It’s always fun to meet our future cohort members and finally put a face to a name. As Austinites, we have a natural inclination to talk about how much we love it here, perfect for recruiting our new colleagues. Who will be back in the fall?
by Eric Enrique Borja
In her photo essay “Same trailer, different park,” which is featured in the “In Pictures” section of the new issue of Contexts magazine, Esther Sullivan reflects back on two years of ethnographic fieldwork. She conducted her field work in closing mobile home parks to better understand individual and community-wide responses to mass eviction and community dissolution.
“I’m in my Florida room inside the Silver Sands Mobile Home Court. It is a linoleum-floored, screened in porch that runs the length of my single-wide trailer. Fifteen feet away, in front of my neighbors’ powder blue mobile home, a decorative sign reads: “Welcome to Paradise.” I’m tending the orchids my neighbor across the street gave me when another of our neighbors left to move in with his children, abandoning an extensive orchid collection in his still-furnished mobile home. I mist my orphaned orchids to the sounds of an old radio. I hear country singer Kacey Musgraves croon, “Same hurt in every heart. Same trailer, different park.”
It resonates. All of us here in Silver Sands are being evicted. This 55-and-older mobile home park once housed about 130 residents. The few who had money saved or families willing to house them are already gone. The rest of us have six months to get our selves, our belongings, and our homes off the property…”
To read more, be sure to click on this link: “Same trailer, different park”
by Eric Enrique Borja
Our very own Beth Cozzolino has successfully passed the Graduate Student Bill of Rights. A project Beth has spearheaded since the Summer of 2014. If it were not for her hard work and dedication, as well as the help of fellow committee members (Margaret Clark, David Ottesen, and Jake Jordan), the Executive Board of GSA and some members of the Graduate Student Workers, this bill would have never passed.
Thank you Beth!
Here is a link to the Daily Texan article about it: GSA approves Graduate Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities
by Anima Adjepong
Ask any student of Sociology to name the foremost sociological theorists and you’re likely to get the same response: Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber. Scholars such as W.E.B Dubois, who conducted and wrote the first urban sociological study The Philadelphia Negro (1899), and Charles S. Johnson, whose book The Negro in Chicago (1922) provided an elevated analysis of the institutional structures of anti-black racism that led to the Chicago race riots in 1919, are rarely taught in introductory sociological theory classes, whether at the graduate or undergraduate level. Instead these scholars are read as prominent African-American scholars whose knowledge production is marginal to the sociological project.
The marginalization of scholars of color within the discipline is indicative of how the sociological canon is constructed through what philosopher Charles Mills (1997, 18) calls an epistemology of ignorance, which involves learning to “see the world wrongly, but with the assurance that this set of mistaken perceptions will be validated by white epistemic authority.” Sociologist Stephen Steinberg (2007) offers an excellent explication of how the epistemology of ignorance shapes sociological thought. Steinberg’s core argument is that sociology operates under epistemologies of ignorance and wishful thinking, which obfuscate the problems of oppression and racism. Instead these epistemologies ensure that as a discipline, we ask the wrong questions and insist on maintaining a cool distance from choosing a side on political issues.
In an invited lecture organized by the Race and Ethnicity Group and sponsored by the Warfield Center and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, Professor Gurminder Bhambra offered an analysis of how the racialized character of sociological thought, which absents certain theorists from the construction of the discipline, hinders an understanding of race and ethnicity beyond questions of distributional inequality or identity. As scholars, our best work is the kind of work that produces insights into the normal operation of racial structures. As Vilna Bashi Treitler (2015) wrote, “[Social scientists’] work may be used either in the service of shoring up or dismantling racial systems (and there is no third option)” (160). When we fail to challenge the racialized epistemological frameworks of our discipline, we contribute to sustaining racial inequality and other forms of social justice effected through racism.
Bhambra is Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick in the UK and currently a visiting fellow in the sociology department at Princeton University. She has written widely on historical sociology, contemporary theory and postcolonial and decolonial studies. Her first book, Rethinking Modernity: Postcolonialism and the Sociological Imagination (2007) examines how the sociological task of making sense of modernity fails to engage critically with how, through colonialism, the histories of Europe, Asia, and Africa were connected in the construction of modernity. Instead, she argues, sociological renderings of modernity are constructed through what J.M. Blaut (1993) calls telescopic history, which takes the present conditions in Europe and the West and uses these conditions to make claims about the past. Within this framework, European success has nothing to do with its exploitative economic relationships of other parts of the world.
Bhambra’s most recent book, Connected Sociologies (2014) extended this line of thought by arguing that a reliance on Europe as the epicenter of modernity fails to incorporate the ways in which colonial and postcolonial relations shape modernity. She argues for a historical sociology that incorporates a postcolonial critique, which allows us to deconstruct the ideologies and cultural frameworks that shape understandings of modern cultural, political, and social formations.
Professor Bhambra’s lecture, entitled “Disciplinary Histories and Racialized Epistemologies” further animated her arguments through a discussion of the current limitations of conventional sociology and a look towards what a departure from the dominant racialized epistemological frame might bring. Bhambra argued that by critically examining the connectedness of the sociological world through an acknowledgment of how, for example, European ideas spread through the world as a result of colonialism, imperialism, oppression, and enslavement, a different and more accurate narrative emerges. Connectedness urges us to reconsider historical connections and open up examinations from and of different perspectives. It is not simply a question about inclusion, but rather a push to critically examine and redress the sociological consequences of the erasure of certain perspectives that challenge dominant myths that surround the rise of the West and the way we understand the world today.
To return to the composition of the U.S. sociological canon and its silences regarding challenges to the racialized epistemology, I want to note a few things that Bhambra’s talk highlighted for me and that I hope our intellectual community will reflect on and practice. Firstly, it is important that our theory classes challenge the socially constructed sociological canon that relies on epistemologies of ignorance. Failing to do so is a great disservice to our students who are working hard to make sense of a world in which historical and contemporary connectedness are more explicit everyday.
Secondly, we can be more open to applying a postcolonial critique to sociological studies. This perspective opens up space to think more critically about the connectedness of contemporary and historical formations and the ways in which particular historical narratives undergird ideal type comparative models. For example, the dominant assimilation paradigm that frames immigration scholarship relies on the historical experiences of white immigrants to the United States. However, this model ignores the ways in which this paradigm excludes people of color. A postcolonial perspective considers how the historical narratives that proffer assimilation as the teleological endpoint for immigrants relies on an incomplete understanding of the social world in which the framework is constructed (for more see Spickard 2007; Pierre 2004). By taking seriously how the racialized epistemologies of our discipline hinder our understanding of key sociological tenets, and working to redress these conceptual issues (which also frame our methodologies) we can, as a discipline, produce knowledge that dismantles racial systems.
Bashi Treitler, Vilna. (2015). Social Agency and White Supremacy in Immigration Studies. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 1(1): 153-165.
Bhambra, GK. (2014). Connected sociologies. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic Press
Bhambra, GK. (2007) Rethinking Modernity: Postcolonialism and the Sociological Imagination London, UK: Palgrave.
Blaut, JM. (1993) The Colonizer’s Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Du Bois, WEB. (1899). The Philadelphia Negro: a social study (No. 14). Published for the University of Pennsylvania.
Feagin, JR. (2013). Racist America: Roots, Current Realities and Future Reparations. New York, NY: Routledge
Johnson, CS. (1922). The Negro in Chicago: A study of race relations and a race riot. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Mills, CW. (1997). The racial contract. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Pierre, J. (2004). Black immigrants in the United States and the” cultural narratives” of ethnicity. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 11(2), 141-170.
Spickard, P. (2007) Almost All Aliens: Immigration, Race, and Colonialism in American History and Identity. London, UK: Routledge
What is the Most Interesting Thing you Hope to do?
by Julie Beicken
Power, History, and Society (PHS) has for years provided an invaluable forum for faculty and graduate students interested in political sociology and comparative and historical sociology. Recently, the organization has offered graduate students and faculty the very unique opportunity of participating in workshops with esteemed members of the field, Dr. Theda Skocpol in the spring of 2014 and this past week (February 6, 2015), Dr. Randall Collins. Both Skocpol and Collins are giants in Sociology—not only in their specialty areas but the discipline on the whole. Both have straddled many divisions within sociology—from historical sociology to human behavior, from macro to micro, etc.—and utilized multiple methods in their work. The opportunity for graduate students to spend even just a couple of hours in their presence is a truly wonderful gift that PHS has given to the department and the UT community on the whole.
Collins began the workshop on Friday morning with a challenging question to the students. Rather than having us state our names and areas of study, as is often the case in these settings, Collins had us explain the most interesting thing we would like to do. While a small degree of discomfort was immediately visible on many students’ faces, the exercise prompted us to think outside of our immediate sociological worlds of comprehensive exams and dissertations and think big—what would we really like to look at/wrestle with/study/explore? The answers—from gaining greater access to elites to establishing methods to study social media—were exciting and helped us to think about our existing work within our field of study and pushing it to new depths.
Collins, like Skocpol, has been a part of sociology for a long time. Both have seen the discipline go through many changes. As graduate students, for whom the ‘now’ of sociology is very pressing, it is exciting to have the opportunity to engage with scholars who understand the constraints of the disciplinary moment but also see the possibility for innovation. For example, Collins spoke with ease about transitioning from his micro work to his macro, something that seems like a huge challenge to many of us. Similarly, Skocpol talked about matching method to her research question, and being open to multiple methodologies. Both workshops have given students at UT the chance to speak openly and frankly with experts of sociology, and we have all walked away the wiser for it.
Doing Quality Sociology: Moving Beyond the Quantitative-Qualitative Debate.
by Amina Zarrugh
Dr. Randall Collins posed a seemingly simple, but exceedingly thought-provoking, question to commence the graduate student workshop – what is the most interesting thing you hope to do in your work? The question in isolation appeared simple, but as student brows wrinkled in perplexity and eyes averted upward in contemplation, it was clear that the question hadn’t been asked of us in a long time, if ever. Everyone in the room ultimately had an opportunity to share their aspirations. These intellectual ambitions ranged from learning about populations difficult to access—such as interviewing prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp or understanding the dynamics of why individuals return to their country of origin after migrating elsewhere—to making memorable interventions and contributions in our respective fields.
This introductory query, and the collective responses that followed, set the tone for the workshop, which concerned the state of sociology today and the spaces open for innovative work. A central tenant of the discussion was that the overuse of the qualitative-quantitative semantic among sociologists and erected institutionally in departments emerged a false dichotomy. Regardless of overtures to the contrary, qualitative and quantitative work is mutually constitutive.
Qualitative work, including historical sociology and ethnography, informs and delineates the very categories with which quantitative sociology deals so squarely. Despite the primacy and privilege accorded to quantitative sociology, both financially by way of funding structures and socially by way of policy relevance, some of the most dramatic and influential work in the field of sociology has been qualitative. Collins invoked Emile Durkheim, who stated that “history should be sociology’s microscope,” to emphasize how deep historical perspective can offer new variables and contexts of understanding that are mutually beneficial to advancing both qualitative and quantitative work and, ultimately, our understanding of pressing societal issues.
These discussions brought to the fore the importance of thinking creatively about methodologies, the forms of data we collect, and the assumptions we make in the process. Collins (who was trained within the school of symbolic interaction) believes in expanding data used to understand social life to include videos, social media posts, and photographs. His attention to incorporating new methodologies and materials into the fold of sociology echoes calls for innovations that have been taking place across the social sciences. It also resonates with conversations in our department over the past several years, such as the Race and Ethnicity Group’s discussion about “live methods” with Goldsmiths University of London Professor Les Back in May 2013, or the talk by University of Warwick Professor Gurminder K. Bhambra in the week that followed Collins’ visit.
The thread that binds the ongoing discussions in our departmental community is the transition from what I’ve come to call a “bigger, better, faster, stronger sociology” (i.e., more interviews, bigger data sets, exclusive networking opportunities) to a more reflexive, thoughtful, sincere, and conscientious approach to sociology. Then, perhaps most significantly, to our own interactions with one another as colleagues. This change must start with us individually, as exemplified by the question Collins posed at the start of the workshop. However, any “statistically significant” change is made possible through genuine solidarity, and robust support for one another that simultaneously transcends and is strengthened by our methodologies, our areas, and our geographies of study.
by Eric Enrique Borja
On Friday the 20th at 1pm, the UT-Austin Ethnography Lab will host a Brown Bag series with Jacinto Cuvi. Jacinto will discuss his paper entitled, “The Peddlers and the World Cup: Mega Events’ Unequal Impacts on Informal Markets,” which he co-authored with Calla Hummel, who will join the Brown Bag via Skype.
Mega sporting events inject millions of dollars in the local economy. Yet few studies assess how gains and losses are distributed among local actors, especially marginal groups. Under what conditions do informal market actors benefit from mega events?
This paper analyzes original survey, interview and ethnographic data on street vendors in São Paulo, Brazil during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. We find that most vendors lost money and many went into debt, while a minority of vendors made record profits, worked less, and generally benefited from the event. We argue that informal groups like street vendors are both heterogeneous and unequal. We show that World Cup “winners” were high up in preexisting hierarchies or possessed specific assets unequally distributed across gender and age groups. Status differences also skewed the distribution of payoffs from an official program to incorporate peddlers. We conclude that mega event and informal market policies must actively counter these hierarchies in order to benefit all.
by Eric Enrique Borja
On Friday the 13th at 1pm, the UT-Austin Ethnography Lab will host a Brown Bag series with Jorge Derpic. Jorge will discuss his paper entitled, “Twenty one days of lynching and three jute bags. Collective violence and state presence in rural Bolivia,” which he will present at the 2015 American Sociological Association annual conference.
Below is an excerpt from his paper:
During the first week of July 2009, Pedro Condori, 35, asked his nephew, Roberto Mamani, 24, to join him on a trip to Tawa – a rural community ten hours away by bus from the government seat, La Paz. There was a one-night job opportunity at the local school and the possibility to earn some money. At first, Roberto was unsure about the offer – not for nothing his uncle had a dubious reputation among the family – but Pedro finally convinced him, offering 200 Bolivianos ($30 U.S. dollars) in reward for his company.
Early in the afternoon of July 9, the couple departed from Oruro, a small city located five hours away from Tawa. They arrived at 9 p.m., and went straight to the local school named after Pope Benedict. There, they run into Antonio Rodríguez, the janitor, who happened to be wandering around the school’s courtyard. They waved at each other, and seeing there were still people awake, the couple left town. They found a place where to lie down for a couple of hours in the surrounding mountains.
At 1 a.m. Pedro woke Roberto up. They walked back to the school. This time there was no one in the streets. While Roberto waited at the school’s entrance, Pedro ran inside the classrooms. He found nothing. On his second attempt, he walked to the computer lab, and with the help of a kickstand, he broke in. He came back with a heavy jute bag full of stuff and gave it to Roberto. Then he went back inside, half an hour passed when he finally returned with another bag the same size.
The couple had no car of their own, so they put the bags on their backs and walked out of town. Four hours later they arrived at a house Pedro had in Chua, another rural community. There was a hole already dug. They proceeded to bury two computers, three printers, a DVD player, one TV and some accessories. Then they walked to the main road located two hours away. A bus passing by took them back to Oruro.
Twenty-one days later, residents of Lawa brutally murdered Roberto’s younger brother, Ernesto Mamani, who at the time was 20. How did an individual, who had not directly participated in the robbery of the school’s equipment, become a victim of the rage of an entire community? This can only be explained by looking at the development of the events, the actions undertaken by local leaders to solve the crime, and the relative absence of state institutions in the area.
By: Pamela Neumann
This past weekend, Dr. Harel Shapira and the Department of Sociology’s Ethnography Lab hosted the 5th Annual Craft of Ethnography Workshop—an informal workshop that gathers a small group of graduate students and faculty ethnographers from around the country to share their work, exchange ideas, and promote the development of a community of scholars. One of the highlights of the workshop this year was a special “Master Class” with Dr. Jack Katz (UCLA). Reflecting on his distinguished career as an ethnographer–and a keen observer of social life–, Katz offered a number of valuable insights for those of us, like me, who are just beginning to learn and practice this craft.
One key point that Katz repeatedly emphasized is that in any ethnographic analysis of social life, it is critical to consider at least three main dimensions: (1) interaction, (2) sequence, and (3) embodiment. Much of what goes on in the world around us, Katz emphasized, is driven by the kinds of interactions that occur between individuals or groups. However, it is not enough to note the interaction itself, but the myriad situational characteristics that provide context for whatever verbal or non-verbal exchange is occurring. The task of the ethnographer is not merely to note these interactions, but also take into account their sequence, and the ways in which the order of interactions influences how subsequent events unfold. At the same time, the meanings of situations are not solely to be found in language, or discourse, but are also embodied in various ways, such as through emotions.
Katz, who is the author of How Emotions Work (2001), argued that while emotions sometimes get short shrift, they are in fact a key way to better understand social ontology—that is, why people act the way they do in particular situations. In our quest to understand “why people do what they do,” Katz encouraged participants to consider how actions can be seen as people’s attempts to solve or resolve existential or moral questions. From this point of view, seeming “inconsistencies” or variation in the same individual’s strategies for dealing with similar situations (or their narratives about those actions) might no longer be seen as necessarily contradictory but rather an evolving set of responses based on affective or experiential knowledge acquired in prior situations.
In addition to these theoretical insights into the process of data analysis, Katz also offered some helpful practical tips for the writing process, which can be summarized by a particularly pithy remark: “show me the people.” In other words, don’t spend too much time at the abstract level before presenting a concrete illustration, or a real person’s story, to substantiate your claims. Good writing moves back and forth between the theoretical to the empirical to build a coherent narrative.
All in all, the workshop was a wonderful opportunity to learn from and build new relationships with a diverse array of junior and senior scholars. Although ethnography is often thought of as a solitary craft, this past weekend provided a much needed dose of inspiration, collective effervescence and solidarity. I am glad to be on this journey.
by Maricarmen Hernandez
Marx warned us about the abysmal consequences of capitalism and the insurmountable greed of its ruling class. He maintained that capitalism, as an economic system, is unsustainable and self-destructive due to its inherent contradictions, which would bring about recurrent crises and, eventually, its own demise (Marx, 1848). With the modern exploitation of global markets, and the international movement of people from the (semi) periphery to the core (Wallerstein 1974), vulnerable populations are facing injustices that are the product of capitalist globalization and its crises.
Drawing from David Harvey’s (1982) argument that these are crises the system itself would attempt to resolve using what he calls a “spatial fix,” I frame the decision-making of migrant populations to leave their home countries as embedded in and responsive to the capitalist system. Specifically exploring whether these migratory flows empower migrants or merely reflect their marginality. I claim that migrant currents from the (semi) periphery to the core, and from the rural to the urban, serve as a sort of “grassroots spatial fix” to the widespread crisis of rural social reproduction migrant laborers face in their home countries. And while many find work that is economically empowering to them and their families (through the sending of remittances) they typically find themselves in polluted areas – raising the question of environmental justice for these migrant communities, which I will touch upon in my conclusion.
Marxist Theory and the “Grassroots Spatial Fix”
According to Harvey, capitalism is addicted to technological change and endless geographical expansion through economic growth, and it has found in globalization a spatial fix for its crisis tendencies. A “spatial fix” refers to a variety of strategies pursued by capitalists to overcome the inevitable crises generated through their routine activities (Harvey, 1985). He states that globalization today is nothing more than yet another round in the capitalist production and reconstruction of space, which is of course, not without consequences. Marx referred to the annihilation of space through time as a fundamental law of capitalist development (Marx, 1853), which is achieved through the conquering of new markets and innovations in the technologies of transport and communications (Harvey, 1985).
There are different ways in which capitalists make use of spatial fixes to overcome crisis, but the most common is expansion and the exploitation of new markets. When a crisis of localized over-accumulation and over-production occurs within a particular region, the solution is to export capital and labor surpluses to new territories. In other words, surpluses of capital and shortages of labor are fixed by the movement of capital to areas of labor surpluses and weak labor organization, or by importing cheap labor into centers of capitalist development.
But thinking more deeply, can the process of migrating from the (semi) periphery to the core serve as a type of spatial fix that immigrants themselves use to overcome a crisis of social reproduction at home? If so, it begs the question of who does this spatial fix truly benefit? The agency that immigrants practice in their own decision to migrate is important as a point of departure.
Overcoming a crisis at home by migrating from the (semi) periphery to the core in search of jobs can be interpreted as a sort of “grassroots spatial fix.” These migratory trends are common in rural areas after farmers either lose their farms or are pushed out of the agricultural market (Fitzgerald, 2011). In the case of Mexico, there are entire rural towns where the majority of working-age adults have migrated to the United States in search of wage labor. Through the process of migration to the United States, these people are economically empowered and are able to send remittances home, which in turn serves as a spatial fix for the immediate crisis at hand. Therefore, this begs the question: Who benefits the most from immigration as a “spatial fix?”
Using a Marxist lens, it becomes clear who benefits the most from migration as a spatial fix: the capitalist. As the most vulnerable population, migrants must deal with the tradeoff of exchanging clean living spaces for work and financial opportunities. It does not make sense to argue that migrant populations, like other communities that have been successful in protecting themselves from noxious environments, should be able to do the same when there are added layers of marginality (e.g. restricted mobility due to legal/language barriers and financial constraints) that they must negotiate every day. Therefore, using migrant labor as a technique to surmount capitalist crisis has proven more effective than the grassroots spatial fix used by migrants in attempting to solve their problems of social reproduction at home.