Category Archives: Globalization and Development

Travel Ban Sham

by Andrew Krebs

Alternative fact: We’ll be safer if we ban Muslim travelers and deport undocumented immigrants.

Fact: Terrorism and terroristic threats are most likely to come from radical right-wing, white nationalist groups within the United States.

 

A “Not My President’s Day” rally drew several hundred protesters to the Texas Capitol on Monday (Source: American-Statesman).

February 20th was “Not My President’s Day” for many people who continue to be dissatisfied with the current administration. Here in Austin, TX, folks gathered for an afternoon rally at the state capitol to lament the otherwise renowned holiday, and similar demonstrations occurred across the U.S. Indeed, over the course of the past month – President Donald Trump’s first in office – oppositional rallies and protests have been a large piece of an even greater resistance movement. For myriad reasons, #manypeoplearesaying they are unhappy with the new administration… from the unqualified Cabinet nominations to feuds with foreign leaders and every little concern about the security of our nation’s intelligence in-between. Perhaps most upsetting are the recent executive orders (EOs) pertaining to travel and immigration.

President Trump’s administration received huge backlash following the EO that was signed on January 27th. This specific EO, titled, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States”, called for 1) a 90-day temporary bar on all entrance into the US from seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen), 2) a 120-day hold on all refugees seeking asylum in the U.S., and 3) and an indefinite hold on refugees from Syria. While the full text of the EO can be read here, it is important to note that The White House published a misleading version of the EO on its own website. Nonetheless, as the title suggests, President Trump and his aides contend that the travel measures outlined in the EO are necessary to secure public safety. Critics, in response, have challenged that assertion and successfully argued against the EO in federal court. As a result, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in favor of the lower court’s temporary restraining order against the Trump Administration, effectively freezing the Department of Homeland Security from enforcing the travel ban. While the technical and legal justification for maintaining the temporary restraining order against the Trump Administration is in line with the “immediate and irreparable harm” caused by the travel ban, there is a separate empirical question pertaining to whether or not travelers coming from these countries actually pose a real threat to public safety. In these terms, the Trump Administration has failed 1) to provide evidence of a terroristic threat from the seven countries named, and 2) to prove that the current refugee vetting process is insufficient.

People at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Jan. 29, 2017 protesting President Donald Trump’s immigration plan. (Photo: Jason Puckett, KVUE)

To protest the EO, I joined a group of several hundred for a rally at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on January 29th. There, I heard from other people who were sharing their own frustrations, fears, anger, and resentment towards the Trump Administration. One by one, individuals in the crowd passed around a megaphone and shared why they had come to protest that day. Some folks proudly disclosed that this was their very first protest and that the recent EO had galvanized their political action.

Standing outside of the airport that day, I imagined what it looked like behind the scenes of airport security. Most ominous to me was the fact that some of our nation’s top law enforcement agencies (specifically the Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration, and Customs and Border Patrol) proved willing and able to carry out President Trump’s likely unconstitutional agenda, and that this authority went unchecked for a not-inconsequential-period of time before the federal court’s ruling. This made me think generally about power, and specifically about the transfer of authority. It made me think about the excuse of, “I am just following orders”. And it made me think of the classic Milgram Experiment, which tested human obedience to authority. Perhaps I’ve grown cynical in these times, but it was Stanley Milgram (1963: 371) who referenced Nazi Germany as inspiration for his research: “Obedience, as a determinant of behavior, is of particular relevance to our time… Gas chambers were built, death camps were guarded… These inhumane policies may have originated in the mind of a single person, but they could only be carried out on a massive scale if a very large number of persons obeyed orders.” Yes, Donald Trump signed the EO, but he had to rely upon other agencies and officers to enforce it.

As it stands right now (with the original EO blocked by the courts), it seems the Trump Administration has resigned to drafting a new order. In the meantime, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers continue to carry out massive raids in dozens of cities across the nation (including Austin), searching for undocumented immigrants because – you guessed it – President Trump signed an EO on January 25th titled, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States”. This is, of course, despite no real evidence to warrant such action. In fact, the research on crime and immigration in the United States is unequivocal 1, 2, 3, 4, 5: Immigrant populations are less likely to commit crime compared to the native-born population, and areas with high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of crime. In other words, undocumented immigrants do not pose a specific or immediate threat to public safety or national security. The crime just isn’t there, but the fear of crime and public anxiety towards ‘the other’ is real and has been fostered by a culturally and historically deep sense of racism and xenophobia that has never been or yet to be truly reconciled. Until then, we have to resist the fear and misinformation. As scholars, teachers, and researchers, we are poised to let our work be our resistance.

References

Milgram, Stanley. 1963. “Behavioral Study of Obedience.” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(4); 371-378.


Andrew Krebs is a 4th year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology. His research examines peer influence in crime, and the particular benefits of mental health peer support in the community re-entry process. You can follow him on Twitter at @A4Andrew.

Ann Swidler on the Romance of AIDS Altruism

By Megan Tobias Neely & Maro Youssef

How is culture embedded within institutions? This central question drives the research of Ann Swidler, a professor of sociology at the University of California at Berkeley. The interplay between culture and institutions has taken her from investigating how middle-class Americans talk about love to studying the international AIDS effort in sub-Saharan Africa.

In November, Power, History, and Society brought Swidler to present her current research in a talk titled “A Fraught Embrace: The Romance and Reality of AIDS Altruism in Africa.” Through this timely study, Swidler sought to understand how two institutional orders—that of the international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and of the local village—meet on the ground. She asked: How do NGOs focus their efforts? And how are these efforts implemented in a local cultural and institutional context?

To answer these questions, Swidler, her colleague Susan Cotts Watkins, and a team of 60 post-doctorates, graduate students, and undergraduate students undertook a massive data collection project. From 2004-2016, the team conducted a “Motel Ethnography,” surveying 4,000 Malawian villages, interviewing 2,000 villagers and 200 donors and brokers, and recording 1,200 ethnographic journal entries.

The researchers found that the primary efforts of NGOs focused on trainings. Topics covered everything from “Training for Home-Based Care” to “Youth Peer Education Training” to “Business Management.” These training programs were desirable to NGOs and villagers alike, because they were perceived as sustainable, cost-effective, and empowering. Attendance included a meal and a small amount of compensation. The programs also provided opportunities to employ villagers.

However, the efficacy of trainings came into question in the case of one woman who, despite completing stigma awareness training and attending support groups, failed to acquire practical information on the antiretroviral drugs available to her. Not all training programs, according to Swidler, were equally effective in preventing and treating HIV/AIDS.

This and other shortcomings in the NGOs efforts, Swidler found, arose when the priorities of foreign volunteers were disconnected from local needs. Many volunteers had an idealized fantasy of helping the Other, which Swidler called the “romance of AIDS altruism.” As volunteers encountered difficulties, they became disillusioned and often gave up, citing “misunderstandings” with local intermediaries who were necessary in implementing the NGO programs. Swidler identified how these “misunderstandings” had to do with clashes between the volunteers’ expectations and reality. It had disastrous consequences: When an NGO terminates its programs, the flow of aid throughout the supply chain ceases.

Among the more long-lasting programs, Swidler found that the extent to which NGO efforts were subverted or indigenized depended on the NGO’s relationships with local intermediaries. According to Swidler, when the cultural expectations of an institution are transposed to a new setting, the practices and expectations of the local network “colonize” the imported institutional logics. It is a dialectical rather than one-sided process.

As the result of this dynamic, Swidler found that certain training programs were perceived as more effective by both the NGOs and the villagers. For example, trainings designed to eliminate stigma were well-received because they aligned with local cultural beliefs in a shared obligation to care for the sick and suffering. The programs most effective in changing sexual practice, according to Swidler and her team, framed contraceptives and self-protection as a radical act.

Swidler’s research on the efforts of NGOs in the fight against AIDS in Malawi sheds much-needed light on why transnational health programs do or do not work. In this case, the most effective NGOs worked with local intermediaries to understand the cultural and institutional context of the people they served. The Malawi case demonstrates how culture and institutions must be understood as deeply intertwined in order to make meaningful health interventions.

Ann Swidler also held a workshop with graduate students at different stages of their studies. Swidler is widely known for her work on modern love, culture, and the “cultural tool kit” people use to adapt to rapid cultural changes. Her book, Talk of Love is read in many graduate level contemporary theory seminars in sociology. She advised students to strive to become known for one topic, issue, or theory and to avoid changing fields by working on the same idea throughout their graduate studies.

One of Swidler’s biggest pieces of advice to those in the early stages of their research was to use comparisons of at least two cases when starting out. Comparisons do not have to become integrated into the final dissertation but are useful since they force you to figure out why you are comparing A and B. She explained that the dimension one uses for their comparison will force them to figure out the analytical focus of their research.

On methods, theory, and data, Swidler encouraged flexibility. She recommended students go back and forth between big theory and empirical evidence in order to frame their research. She argued that one must take a look at their data and decide what to do with the information they gathered on the ground. On interviewing, Swidler urged students to engage people during interviews. She warned against sticking to a script of interview questions. “Ask about their biography! Push or question statements that are interesting to you,” she said. She said interviewing was the most appropriate method to really understand a subject’s identity and illicit real views.

Finally, on writing, she urged students to “find their muse.” The muse can be another sociologist whose writing style or research interests the students. “Be that type of Sociologist,” she added. The type whose writing becomes an extension of themselves. She said this could be accomplished by looking for the type and mode of workflow that works for each person individually. Ultimately, she said that one must confront their fears and join writing groups.

Listen to the audio of Professor Swidler’s talk on UT Box.


Megan Tobias Neely is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology, graduate fellow in the Urban Ethnography Lab, and the editorial committee chairperson for the Working Paper Series at the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice. Her research interests are in gender, race, and class inequality in the workplace, financial sector, and political systems, as well as how these issues relate to the recent growth in widening economic inequality.

Maro Youssef is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology and graduate fellow in the Urban Ethnography Lab. Her research interests include gender,  political sociology, culture, social movements, organizations, and North Africa and the Middle East.

Rafiul Alom Rahman Explores How Gay Men Adjust to Life in India’s “Big Cities”

Earlier this month, first-year graduate student, Rafiul Alom Rahman, shared some of his insights on how gay men from small towns in India adjust to life in larger cities, living in what he terms a “self-imposed exile.” He notes that:

For gay and bisexual men from small towns who flock to urban centres for higher education or employment opportunities, the city has much to offer. But, as my friend suggested, this also comes at a cost—an exile from one’s roots in an alienating city.

 

SOURCE: Money Sharma / AFP / Getty Images
Delhi Queer Pride Parade, 2015   (SOURCE: Money Sharma / AFP / Getty Images)

Rafiul goes on to describe the variety of ways that gay and gender-nonconforming people who relocate to larger metro areas like Delhi must utilize the anonymity of the city, as well as online spaces such as YouTube and gay dating apps, to explore their identities. With this growth  comes a comfort in participating in public events, such as the Delhi Queer Pride Parade. Rafiul states that:

Delhi’s LGBT movement, like that of many major cities in India and, indeed, globally, has been criticized for its lack of critical engagement with questions of caste and class, among other things. For the first time ever, 2015 saw a public articulation of caste in the Delhi Queer Pride Parade. A gay man and a Dalit, the assistant professor had hailed the “coming out” of three young Dalit queer individuals, Akhil Kang, Dhiren Borisa, and Dhrubo Jyoti, at Pride. “Our pride is incomplete without acknowledging and celebrating our caste identity as Dalit queer individuals,’’ they had said. The first Telangana Pride March that took place last year also made a point of drawing a connection between the anti-caste and queer movements—it was flagged off by Dalit rights activist Kancha Ilaiah and led by members of the local hijra community.

Splitting his time between his village and Delhi, the assistant professor says life in the big city has been both a boon and a curse. “It is better than what it could have been if I had stayed in the village. But at the same time, you feel a sense of rootlessness. And living in semi-closets is never fully liberating and freeing. The bigger anxiety is of what will become of us in old age, especially living away from family and with no children or spouse,” he says.

 

Read more from Rafiul at Live Mint Lounge!

Vrinda Marwah and Sharmila Rudruppa on the Surrogacy Bill in India

Gratzer/Lightrocket/Getty Images
SOURCE: Gratzer/Lightrocket/Getty Images

Both second-year doctoral student Vrinda Marwah and professor Sharmila Rudruppa have pieces discussing the new legislation on surrogacy in India.

Vrinda notes:

Since the 1990s, India has seen a fall in the labour force participation of women, and a rise in informal sector jobs that are characterized by poor pay and difficult working conditions. This is not to say that surrogacy is the answer to the problems of this class of women; if anything, research has also shown that these lives, lived on the margins of society, are too precarious to be greatly improved by one, or a few, lump-sum payouts alone. And yes, the working conditions for surrogates in India leave much to be desired.

However, bans are certainly not the answer to these problems. Bans create black markets and greater vulnerability. We know this from the kidney trade. And they also take away an economic option from working-class women, without doing anything to ease the crippling precariousness that characterizes their lives. All bans do, then, is alleviate our conscience with the thought that we have acted, when actually we may have done more harm.

Read more from Vrinda at Live Mint!

SOURCE: IndianSurrogateMothers.com
SOURCE: IndianSurrogateMothers.com

Sharmila argues:

Feminist ethicists have been asking for deeper regulations of the surrogacy industry in India. But on August 24, 2016 the Indian government went ahead and moved closer to deregulating the industry when the Union Cabinet cleared the Surrogacy Bill 2016. The new bill bans commercial surrogacy altogether, but leaves the door wide open for altruistic surrogacy where no money shall be exchanged between birthing mother and commissioning parents. This new bill will lead to far deeper exploitation of indigent women who are now expected to labor for free.

This is not to say that the practices of global surrogacy have been egalitarian. In various fora, along with other feminist ethicists, I have argued that surrogacy in India has been based on unfair labor conditions for surrogate mothers. The regulations to date had privileged clients over surrogate mothers; provided no enforceable guidelines on the number of embryos to be transplanted; no guidelines on the number of times a woman could be hormonally hyper-stimulated for the purposes of commercial pregnancy; no choice for the surrogate mother to carry her pregnancy to term or opt for an abortion, or even choose how to birth her contracted child; and finally, very little ability to bargain for better wages or working conditions.

Read more from Sharmila at The Huffington Post!

UT Alumna Esther Sullivan featured at The Atlantic

 

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Harbour Point Estates, Chicago

Recent UT-Austin Sociology alumna Esther Sullivan and her research are featured in “The Other Affordable Housing Crisis” at The Atlantic, discussing the “affordable housing crisis” that impacts those who live in mobile home parks:

Trailer parks are the largest segment of non-subsidized affordable housing in the United States, but they are on the radar of few policymakers, says Esther Sullivan, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Denver. Their number grew tremendously during the 1980s as direct federal funding for public housing was slashed, effectively privatizing much of the country’s low-income housing. There are an estimated 8,462,461 mobile homes nationwide, according to recently released U.S. Census data.

The vast majority of mobile home parks are located not in far-flung rural areas but in more populous metros, says Sullivan, who spent two years living in and being evicted from closing mobile home parks as part of her research. They predominate in Sun Belt states like Texas, Florida, and California, but you can also find them near New York City, or Cleveland, or Seattle.

Trailer park residents typically own their homes but not the ground beneath them, meaning most of the benefits of homeownership can be destroyed at someone else’s whim. It’s precisely this divided ownership model that helps make mobile home living affordable, but it also leaves residents vulnerable to eviction.

Read more on this issue and Esther’s work in Harris County here!

Three authors reflect on Invisible in Austin: Life and Labor in an American City

InvisibleIn our celebrity obsessed culture, it’s easy to forget that the lives of everyday people have interest and value.  Austin, Texas has built a reputation on the cultural capital of its live music scene and the many artists and “keeping it weird” citizens that make it a funky oasis in a very conservative state. The Invisible in Austin: Life and Labor in an American City collaborative book project (edited by Dr. Javier Auyero) looks at another side of the phenomenal growth and relentless drone of Austin’s self-promotion. From the website:

Born out of a graduate seminar at the University of Texas, twelve graduate students—inspired and sometimes disturbed by the academic work on poverty in the Americas—set forth to create something different. We initially called ourselves the “OSA group”, referencing our interest in the “other side of Austin.”

This collective enterprise was not the product of a clearly defined research project, but what we came to see as an intellectual adventure. We read extensively, brainstormed over potluck dinners and started to get to know the people that would become the inspiration for each chapter.

Invisible in Austin launches at Book People on Friday, September 4th and will be a major event, just the beginning of talks held on campus and in schools around Austin that will take the project into classrooms and onto book club reading lists (like Senator Kirk Watson’s, for example). The word is spreading fast, Publisher’s Weekly put it on the August 31 pick of the week list. It’s heartening to see how interested people are in the stories of those who are being pushed aside in the mad rush of gentrification.

I asked three of the book’s co-authors (Caitlyn Collins, Katie Jensen and Marcos Perez) how the project continues to inform their experience of Austin, collaborative authorship and continuing friendships with the people who opened their lives to this ethnography. I found the stories to be compelling and compassionate portrayals of fellow citizens who are giving us the opportunity to engage our humanity.

I asked them what stayed with them the most from the interviews and their connections with the person they wrote about:

Marcos Perez – Manuel: The Luxury of Defending Yourself

Manuel

One of the most gratifying aspects of doing ethnography is that you really get to know people. Ethnography gives you the opportunity to learn about people’s ideals, history, fears and hopes. Every individual life is a complex mix of events, contexts and dispositions, and the methodologies we used in the book allowed us to capture that. In the case of Manuel, I was amazed from the very beginning by his capacity to overcome barriers, and by his enthusiasm in helping others overcome obstacles as well. My interviews with him also reminded me that people cannot be limited to one category: only half of the time in our meetings dealt with immigration and activism. The other half we talked about countless other topics, from sports to travel plan to family to school.

Katie Jensen – Kumar: Driving in the Nighttime

"Kumar," cab driver in Austin, Texas.

What stays with me the most from my interviews with Kumar is the warmth, kindness and generosity of Kumar and his family. When I first met Kumar and asked if I could interview him as part of a project about Austin, he was affirmative –“Yes, yes, that’s good”– and yet unconcerned with what I was going to ask him about. He simply wanted someone to help him with his English; his night schedule as a taxi driver made it difficult to attend formal classes. He had little concern for what was the trade. And, as a former teacher and professor in Nepal, he is very used to answering questions! Our meetings followed a predictable pattern; first we’d discuss English while drinking Nepalese coffee, and then I asked him my questions as we ate dinner. For the first few times that we met, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I waited for him to change his mind about opening up his home and his life to me, to decide it was too invasive, not worth it to share so much with a stranger. But that never happened. Instead, Kumar, Manu, Sobika, and Rabin continued to welcome me. I have eaten more meals with Kumar and his family than I can count. I have celebrated their holy days with them. Even now, long after the interviews finished, I’m still in touch with Kumar and his children. Kumar always asks me how my studies are going. They’ve even invited me to go to Nepal with them year after next. Once Kumar is eligible for U.S. citizenship, he will be able to return to his home country for the first time since he fled. That will be a very joyous day.

Caitlyn Collins – Raven: “The Difference between a Cocktail Waitress and a Stripper? Two Weeks”

Cocktail I continue to be astounded by Raven’s strength, poise, and optimistic outlook given all that she has witnessed and overcome. Her stubborn positivity really struck me. What stays with me the most is our friendship; I really value our coffee dates, happy hours, and chats over pancake breakfasts that we’ve continued since our interviews came to a close. I feel lucky to watch her life unfold as time passes, and am even happier to report that she is in a stable job and happy partnership now. She shared so much with me that made it into the book, and I hope she has a sense for how powerful that act of sharing can be for others who read her words. I really feel honored to be able to tell her story.

Has it changed the way they look at Austin?

Katie Jensen: I think more than change the way I look at Austin – which, even after four years, still does not feel like “my” town – it has expanded my understanding of the city. Hearing and reading about the eleven individuals who fill the pages of Invisible in Austin over the course of years, who are rich in details beyond those which could fit into our chapters, very much changed the level of detail with which I see the city and imagine it in my mind. I cannot hear about or drive by a W hotel without thinking of Ethan and his life trajectory. I cannot pass by a domestic cleaning service car without thinking of Xiomara and her family. I cannot think of a storage unit without remembering Clarissa. When I fret about gentrification in Austin, I remember the tour de force that’s Ella. I cannot see an office printer without wondering about Chip and his health. And in this way, these labor fields or social groups become more than vague entities in my mind but filled with the lived experiences of real people. All of which have had lives, as Kumar says, not like a straight line, but “like the way a snake moves.”

Caitlyn Collins: I don’t sense that it has changed my outlook on Austin (I walk around with my sociology brain turned on constantly — too often, really), but I get the feeling that it will really change OTHER people’s outlook, and I am really excited about that. The first responses we’ve gotten from folks here have been overwhelmingly positive and people seem to respond strongly to the stories we tell. I think this momentum will only grow as we start doing talks and panels around town in the coming months, and as it is taught in undergraduate and graduate classes hopefully nationwide.

Marcos Perez:  One of the first titles we considered for the book was “Through Their Eyes”. We eventually decided against it, but the phrase still conveys how many felt about the project’s main contribution: we are able to see the city through the eyes of eleven people. The chapters in the book (and the amazing photographs taken by Eva and Julia) hopefully will have the effect of making it impossible to see the city the same way after reading each of them. You cannot see aspects of urban life the same way, now that you know how they look from the perspective of others.

Will you consider creating another collaborative book project in the future?

Marcos Perez: Oh, yeah. I hope that projects like these continue at the Ethno Lab after the current cohort of students has graduated. And I sincerely expect that we will do a similar project from our new positions at different universities across the nation and the world.

Caity Collins: Absolutely. This project makes me believe even more in the beauty, power, and strength of collaborative ethnography. None of us on our own could have done this project – this was truly an instance of the total being greater than the sum of its parts.

Katie Jensen:  It’s my hope that as the graduate students become professors, we may be able to repeat such a project in the future cities we will call home. Nothing in my life has taught me as much as this book about writing and treating with care and respect those who share their lives with us. We spent years together reading about interviewing, about social suffering, about the “creative class;” conducting interview after interview after interview; crafting narratives from those many hours of interviews; and finally figuring out the particular themes around which those narratives would hinge. During all that time, listening to Javier and the other graduate students (and probably talking too much), I came to more deeply understand the great responsibility we have as sociologists — to write well, to do justice to those we write about, and to try as hard as possible to make the book impact others in some of the ways it has impacted us.

As I read the book, I hear each chapter in the voice of its author.  It conveys the intimacy and nuanced experience of storytelling and keeps me wondering how the people in these stories are doing .  It is a testament to the personal commitment of the authors and the individuals who are portrayed in the book. This is how we share the best of what our community has to offer and how what starts here changes the world.

 

 

Esther Sullivan in the latest issue of Contexts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Esther writes:

“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”

The Peddlers and the World Cup: A Brown Bag with Jacinto Cuvi and Calla Hummel

by Eric Enrique Borja

jacinto-finalOn 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.

Paper Abstract:

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? Hummel

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.

A Marxist Analysis of Immigration as a “Spatial Fix”

 There are some industries, such the agricultural sector among others, that rely heavily on the work of immigrants (Fussell, 2011).
There are some industries, such as the agricultural sector, which rely heavily on the work of migrants (Fussell, 2011).

by Maricarmen Hernandez

Introduction

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.

Cash flow: This graphic shows how much money is being sent by migrants to their families back home and where it is being transferred from in a transient economy that topped $530bn last year, according to new figures by the World Bank. More than $120bn was sent from the U.S.
Cash flow: This graphic shows how much money is being sent by migrants to their families back home and where it is being transferred from in a transient economy that topped $530bn last year, according to new figures by the World Bank. More than $120bn was sent from the U.S.

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?”

Conclusion

factory
The polluting industry, or sources of environmental threats are typically sited in poor, politically weak communities. Therefore, largely affecting minority communities.

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.


Recommended Reading:

Be sure to read Dr. Néstor P. Rodríguez‘s new book entitled Guatemala-U.S. Migration: Transforming Regions, which touches on a number of themes introduced in this piece.

Longitudinal ethnography and the changing face of ethnographic research

by Katherine Sobering

DennisRodgersAt a well-attended talk sponsored by the Urban Ethnography Lab, Dennis Rodgers, a professor of Urban Social and Political Research at the University of Glasgow discussed his paper, “From ‘broder’ to ‘don’: Methodological reflections on longitudinal gang research in Nicaragua, 1996-2014.”

Over lunch, Professor Rodgers reflected on the academic career that began with his dissertation research in Nicaragua in the 1990s. Since this initial period of research, Professor Rodgers has returned to the specific barrio of his dissertation fieldwork seven times. And he plans to continue going back.

As his dissertation evolved into a long-term research project, Professor Rodgers conceived of it as longitudinal ethnography. By this, he refers to immersive ethnographic fieldwork conducted diachronically over an extended period of time, or through appropriately timed revisits (Burawoy 2003; Firth 1959).

But what are the implications of such on-going ethnographic research? How can we make sense of ethnographic “revisits”? And what are some of the pitfalls that may result?

Certainly one of the greatest benefits of ethnographic research is to observe dynamic social processes as they occur over time. As Professor Rodgers pointed out, he has more or less witnessed a cycle of cultural transformation through the institutional evolution of a gang in Nicaragua.

Yet the specific challenges that arise from such an endeavor are many. First, the notion of “the field” as a spatially and temporally bounded location is increasingly misleading. Professor Rodgers (and many of the event’s attendees) stay in regular contact with individuals in “the field”. Social media further complicates this artificial division.

Over the course of a lively discussion informed by many different experiences conducting ethnographic research, we critically examined the idea of a “revisit.” If “the field” is no longer a bounded place, where do you go? To the original site of study? Or do you trace the network of people you once knew? Or follow a particular trend or social phenomena?

Moreover, “the field”—may it be sites, people, or networks—changes over time. But this is not unidirectional. As ethnographers, we also change. We age. We read more. We go through life changes that may provide different perspectives on the same event. And all of this affects how we do ethnography.

Professor Rodgers clearly describes such changes in his own career. Almost ten years ago, he conducted mostly participant observation in the barrio, and was even inducted into the gang he studied (Rodgers 2007).

Today, he is treated as a respected elder (a “don”). His methodological tools increasingly rely on interviews and informal conversations with long-term informants.

The form and function of ethnographic research is changing. In his paper, Professor Rodgers understands his return visits as “serendipitous time lapse(s).” Yet it seems to me that these ethnographic revisits are institutionally structured by his academic career trajectory as well as access to funding.

Structural changes in both funding and time-to-degree requirements affect the way ethnographic research is produced. For many graduate students, multiple periods of “pre-dissertation” fieldwork pave the way for a prolonged period of dissertation-worthy immersion

Examples abound in our department alone. Marcos Pérez conducted three summers of ethnographic research with piquetero groups in Argentina before returning for a year of dissertation fieldwork. Katie Jensen has studied asylum seekers in Brazil for three summers, and is now preparing for an extended period of dissertation research. And I conducted my first period of fieldwork in Argentine worker-recovered businesses as an undergraduate in 2008, having since spent a total of nine months in the field prior to my dissertation research.

Professor Rodgers did well to remind us: “Research is by its very nature imperfect and limited, and this not only in terms of ‘’the data’, but also ‘the method’, ‘the researcher’, and ‘the context’”. Indeed, grappling with the notion of longitudinal ethnography spurred many of us to think critically about how the pattern of our fieldwork shapes what data we collect, the topics we analyze and ultimately how we interpret our findings.

References:

Burawoy, M., (2003), “Revisits: An outline of a theory of reflexive ethnography”, American Sociological Review, 68(5): 645-79.

Firth, R., (1959), Social Change in Tikopia: Re-study of a Polynesian Community after a Generation, London: George Allen & Unwin.

Rodgers, D., (2007), “Joining the gang and becoming a broder: The violence of ethnography in contemporary Nicaragua”, Bulletin of Latin American Research, 27(4): 444-61.

Rodgers, D., (Forthcoming), “From ‘broder’ to ‘don’: Methodological reflections on longitudinal gang research in Nicaragua, 1996-2014.”