Category Archives: Political Sociology

Sociology of Ghosts

ASA Session on Visual Sociology.
‘Representing Social Invisibility: Aesthetics of the Ghostly in Rebecca Belmore’s Named and Unnamed’ (Margaret Tate, The University of Texas at Austin); ‘Visual Representations of Abu Ghraib: Fashionable Torture, Gender and Images of Homoerotic Power’ (Ryan Ashley Caldwell, Soka University of America).

From Tate: During the 1980’s and 1990’s, more than 65 women went missing from the Downtown East Side area of Vancouver, British Columbia. As the poorest neighborhood in Canada, this inner city space is conceptualized within Vancouver as an unproductive space. A majority of the women who disappeared were First Nations women and thus were historically marginalized from the imaginary of Canadian citizenship. Because some were also sex workers and drug addicts, their disappearances garnered little attention from the police or from official media outlets. They had already disappeared from the respectable Canadian social body by being situated in this area. This paper analyzes a street performance by a First Nations artist named Rebecca Belmore, who was haunted by the disappearance of these women and by their invisibility as bodies that mattered. The artist produces a haunting, a concept described by Avery Gordon as “an animated state in which a repressed or unresolved social violence is making itself known” (2008, xvi). In relation to the history of colonialism in Canada, it is significant that the performance is both embodied by the artist and situated within Downtown East Side Vancouver. This paper considers problems of representation that some social events pose and suggests that Belmore’s performance rethinks representation and points to possibilities for transformational aesthetics in relation to vulnerable or marginalized subjects.

From Caldwell: Approaching society, culture, and art in a critical manner allows for the questioning of power, value, and authority—allowing for a critique of some contextual reality. Critical art allows for an evaluation of existing power structures, and an opportunity to change the world through its interpreted and exposed messages. Critical art is also a means for further informing the public about situations that are unfair, illegal, or unethical—it can give a voice to those who have been marginalized. In this piece, I analyze power in relation to gender, homoerotic torture, and the depiction of women by interpreting representations associated with the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison—from aesthetics to advertising.

Ontology, since its inception as the science of being qua being, has always been a project of division, of delimitation, of inclusion and exclusion. If the purpose of a door or gate by definition is to keep others out, then the ascent of the kingdom of being is inextricably bound up with the animals, the barbarians in the pagus beyond Athens, the demons and ghosts, and the shadows it leaves behind on the very horizon of intelligibility.

Ernest Jones saw in human symbol-making a return of the repressed under improper signifiers. It is the coded speech of the Sphinx in face of the ‘ultimate stupidity’ or dumbness [Urdummheit] of man (Cassirer). Contrary to the banal formulation, the essence of art does not lie in a ruse of technique or even a cunning of imagination (the pedestrian flash or stroke of genius), but rather in its very stupidity, its inexplicability, its futility, its silent smile amidst a clamor of injunctions to speak, to write, to paint, to think, to render visible.

Marx had said alienation is first and foremost a ‘feeling.’ But if the malaise of modernity is not our dispossession, as Marx said, by the other, but of the other, the other in ourselves, then art as the exercise of pure potential can perhaps finally open up, render sublime, those affects mercilessly suppressed and forever trailing in the torrential wake of being.

“Lives at the Urban Margins”

Katherine Jensen and Javier Auyero review Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (2012), Sebastián Hacher’s Sangre salada (2011), and Josefina Licitra’s Los Otros: una historia del conurbano bonaerense (2011):


“Every great city,” wrote Friedrich Engels, in The Condition of the Working Class in England, “has one or more slums, where the working-class is crowded together. True, poverty often dwells in hidden alleys close to the palaces of the rich; but, in general, a separate territory has been assigned to it, where, removed from the sight of the happier classes, it may struggle along as it can … The streets are generally unpaved, rough, dirty, filled with vegetable and animal refuse, without sewers or gutters, but supplied with foul, stagnant pools instead.” More than a century and a half later, the subproletariat still inhabits treacherous, dreadful grounds in today’s megacities. With close to a third of the world’s population living in informal settlements, many of them mired in misery and violence, the need to understand and explain their lives is as imperative as it was when Engels first wrote these words. Three recent books here under consideration take up this task in two very distinct cities, Buenos Aires and Mumbai, dissecting the material and symbolic dimensions of life on “the other side.” These vivid portraits convey the external and internal forces that shape and sustain the slum’s challenges, its struggles, its relentlessness, and its cruelty.

A dexterous combination of detailed, in-depth reporting and crisp, dynamic writing heeds the calls that urban ethnographers have been making for the past three decades: calls for capturing the viewpoint of those living under oppressive conditions, calls for thick descriptions of their lives and circumstances, calls for narrative writing that appeals to larger publics and politics. These are not only engaging books to read, however. While teaching about the trials and tribulations of residents of stigmatized territories, these three texts provide elements to outline a much-needed political sociology of urban marginality. They describe many of the ways in which the state is deeply implicated in the fate of what sociologist Loïc Wacquant calls “territories of urban relegation.”1

Privileging the showing more than the telling, authors Boo, Hacher, and Licitra not only allow readers to make the connections between structural forces (such as informalization of the economy or deproletarianization or changing labor markets dynamics) and the lives, behaviors, and beliefs of those at the bottom of the sociosymbolic order. They also demonstrate how the state regulates poor people’s lives sometimes overtly (in the form of police repression, forced evictions), other times covertly (through extortion and intimidation) reproducing much of the precariousness, vulnerability, and violence that define them, and ultimately keeps the dispossessed in their (to a large extent) invisible place.

Click here for the full review at Public Books.

“Foodstuffs and plans” with Marcos Perez in Argentina

Marcos Perez: ideas from the field after seven week in Buenos Aires

(The following are some ideas that have emerged as a result of my fieldwork, and that relate to part of my research project. They are quite preliminary, since I need to do a more rigorous analysis of my fieldnotes and interviews. However, they might be of interest for those whose focus is Argentina, Latin America, and poor people’s movements)

Monday, 2 pm. I am participating in a meeting of activists from a piquetero organization in a neighborhood of the Greater Buenos Aires. It is a rather small group, led by a few people who have much experience in the movement. They advocate for the institution of a revolutionary regime that combines the abolition of private property and the implementation of direct democracy. Despite this, when they talk they sound more like skilled social workers thank like radical militants: they mention different social programs, describe their dealings with state bureaucracy, and organize the distribution of food assistance.

Another organization, another scene. We are waiting to go to a demonstration against the national government. City officials have promised that a tramcar will be available to take us. But the tram is not coming, and we have been waiting for almost an hour. I start talking with one of the activists. He has been participating for a few years and receives a social subsidy managed by the organization. He says that many of his relatives do the same, but with other groups, some of which are supporters of the government. He tells me that the important thing is “to know who gives you more things, and go there”.

These have been common experiences in the seven weeks I have spent in Buenos Aires, and were commonplace in a previous instance of fieldwork I did last year. Everyone in piquetero organizations, from experienced activists to short-term participants, talks about “foodstuffs and plans” all the time. This is hardly a surprising finding, as previous researchers such as Julieta Quiros and Alejandro Grimson have reported it, but it points to a possible reason why these groups could not consolidate the momentum they enjoyed years ago. A combination of factors has placed piquetero organizations in a very difficult dilemma.

The piquetero organizations I study are based in very poor neighborhoods around Argentina’s largest city. The vast majority of its members live in extreme poverty and survive day to day through various means, in what Denis Merklen has called “the logic of the hunter”. At the organizational level, the main consequence of this situation is that unlike other social movements, piquetero groups cannot extract the resources they need to function from its members. The resources needed to sustain any instance of organized collective action in these poverty-stricken neighborhoods have to come from other sources. In other words, it is the welfare arm of the state (or whatever remains of it) that provides the goods and money needed to sustain mobilization.

However, political competition, the scarcity of resources, and the neoliberal logic of social assistance have resulted in a situation in which social movements cannot rely on universal policies or institutions. Instead, they depend on the arbitrary distribution of specific benefits by officials. That is, piquetero organizations have to struggle, protest, and pressure the authorities to obtain resources from social programs. In addition, they need to be granted the management of those resources. Through demonstrations and negotiations each group obtains “foodstuffs and plans”, that is, the regular provision of a certain amount of crates of different food products, and a number of positions in workfare social programs to be distributed among its members.

(Candelaria Garay, an Argentinean political scientist, makes the argument that it was precisely the targeted, “focalized” nature of social policies in the 90s that allowed the piquetero movement to expand so rapidly in the years prior to the crisis of 2001-2002)

In order to attain the demanded quota of resources, organizations have to display in the streets that they have the capacity to mobilize people with frequency. The more people the organization mobilizes, the more influential its leaders will be in dealing with state officials, and the more successful they will be in obtaining resources.

However, to be able to do this, organizations need to solve a collective action dilemma. My interviews and fieldnotes reveal that most people are reluctant to participate in public activities, some of which are very demanding in time and effort. Moreover, since organizations have to protest first and negotiate later in order to obtain more resources, it is frequently the case that people have to participate in demonstrations for a long period before finally being awarded a position in a social program. In order to deal with this problem, piquetero organizations are forced to provide selective incentives, both positive and negative. The former consists of the distribution of foodstuffs: every time the authorities dispense food products to the organization, its members separate a portion for the sustainment of soup kitchens, and distribute the rest to those who have participated in activities. In addition, those who do not receive a social subsidy are attracted by the prospect of getting one. The main negative incentive is the threat of having the plan, subsidy, or position discontinued if the member ceases to participate for a long time.

In sum, piquetero groups are immersed in a dynamic where “having people” is the most important thing. “Having people” means leading a certain number of individuals who identify with a specific organization and being able to mobilize them to demonstrations and other public events. It is the clearest measure of the influence of a particular leader or group. In this aspect they do not differ from other actors. As Javier Auyero showed in Poor People’s Politics, the main asset of different local referents of the Peronist party is their capacity to mobilize a number of people for demonstrations and primaries.

The dynamic I described above can be used to accuse piquetero organizations of being clientelistic machines. However, I believe that such an interpretation would be strongly misled. Firstly, the concept of clientelism is problematic, especially when used as an accusation. Condemning a group as “clientelistic” for organizing to demand resources that will allow its members to survive is illogical. Piquetero organizations need to pressure authorities to obtain food and social plans, and in order to do that, they have to solve the collective action dilemma they face. Can we reprove a group for distributing goods on the basis of participation, when it is precisely that participation that allowed the goods to be obtained in the first place? Most of my respondents seem to agree with the idea that those who made the most effort should be given priority in the distribution of the results of that effort.

Secondly, any criticism of the practices of piquetero groups needs to take into consideration the changes in social policy that placed them into that situation. Neoliberal reforms in the 1990s moved social policies from a universalistic logic to a targeted one, where specific programs such as conditional cash transfers emerged as a central component of the welfare apparatus of the state. This transformation created the conditions for increased arbitrariness in the distribution of social assistance by state officials.

Lastly, it is important to uphold the justice and dignity of material demands. Although mobilizing to demand social change seems more romantic than blocking a road to request the distribution of bags of rice, we should not forget that the latter constitutes a human right. As Julieta Quiros argues, if we respond to the accusations of clientelism by downplaying the importance of material demands (as some have done), we are accepting the basic tenet of the accusers: that “it is not acceptable to mobilize politically for a subsidy, a box of food, or 20 pesos”.

That being said, it is true that the dynamic described above causes many problems for piquetero organizations, three of which appear particularly salient in my fieldwork. Firstly, since “having people” is such an important asset, local leaders have a tendency to try to preserve their own group and are reluctant to make compromises. As one of my interviewees told me, “there was one time in which we even made a forbidden sign with the word ‘my’ crossed. Because everyone was saying all the time ‘my people’, ‘my place’, ‘my things’”. This situation generates frequent conflicts and has even led to divisions.

Secondly, given that the state is the main provider of resources, organizations end up being very vulnerable to shifts in policies and to decisions made by officials. For instance, one of the organizations I have worked with is a nation-wide network of activists with a significant mobilization capacity, and a very strong presence in poor neighborhoods all across the country. However, a recent decision by the national government to cut the provision of foodstuffs for soup kitchens has strongly affected it, and has forced it to engage in a series of large-scale protests that have been only partially successful.

Finally, the distribution of material incentives for mobilization has prevented many organizations from developing a large body of “core” activists on which the organization can rely regardless of the provision of goods. Having such a group of people is an essential feature, since it allows organizations to face challenges such as the suspension of social programs or harassment by rival political factions. Several leaders I interviewed complained about the difficulties in moving people from “participating due to necessity” to “participating due to commitment”.

In sum, the experiences I collected in my fieldwork seem to suggest that piquetero organizations are placed in a very difficult situation, which would explain the centrality of “foodstuffs and plans” in the discourse of activists. These are just preliminary ideas and need to be confirmed (or rejected) by a more rigorous analysis of the data I collected. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that this analysis will refute the fact that piquetero organizations fulfill a central role in the satisfaction of the needs of poor people. Regardless of their limitations, and the challenges imposed by the context in which they operate, the piqueteros “are there in the neighborhood.” Among other things, they teach literacy skills to adults and feed children, provide free sex education and counseling, demand for the provision of local services, and confront police abuse. More generally, they have been one of the ways in which poor people in Argentina have confronted the worst consequences of neoliberalism.

The Obamas and the New Politics of Race

With the 2012 US presidential election campaign in full swing, the meaning and significance of Barack Obama and his presidency are once again in the spotlight. Has the election of Barack Obama served as the watershed moment for American politics and race relations that many predicted? A number of experts in the field of critical race theory attempt to answer this question in a special issue of Qualitative Sociology: The Obamas and the New Politics of Race, published by Springer and available to the general public. This series of six articles showcases the most recent critical sociological work on race, racism, and politics through the lens of Barack Obama’s presidency.

One article provides a timely examination of how the concept of “family” has been used to both address and mask social inequalities generally, and racial inequalities in particular. In her article entitled “Just another American story? The first Black First Family,” former American Sociological Association president Patricia Hill Collins shows—by highlighting their own “family stories” during the 2008 campaign and in the post-election years—how the Obamas have been able to reintroduce race, gender, labor and equality into public policy discussions in a time when such debates are often deemed risky.

Public debate over Obama’s citizenship and legitimacy as President is analyzed by Mississippi State University Professor Matthew Hughey, in his article, “Show me your papers! Obama’s birth and the whiteness of belonging.” Hughey identifies “birtherism” – the belief that by virtue of birthright, Obama is disqualified from presidential office – as a practice informed by the history of slavery. According to Hughey, much of what is “new” about the politics of race and racism is oriented around discussions of citizenship, belonging, authenticity and identity. Hughey concludes that while Obama may be a legal citizen, he is still viewed by some as an equivocal American, suggesting that the question of who is “the real” Obama will remain a factor in the 2012 election.

Wellesley College professor Michael Jeffries’s article “Mutts like me: multiracial students’ perceptions of Barack Obama,” explores how other multiracial US citizens understand Obama’s racial identity, race and “race relations.” In his interviews with multiracial students, Jefferies finds that respondents reject the concept of “post-racial idealism” and do not view Obama’s election as signaling an end to racism. Instead, Obama is viewed predominantly as black rather than multiracial, even though his multiracial origins are acknowledged. His findings suggest that racial schemas birthed by nineteenth century racial science continue to have a powerful effect in shaping popular perceptions of race today.

The election of Barack Obama—and his bid for re-election in November 2012—allow us to consider how race and race relations have, or have not, changed; both in and outside of the electoral sphere. With a synoptic essay on the multiple meanings of Barack Obama and the Obama family in a putative post-racial age by guest editors Simone Browne and Ben Carrington of The University of Texas at Austin, the June issue of Qualitative Sociology demonstrates the importance of critical sociological analyses for understanding contemporary racial speculation in US politics. This issue is essential reading for anyone interested in how the wider cultural politics of race shaped the 2008 US Presidential election, the current election, and the future of race in the US.

Qualitative Sociology, Special issue: The Obamas and the New Politics of Race, Vol. 35, No.2. The special issue is freely available online to the general public here.

‘The Problem of Democracy Today’ – Cornelius Castoriadis

An interesting speech given in Athens in 1989, six months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, by Cornelius Castoriadis, founder of Socialisme ou Barbarie (1948-65). Mention of sociologist Lewis Mumford. Some tidbits:

‘We must return to the original meaning of the word “democracy.” Democracy does not mean human rights, does not mean lack of censorship, does not mean elections of any kind. All this is very nice, but it’s just second- or third-degree consequences of democracy.’

‘There is a famous phrase of Plato, in the Laws, if I remember correctly, where he is discussing the ideal dimensions of a city and says that the ideal dimensions as regards population (not territory) is the number of people who, gathered in one place, are able to hear an orator speaking.’

‘If factories and public services manage to function, it’s because employees violate to a large extent the regulations in order to be able to do their jobs. This is proven by the fact that one of the most effective forms of strike is what is called in French ‘zeal strike’: the employees begin to apply the regulations to the letter, and this can make everything collapse in an hour.’

‘…[I]n ancient democracy, as people had nothing else to do…they had this political passion, while ourselves…all we seek from the state is to consolidate our delights.’

Read more here.

Beyond the Cosmopolis: A Summary of Étienne Balibar’s ‘Cosmopolitanism and Secularism’

The honeymoon is long over, philosopher Étienne Balibar says in ‘Cosmopolitanism and Secularism: Controversial Legacies and Prospective Interrogations,’ between cosmopolitanism and secularism, and perhaps the taken-for-granted marriage of the two attitudes of liberal nation-states was not so legitimate to begin with.

Witness for instance the heated debates on universal human rights versus respect for cultural, religious difference (Islam), or the severe silencing of foreign, ‘outside’ influence in the interest of economic and ‘humanistic’ policies (the Eastern bloc, China). Have we reached an ideological antinomy and practical impasse? What will be the legacy of globalization in the XXI century?

Balibar insists, first, in order to extricate ourselves from sinking deeper into this mire, we rethink the opposition and antagonism between the secular and the sacred. Secularism, in a self-legitimizing gesture to adjudicate among all forms of recognized expressions on a bias separating politics and religion (and also the public and the private), institutes itself foremost as a theology of the Law. Instead, Balibar calls for a ‘secularization of secularism’ itself where legal systems play a self-critical role but cannot be the sole decisive agents in the arena of national and international relations.

Further, Balibar invokes the proliferation of assemblages and re-assemblages of ‘new religions’ and ‘new traditions’ such as liberation theology, Islamic feminism, stewardship ecology etc that would liberate and harness in new ways the reformatory and revolutionary energies that have become trapped and forgotten in current rigidified, codified, normalized, routinized everyday practices–akin to a sublimation of libido–and as such subject to performative critiques.

Thus, rather than the cosmopolitical, Balibar hopes to call for a ‘planetary construction of the universal,’ around an axis of the imminently reversible poles of the secular and the sacred, beyond the deadlock of cosmopolitanism and secularism.

This post is Linsane!

Eric Borja on Jeremy Lin:

The focus of this post is the social phenomenon that is Linsanity in order to simply get people to think about politics, and race in currently trending sports topics.

For those of you who may not keep up with basketball or watch ESPN constantly, may not know what Linsanity is.

Linsanity is a term coined by ESPN correspondents referring to the phenomenon that is Jeremy Lin- a 6’3’’, Asian American point guard on the New York Knicks. In just two short weeks Jeremy Lin has become an overnight global sensation.  He has turned around a historical franchise (the New York Knicks) and has brought them out of obscurity, transforming them into a globally relevant team. His jersey has become the number one selling jersey of the NBA, his rookie card is estimated to sell for $20,000 to $25,000, and he is now covered 24/7 on ESPN.

Oh, and not to mention he is the first American born NBA player of Taiwanese or Chinese descent.

But the truth of the matter is, there have been a number of ‘Cinderella’ stories similar to Lin’s, present and past, throughout football, basketball, baseball and hockey. Yet their stories did not spark a global phenomenon, so why Lin?

Could it be because ‘Lin’ is a marketers dream? Spawning nicknames such as ‘Linsane,’ ‘Linsanity,’ and ‘Linderalla’? Or maybe it’s because he has taken his new fame and glory with humility? Or maybe because two weeks prior to all of this, he was sleeping on fellow teammate, Landry Fields, couch because he was so unsure of his future?

What really seems to be going on, is his race.

He is Asian American. He graduate from Harvard. He had a Xanga account with the username ChinkBalla88.

Jeremy Lin’s story is not just another story about an underdog, or a story about how hard work and perseverance leads to success, but is a story that brings to light sports, race, ethnic sensitivity in the media and politics.

A number of controversies surround Linsanity; one of the first being a tweet posted by Floyd Mayweather (a famous American boxer) on Febraury 13th, 2012. Mayweather wrote, “Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise” (@FloydMayweather). This has sparked a number of public responses, ranging from UFC President Dana White calling Mayweather a racist, to prominent Knicks fan (and Director) Spike Lee replying on twitter, “I Hope You Watched Jeremy Hit The Gamewinning 3 Pointer With .005 Seconds Left.Our Guy Can BALL PLAIN AND SIMPLE.RECOGNIZE.”

Another, and most recent, controversy has been the uproar surrounding an article about Jeremy Lin titled “A Chink in the Armor,” which resulted in ESPN editor Anthony Federico’ termination. In a matter of two weeks Linsanity has brought race, ethnic sensitivity and politics to the forefront of the sports media.

The Huffington Post article, a segment on Jeremy Lin’s appeal in China, the segment aired on ESPN about ethnic sensitivity and the column responding to the article “A Chink in the Armor” can all be found at the end of this post. I strongly recommend you check them out.

I’ll end the post by just pointing to a couple things from the column responding to the article “A Chink in the Armor”.

The first thing I want to point out was the link embedded in the column to a 15 year old Jeremy Lin’s Xanga account. I point this out because it is such a great example of how technology has collapsed the space/time continuum. What I mean is that the photos were taken in a room (space) occupied by a 15-year-old Jeremy Lin (time), under the username ChinkBalla88.

A kid, who had no idea what was in store for him in the future, took some silly photos that are a reflection of what kids do. They play around with identities, and for this 15 year old Jeremy Lin, he was ChinkBall88.

But little did he know, that tho(e)se photos would/are (now) being conjured up 8 years later in an ESPN article about ethnic sensitivity in sports. Here we are, in an age where our past, present and future can be downloaded in an instant.

The final thing I want to point out is something the author of the column wrote referring to an Army Private by the name of Danny Chen. Danny Chen took his own life while on duty because a group of his superiors harassed him on a daily basis. They called him ‘gook,’ ‘chink’ and other racial slurs, threw rocks at him and just generally made his life a living hell. The author wrote, “Perhaps it’s a bit damning that four words about a basketball player sparked such outrage while a tragedy like the death of Private Danny Chen went largely unnoticed, but the fucked-up truth is that the story of Danny Chen might have received its proper respect had it come post-Linsanity.

Linsanity could have made the death of an individual relevant, but instead, the death of Danny Chen went largely unnoticed in the pre-Linsanity world.

Also be sure to check out sociology faculty member Dr. Ben Carrington on the show the Stream. The segment is incredible and insightful and Dr. Ben Carrington does an incredible job.


Video of the debate about Ethnic sensitivity on First Take:

Video of Jeremy Lin’s appeal in China:

Column in response to article titled “A Chink in the Armor”:

Huffington Post article about Floyd Mayweather’s tweet:

Dr. Ben Carrington on the Stream:

Research Questions with graduate students Pamela Neumann and Kate Henley Averett

Research Questions (RQ) is Q&A series profiling the faculty, graduate students, and alumni of the Sociology Department at the University of Texas at Austin. In brief conversations, this series looks at the diverse projects, interests, and sources of inspiration within the UT-Austin sociology community.

This week we check out the exciting projects of graduate students Pamela Neumann and Kate Henley Averett.

 Research Questions (RQ): Pamela, what brought you to the field of sociology?

Pamela Neumann: I’ve always been interested in social inequalities, but during undergrad I approached these problems mostly through the study of electoral politics and state institutions. Post-college, I had several formative experiences working for non-governmental organizations–first in San Antonio and later in Nicaragua–which ultimately led me back to graduate school, initially to UT’s Latin American Studies program. When I began my graduate work, I was fairly certain that I would eventually return to the development world, but that all changed after doing fieldwork in Nicaragua for my thesis. I realized that I had a passion for doing ethnographic research, and writing about the daily lives and struggles of women–so, with the encouragement of a couple faculty mentors in UT’s sociology department, I decided to dive in. And I’m so glad I did.

RQ: What’s your favorite thing to do in Austin?

PN: It’s hard to pick just one! Certainly the many warm and sunny days year round make it easy to spend a lot of time outdoors running or hiking. I also have a serious breakfast taco addiction, and there are more than a few great places to grab those around here.

RQ: What brought you to the field of sociology?

Kate Henley Averett: I took a somewhat winding road to get to sociology. When I began my MDiv program at Harvard in 2005, I was really interested in working with teens and young adults around issues of sexuality and spirituality, and was especially concerned about young queer people experiencing religious-based bullying due to their sexuality and/or gender expression. I grew frustrated during my program that I wasn’t able to find enough research about these issues to inform my career path, which was my first clue that maybe a research-based academic career was the logical next step for me. I spent a couple of years after finishing my masters doing a lot of reading and soul-searching, and when I realized that most of what I was reading were books written by sociologists, I decided to start researching sociology graduate programs.

RQ: Kate, do you have any exciting news in the works?

KHA: I’m currently working on a study that I’m really excited about, interviewing LGBTQ parents of young children about their parenting philosophies and experiences with a specific eye toward thinking through the intersections of gender expression, heteronormativity, and parental expectations in shaping the gendered lives of children. I’m doing a conference course this semester with my faculty mentor, Dr. Christine Williams, to work on preparing a paper for journal submission out of these interviews. Not only am I getting great on-the-ground research experience, I’m also getting tons of ideas for dissertation topics.


Pamela Neumann is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at UT-Austin. She earned her MA in Latin American Studies from UT-Austin and her BA in Politcal Science from Trinity University (San Antonio). Her master’s thesis focused on the trajectory and effects of women’s participation in community development in rural Nicaragua. She was particularly interested in how women’s involvement in the public sphere affected their own daily routines and household dynamics. Her broad areas of interest are gender, political sociology, poverty and development, and collective action, with a regional focus on Latin America.

Kate Henley Averett is a second year doctoral student studying gender, sexuality, and childhood. Originally from the Boston area, Kate has a BA in Religion from Mount Holyoke College and an MDiv from Harvard University.

February events showcase student and faculty research

Our Sociology Brownbag series is underway with three events this week and next. Also scheduled: February 24th Power History and Society presents: Dr. Sheldon Ekland-Olson talking about his new book “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides?

And who can resist a Leap Day (February 29th) taco brunch with Amias Maldonado and Nicholas Reith who present the ins and outs of “Social Networking, both Virtual and In Person”?

March blows in the always exciting and much celebrated 2012 recruiting events, March 21-22, introducing us to our prospective colleagues. Who will join our 2012 cohort?

The Lost Battalion: Sociology Professor Establishes New Scholarship in Honor of Father’s Legacy

Lost BatallionTexans proudly “remember the Alamo,” but few remember the importance of the Battle for the Lost Battalion. Arthur Sakamoto, professor of sociology and Population Research Center affiliate at The University of Texas at Austin, wants to change that.

In honor of the Japanese American soldiers of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team who fought in the bloody World War II battle-including his own father-Sakamoto is starting an undergraduate scholarship called the Battle for the Lost Battalion Scholarship Fund.

The Lost Battalion, also known as the “Alamo” Regiment for its lineage that traces back to the Texas Revolution, was a battalion of 275 soldiers from Texas. Trapped behind enemy lines on a steep ridge in the forest east of Biffontaine, France, they were cut off from the rest of their regiment and completely surrounded by Germans.

The 442nd was charged with the mission to rescue the cut-off battalion, even though they had just spent the entire previous week fighting to free two nearby towns. Engaged in the heaviest fighting they had seen in the war, the soldiers battled the elements as well as the Germans; dense fog and very dark nights prevented the men from seeing even twenty feet ahead of them. Rainfall, snow, cold, mud, and fatigue, plagued them as they slowly crept closer to the German frontlines.

When they could inch no closer, there was nothing left to do but charge up steep slopes, shouting, firing from the hip, and lobbing hand grenades into enemy dugouts Finally, the 442 soldiers broke the German defenses, allowing them to reach the 141st, rescuing 211 Texas soldiers at the cost of 800 Japanese American casualties in just 5 days.

“Since I was young I have heard the battle mentioned by members of my family because my father fought in it,” Sakamoto says. “For its size and length of service, the 442nd is the most highly decorated unit in U.S. military history.  [Yet] the 442nd does not seem to be as widely known as it once was.”

Lost BatallionSakamoto hopes this scholarship will once again raise awareness and respect for the Japanese American men who faithfully, and voluntarily served their country in a time when their family and friends were rounded up and placed in internment camps despite their American citizenship-their only crime being their physical likeness and extended familial ties to the enemy.

“We just wanted to join to prove that we are loyal Americans,” one veteran of the 442nd recently told NBC cameras during a recent news segment on the regiment, echoing a line from the Japanese American creed: Although some individuals may discriminate against me, I shall never become bitter or lose faith, for I know that such persons are not representative of the majority of the American people.

The bravery of the 442nd not only saved the lives of captured American soldiers, but as news of their heroism spread, it helped Japanese Americans to begin to gain acceptance as full-fledged Americans. In 1963, the soldiers of the 442nd were named “Honorary Texans” by the Texas state legislature for their actions.

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During a widely publicized ceremony in 1946, President Harry S. Truman stood outside in the rain to welcome the returning heroes of the 442nd, saying “You’ve fought not only the enemy, but you’ve fought prejudice, and you’ve won.  Keep up that fight, and we’ll continue to win to make this Great Republic stand for just what its Constitution says that it stands for, the welfare of all the people, all the time….”

“What the Battle for the Lost Battalion helped to do was to sear into the national psyche the enduring American truth that all U.S. citizens are equal under the law regardless of their race,” Sakamoto says.

In order to promote a greater awareness of this momentous battle in American history, Sakamoto and The University of Texas at Austin are seeking to honor the valor and sacrifices of the brave Japanese American soldiers of the 442nd through the establishment of the Battle for the Lost Battalion Scholarship Fund.

Sakamoto’s hope is that the scholarship will become operational by 2014, which will be the 70th anniversary of the battle. The goal is to raise $25,000 for an endowment, whose income will be used to support scholarships for deserving undergraduate students in the College of Liberal Arts.

To learn more about supporting the Battle for the Lost Battalion Scholarship Fund please contact Professor Arthur Sakamoto , (512) 232-6338 or Assistant Dean Kathleen Aronson , Office of Development at the College of Liberal Arts at  (512) 475-9763.

Top image: Army portrait of Arthur Sakamoto Sr.
MIddle image: Arthur Sakamoto Sr. in the foreground holding a book
Bottom image: 442nd Regimental Combat Team Patch

Courtesy of Molly Wahlberg