Category Archives: Power

Sociology Roundup: Kavanaugh Hearings

by Katie K. Rogers

Today the United States Senate voted narrowly to advance the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to a final confirmation vote, which will take place this Saturday. If confirmed, Kavanaugh will enjoy a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The vote took place in the wake of a polarizing public hearing in which a woman, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, gave a testimony accusing Kavanaugh of sexual assault. During the hearing, Kavanaugh angrily denied the accusation, repeatedly interrupting, raising his voice, demanding answers to questions he himself was being asked, and decrying what he has called a “circus,” a “national disgrace,” and a “vicious” attack on his family and good name.

Today’s decision was made in the wake of widespread protests (including an elevator confrontation with swing-vote Republican Senator Jeff Flake), a withdrawn endorsement from the magazine of the Jesuit religious order, and urgings from Yale Law School and the American Bar Association, whose support Brett Kavanaugh cited just yesterday, and which Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called “the gold standard.” The ABA has since stated that Kavanaugh has not been sufficiently vetted for appointment to the Supreme Court. In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the ABA called for postponing the vote until the FBI completed “an appropriate background check into the allegations made by Professor Blasey and others.”

The Kavanaugh hearing has dominated the news cycle for weeks. It has sent waves of anger, sadness, confusion, frustration, and loss across the country, leaving many of us reeling and unsure how to process our emotions, let alone make sense of the situation.

Fortunately, a variety of social science researchers have published sociological responses to the hearings. This post is an effort to consolidate and share those works of public sociology. The following list includes analyses from scholars with expertise in the areas of law, race, class, gender, sexuality, and sexual violence.

“We Still Haven’t Learned From Anita Hill’s Testimony”
Kimberlé Crenshaw | The New York Times

In this New York Times op-ed, law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, who introduced the term “intersectionality,” offers instructive words for white feminists and anti-racists. She shows that what many of us assume justice should look like—be it the outcome or the process—neglects to consider black women’s specific needs and circumstances:

I watched Anita Hill testify as a member of her support team. I worried that she would be trapped between an antiracist movement that foregrounded black men, and a feminism that could not fully address how race shaped society’s perception of black victims. …

Such colorblind feminism did a profound disservice to Ms. Hill. And it marked another key moment of political erasure — in this case, one that effaced modern feminist history. Treating the racial backdrop of the hearing as just noise meant that we missed an opportunity to create a nuanced understanding of sexual harassment. In the great awakening around sexual harassment, race was politely ushered offstage.

“Kavanaugh’s ‘Good Guy’ Defense Reveals a Dangerous Rape Myth”
Sarah Diefendorf | The Huffington Post

Masculinities scholar Sarah Diefendorf analyzes the discourses being proffered in defense of Kavanaugh. She points out that these defenses characterize men’s proclivity to commit sexual violence as something that individual “bad guys” do,  and elide the reality that sexual violence is part of a system of masculine domination:

When Kavanaugh or other men respond to allegations of sexual assault by making themselves look like good guys, they’re trying to pin the blame on other “bad” men as failures of masculinity. This good guy defense is brilliant. It allows men to make the problem of sexual assault and rape about being an individual ― the work of bad men, not a bad culture ― when we know that it is actually a widespread cultural problem. When men point to others as the problem, we are left with individual accounts, denials, and explanations that hide the overarching theme in all of them: masculinity and dominance.

This good guy rhetoric repeats the same cycle we are all taught at an early age: that men are in charge of the conversation and of women’s bodies and that women’s voices are dismissed or berated when we dare speak up.

“A Sociological Take on the Kavanaugh Hearing”
Nicole Bedera | Scatterplot, a blog for public sociology

Sociologist Nicole Bedera, who studies adolescent sexual violence, synthesizes findings from social science about sexual violence. Her blog post (in addition to this Twitter thread) offers context for the hearing by sharing evidence not typically acknowledged in public discourse about sexual violence:

We generally think of sexual violence—and particularly its perpetration—as something rare. When we do recognize sexual misconduct as a common experience, we tend to focus on victimization and the stories we heard during the beginnings of #MeToo and imagine serial rapists as the primary perpetrators of sexual assault. However, sexual assault perpetration is similarly ordinary. According to one of the most recent and rigorous studies, as many as 10.8% of college-attending young men commit an act of rape before graduating (Swartout et al. 2015). The rate might be alarming, but the reasons are different than we traditionally think. … The allegations against Judge Kavanaugh are consistent with what sociologists know about sexual violence: it’s common, rooted in male bonding, and situational.

“Kavanagh is Lying. His Upbringing Explains Why.”
Shamus Khan | The Washington Post

Shamus Khan, whose 2012 book Privilege is an ethnography of an elite boarding school that Khan himself attended, examines the classed dimensions of the hearing. He details how elite institutions such as those Kavanaugh attended (Georgetown Prep, Yale College, and Yale Law School) socialize their members to believe they are entitled to positions of power, special treatment, and the ability to break rules with impunity:

Kavanaugh’s privilege runs deep, and it shows. He grew up in a wealthy Washington suburb where his father spent three decades as CEO of a trade association. There has been a sense among his supporters that his place is deserved, which mirrors the climate of aristocratic inheritance he grew up around. … This collective agreement that accountability doesn’t apply to Kavanaugh (and, by extension, anybody in a similar position who was a youthful delinquent) may help explain why he seems to believe he can lie with impunity — a trend he continued on Thursday, when he informed senators he hadn’t seen the testimony of his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, even though a committee aide told the Wall Street Journal he’d been watching. In his furious interview with the panel that afternoon, Kavanaugh appeared astonished that anybody might impugn his character or try to keep him from the seat he is entitled to. ‘I’m never going to get my reputation back,’ he complained.


Katie K. Rogers is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at UT Austin. Her research is on race, gender, and the legal cannabis industry in the United States. You can follow her on Twitter at @katie_k_rogers.

Mounira M. Charrad and Maro Youssef in the Baker Institute Blog on Feminism in Post-Revolution Tunisia

Professor Mounira M. Charrad and doctoral student Maro Youssef have a new post on the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy blog. The piece focuses on feminist associations in post-revolution Tunisia, specifically the transition of women’s associations from the Ben Ali regime.

They write:

While the ATFD [Association Tunisienne des Femmes Démocrates] and the AFTURD [Association des Femmes Tunisiennes pour la Recherche et le Développement] remain highly active on women’s issues in post-revolutionary Tunisia, they are no longer working on their own as they did prior to the fall of the authoritarian Ben Ali regime in 2011. They are now operating in partnership with newly emerged associations. The new associations cover a broad range of issues and address the concerns of women in diverse constituencies. Many are open to a dialogue between Islamist and secular women, and some are actively engaged in efforts to construct bridges between ideological tendencies.

You can read more from the authors here. 


Mounira M. Charrad, PhD, is a nonresident fellow with the Women’s Rights in the Middle East Program and an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on state formation, colonialism, law, citizenship, kinship, gender politics and women’s rights.

Maro Youssef is a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on gender politics, democratization and civil society.

Myra Marx Ferree on Globalizing Universities and Growing Gender Equality

by Rachel Karen 

On Friday, February 16, the Sociology department’s Power, History, and Society (PHS) working group hosted its  PHS Annual Distinguished Lecture featuring Professor of Sociology Myra Marx Ferree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Ferree discussed her comparative work on feminism and higher education in the United States and Germany, and provided an overview of the dialectic inherent in feminism.  She pointed to two major university transformations during the last century.  First, the potential student body is larger and more diverse. Second, the feminist movement went beyond expanding women’s access to education, by enabling women to learn what they want to know, and be able to find employment afterwards.  This access was crucial for women to both join professoriate and institutionalize the creation of new knowledge in the creation of Women and Gender Studies programs. The second transformation driving the restructuring of higher education was decolonization.  Former colonial subjects also want access to knowledge on a more self-determined basis, and technological advances helped facilitate international research.

Ferree then turned to her work on the feminist agenda in American and German universities.  Here, she brought in a discussion of the dialectic in feminism.  She conceptualized two models of feminist intervention based on two characters—Cassandra, who in Greek mythology was cursed to speak true prophesies that no one believed, and Pollyanna, a character from a 1913 novel whose name is now used to describe those who always have a positive outlook. The “Cassandra approach” is combative and critical, and the “Pollyanna approach” holds that by accessing power structures, change can happen from the inside. Dr. Ferree urged us all to recognize both approaches are right, and both are limited. She acknowledged that feminist knowledge production emphasizes change as the only constant. Globalization is not a unidirectional process of modernity: globalization is part of a contested struggle about whose knowledge counts.

For Dr. Ferree, pragmatic feminist advocacy means efforts should be concentrated at the national level, in order to focus on institutionally specific structures to be able to act and make change. Universities are a place of citizenship, and Dr. Ferree believes democratic norms can be used to challenge all academic inequalities. Furthermore, feminists should identify where market leverage exists for specific policy changes, since in this era of academic capitalism, administrators must create a university that can work and compete in the market. Because of this, Dr. Ferree is hopeful that feminists can indeed enact positive change at the university level.


Rachel Karen is a first-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology. Her research interests include state formation in Africa and European responses to the 2008 economic crisis. 

Follow the Thread and Leave Room for Serendipity: Reflections on the PHS Graduate Workshop with Myra Marx Ferree

by Marta Ascherio

Roter faden is the German term for “red thread,” and is used to mean common thread. “Unlike most of German academia, it borrows from sewing,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor of Sociology Myra Marx Ferree, during UT Austin Sociology’s annual Power, History, and Society workshop. “Women’s practical knowledge.” Whether we intend it or not, there is always a red thread in what we study. It’s about what we do with the red thread that matters.

The red thread that runs through Dr. Ferree’s work is now emerging as a network, called the Society of Gender Professionals. This society will set professional standards, share job opportunities, and work to institutionalize the legitimacy of gender experts. She is particularly interested in how expertise gets used, and how certain types of expertise are credited or discredited. For instance, one of her students researches family law reform in Chile, and finds that gender experts are discredited, with economists being perceived as a more legitimate form of authority.

Dr. Ferree also discussed the debates that took place in the 1980s about whether Women’s Studies should be its own discipline or a sub-specialty in another discipline. “Both ways actually succeeded beyond the expectations of anyone on either side of that debate,” Dr. Ferree told us, which is refreshing to hear in a moment when it seems like the only constant is the reproduction of inequality, and even progressive social movements often re-package existing power relationships.

In the first few minutes of Dr. Ferree’s arrival, as we set up food, she engaged every single graduate student, as attentively as if we were her advisees, commenting on the relevance of our research topics, suggesting literature, and offering introductions.  She leaned back in her chair, so much at ease. Here is some of the advice she had for graduate students:

Keep track of your ideas. C. Wright Mills kept all his ideas on notecards, said Dr. Ferree, and Charles Tilly kept a filing cabinet full of all the topics he would write about if he lived to be 150. She advised us to do the same. “You can’t pursue every idea, so you have to cut them off, but don’t throw them away!”

Leave room for serendipity. “I don’t pick projects. Projects pick me,” said Dr. Ferree. “When we do our dissertations, we often think that we choose them, but when we dig a little bit deeper, we see that it has to do with where we are located in time and space.”

Avoid identifying with one particular method. More than using quantitative or qualitative methods, Dr. Ferree observed, scholars seem to have “quantitative or qualitative identities.” She believes this quantitative/qualitative binary is a barrier to being relevant. Prioritize staying relevant, she said, and learning new methods. Methods are not something you learn once and set aside. You will be learning methods for the rest of your life.

Remember that methods and theories can be subject to trends. Dr. Ferree explained that sociological methods and theoretical approaches can fall in and out of fashion. For instance, while she was writing her dissertation, multi-dimensional scaling was all the rage, but the way she learned it became obsolete shortly after she spent a year grappling with it. If you are interested in getting a job, consider learning or using trendy methods, but do not forget that they may be subject to change. You have to see what works for you.


Marta Ascherio is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology and a graduate fellow of the Urban Ethnography Lab. Her research interests include immigration, crime, and social control.

Power, History and Society Kicks Off the New Year

by Andrew Messamore

The Power, History and Society (PHS) network held its Fall Social last week on September 20th  to network and have fun in the field of political, historical and comparative sociology at UT Austin. Founded in 2006, PHS is now entering its 11th year in the Department of Sociology and continuing to foster a space for intellectual exchange around both classic themes in sociology and new subjects including revolutions in the Middle East, environmental issues and land rights in Latin America, call-out culture in queer activist movements and the global politics of disease and epidemics.

With a full room, drinks and pizza in the Glickman Center, PHS coordinators described opportunities for involvement from first-year students in coordinating events and our successful speaker series. Past speakers PHS has brought include Randall Collins, Theda Skocpol and Ann Swidler, to name a few. Interested students and PHS coordinators also considered resurrecting the Middle East Working Group and Social Movement and Collective Behavior Working Group (SMCB), co-sponsoring events with other Sociology working groups and working towards a workshop on applying for funding in historical and political sociology.

For the fall, PHS is preparing to host a workshop with Dr. Rita Stephan, a UT Austin Sociology alumnus and PHS founder in the U.S. State Department on applied political sociology. Stay tuned for another PHS meet and greet off campus in October!

If you are interested in learning more about PHS, make sure to sign up for the listserv with Mario Venegas at Mario.venegas@utexas.edu


Andrew Messamore is ​a first-year doctoral student in Department of Sociology. His research interests center on welfare states, credit markets and political sociology. 

Police Compliance, Body Cams, and Black Lives: Racial Bias in the Criminal Justice System

by Carmen Gutierrez

Inspired to contribute to our sociological understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement and of racial angst in the U.S., Dr. Rashawn Ray, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland at College Park, began investigating police killings, the social psychological dimensions of why police kill Black males with impunity, and the collective action responses to these events.

Dr. Ray recently shared some of this work in an invited lecture sponsored by the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Ray’s presentation provided a glimpse of his current research on a variety of timely, important social issues, summarized in the title, “Police Compliance, Body Cams, and Black Lives: Racial Bias in the Criminal Justice System.”

Dr. Ray and his work motivates us to continue working toward an equal society where all people experience fairness and justice. We believe Dr. Ray’s research makes a necessary contribution to the current social and political climate as a growing number of Black men and women suffer the harmful consequences of discriminatory policing. As we recently passed the day marking the fifth year when the world learned of the life and death of Trayvon Martin, we write this review in his honor and in celebration of the wonderful work of Dr. Ray.

Here are 10 points inspired by Dr. Ray’s recent presentation:

  1. PEOPLE OF COLOR HAVE WORSE EXPERIENCE WITH THE POLICE

Dr. Ray explained that people of color have long suffered from disproportionate surveillance and violence from the police. According to a recent study using data on the “stop-and-frisk” practices by the NYPD, Blacks and Latinos are stopped by the police 23% and 39% more often than Whites. More specifically, when police officers suspect individuals of violent crimes and weapons offenses—the most common suspected charges, representing more than two-thirds of stops by police—Blacks and Latinos are stopped by the police twice as often as Whites.[i]

  1. DISPROPORTIONATE POLICING OF MINORITIES IS NOT BASED ON UNEQUAL CRIMINAL ACTIVITY

Despite their overwhelming suspicion of people of color, stop-and-frisk procedures by the police more often lead to arrests among Whites than among Blacks and Latinos. In other words, White people are more likely to be found guilty of suspected charges, and yet they encounter significantly fewer threats of police encounters than their minority counterparts. Most individuals across all racial and ethnic groups who have been stopped-and-frisked by the police, however, have been completely innocent of suspected charges. Only about 1 in 10 stop-and-frisk events leads to an arrest.

  1. OFFICERS COMMIT RACIAL BIAS IN POLICING

In an effort to describe the etiology of such racialized policing practices, Dr. Ray worked with Maryland colleague, Dr. Kris Marsh, to collect data on implicit bias among police officers. Results from this ongoing work show that officers admit to having racist preferences that affect the way they do their jobs. For example, officers reported preferences for the association of Blacks with weapons and Whites with harmless objects.

  1. RACIAL BIAS BY LAW ENFORCEMENT FUELS NEGATIVE INTERACTIONS BETWEEN THE POLICE AND PEOPLE OF COLOR

The implications for the work of Dr. Ray and Dr. Marsh on racial bias among law enforcement officials reflect the reality of police encounters among Blacks in the United States. Because they have strong expectations that the Black individuals they encounter will be in possession of deadly weapons, police officers impose a perceived threat from Blacks during their shared interactions. In turn, these irrational views from the police are used to justify their use of force against Blacks in cases involving violence.

  1. BLACK FAMILIES ATTEMPT TO PROTECT THEIR CHILDREN FROM POLICE VIOLENCE BY TEACHING THEM COMPLIANCE

In response to protecting themselves from police violence embedded within police perceptions of their presence as threatening, Black families commonly begin teaching their children at very young ages to comply with the police. Several studies describe the socialization of Black children as it relates to their relationship with police.[ii] These studies describe the way parents “armor” their children to survive and function in a racist culture. Parents are especially concerned for the safety of their Black sons as they fear the historical, structural, and institutional relationship between Black masculinity and suspected criminality.

Dr. Ray invokes this narrative in his op-ed featured on Public Radio International responding to why Freddie Gray ran from the cops. Although some people might have asked why a person would run from the police if they are not committing a crime, Dr. Ray instead asks “why wouldn’t he run?”[iii] He goes on to explain that “People run because they are tired of being accosted and harassed by the police every time they walk out of school or leave the subway…People run simply because they realize that even if they are not committing a crime, they can end up with a broken spine, choked to death, or shot dead for simply having the wrong skin color.”

  1. BODY CAMERAS MIGHT HELP REDUCE POLICE VIOLENCE AGAINST MINORITIES

Recognizing the danger of their implicit bias, some police departments have implemented the use of body-worn cameras (BWC) to be attached to their officers during their time on duty. BWC initiatives are intended to improve the objectivity of police reporting for criminal investigations, and to capture the perspectives of citizens and multiple individuals during police encounters.

As part of a longitudinal study with the Prince George’s County Police Department in Maryland, Dr. Ray and others are working with local residents and police to compare outcomes from their encounters as they relate to the use of BWC. Preliminary results from this work show that Blacks report more mistreatment by the police than Whites, but believe that BWCs will help reduce harassment and use of force they experience.

  1. RACIST POLICING DIVIDES VIEWS OF THE POLICE

The unequal distribution of surveillance, harassment, and use of force by the police among people of color has significant implications for the ways people across racial and ethnic groups differentially view the police.

According to a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, only 31% of Blacks reported that the police in their community do a good job when it comes to holding officers accountable when misconduct occurs. By contrast, these positive views of the police were reported among 75% of Whites in the sample.

In the same study, the Pew Research Center showed that Blacks’ fatal encounters with police have different meanings for Blacks and Whites. Just over half (54%) of White respondents reported that they believed fatal encounters between police and Blacks are signs of a broader social problem (rather than signs of isolated incidents), whereas the same was true for 79% of Blacks.

  1. #BLACKLIVESMATTER IS CREATING COLLECTIVE ACTION TO GENERATE AWARENESS OF AND TO PUT AN END TO ANTI-BLACK RACISM IN OUR SOCIETY

Since it began in 2012, the Black Lives Matter movement has heightened awareness of many structural and institutional acts of racism, including justifiable homicide[iv] against Black victims like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, to name a few. Like in those instances, these events often involve the killing of Black males by police officers whose actions are regularly deemed justified by the state.[v]

Awareness of and attitudes toward issues related to racism in the criminal justice system is thus evolving as the Black Lives Matter movement continues to successfully mobilize support and solidarity through its organization on social media.

The use of social media for promoting the Black Lives Matter movement has been so effective, in fact, that the development and growth of the Black Lives Matter movement offline is directly linked with the conversation occurring online. Understanding the presence of the Black Lives Matter movement has thus become an important centerpiece for our knowledge on social movements and collective action more broadly.

  1. RESEARCH ON #BLACKLIVESMATTER SHOWS ITS GROWING INFLUENCE

In response to its historical and social significance, Dr. Ray and colleagues turned to Twitter data to analyze the process behind the evolution of Black Lives Matter. With over 30 million tweets, Ray and others investigated the way Black Lives Matter transformed from a hashtag to a social movement.

In their analysis, Ray and his colleagues found that tweets about Ferguson corresponded to actual protests on the ground, male activists were viewed as more credible sources compared to female activists, and the names of male victims of police brutality were used as hashtags more often than the names of female victims. These findings are inspiring work specific to female victims of police brutality (e.g., Sandra Bland).

  1. THE FUTURE OF #BLACKLIVESMATTER

On their 10-year university, Twitter published a list of the most used hashtags related to social causes. According to Twitter, #BlackLivesMatter was ranked as the 3rd most used social-issue hashtag in the 10-year history of the platform. #Ferguson was the top used hashtag.

Dr. Ray is currently working to develop a special issue and edited volume on sociological research using social media data. We look forward to this and other projects of his future work.

For more on Dr. Ray’s presentation, listen to the audio of his talk here, watch his #DailyThought video blogs here, and follow him on Twitter.

References

[i] Gelman, Andrew, Jeffrey Fagan, and Alex Kiss. 2007. “An Analysis of the New York City Department’s “Stop-and-Frisk” Policy in the Context of Claims of Racial Bias.” Journal of the American Statistical Association, 102(479): 813-823. DOI: 10.1198/016214506000001040

[ii] Fine, Michelle and Lois Weis. 1998. “Crime Stores: A Critical Look through Race, Ethnicity, and Gender.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 11(3): 435-459.

Meeks, Kenneth. 2000. Driving while Black, Highways, Shopping Malls, Taxicabs, Sidewalks: What to Do If You Are A Victim of Racial Profiling. New York: Broadway.

Bell, Ella, L.J. Edmonson, and Stella Nikomo. 1998. “Armoring: Learning to withstand racial oppression.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 29(1): 285-295.

Green, Beverly. 1992. “Racial Socialization: A Tool in Psychotherapy with African American Children.” In L. Vargas, & J. Koss-Chioino (Eds.) Working with Culture: Psychotherapeutic Intervention with Ethnic Minority Youth (pp. 63-81). San Francisco, CA, USA: Jossey Bass.

Peters, Marie. 1985. “Racial Socialization of Young Black Children.” In H. P. McAdoo, & J. L. McAdoo (Eds.) Black Children: Social Educational and Parental Environments (pp. 159-173). Newbury Park, CA, USA: Sage.

Hale-Benson, Janice. 1986. Black Children: Their Roots, Culture, and Learning Styles. Baltimore, MD: USA: Johns Hopkins University Press.

[iii] Emphasis added

[iv] Homicide is the willful killing of one human being by another. Under the law, people may be justified in the act of killing another person if doing so is a necessary matter of protection from imminent and serious danger. Justifiable homicide is defined as and limited to: The killing of a felon by a peace officer in the line of duty, or the killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen. Because these killings are determined through law enforcement investigation to be justifiable, they are tabulated separately from murder and non-negligent manslaughter (https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2014/crime-in-the-u.s.-2014/offenses-known-to-law-enforcement/expanded-homicide).

[v] Due to legal policies protecting the use of violence by the police


Carmen Gutierrez is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology and a research trainee in the Population Research Center (PRC). Her research explores topics within crime, law, and deviance through a demographic lens. She is currently conducting a comprehensive analysis of health and healthcare among individuals with prior involvement in the criminal justice system.

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.

UT’s Ken-Hou Lin and Paige Gabriel featured in Harvard Business Review

New research from UT-Austin Sociology professor, Dr. Ken-Hou Lin and graduate student Paige Gabriel (with Wharton School professor, Dr. J. Adam Cobb) is featured over at the Harvard Business Review. The article discusses the shift of the pay gap between small companies (those with less than 25 employees) and large companies, focusing on changes in the firm-size premium. The authors note that the gap between smaller and larger firms has shrunk, it has not closed equally as mid- and low-wage workers have a smaller benefit when working at a larger firm compared to their counterparts at smaller firms.

These findings challenge reports released from the White House under the Obama administration that suggested that big companies can get away with paying lower wages solely due to a lack of competition:

The researchers estimate that this decline in how much more big firms pay explains 32% of the rise in inequality between the 90th and 10th percentiles of income distribution. In other words, if big companies today paid as generously as they did in the past, incomes would be substantially less unequal.

…The theory here is that the big-firm pay premium was partly a consequence of having lots of different kinds of workers at the same company. For example, if a big firm had some cafeteria workers on payroll, it felt at least some pressure not to let their wages fall too far, because inequality was bad for morale. But when corporate catering companies came along, two things happened. First, the catering companies hired employees at the going market rate, without any wage premium. Second, the big companies that still had cafeteria staff started comparing how much it paid those workers to the alternative of contracting with the caterer. As firms restructured around one or a few competencies or occupations, the thinking goes, wages converged toward the market rate.

Read more from the original research article here.

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.

Angela Stroud on Race, Gender, and Concealed Carry

by Katie Kaufman Rogers

Angela Stroud
Angela Stroud, UT-Austin PhD and Assistant Professor of Sociology & Social Justice at Northland College

This October, the UT Austin Department of Sociology and Fem(me) Sem welcomed sociologist Angela Stroud for a public talk and discussion with graduate students about her new book, Good Guys with Guns: The Appeal and Consequences of Concealed Carry. Dr. Stroud completed her PhD in sociology at UT Austin in 2012 and is now an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Social Justice at Northland College in Wisconsin.

Dr. Stroud opened her presentation with graphs showing rates of American gun ownership. Despite an overall decrease in gun ownership since 1970 (rates have fallen by nearly 20%), the Obama Era has seen a sudden proliferation of concealed handgun licenses. In 2007, she said, 4.5 million Americans held such licenses. But since, more than 6 million additional licenses have been administered, bringing today’s total to a staggering 11 million. But why? To better understand the explosion of firearm sales and spread of concealed carry legislation, Dr. Stroud sought to uncover what motivates Americans to attain permits and buy guns.

University of North Carolina Press
SOURCE: University of North Carolina Press

During the talk, Dr. Stroud shared insights from her fieldwork in gun licensing courses, as well as excerpts from the in-depth interviews she conducted with gun permit holders. The title of the book plays on an old maxim in pro-gun discourse (“only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun”), but as Dr. Stroud explained, it also highlights a key finding: the cultural relevance of the “good guy” trope. She unpacked the construction of the “good guy” identity, arguing that its conflation with whiteness and hegemonic masculinity helps explain the appeal of concealed carry as a symbolic practice for men. She drew on elements of critical whiteness theory and Raewyn Connell’s theory of hegemonic masculinity to analyze participants’ narratives about the protection they perceive guns to offer.

Ultimately, she found that cultural definitions of “good” gun owners rely on a classed and racialized dichotomy of masculinities. Respondents saw themselves as “good guys” who earned the right to own guns through training and civic service, as opposed to to “bad guys,” whose gun ownership threatened the safety of “good” families and communities. Dr. Stroud argued that this binary paints white men as responsible heroes while casting Black and Latino men as dangerous criminals. Additionally, the trope displaces deviant whiteness onto working-class men (whom her participants dismissed as uneducated “Bubbas”). She also touched on how geographical space is invoked in “good guy” discourse, pointing to respondents’ racialized conceptualizations of sites like the highway, the ghetto, and the home.

Dr. Stroud’s work has a particular resonance within the context of the University of Texas at Austin. Texas’ new campus carry legislation, which took effect this past August, gives students and faculty members the right to carry concealed handguns in university buildings such as classrooms and dormitories. The law has added fuel to an already blazing national controversy about guns. It has also galvanized the UT community, sparking petitions, protests, resignations, lawsuits, several faculty op-eds, and a slew of cancellations from scheduled visitors ranging from famous musicians to guest lecturers.

Good Guys with Guns critically intervenes in gun control debates by illuminating an understudied facet of American gun culture: How gun owners understand the necessity of guns is tied to how they see themselves and their place in the world. Dr. Stroud’s talk added an important voice to the campus conversation about concealed carry, showing how both pro- and anti-gun advocates misunderstand the deeper issues of race, class, and gender that shape how Americans understand guns.


Good Guys with Guns is available through the University of North Carolina Press. You can follow Dr. Angela Stroud on Twitter at @astroud.

Katie Kaufman Rogers is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology. Her research focuses on the areas of gender, race, and sexuality. You can follow her on Twitter at @katiearog.