at the Institute for Social Investigations (Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales) at the Universidad Autónoma de México (UNAM) in Mexico City. Living in Mexico City has afforded me ample opportunities to learn about and connect with grassroots organizations working with migrant-sending families and communities all over the country. I am especially excited, however, to begin my upcoming fieldwork in Zacatecas, which will consist of implementing surveys with selected women entrepreneurs and conducting in-depth interviews with a diverse sample of survey participants. In better understanding the remittance investment and social capital activation of women entrepreneurs in Zacatecas, Mexico, we will be better equipped to answer important questions evaluating the roles of migration and women entrepreneurship in local economic development.

This blog post was contributed by Anna Veronica Banchik, a current Fulbright Scholar in Mexico who will be joining the Department of Sociology at UT-Austin this fall 2014. Her current research is sponsored by a Fulbright García-Robles grant, as well as the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Feel free to contact her directly with questions and/or comments at abanchik@gmail.com.
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Citations
Arteaga, Catalina. 2003. “Dinámica interna y redes sociales en micronegocios familiares: Un análisis a partir del caso de Mesa de los Hornos.” In Microempresas familiares en el contexto urbano, edited by Blanca Suárez and Paloma Bonfil, 215-241. México: Grupo Interdisciplinario sobre Mujer, Trabajo y Pobreza.

Delgado Wise, Raúl, Humberto Márquez-Covarrubias, and Hector Rodríguez Ramírez. 2004. “Organizaciones transnacionales de migrantes y desarrollo regional en Zacatecas.” Migraciones internacionales 4: 159-181.

Durand, Jorge. 2010. “Origen y destino de una migración centenaria.” In El país transnacional: Migración mexicana y cambio social a través de la frontera, edited by Marina Ariza and Alejandro Portes, 55-81. Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales, Instituto Nacional de Migración/ Centro de Estudios Migratorios, and Miguel Ángel Porrúa.

García Zamora, Rodolfo. 2007. “El Programa Tres por Uno de remesas colectivas en México.” Migraciones Internacionales 1: 165-172.

Greve, Arent and Janet W. Salaff. 2003. “Social Networks and Entrepreneurship.” Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice 1: 1-22.
Guerrero Ortiz, Martha. 2007. “Percepción de remesas de los hogares y condición migratoria en Zacatecas, 2000-2005.” Revista Electrónica Zacatecana sobre Población y Sociedad 31: 1-20.

Ibarra, Herminia. 1993. “Personal networks of women and minorities in management: A conceptual framework.” Academy of Management Review 18: 56-87.

INEGI/ STPS. 2013. Resultados de la Encuesta Nacional de Micronegocios 2012. [press release] July 23, 2013. Aguascalientes: Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI) and the Secretaría del Trabajo y Previsión Social (STPS).

International Monetary Fund. 2013. “World Economic Outlook (WEO) Database October 2013.” Accessed March 2, 2014. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2013/02/weodata/index.aspx.

Katz, Jerome and Pamela Williams. 1997. “Gender, self-employment and weak-tie networking through formal organization.” Entrepreneurship & Regional Development 3: 183-198.

Márquez-Covarrubias, Humberto. 2010. “Responsabilizar a los migrantes del desarrollo: lecciones del laboratorio social zacatecano.” Economía, Sociedad y Territorio 32: 99-141.

Mummert, Gail. 2005. “Capital humano y capital social en el lanzamiento de microempresas de migrantes michoacanos.” In Remesas y Desarrollo en México, edited by Jerjes I. Aguirre Ochoa and Oscar Hugo Pedraza Rendón, 325-340. Morelia: Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas y Empresariales, Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo/ El Colegio de Tlaxcala.

Portes, Alejandro. 1998. “Social capital: Its origins and applications in modern sociology.” Annual Review of Sociology 24: 1-24.

Ramírez Calvillo, Rodolfo, Oscar Pérez Veyna and Francisco Hernández Zavala. 2011. “Los proyectos productivos financiados con remesas y el 3X1 en los municipios zacatecanos y sus formas de organización.” Conciencia Tecnológica 41: 13-21.

Rey Mallén, Patricia. 2013. “Remittances worldwide increase in 2013, except for Mexico; Is the US crisis hurting the Mexican economy?” International Business Times. October 11. Accessed February 25, 2014. http://www.ibtimes.com/remittances-worldwide-increase-2013-except-mexico-us-crisis-hurting-mexican-economy-1421714.

Sheehan, Connor. 2011. “Migration and informal versus formal business creation in Mexico.” Master’s thesis, University of Colorado-Boulder. Boulder: ProQuest/UMI. (Publication No. AAT 1499953.)

Suárez, Blanca and Paloma Bonfil. 2003. “Introducción.” In Microempresas familiares urbanas, edited by Blanca Suárez and Paloma Bonfil, 9-23. Mexico: Grupo Interdisciplinario sobre Mujer, Trabajo y Pobreza.

Villagómez Valdés, Gina. 2003. “Los negocios de la pobreza femenina: Microempresa, género y familia en Yucatán.” In Microempresas familiares en el contexto urbano, edited by Blanca Suárez and Paloma Bonfil, 243-293. Mexico: Grupo Interdisciplinario sobre Mujer, Trabajo y Pobreza.

1 At purchasing power parity, or PPP.
2 In this program, each dollar sent to a community in Zacatecas by a migrant club or federation in the U.S. is matched one dollar by each level of government (i.e. the municipal, state, and federal governments). Public works projects realized through the financing of this program include the construction and repair of basic infrastructure, churches, parks, and other public spaces. From 1993 to 2005, an estimated $60 million (USD) financed 1,500 projects in Zacatecas (García 2007).

Total Institutions, Military Capital, and the Israeli High-Tech Industry

Untitled

by Ori Swed

Total institutions and their impact on those who pass through their gates have been the focus of sociological inquiry for some time (Davis 1989; Farrington 1992; Goffman 1961:1968; Scott 2011). One of the interesting byproducts of being an occupant of one of these institutions is the attainment of the institutional capital and its ramifications. This institutional capital, gained within the institution’s corridors, does not stay put or disappear when stepping back into civilian life. It becomes part of, and sometimes replaces, an individual’s social and cultural capital. What happens to the individuals who went through the total institutions’ re-socialization process, and who now carry alternative capital in their toolkit? Can this institutional capital operate outside of the institution? Does it have worth out of the total institutional environment?

For the most part, it does not. Not because it cannot, but because it requires a proper setting. It can translate well, however, in particular fields and or within groups and organizations that know how to utilize it.

For example, the military is a classical total institution that systematically, purposely, and officially re-socializes its occupants, erasing their civil identities and molding a military one. When veterans conclude their service, the re-socialization impact lingers. They still carry the institutional logic and norms with them to civilian life. Many times, this institutional capital is so potent that it can disrupt the re-socialization (or de-socialization) process back to civilianhood. Veterans often report reintegration difficulties, some related to the need to recalibrate their behavior and norms, or to remove the institutional capital and replace it with a civilian one. Nonetheless, since this capital is not an exclusive type of knowledge that is frequently shared with many others, individuals, groups, and institutions can utilize the institutional capital (in that case the military capital) for civil or economic purposes.

So, what is military capital?  In Swed and Butler (2013), military capital was defined as the amalgamation of three types of capital bundled together: human capital (professional training), social capital (social ties), and cultural capital (social codes). This capital source is the total institution’s experience and the re-socialization process.

The Israeli case study presents an interesting example for the examination of the military capital utilization in the market. Israel is characterized by high percentages of veterans and their high levels of integration in the market and civilian life, which consequently serves as a good case study. Examination of the Israeli leading sector, the high-tech industry, reveals a strong correlation between military capital and job attainment in the industry.  Two surveys of the Israeli high-tech sector (ICBS 2007 and Ethosia 2012) illustrate the profile of the Israeli high-tech sector employee: about 90% of the sampled population has military capital, as they served in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

Figure 1

Those numbers are extremely high, even in a context where Israeli military service is mandatory. The actual veterans’ representation in the general population (across cohorts) is about 60%, and in the relevant age group it is less than 50%. A closer examination of the employees’ military background shows that around 60% served in combat or technological units (Figure 1). Those two types of units, which account for merely 20% of the general IDF servicemen, demonstrate very high representation in the industry. These units are known for going through intensive training that, in turn, generates higher military capital. These findings concur with the Honig et al. (2006) study on Israeli venture capital companies, showing that 85.4% of entrepreneurs are veterans with high military capital.

The Israeli high-tech industry is de-facto a military capital cluster that utilizes skills, networks, and culture for market purposes. As a result, the possession of military capital increases job attainment chances in the Israeli high-tech sector, while not having it diminishes those chances significantly. Further, the data shows that in the Israeli context, high military capital triumphs education, and has a positive impact on gender equality. Female representation in the Israeli industry (35%) is considered exceptionally high (for comparison, in the US high-tech industry it is about 25%). Examination of the female employee profile data reveals that the majority possesses military capital.

To conclude, taking into account the notion of military capital, or total institution capital, might paint a new light the examination of pressing issues in reintegration, market efficiency, and equality.

 

References

Davies, C. (1989). Goffman’s concept of the total institution: Criticisms and revisions. Human Studies12(1), 77-95.

Farrington, K. (1992). The modern prison as total institution? Public perception versus objective reality. Crime & Delinquency38 (1), 6-26.

Goffman, E. (1961). On the characteristics of total institutions. In Symposium on preventive and social psychiatry (pp. 43-84).

Goffman, E. (1968). Asylums: Essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates. Aldine Transaction.

Honig, B., Lerner, M., and Raban, Y. (2006). Social capital and the linkages of high-tech companies to the military defense system: Is there a signaling mechanism?. Small Business Economics27 (4-5), 419-437.

Scott, S. (2011). Total institutions and reinvented identities. Palgrave Macmillan.

Swed, O., and Butler, J. S. (2013). Military Capital in the Israeli Hi-tech Industry. Armed Forces & Society.

“Truth,” “Beauty,” and the Sociological Photograph

From left to right: Paul Kasun, Emily Paine, Shantel Buggs, Anima Adjepong, Amias Maldonado, Eric Borja, Professor Ben Carrington, Vivian Shaw, and Katie Jensen.  Front: Professor Max Farrar

From left to right: Paul Kasun, Emily Paine, Shantel Buggs, Anima Adjepong, Amias Maldonado, Eric Borja, Professor Ben Carrington, Vivian Shaw, and Katie Jensen. Front: Professor Max Farrar

by Maggie Tate

In The Aesthetics of Uncertainty (2008), Janet Wolff challenges the assumption that images exposing social injustice for political disruption must also abandon, or work against, standards of beauty and aesthetic pleasure.  Her claims attempt to reopen the possibility that it is not inherently wrong to “provide aesthetic pleasure in the face of moral or political wrongs” (18).  Thinking of aesthetic qualities is not often the terrain of Sociology, and for this reason Wolff raises more questions than her book alone can answer.  It is, therefore, perhaps fitting that her most poignant suggestion appears in the title: approach visual imagery with an attitude of doubt, uncertainty, or incompleteness.

At the heart of Wolff’s project is the idea that at the very least, images are rich with sociological information and ought to be taken seriously.  It was to this end that the Sociology department’s Race and Ethnicity Group and Urban Ethnography Lab collaborated on a photography workshop in late March.  Traveling all the way from Leeds Metropolitan University, Professor Max Farrar brought his years of photographic experience to begin a discussion about what photography can add to sociological inquiry.  The event included a talk on Friday, March 21, by Professor Farrar.  This was followed by an all-day workshop on Saturday, March 22, led by the combined photographic expertise of Max Farrar and the award winning photojournalist, and professor, Donna De Cesare.

Professor Max Farrar with one of his cameras.  Donna De Cesare in the background.

Professor Max Farrar with one of his cameras. Photojournalist and Professor Donna De Cesare in the background.

Farrar’s talk laid the foundations for Saturday’s workshop by engaging with theorists of photography, including Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes, John Berger, bell hooks and Les Back.  Their theoretical work suggests a range of ways to consider the political possibility of the photograph.  Susan Sontag represented the most critical voice with her claim of the danger inherent in the act of aestheticizing the political image therefore rendering it impersonal and unable to invoke empathy.  John Berger’s ideas were also introduced as a critique of the depoliticizing effect of some photography, in particular photography that depicts human atrocity through pictures of agony and despair.  Yet, Berger was also mentioned for his interest in photography’s ability to tell sociological stories by representing the universal in the particular.  Photos of particular people provide images that become part of a collective social and political memory.

Amidst these challenges to photography’s ability to have political import, bell hooks’ writing provided a powerful reminder that the political is not always a measure of whether there is a change in public sentiment.  Instead, she described the importance of the private space of the home as a site of personal self-definition, a privilege of which was long denied black Americans in public culture.  Farrar’s own writing also asserts that the politics of photography are not just about reception, but lie also in the relationship that develops (or doesn’t) between the photographer and the photographed.

Photograph of presentation by Anima Adjepong, workshop attendee.

Photograph of presentation by Anima Adjepong, workshop attendee.

Roland Barthes’ semiotic theory of representation gave us clear language to describe the sociological relevance of photography through its transmission of myths.  A photographic representation almost always stands in for broader ideological meanings.  Yet, Barthes also recognizes the affective dimension of the photographic image, which is often the unexpected impact that a particular image or combination of images has on a viewer.

Therefore, the intention of the photographer is perhaps not always the most telling or sociologically relevant aspect of a given photographic image.  This reveals one of the central tensions of the photograph; that it is at once a private moment frozen in time and a reproducible image that takes on a social and political life of its own.  Les Back’s writing was referenced to remind us that these tensions can themselves become objects of sociological inquiry, such as the tension between detachment and intimacy that he reads in the photographs taken by Pierre Bourdieu during his fieldwork in the Algerian fight for independence.

With this theoretical background, attendees of Saturday’s workshop spent the day trying to engage in these critical theories while also gleaning tips in photographic technique, methodological strategies, and rules of composition from both Farrar and De Cesare.  Some of the distinctions between photojournalism and visual Sociology became at times more clear and at other times more blurry during these discussions.  Through a presentation of photographs from De Cesare’s recent book Unsettled/Desasosiego (2013), attendees were given a window into the making of photographs that are both beautiful and complex.  De Cesare’s photographs representing youths living amidst war and gang violence in Central America are heartbreakingly complicated in that they convey a wide range of emotion.  They are at times peaceful, at times distressing, and most often an image will shift from the former to the latter as the viewer begins to realize what they see.

Thinking of De Cesare’s photographs in relation to Janet Wolff’s claim about the aesthetics of uncertainty, it becomes clear that the images are so emotionally provocative (and perhaps therefore so politically provocative as well) because they operate initially at the level of uncertainty and doubt.  Captivated by the serene and sweet face of a young child, for example, the viewer only slowly begins to realize that the body lying on the sidewalk next to the child is a casualty of war.  The composition created by the two figures is beautiful, but only because of the angularly distorted posture of the one lying down, which the viewer comes to realize, is lifeless.

Emily Paine looking through Donna De Cesare’s book Unsettled/Desasosiego

Emily Paine looking through Donna De Cesare’s book Unsettled/Desasosiego

From De Cesare’s photographs, we learned that indeed “beauty” and pain (“truth”) can exist simultaneously, and can be represented as such in a photograph.  Not all photographs produced by visual sociologists need to meet this challenge in order to be insightful representations of social phenomena.  Nor do they all need to be about pain in order represent the affective or political dimensions of doing sociological work.  As Farrar has told me since, “photography is, basically, a relationship – between you and the person/people but also between you and the physical world.”  Like all relationships, this one quickly becomes fraught with power dynamics, ethical concerns, aesthetic dilemmas and (perhaps productively) feelings of uncertainty.

 

 

 

2014 UT LGBT Families Lecture

Tey Meadow

Meadow

Being a Gender:

Transgender Children, Their Families and Social Institutions

Monday, April 7, 2014

4-5 pm, CLA 1.302E

A reception from 5-6 pm will follow.

Tey Meadow is a sociologist and the Fund for Reunion-Cotsen Fellow in LGBT Studies at the Princeton Society of Fellows. In 2014, she will join the Department of Sociology and the Program in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Harvard University as an assistant professor.

Tey’s scholarship spans the domains of law, politics, the family, sexuality and gender. Her current project, Raising the Transgender Child: Being Male or Female in the Twenty First Century, under contract with the University of California Press, is an ethnographic and interview-based book about the first generation of families affirming and supporting their gender nonconforming and transgender children.

Tey received her Ph.D. from the Department of Sociology at New York University in 2011. In recent years, she served as a research assistant at NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge, a consultant for the Social Science Research Council, and a fellow at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute. Tey holds a Bachelor of Arts from Barnard College and a Juris Doctor from Fordham University School of Law.

Sponsored by the Department of Sociology.

On Sympathy in Sociology: (Re)reading Through the Classics

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by Adrian Popan

Little attention is paid today to the social thinking of Harriet Martineau. Martineau was a well-respected writer who left her mark on the philosophical debates of the nineteenth century, and one of the few women who achieved a high status in a world considered the almost exclusive playfield of men. Some of the textbooks and syllabi of classical Sociology in the 2010s present her work, but most of the time the effort seems merely a convenient means to address University requirements of diversity, at the expense of allowing the necessary time for discussing the more serious, bearded sociologists[1]. What are we losing by not discussing Martineau? A whole paradigm, I argue.

In How to Observe Moral and Manners (published in 1838, where she elaborates for the first time a systematic method for Sociology), Martineau writes:

The observer must have sympathy; and his sympathy must be untrammeled and unreserved. If a traveler be a geological inquirer, he may have a heart as hard as the rocks he shivers, and yet succeed in his immediate objects: if he be a student of the fine arts, he may be as silent as a picture, and yet gain his ends: if he be a statistical investigator, he may be as abstract as a column of figures, and yet learn what he wants to know: but an observer of morals and manners will be liable to deception at every turn, if he does not find his way to hearts and minds.

So many questions come to mind: What makes sympathy so important for Martineau to place it at the very heart of the sociological approach? And why should we care about it today? Isn’t it opposed to objectivity, and thus isn’t it delegitimizing our discipline? Isn’t it synonymous with Weber’s verstehen, and thus part of our discipline anyway? Should sympathy be employed in contemporary sociology, if so, what would it look like?

Sympathy, to be sure, is not a concept first introduced by Martineau. In fact, she cites Adam Smith, with whom she agrees, partly, but also departs in important respects. As this is old stuff, not central to my line of reasoning, it suffices to say that for Smith, sympathy is primarily a concept to be studied (i.e. on others), while for Martineau it is first and foremost a necessary quality of the student of society.

And no, it is not the antonym of objectivity. In fact, Martineau also recommends objectivity as a necessary quality of the observer. For Martineau, sympathy safeguards objectivity. On the other hand, sympathy for Smith stems from the capacity of a person to imagine the others, but this implies the lenses of one’s own culture, class, etc., therefore objectivity is severed by one’s known or unknown biases. For Martineau, sympathy “means that the action of the heart will meet a corresponding action, and that the nature of the heart will meet a corresponding nature.”  Sympathy, therefore, emerges from direct interaction, and is in fact mitigating between culturally different moral systems on the basis of two very basic statements:  “to torment another without any reason, real or imaginary, is considered wrong all over the world”; conversely, “to make others happy is universally considered right.”

What is the antonym of sympathy? The notion, emerged later from the work of Karl Marx and best summarized by Friedrich Engels, that the populations we study have a false consciousness dictated by social structures via ideology. “Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, indeed, but with a false consciousness. The real motives impelling him remain unknown to him, otherwise it would not be an ideological process at all. Hence he imagines false or apparent motives.” In other words, it is the task of the researcher to identify the real motives, and consequently the real wants and needs of the researched. Sounds like a good legitimizing basis for Sociology. But isn’t it patronizing? And is it really helping? And furthermore, doesn’t it legitimize, rather than the discipline as a whole, the preeminence of the researcher’s specific biases as a member of academia over the real people we study, but who through this lens, become merely objects to be studied, like the rocks for a geologist? Clearly, Engel’s statement, if taken to heart, excludes sympathy from Sociology’s paradigm. To be sure, the apparent lack of sympathy from today’s Sociology is nothing more than a methodological issue. It is not a sort of self-selection directing only those who lack sympathy to embrace careers as sociologists. By contrary, everybody I know in Sociology (a convenience sample, I know) are sympathetic toward the people they study. However, to admit it, what an outrageous sin!

But hey, what about the rational choice theorists? Don’t they assume that everybody makes decisions rationally, and isn’t this the sympathy I am talking about? No, not really. In fact, it is the same practice of projecting the motives from theory to people, and assuming a rationality that we, hyper-educated members of the academy, perhaps understand.

And no it’s not the same as verstehen, although there is certain overlapping between the two concepts. While verstehen is a cognitive tool which requires a certain degree of sympathy to be accomplished, sympathy goes beyond verstehen in that it unifies the curiosity of the scientist with the theory of moral sentiments, plus a touch of ineffable humanness.

How should we interpret sympathy as a useful tool for our own research? I suggest we think of a backwards reading of C. Wright Mills’ famous preface to The Sociological Imagination – the Promise. Its main message is that Sociology can help us better understand our own problems by integrating them into the larger social structures and historical processes that shape our lives. The backwards reading which I suggest is to keep in mind that at the other end of our theories there are always real people with names, desires, joy and sorrow, wants and needs. And albeit most of the time only at the level of ideas, our theories can hurt or relieve suffering. Sympathy, therefore, is the urge to turn sociology upside-down and place people before theory!

References:

The wisdom of the classics didn’t pour miraculously onto my longhaired head, so I am fixin’ to fix the injustice right now by revealing my sources:

a)     Primary readings:

http://www.econlib.org/library/Smith/smMS.html#

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/33944

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1893/letters/93_07_14.htm

http://www.pravo.unizg.hr/_download/repository/C._Wright_Mills_Sociological_Imagination_The_Promise.pdf

b)    Other resources:

http://books.google.com/books/about/The_Women_Founders.html?id=B_DkAAAAMAAJ

http://anniebelletheory11.umwblogs.org/martineau-and-the-science-of-society/

http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/20452640?uid=3739920&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21103617617867


[1] Note the progressive loss of facial hair as we consider the founding fathers of Sociology in the order of their importance, regardless of the period they wrote: Marx and Engels -> Weber, Durkheim and Simmel -> Mead -> Parsons -> Comte

Fun with our prospective 2014 cohort members

It’s always exciting to recruit new colleagues and greet the spring in Austin. We hope to see many of our visitors back in 2014 to begin a new semester and another 100 years of Sociology! Future colleagues, when choosing among your many options, consider these wise words.

Remembering the Alamo

Alamo_replica

by Amias Maldonado

As a child born and raised in San Antonio, I too remember the silence.  On one side of the muted chasm, there was the Alamo of the Texas history schoolbooks; the Alamo of the class field trip; the Alamo in “Alamo: The Price of Freedom,” displaying the nefarious dictator Santa Anna and the independence-loving Texans.  On the other side, there was life in San Antonio: diverse, multiethnic, celebratory of Mexican culture, coexistent.  How these two worlds informed each other was something you decided for yourself.  The meeting of history and memory and how they inform our present(s) is something any visitor to San Antonio must uncover for themselves; that is, until a reading of Remembering The Alamo.

Richard Flores’s Remembering the Alamo is not so much an attendant to historical inaccuracies – although it certainly does that as well – as an examination of why and how inaccuracies were produced and codified in the service of changing socioeconomic power relations between Anglos and Mexicans during the beginning of the period Flores terms “The Texas Modern.”  According to Flores, post-annexation Texas utilized the Mexican ranching social structure to manage increasing ethnic tensions, producing a peace that allowed new systems of relations – specifically racial and labor segregation brought upon by capitalism and technological advance – to eventually reify by the late 19th century.  These new systems of social inequality required a rationale: they needed a devalued Mexican Other to justify the new structures which privileged Anglos.  In to this breach, argues Flores, steps the Alamo.

The brilliance in Flores’s scholarship lies in his positioning of the Alamo as a place and as a project.  The Alamo and its accompanying “approved legends” are doused in the baubles of historical evidence, but it exists not as a historical site but as a living cultural memory that “reinforces a collective memory of Texan superiority” (Flores 33).  The Alamo narrative, presented as fact, is actually a cultural production representing the interests of the elite – which of course would come as no surprise to Marx.  Furthermore, as an active site, the Alamo invites the viewer to produce connections between the lived present and the past – creating an ahistorical space in existing social relations that are rechristened and rejustified.  Flores’s detailing of the Alamo’s dialectical relationship between history and culture, as well as the importance it plays in shaping the ways Anglo-Mexican society interacts, was to me the most illuminating section of the book.

Flores spends the remainder of the book introducing evidence that supports the theoretical claim outlined above.  The relocation of Mexican cultural space to the Alamo area as well as the repurposing of open plaza space under the rubric of private property helps Flores demonstrate other ways in which the “Texas Modern” used spatial relations to signify and reify social inequalities.  A careful mapping of the political fights between the De Zavala and Driscoll wings of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas gives the reader a tipping point at which the romantic, rugged individualist Alamo narrative was codified.  While I was originally skeptical, Flores’s analysis of both women’s literary works does indeed bolster his case, demonstrating Driscoll’s social outlook and need to absolve herself from the economic displacement of Mexicans as well as the ways in which De Zavala’s legends and letters demonstrate how she used her pursuit of history to manage contradictory identities.  I found Flores’s rumination on “Texan” as an identity that holds the contradiction between Mexican and American in tension highly perceptive here.

After demonstrating what the Alamo represents, why it is used as representation, and who benefits, Flores moves to the “how” of the question through a content analysis of prominent Alamo movies.  Flores shows the ways in which the Alamo is refashioned according to the historical moment, although always justifying existing social relations between Anglo and Mexican is central until the 1960 John Wayne picture, where Flores argues the Alamo has already arrived as a master symbol and instead serves as a Cold War endorsement of American liberty and personal freedom.  The depiction of Mexicans as sexually deviant strongly connects the cinematic narratives with Driscoll’s own project.  Theoretically, I found this section equally insightful, especially his point that “the partialities of the visually projected are taken as complete or whole truths” (Flores 98-9) and his discussion of the role of voice in producing whiteness through cinema.

Unlike other works that rely heavily on deep literary or cinematic analysis, I found little to disagree with in Remembering the Alamo.  Flores goes to pains to create connections between the work of Driscoll, De Zavala, or the filmmakers and the lived social and economic conditions, thereby bolstering their case.  He produces a vision of an Alamo that is superficially historic.  After his analysis peels this veneer away, however, we are left with a cultural production, a master symbol that justifies and produces domination.  Like Flores and me, and like generations of children after, part of being Texan is to come to this mission and expose yourself to a collective mythology, a mythology that is draped in the past but is enacted every day in the streets of San Antonio.  Thanks to Flores, Sam Houston’s call to “Remember the Alamo!” takes on new meaning.  The Alamo – the project, not the place – is now something I will never forget.

Re)Membering the Body: the 21st Annual Conference on Emerging Scholarship in Women’s and Gender Studies.

Re)Membering the Body: the 21st Annual Conference on Emerging Scholarship in Women’s and Gender Studies.

From March 20-21, 2014

WGSConf

The CWGS graduate student run conference offers both undergraduate and graduate students at any recognized university the opportunity to share their research highlighting issues in women’s, gender, and/or sexuality studies with the students and faculty affiliates of CWGS, The University of Texas at Austin community, and CWGS community partners.

CWGS’s 2013-2014 conference theme is “(Re)Membering the Body.” What are the limits of history and memory? How do we remember/recover that which the archive has erased? What are the implications of embodied history, embodied storytelling, embodied memory? Proposals for papers or posters that address these questions (or pose related ones) using the lenses of gender, race, sexuality, ability, performance or other feminist, womanist, queer or anti-racist methodologies will be presented. Abstracts of Presentations

Graduate Sociology Blog