Archive for the ‘uncategorized’ Category
We had three posts on the value and teaching of social theory. Take a few moments to catch up!
Tim Gill is a sociologist who is currently a post-doctoral fellow at Tulane University. His research focuses on political sociology and sociological theory. In this post, he discusses how you can use recent films to explore sociological issues.
As an instructor in the classroom, I am continually thinking about ways in which I can put students’ minds to work. I have found that this is especially important within introductory and undergraduate theory courses. In both sorts of classes, students are exposed to an array of sociological concepts that, at times, might seem ethereal.
In order to pull these ideas down to the ground, I use a number of strategies. One dependable way that I have found to get burgeoning minds working is by having a reference point of a film. That is, by screening popular films in the course, this allows students to look at particular experiences and, where possible, to work with sociological concepts and ideas that we have previously encountered.
At this point, there seems to be a canon of sociologically-oriented films that instructors work with, particularly in undergraduate theory courses. Brazil, for instance, pops up on a number of syllabi, and I have indeed shown it in several theory sections myself. Increasingly though, the film come to look a bit worn, a bit dated, and I can only imagine what students now think of it.
Glenn Greenwald wrote a recent article about the hypocrisy of Trump critics. Before, they demanded that leakers, such as Edward Snowden, be harshly punished, but now they praise the leakers who brought down General Flynn. I’d like to explore the issue of hypocrisy more.
As readers know, I am a long time advocate of open borders. As you can imagine, I was happy to see that people were justly horrified as Trump’s executive order. People flocked to airports to prevent customs and border patrol agents from sending back people who had legally obtained green cards. Yet, many people accused them of hypocrisy. Where were the protesters when Obama yanked amnesty for Cubans or when he deported hundreds of thousands of Mexican and Central American migrants, even putting children in jail?
The charge of hypocrisy is clearly correct. The Obama and Trump policies are similar in effect and action. The crowds are almost certainly driven by partisan animosity. But I don’t care. The cause of migration reform is so incredibly unpopular in this country that I simply can’t pick and choose friends. If Trump’s election causes a large number of Americans to suddenly care about deportations, fine. Those Iraqi migrants, who are escaping ISIS, don’t care about hypocrisy. Those children in immigration camps and jails don’t care hypocrisy either. And neither do I. They just want immigrants to be left alone.
An eternal optimist, I see hypocrisy as an opportunity. I don’t want the pro-refugee fervor to die down.I want it to persist no matter who is in the White House. Banning peaceful migrants is wrong. So I see hypocrisy as a gateway drug. Maybe Trump is a bad guy – and I think he is – and maybe you wouldn’t think so hard about immigration if Hillary Clinton were President. But I urge you to think about it – if banning refugees is bad now, maybe it’s just bad policy in general. Think about it.
I saw a link to an article called “An Austrian Approach to Class Structure.” It attracted my interest since it is rare for economists to delve into theories of social class. In this article, Lemke offers a theory of social class based on Austrian economics. It is an interesting choice given that Austrians are committed methodological individualists, and class analysis (usually) relies on holism.
So what does the paper offer? The core of the paper is an attempt to rebuild social in terms of methodological individualism. Class (page 179) emerges when:
- Rules and norms apply to some people and not others.
- Group membership is sticky.
- Some people hold authority over people in other groups.
There are a few things happening in this definition. First, it doesn’t match up terribly well with traditional notions of social class, which are usually economic. For example, an ethnic group is a “class” in this definition. However, an ethnic group is usually not considered a class in the Marxian or Weberian sense of the word (“position in the mode of production” or “market position”). I think in Lemke’s definition is closer to Weber’s notion of status group, but adds the idea that that rules are not uniformly applied in society. It’s a bit closer to Shils’ notion of deference or DuBois’ analysis of Black/White inequality, which focused on the forms of privilege that White people enjoy.
Second, the definition is especially suited to the issues that Austrian might care about, such as how states grant benefits to specific people and not others. Sadly, the traditional sociological literature on class and status more generally treats this as an after thought. Lemke’s definition works well, for example, if you want to talk about people in the state, or those who enjoy favors (special interest groups, lobbyists). This does come up in neo-Marxist political economy, but I don’t think it has much of an impact in the broader world of sociology.
Interesting read for anyone interested in the contact point between sociology and heterodox economics.
Abolish Work: An Exposition of Philosophical Ergophobia is a new anthology of anti-work writings, edited by Nick Ford. The anthology’s goal is simple – to present various arguments against work. They range from socialist anti-capitalist arguments, to left libertarians to people just being pissed off at work. The authors run the spectrum. There are selections from David Graeber (anti-work!) and David Boaz, who tells the reader just to get a job.
What I found fascinating most about the anthology is that is makes you think a lot about the anti-work position. Why do we need work? Are jobs degrading? Why is working considered desirable in comparison to not having a job? For me, the most compelling arguments come from those who correctly argue that work is inherently a negative thing. A number of authors make the correct distinction between work, which should be minimized, and leisure, which does not have to be minimized. They also correctly point out that there is an inherent tension between employers and employees in many cases.
The anthology did not ask if it is necessary for some people to work. Let’s take it for granted that work sucks and we would be wise to avoid it. Let’s further assume that technology will make it easier for more and more people to shift from work to leisure. But still, wouldn’t some people have to work? And is that really such a bad thing?
Still overall, I enjoyed this book very much and it challenges a very central element of the modern ethos, that work is good. Recommended!