Archive for the ‘culture’ Category
When American Sniper was released, there was a lot of debate about the message of the film. Here is my view. American Sniper is definitely a conservative film, but it is a conservative film that situates itself in a larger conversation.
So what counts as a “conservative film?” There are lots of ways you could approach this, but here is one way. A film is conservative if the plot and treatment of subject matter reflects an important strain of conservative social thought and sentiment. For American Sniper, it is very obvious. The entire film is about a solider who is dedicated to the concept of service. At times, it means serving his country. At other times, it means serving his fellow soldiers. Even after he returns from Iraq, he spends his time with veterans who has disabilities and injuries. Another theme, more subtly stated, is that the service is done with integrity and honor. At no point in the film, is there any sense of exploitation or critique of military service.
For a lot of people, that is enough, but there is more to the film that qualifies the major point. For example, at least two scenes have fellow soldiers openly critique the Iraq mission. One is more direct and simply asks if it is worth it. A second scene has Chris Kyle reunite with a friend who is simply tired of it all: “Fuck Iraq.” An even more profound critique comes from the portrayal of the spouse who must raise their children by herself as he goes through four (!) tours of duty. In the middle of the film, she challenges him about his absence. In the final stages of the film, he shows symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome. In the end, he is murdered by another veteran.
American Sniper is by no means an antiwar film. But it is a smart film that, however briefly, acknowledges that war is hell and its cost is high. It is also a film that hints at the savagery of it all, as it shows children being maimed. Even Kyle’s arch-enemy in battle is shown to have a family that deserves our sympathy. In the future, I hope that more films will probe the Iraq War in new and interesting ways.
My new book, The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice (University of Chicago Press), is officially out today. Yay! The book is about diversity—that word, diversity—the organizational politics that coalesce around it, and the implications for the struggle for racial justice. I’m going to paste some excerpts here that highlight the main (empirical) argument. I’m working on a variation of this for an op-ed. Reactions welcome!
Talk of “diversity” is ubiquitious in the twenty-first-century United States, from the Oval Office to celebratory neighborhood festivals. A national sociological survey found that nearly all respondents said they valued diversity in their communities and friendships. Popular diversity interventions include affirmative admissions policies, mixed-income housing programs, and corporate training.
I have spent more than a decade answering these questions through ethnographic and historical research. My investigation has taken me to various settings—a university, a neighborhood, and a corporation—that all proactively identify as diversity champions. There, I found that some of the most passionate advocates of diversity are CEOs, university presidents, elected officials, and other leaders with stature and power. This presented a riddle: what, exactly, do decision-makers accomplish when they take on the goal of diversity?
In the post–civil rights period, many decision makers face a new race problem: racial representation and the potential stigma of not representing race properly. They confront a widespread expectation that some people of color, especially African Americans, will be present in a predominantly white context, measured either numerically or by racial minorities’ visibility or authority. Having at least one token person of color on a governing board has become, in many places, crucial for an organization’s legitimacy. Just as racial representation has become an issue—and, in part, because racial representation has become an issue—the representation of other marginalized groups has become important as well, particularly that of women.
The decision makers in this study have responded by advocating diversity. They have constructed identities for their organization or community as distinctive for its diversity—as one of its distilled, essential features and compatible with other fundamental characteristic of that locale. University administrators, for instance, touted the University of Michigan as “excellent and diverse.” At Michigan and elsewhere, leaders have deliberately cultivated a diversity image in hopes of shaping other people’s views and experiences of cross-racial interaction. They may be sincerely trying to improve intergroup relations and increase minority representation or just creating the appearance of such. These leaders certainly hope to create the impression that they, themselves, can manage group differences successfully.
There are both promises and pitfalls in treating race as diversity. The drive for diversity disavows discrimination. It helps to justifies some organizational policies, like affirmative action, that are proven to be effective at moving racial minorities and women up the economic ladder. It also affirms a basis of commonality—a shared, self-reinforcing commitment to social cohesion—across group-based differences that normally divide Americans deeply.
But diversity advocates’ efforts to minimize group divisions and expand the bounds of social membership have focused on symbolism more than on social causes. They have resisted fundamental change in the structures, practices, or cultures that guide day-to-day interactions and shape determinations of merit and value. The push for diversity is, by and large, a mechanism of containing and co-opting equality, as it largely leaves untouched persistent racial inequities and the gulf between rich and poor. This is the taming of the civil rights movement’s provocative demands for racial justice.
Hi all, I’m Ellen Berrey. I’ll be guest blogging over the next few weeks about inequality, culture, race, organizations, law, and multi-case ethnography. Thanks for the invite, Katherine, and the warm welcomes! Here’s what I’m all about: I’m an assistant professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo-SUNY and an affiliated scholar of the American Bar Foundation. I received my PhD from Northwestern in 2008. This fall, I jet off from the Midwest to join the faculty of the University of Denver (well, I’m actually going to drive the fading 2003 Toyota I inherited from my mom).
As a critical cultural sociologist, I study organizational, political, and legal efforts to address inequality. My new book, The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice (University of Chicago Press), is officially out next Monday (yay!). I’ll dive into that in future posts, for sure. I’m writing up another book on employment discrimination litigation with Robert Nelson and Laura Beth Nielsen, Rights on Trial: Employment Civil Rights in Work and in Court. These and my articles and other projects explore organizational symbolic politics, affirmative action in college admissions (also here and here), affirmative action activism (and here), corporate diversity management, fairness in discrimination litigation, discrimination law and inequality (and here), gentrification politics, and benefit corporations.
I’ll kick off today with some thoughts about a theme that I’ve been exploring for many years:
How can powerful, elite-led organizations advance broad progressive causes like social justice or environmental protection? I’m not just referring to self-identified activists but also corporations, universities, community agencies, foundations, churches, and the like. Various arms of the state, too, are supposed to forward social causes by, say, ending discrimination at work or alleviating poverty. To what extent can organizational decision-makers create positive social change through discrete initiatives and policies—or do they mostly just create the appearance of effective action? Time and again, perhaps inevitably, top-down efforts to address social problems end up creating new problems for those they supposedly serve.
To the point: Have you come across great research that examines how organizations can bring about greater equality and engages organizational theory?
I think this topic is especially important for those of us who study organizations and inequality. We typically focus on the harms that organizations cause. We know, for example, that employers perpetuate racial, class, and gender hierarchies within their own ranks through their hiring and promotion strategies. I believe we could move the field forward if we also could point to effective, even inspiring ways in which organizations mitigate inequities. I have in mind here research that goes beyond applied evaluations and that resists the Polly Anna-ish temptation to sing the praises of corporations. Critical research sometimes asks these questions, but it often seems to primarily look for (and find) wrongdoing. Simplistically, I think of this imperative in terms of looking, at once, at the good and bad of what organizations are achieving. Alexandra Kalev, Frank Dobbin, and Erin Kelly’s much-cited American Sociological Review article on diversity management programs is one exemplar. There is room for other approaches, as well, including those that foreground power and meaning making. Together with the relational turn in the study of organizational inequality, this is a promising frontier to explore.
More soon. Looking forward to the conversation.