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the sociology of infections and infection control: the basics

OHIO

The emergence of the corona virus draws attention to the very interesting topic of the sociology of infections and infection control.  When I teach sociology of health, I often use infectious disease as way to think about how social structure affects health. Some basic points:

  1. Transportation = Infections. A very simple link between social structure and infection is that many contagions are transmitted via social contacts. This is why cities, and transportation hubs specifically, are crucial for the spread of disease.
  2. Public resources. The ability of a government to spot infections, track them, and then act varies from nation to nation. Already, we’ve seen how some countries cracked down fast while others languished. Critics have already claimed that the Trump administration has been slow to distribute testing kits. If true, this would have serious negative consequences.
  3. Demography. Every contagion affects some demographics more than others. Right now, corona virus has a high mortality rate – much higher than influenza – among the elderly. For young people, the virus appears to be essentially non-lethal.
  4. Culture. People’s beliefs about who can get infected can influence how they interact. Already, some Asians are claiming they are treated poorly because people think all Asians are vectors for the virus.
  5. Wealth is good. Wealthier nations tend to have better health and more resources. For example, a few years ago, while Sierra Leone was devastated by ebola, neighboring Nigeria, a bigger more prosperous nation, was very effective in containing the bacteria. Ebola is easy to prevent – as long as you are meticulous in making sure that all healthcare providers have adequate protection and you have places to quarantine people. During our current crisis, wealthier countries can more easily stop economic production and have services where people can obtains goods and services without getting into contact with others (e.g., food delivery, Amazon prime). And of course, more wealth means it is easier to muster up resources on short notice for the sick.

So stay home and be careful out there.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 11, 2020 at 12:33 am

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is 2020 the “drop your tools” and “do-ocracy” epoch?

In Karl Weick’s (1996) analysis of the Mann Gulch disaster and a similar fire at South Canyon, he differentiates the organizational conditions under which some smoke jumpers survived, while others died when wildfires suddenly turned.  According to Weick, the key turning point between survival and death was the moment when one firefighter ordered others in his team to “drop your tools.”  Among other organizing challenges, this order to leave expensive equipment violated smoke jumpers’ routines, even their central identities as smoke jumpers.  Indeed, some did not comply with this unusual order to abandon their tools, until others took their shovels and saws away.  Post-mortem reports revealed how smoke jumpers who perished were still wearing their heavy packs, with their equipment still at their sides.  Those who shed their tools, often at the urging of others, were able to outrun or take shelter from the wildfires in time.  Weick’s introduction states,

“Dropping one’s tools is a proxy for unlearning, for adaptation, for flexibility…It is the very unwillingness of people to drop their tools that turns some of these dramas into tragedies” (301-302).

 

Around the world, some organizations, particularly those in the tech and finance industries, were among the first to enact contingency plans such as telecommuting and spreading workers out among sites.  Such steps prompted consternation among some about the possible meaning and aims of such actions – is the situation that serious?  Is this just an opportune moment for surveilling more content and testing outsourcing and worker replaceability?  What does all this mean?

 

Meanwhile, other organizations are investing great efforts to continue regular topdown, operations, sprinkled in with the occasional fantasy planning directives.  (Anyone who has watched a class of undergraduates and then a class of kindergarteners try not to touch their faces will quickly realize the limits of such measures.)  Without the cooperation of organizations and individual persons, critics and health professionals fear that certain organizations – namely hospitals and the medical care system – can collapse, as their operations and practices are designed for conditions of stability rather than large, sustained crises.

FlattenthecurveScreen Shot 2020-03-09 at 11.27.45 AM

 

For organizational researchers like myself, these weeks have been a moment of ascertaining whether organizations and people can adapt, or whether they need some nudging to acknowledge that all is not normal and to adjust.  At an individual level, we’re all facing situations with our employers, voluntary organizations, schools and universities, and health care for the most vulnerable.

 

For the everyday person, the realization that organizations such as the state can be slow to react, and perhaps has various interests and constraints that inhibit proactive instead of reactive actions, may be imminent.  So, what can compensate for these organizational inabilities to act?  In my classes, I’ve turned towards amplifying more nimble and adaptive organizational forms and practices.  Earlier in the semester, I’ve had students discuss readings such as the Combahee River Collective in How We Get Free (2017, AK Press), to teach about non- and less- bureaucratic options for organizing that incorporate a wider range stakeholders’ interests, including ones that challenge conventional capitalist exchanges.

 

To help my undergraduates think through immediately applicable possibilities, I recently assigned a chapter from my Enabling Creative Chaos book on “do-ocracy” at Burning Man to show how people can initiate and carry out both simple and complex projects to meet civic needs.  Then, I tasked them with thinking through possible activities that exemplify do-ocracy.  So far, students have responded with suggestions about pooling together information, supplies, and support for the more vulnerable.  One even recommended undertaking complex projects like developing screening tests and vaccines – something, that if I’ve read between the lines correctly, well-resourced organizations have been able to do as part of their research, bypassing what appears to be a badly-hampered response CDC in the US.

 

(For those looking for mutual aid-type readings that are in a similar vein, Daniel Aldrich’s Black Wave (2019, University of Chicago Press) examines how decentralized efforts enabled towns in Japan to recover more quickly from disasters.)

 

Taking a step back, this period could be one of where many challenges, including climate change and growing inequality, can awaken some of us to our individual and collective potential.  Will be this be the epoch where we engage in emergent, interdependent activities that promote collective survival?  Or will we instead suffer and die as individuals, with packs on our backs, laden down with expensive but ultimately useless tools?

Written by katherinechen

March 9, 2020 at 3:29 pm

social movements without romance

People who study movements often identity with them. Many of our most eminent Civil Rights scholars were themselves in the Civil Rights movement and many scholars of LGBT politics are themselves queer. Furthermore, many study movements they sympathize with.

This has many strengths. If you are part of a movement, or if you know about its issues from personal experience, or you sympathize with it, you may have access that other scholars don’t. But there are weaknesses as well. You might romanticize the movement. The movement looks like a band of heroes who battle great villains and overcome great obstacles. Flaws and drawbacks are minimized and under-studied.

In my field of research, the study of Black power and nationalism, we often see that. I think that many Black power groups, like the Panthers, did genuinely great things. Pride in Black culture is important. Many groups ran important social programs, like the Panther’s health care program. At the same time, the scholarship overlooks the less than stellar aspects of a movement. For example, many of the leaders of the Panthers were extremely violent people. Also, the Panthers advocated a form of revolutionary socialism. Unless you want to convert the US’ economy into Cuba’s, that’s a huge drawback.

When people ask me, “What do you think about the Panthers?” – I always say, “it’s complicated.” That is a genuine response. The move to radicalism was understandable in the late 1960s. I also strongly sympathize with the Panther’s response to their immediate problems – rampant poverty and police brutality. And it is not hard to point to concrete activities that Panthers did, like the health programs, that were clearly positive.

But it had a cost – radicalization drew Civil Rights away from a broad coalition to a much narrower one. It also undermined the main point of Civil Rights, which was to reform American society, not a plan to radicalize it along Marxist or Maoist lines. Also, radicalization and the rejection of non-violence allowed people with violent tendencies to emerge as leaders and undermined the unusually successful politics of respectability that the Civil Rights movement had cultivated.

The broader lesson for me is that we need “movements without romance.” Of course, a lot of research is rather a-political. We have tons of research on, say, whether social ties enable recruitment, but we also have a bit of research that implicitly, or explicitly, casts movements as the hero of a story, rather than an actor to be interrogated.

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The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
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Written by fabiorojas

March 9, 2020 at 12:03 am

Posted in uncategorized

the bar-kays (1979)

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The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
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Written by fabiorojas

March 8, 2020 at 12:22 am

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the big super tuesday winner is … the party decides guys???

The Party Decides, by Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel and John Zaller, is a well known book in political science with a simple argument: in presidential party nominations, voters follow elites. Once you get the endorsements, you get votes.

When Trump won in 2016, some political scientists thought that the model was dead. But basic statistics tell you to calm down. The Party Decides was based on data going back to 1980 and the model fits the Democratic nomination of 2016. My view is that Trump is sui generis and an extreme outlier. The GOP will revert to an elite driven nomination model once Trump leaves office.

With a strong Sanders candidacy in 2016 and 2020, my confidence weakened a bit, but I still predicted that the most likely winner was Biden, though I thought the odds were lower than normal for a (quasi) incumbent VP. I softened on Biden given his really bad performance in Nevada and Sanders polling strength in Texas and California. Briefly, I thought that Biden had tanked because a blow out Sanders win in California would dwarf Biden’s strength in the South.

But then the Party Decided: we saw two high profile candidates drop out and endorse Biden and prominent Black political leaders endorsed Biden. And then the Biden turn around happened. The Black vote, which has predicted every single winner except 1988, stayed with Biden and Biden saw a resurgence. Biden also regained some of his lost White votes.

The deepest lesson may be that party elites learned a lesson from the 2016 GOP debacle. If you don’t swallow your pride and back an establishment candidate, you can be saddled with  a loony for years.

Bottom line: Trump is an outlier and Biden is politics as normal. Advantage – the Party Decides.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 4, 2020 at 3:04 pm

Posted in uncategorized

website focus: black historical aesthetics

I recently learned of an interesting website/online project called “Radical Black Aesthetics” when they tagged me in a tweet. They compiled a list of readings on Black aesthetics and were kind enough to include From Black Power. The list also includes literary critics, like Fred Moten, and writer Tiffany Lethabo King. A lot to learn from.

The RBA group says: “We are a group of students committed to thinking through black historical aesthetics, working toward a radical epistemic disobedience.” So check it out!

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The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
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Written by fabiorojas

March 4, 2020 at 12:17 am

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super tuesday 2020 chat

Super Tuesday 2020 snap shot

This weekend, the Democratic primary race slightly changed – Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar dropped out. Overall, I don’t see a huge change. Together, Mayor Pete and Klobuchar had a total of 15% combined. Not trivial, but to change the race significantly, a very, very large majority of their voters would all have to go, at once, to either Warren, Sanders, or Biden. I just don’t see the tidal wave to Biden.

The question, then, in a Sanders/Warren/Biden/Bloomberg race, does Sanders have enough to hit 50% in pledged delegates? What long shot events need to happen for Biden to prevent that? For Sanders to win, he needs to merely stay on course – do well in California, Texas and the Midwest and actually get a nice delegate lead and then hope that people fall in line. For Biden to win, he needs to minimize losses in California and Texas and blow out in the deep South and in caucus states that Sanders may not have the resources to compete in. 538 currently projects Sanders to get the plurality of pledged delegates, but only about a 30% chance to get a majority. 538 assumes Warren and Bloomberg stay way beyond Super Tuesday, which may or may not happen.

From a social science perspective, the interesting question is whether the late forming anti-Sanders coalition is enough to stop Sanders. They probably learned the lesson from the RNC’s failure to stop Trump in 2016, but they can’t control wild cards like Bloomberg. Advantage: Sanders.

What do you think will happen?

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50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
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A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

March 3, 2020 at 12:06 am

Posted in uncategorized