Tax season is upon us, apparent in the stream of H&R Block TV commercials (“Get your billions back America!”), the line on many middle-class families’ to-do lists—“find tax docs”—that keeps getting pushed to next weekend (until a mad scramble as the April 15th deadline looms), and the sign spinners drawing attention to Liberty Tax, Jackson Hewitt, and many a local store that pops up this time of year. While some of us approach tax time with a sense of dread—paperwork, possible audits, paying taxes, oh my!—others look forward to tax time as “better than Christmas.” Why? Because filing taxes means the arrival of the much-anticipated tax refund check, a source of financial relief and hope for many lower-income working parents.
A single parent of two children who works full time, all year, at a minimum wage job is eligible for an Earned Income Tax Credit of $5,460. Those who earn much less or much more are eligible for a smaller credit (with the credit size shrinking until it disappears for those earning around $44,000 a year). On top of this, the parent’s refund check may also include the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit and the return of any over withholding from her paychecks. And if she lives in one of the 25 states that has a state EITC, she’ll also be getting a smaller state refund check too. The value of the EITC alone is worth more than a quarter of her annual earnings. The EITC pushes more than six million families above the poverty line each year. It’s no wonder that tax time is so eagerly awaited.
This year marks the 40th birthday of the EITC and, in the midst of dueling tax proposals from the political right and left, it’s a good time to examine how the EITC is working. At this policy’s creation in 1975, the intention was to reduce the tax burden on lower earners, with a maximum benefit of a few hundred dollars. Over the years, Congress has increased the income eligibility limits and benefit levels, transforming this income tax offset into a major government assistance program. Most recently, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Congress raised the income limits, particularly for married couples, and made higher benefits available to larger families (those with three or more children); these provisions will sunset in 2017 unless there is Congressional action.
As we reflect on the EITC’s past and future, we must be mindful of both its successes and shortcomings. Through the government, we support lower-income workers like never before. But we’ve left behind many others. Over the past two decades, the number of families living in deep poverty—living on $2 per person per day—has risen steeply. While we do more to reward work, those who are without work are in a difficult situation, without either a wage income or the support of work-contingent benefits like the EITC. Further, many workers struggle with variable work schedules, unable to get the dependable hours or full time work they desire. These aren’t all problems the EITC can solve, although some creative thinking is occurring. There are policy experiments underway and proposals on the table that consider other ways of expanding the EITC program to those it currently does not reach, such as childless workers and noncustodial parents. We need to evaluate what we know about the EITC to make informed decisions about continuing the ARRA expansions of the EITC and pursuing extensions of the EITC to new groups.
Our research demonstrates that the EITC provides an essential source of financial and psychological relief to lower-income working parents. After scraping by for most of the year, the arrival of tax season means being able to meet all of the family’s needs and even indulging in some of its wants too. Although they are cash-strapped for most of the year, parents use their refund checks in ways most Americans would deem financially responsible: paying current expenses (rent, groceries, child care), getting caught up on debts (medical bills, student loans, credit card bills), buying some big-ticket items (used cars, furniture, home improvements), putting some away in savings, and indulging in a few simple luxuries (birthday presents for the kids, a meal at a sit-down restaurant, a barbeque for the extended family). Though parents only allocate approximately 10% of refund dollars to this last category of “treats,” the meaning this spending has to them is huge. They get to be “real Americans” and give their children the feeling of being “ordinary kids.” In a consumer culture such as ours, purchases such as these can be of enormous importance. And there are two other impacts of the EITC that we see in our study, one financial and one psychological.
Families are able to use their refund dollars to build a personal safety net for themselves. By paying down debts, accumulating some assets, and stockpiling food and other items at tax time when their bank accounts are relatively flush, they’re better able to weather the tough times that inevitably arrive later in the year, as unexpected expenses or drops in income arise. And what is perhaps most remarkable is that all of these benefits come from a government assistance program. The reason this is so noteworthy is that many such programs provide financial support but at a psychological price. Applying for cash welfare or food stamps (now called SNAP) carries the connotation that you are a dependent, a taker, a drain on society. The EITC, through its connection to work and parenthood and its delivery through the complex tax system, is more incorporating than alienating. It helps, as President Clinton said, to “make work pay.” It emphasizes those roles of responsible parent and provider that are valued and rewarded in our society. For families benefiting from the EITC, there is no trade-off between dignity and a hand up. As you search for your W-2s and 1099s, that’s certainly something to be thankful for this tax season.
Beyond the obvious scholarship that goes into any UC Press book—research, writing, and editing—are challenges that even sophisticated readers and reviewers may remain happily unaware of. In this multi-part Behind the Scenes series, we throw light on the hurdles UC Press authors face in bringing their work to the public. From field work logistics in foreign countries, to the regulatory snags of evolving public policy, to the unique concerns that scholars of human subjects face, learn about the lengths to which authors go to present their scholarship to the public.
Susan Sered knows comments about Orange is the New Black, Jenji Kohan’s hit Netflix show, are inevitable when readers first learn the subject matter of Can’t Catch A Break. She acknowledges this in a blogpost entitled “What Pennsatucky’s Teeth Tell Us About Class in America,” which links two topics the general public may not analyze overmuch: teeth—as a marker for health and privilege in general (or the lack thereof)—and the vicissitudes of America’s underclass. But this type of analysis is Sered’s métier. As she states early on in the book, rotten teeth signify drug use, poverty, or that great American sin—failing to “take care of yourself”: nearly all the women she studied are “toothless or nearly toothless in the wake of battering and malnutrition.”
From Uninsured in America to the Women of Can’t Catch A Break
Sered journeyed from health care to women’s incarceration relatively easily. As she studied some of the nation’s pre-Obamacare 65 million uninsured for Uninsured in America, she found that marginally employed people with health problems were invariably headed for further trouble. Hence her interest in teeth: “People told me that without teeth, or with rotten teeth, it’s very hard to get a job. There’s real discrimination against toothless people.”
Sered became curious about what happened to these people after her ethnographic involvement, as they became even less employable, and entered the “death spiral” of awful jobs, deteriorating health, and potential loss of their homes. “We don’t see dead bodies in the street very often” so where did this underclass end up?
A light went on. “We’re hiding a lot of these people in prison.” Understanding the lives of women who’ve been criminalized—Sered uses that term intentionally because few of the women she researched “stole anything worth a lot of money or were an accessory to a terrible crime”—became her focus for half a decade.
We Knew Prison is Bad For Your Health
“Everyone knows about the mental health issues in prison,” says Sered. But physical health is also a problem. “Very few studies suggested that even at intake people coming into prison were less healthy than the general population. In a horrifying way, being chronically ill is a risk factor for incarceration.” That’s how I became interested in this issue. And women, because in the one or two studies that have looked at the physical health of prisoners, women prisoners are even sicker than men prisoners.”
A Dual-Discipline Approach | Methodology
Anthropologist Sered began a conversation about women who’ve been incarcerated with criminologist Maureen Norton-Hawk, who studied the criminal justice system and women and prostitution. “I wanted to see what is, what happens in their lives. She wanted to know what helped women move on with their lives after prison.” The co-authors invited women from two Boston facilities—a halfway house for women on parole and a drop-in center for poor and homeless women—to share their lives with the researchers.
“Very few studies suggested that even at intake people coming into prison were less healthy than the general population. In a horrifying way, being chronically ill is a risk factor for incarceration.”
A long-term study is difficult to conduct, especially when most of the participants are homeless and suffer from mental health and substance abuse challenges. Of the 47 marginalized and traumatized women (mostly 30-something, working-class white women) who entered the study, 26 remained in touch with Sered and Norton-Hawk for a full 5 years.
Quarterly in-depth interviews with each woman about housing, money, jobs, relationships, families, children (45 of 47 were mothers), and health were punctuated by monthly chats so Sered and Norton-Hawk could try to learn, “how criminalized and marginalized women move through and interpret the world about them.” In addition, the authors accompanied the women on appointments with doctors and parole officers; attended weddings, funerals, christenings, and children’s birthday parties; and spent time in parks, “sober houses,” and crack dens—wherever the women allowed them in. Sered saw her subjects as research partners, “guides in a world I knew nothing about.”
Norton-Hawk arranged donations of MBTA mass transit “T-Passes,” an invaluable monthly lure that explains their very high retention rate: better than any reported in similar studies. “To claim government benefits, you have to go to so many appointments, you have to keep re-certifying for Medicaid, for food stamps. If you don’t have the money to get to those appointments, you lose those benefits.” The mass transit pass made the appointments, and hence the benefits, possible for many of the women.
Also invaluable was the researchers’ office location in downtown Boston, near the two facilities and next to Boston Common (the oldest park in the US) where the homeless congregate. Departmental colleagues helped, as did the building’s security guard, though ostensibly his job, was to keep “the riffraff out.” “If a woman looking confused or high came in and asked for a T-Pass, he’d say, ‘You want Susan or Maureen. Let me call them for you.’ He was fabulous.”
Another detail that may not be top of mind for research in other disciplines? “Our building has really nice restrooms, which sounds trivial, but when you’re homeless, a clean quiet restroom—where no one’s shouting at you to hurry up, where there’s pretty decent-quality toilet paper—is a big draw.”
Protestants versus Catholics
The Protestant half-way house program offered early release from prison and was highly structured: drugs and alcohol were strictly forbidden, there were lots of Twelve-Step meetings, and everyone had written down their life goals. At the Catholic “drop-in” center, women could sit around high because it was a safe space for women to hang out. They were “totally different!” reports Sered, laughing, “but we realized within the first week that almost everyone had been at both facilities at some point.”
Sered “hung around” the drop-in facility (the half-way house discouraged “hanging around”), and soon earned her subjects’ trust. “They weren’t accountable to me for what they did or didn’t do. If a woman said to me, ‘Susan, it’s so cool! I’ve been clean for 2 weeks,’ I didn’t make a big deal, unless I sensed she wanted congratulations. If I ran into a woman nodding in the park, high, I didn’t scold her. I wasn’t her social worker; I didn’t judge her.”
“The Protestants were into changing people and saving them. The Catholics just fed them; as long as they weren’t obnoxiously loud or assaulting other people—they could be stoned, drooling—they could come in and eat.” Sered confesses, “I am Jewish but in this instance I’m on the side of the Catholics: love people unconditionally and let them be. If what the Protestants were doing showed long-term positive outcomes, it would be different, but … women who were working on getting their GED, were really enthusiastic about AA and NA, and constantly talked about staying in recovery? We’d meet them 2 years later, high, at the Boston Common or the drop-in center.”
The Root of the Problem?
In such chapters as “Joey Spit on Me: How Gender Inequality and Sexual Violence Make Women Sick” and “The Little Rock of the North: Race, Gender, Class, and the Consequences of Mass Incarceration,” we meet white sexual abuse survivor Francesca and black high-school dropout Anasia—as well as the perpetually weeping Elizabeth, socially skilled transwoman Ginger, and originally upper-middle-class Isabella. The women’s observations about their own lives stand; the co-authors offer substantial scholarship about ideological infrastructure to buttress the women’s suffering. But no matter the details and distinctions, the gendered violence that begins the book and permeates its pages is a constant:
Criminalized women are twice as likely as other American women to report childhood sexual abuse (45% versus 24%) and more than three times more likely to report family violence while growing up (48% versus 14%). Like Francesca, nearly all criminalized women have experienced poverty, abuse, insecure housing, chronic physical and mental distress, separation from their children, and a host of day-to-day degradations. Nationally, at least 70 percent of incarcerated women report having been raped at some point in their lives, typically more than once and often by multiple abusers …
Girls who try to escape sexual violence by running away find themselves penalized further: they enter the maw of the foster care system or try to survive on the streets, where sex work—seemingly the only option, given their lack of education and resources—inevitably sweeps them into a whirlpool of criminalization and deteriorating health. Though most want to “escape a lifestyle they know will eventually kill them … they remain trapped in the caste of the ill and afflicted.”
That is, in exactly the position Sered suspected as she began to theorize the results of the “death spiral” which led to this research.
Human Subjects Research
Obviously, researching human subjects entails qualitatively different challenges from, say, working with fossils or developing public policy. To protect these subjects, researchers must have their universities’ Institutional Review Board (IRB) vet their protocols against federal standards … even if that entails overruling the preferences of those same subjects. (IRBs arose as a corrective to now-infamous medical experimentation with human subjects in the twentieth century. They try to level inherent structural iniquities between researchers and subjects, for instance, in medical research, where researchers are the expert gatekeepers to treatment—and subjects are not experts, and are sometimes sick.)
“I’m in favor of those very aggressive protections,” says Sered (who herself had previously chaired her university’s IRB), “ but in the social sciences, particularly in anthropology, we’re moving toward a collaborative model. The research I do is not experimental, it’s observational; I’m not changing things in their lives.” Hence her stance that her subjects are research partners.
“Some women were disappointed we didn’t use their real names,” says Sered. “One woman, called “Tonya” in the book, explained ‘I want the world to know I had something to say!’” Sered understood the impulse. “In prison, they’re called “Inmate”—guards hardly ever use names. In the social welfare system, they have numbers. On the street, they’re “whore.” I feel sad we couldn’t use real names.”
If Sered’s population weren’t so at risk, her IRB might have decided to allow people to make their own decisions about pseudonyms, but Sered believes it was a reasonable call. “These women are vulnerable to all kinds of things. What if someone read “Tonya’s” candid remarks and she ended up in jail, or lost custody of her child? Are we being paternalistic? Yes. I’m saying I know better than “Tonya” what’s good for her, that it’s better for her that her real name isn’t used.”
Researcher to Friend to Advocate
Two of the women with whom the authors developed strong relationships were murdered. … “Elizabeth,” had finally moved into her own apartment after 10 years on the streets. She was bludgeoned to death with the leg of her own coffee table by the friend of a man she had dated.
As the study ended formally at the 5-year mark, the co-authors conducted a final interview with each woman. “So many women said—we didn’t ask this—something along the lines of ‘this is the first thing I’ve ever finished in my life.’”
How did the women react to the book? “Women who didn’t have a whole chapter dedicated to them were disappointed,” Sered said. Her policy was to create a blogpost if a woman disagreed with something she’d written. “But I’m not getting a whole lot of criticism: most of the women don’t read well, and they’re not accustomed to challenging authority. Unless there’s a good reason, you don’t bite the hand that … might have a transit pass for you. As much as I try to make it a level playing field, it’s really not.”
Genuine connections seem nonetheless to have been forged. Her co-author has moved on but Sered stays in touch “because I’m an anthropologist and that’s what I do.” The most hard-core addict of all the women in the study was caught in a cycle: locked program, to the streets, to prostitution, to drugs to numb the pain and shame … and back again to a locked program. “Somehow she’s been able to remember my phone number for 7 years,” says Sered incredulously. “Every time she’s in a program, as soon as they let her use a phone, she calls me. I’ve visited her at a dozen different detox and rehabilitation facilities in Massachusetts. Different women at different times wanted different kinds of relationships with me. I stayed open.”
Though fewer women make the effort to stay in touch with Sered (especially once the T-Passes stopped), she is still in regular contact with about 15 women who told her they wanted to keep up the connection. “A few call or stop by my office to say ‘thank you, how are you doing?’ Some call when they’re doing really well, some call when they’re falling apart. Some treasure the lunches I spring for at restaurants like Olive Garden that usually are out of their financial reach. I might not speak to “Kahtia” for months, for instance, but when her child’s birthday approaches she calls to tell me I have to come to keep up the tradition: I was in the hospital with her the day her baby was born, and I’ve been at every birthday party since then—7 years. Women I’m still in touch with see me as a friend.”
These friendships are not always easy on the authors. Over the years they’ve cried with women who lost custody of their children, braced themselves for visits to hospital rooms, and struggled with how much is enough and how much is too much help when a study participant has no money for food and asks for assistance. Two of the women with whom the authors developed strong relationships were murdered. One of them, “Elizabeth,” had finally moved into her own apartment after 10 years on the streets. She was bludgeoned to death with the leg of her own coffee table by the friend of a man she had dated.
Sered would next “like to collaborate with someone who does quantitative research. The combination of the cool stories I collect with the hard numbers that somebody else could collect has more potential to affect policy than just the dry numbers or just the dramatic stories alone.”
She and Norton-Hawk have already acknowledged their move from detached scholars to promulgators of change in their conclusion, A Blueprint for Moving Forward. Given the scope of the issues they describe, offering the book as a tool for “legislative initiatives and advocacy on behalf of all who struggle with poverty, illness, and violence” seems the only stance possible for those unwilling to abrogate their ethics.
Susan Sered is a professor in the Department of Sociology at Suffolk University in Boston. “Over the course of my career my research foci have transitioned from issues of gender and religion to issues of illness and health care. While these two intellectual clusters may sound somewhat far apart at first glance, it seems to me that all of the various phases of my work are tied together by my abiding concern with how individuals and groups interpret their corporeal experiences of suffering and how various powerful institutions endeavor to exert control over those experiences.”
Learn about the women in the book on Susan Sered’s blog, where she provides ongoing updates about their lives.
Other than Maxwell Perkins or Jackie Kennedy Onassis, even dedicated readers and authors may have trouble identifying editors — and understanding exactly what they DO. This occasional feature examines how editors at UC Press bring you your favorite books.
What Does an Editor Do?
My primary responsibility is to acquire manuscripts, and to make sure that after I acquire them they’re brought to fruition and published. The process involves a lot of skill sets, including an assessment of what kinds of books and authors the Press can best publish successfully.
Though it’s a naive notion on the surface, books can change the world through the ways certain ideas are understood, socially involved scholars interact and speak about the large issues of the world, and data is interpreted for a broader audience. There’s an inchoate energy between the UC system—the best public university in the world, committed to educating students across class, race, and sexual identities—and the mission of UC Press. My goal—and it dovetails with the Press’s mission—is to publish books that have an impact on the larger issues of the day.
A Typical Day
I work very quickly. I’m not sure I’m a model for anyone else, but I’m very reactive: I like to get back to people expeditiously. The challenge—and it’s more difficult than it sounds—is to clear your desk so you can think about your program in a more creative way and do higher-level strategizing about what to acquire.
Because I’ve been at this job for a while, people come to me all the time with their projects, but I also track down authors in various ways: through social networks, at conferences, from an article I might read in the New York Times, or through something I might see on Facebook. Often, you do have to be more assertive to acquire the books you find truly exciting and that have potential to really reach a broader audience.
I do work closely with some authors in conceptualizing their books, in developing organizational frames, in helping them tease out their theses and the way they want to develop arguments. I don’t copyedit, I don’t have time for that, or even have time to do in-depth editorial work on all my manuscripts, just on books that might have an audience beyond specialists.
On Editing Two Nobel Prize Winners
I acquired Dora Bruder by Patrick Modiano fifteen years ago. This novella grapples with a host of issues—being Jewish in Nazi-occupied Paris, collaboration, memory, identity, and suffering—with a nuanced sensibility that really captures a noir-ish mood and dark historical moment. When the prize was announced in October we immediately sought out Modiano’s French publisher at the Frankfurt Book Fair and begged them to allow us to re-acquire English language rights for North America. Quite expeditiously—because my colleagues in production, editing, design, and marketing made it happen!—we reprinted the book within a month, and we’ve already sold over 5,000 copies! It’s been so gratifying that a book and an author I believed in received this kind of recognition.
Jody Williams won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. I worked really closely on her memoir, My Name is Jody Williams, to ensure Jody melded her life story—she’s a very interesting woman with a blunt and straightforward approach—with her work on the ground. What I love about Jody—and what really reflects on UC Press’s mission and on my list—is that she believes every woman can be an activist, that she’s not extraordinary, not an anomaly, and that the work continues. After she won the prize, she formed the Nobel Women’s Initiative. The prize was a high point of her life, but after she won she formed the Nobel Women’s Initiative, and she continues day in and day out to be an activist.
On Having An Imprint
My imprint is an acknowledgment that I’ve developed a coherent list of books that have often received lots of attention, that I’ve brought in books that have sold really well, and that my list reflects the mission of UC Press. The books I put in the imprint reflect the kinds of work that UC Press is proud to publish: books that deal with inequality, human rights, and social justice in interesting and sometimes proactive ways. An imprint is an honor … and I feel very, very grateful.
An Author Who’s Been at the Center of My Work: Paul Farmer (and Protégés)
Paul Farmer is a doctor, anthropologist, and co-founder of Partners in Health. When Paul won the MacArthur “genius grant” he used the monies to build the only hospital on the central plateau of Haiti, where he’s worked for 30 years. He’s rebuilt, with Rwandan partners, the medical infrastructure of that country after the genocide. In a major new initiative, Partners in Health is now on the ground in Liberia and Sierra Leone confronting the Ebola crisis in an aggressive effort to end the epidemic. I’m his editor but I see my commitment to Paul’s work as an all-encompassing one: I support his on-going medical activism in the field and give money to Partners in Health.
Last year’s Reimagining Global Health—edited by Paul; Jim Kim, President of the World Bank (and cofounder of Partners in Health); Arthur Kleinman, who founded the field of medical anthropology; and Matt Basilico—offers a set of intellectual paradigms for providing people around the world with the same types of medical care that we who live in a very wealthy country would receive. The book is already part of a MOOC around the class that Paul, Jim, and Arthur lead at Harvard. Perhaps needless to say, Reimagining Global Health has been an astounding success, as all of Paul’s books are, and it’s a teaching tool for medical students, public health workers, and social scientists who aim to provide a “preferential option for the poor.”
I’ve just published Blind Spot, a book by one of Paul’s protégés, Salmaan Keshavjee, who is also a doctor/anthropologist who has worked on drug-resistant TB in central Asia, Siberia, and Lesotho. Blind Spot takes on how corporate philanthropy and foreign aid priorities have been developed, probing the disjuncture between foreign aid imperatives and the reality of how poor people are actually treated.
Seth Holmes (Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies) is also an MD/PhD who has written a powerful ethnography based on his journey with farm workers from Mexico to Washington state. Through his understanding as an MD and as a socially engaged anthropologist, he looks at the bodily suffering of the perhaps poorest-paid and most stigmatized workers in the US—and how violence is imposed on their bodies. This first book has sold over 10,000 copies in a year, and just won the most prestigious award from the American Anthropological Association.
“An Amazing Coterie of Feminist Authors”
I’ve only brought up men so far, but I’m really committed to working on gender and gender inequality, and have published an amazing coterie of feminist authors.
We just published Marianne Cooper‘s books Cut Adrift, that’s gotten a lot of recognition and attention; she’s a colleague of Sheryl Sandberg, who’s been very supportive of the book.
Marianne, an ethnographer and protégé of Arlie Hochschild, examines, through the experiences of families in Silicon Valley, how inequality during the economic recession we’ve just experienced plays itself out in families across the class spectrum.
Cynthia Enloe is an unconventional political scientist who provides accessible yet provocative ideas on how patriarchy and militarism have deeply embedded themselves in our institutions and in our personal lives. We’ve just published a second edition of Bananas, Beaches, and Bases. She’s a feminist icon and a very, very generous mentor to several generations of students and activists.
We’ve also just published a new edition of Arlie Russell Hochschild’s classic work about emotional labor entitled The Managed Heart as well as a book of her essays entitled So How’s The Family? Arlie’s probably the most important feminist sociologist in the post-war period who has altered our notions of work and family in radical ways.
I work with young scholars like C. J. Pascoe who wrote Dude, You’re A Fag—a book with a provocative title to say the least. Pascoe is conducting research on a new book about teenage love that will offer a radical portrait of young people that belies our notions of their jaded cynicism. Raising the Transgender Child: Being Male or Female in the Twenty First Century, by a young sociologist at Harvard, Tey Meadows, will chart one facet of our configuring of gender in the contemporary period. This is cutting-edge stuff because we’re just now seeing the first generation of openly transgender young people come of age.
The Times Literary Supplement says Joel and Eric Best, the father-son team behind The Student Loan Mess: How Good Intentions Created a Trillion-Dollar Problem, have “produced what is probably the best and clearest book on the United States’ complex student debt problem.” Student debt, which now exceeds $1 trillion and is predicted to reach $2 trillion by 2020, threatens to become the sequel to the mortgage meltdown, the authors argue in their new book. The review (only available to TLS subscribers), describes the Bests’ project to reveal the severity of America’s student debt crisis and explain how we arrived here:
Expanded student loan programmes boosted the demand for college, which made college more expensive, which in turn increased the need for student loans. Along the way, the federal government was classifying student loans as an asset on its books and so it received few serious warning signals that a major problem was building up. State governments saw that the loans were maintaining the demand for college and so they cut back on direct aid to the institutions, which further hurt affordability.
TLS isn’t sanguine about where we go from here, but concludes that The Student Loan Mess is a must-read for understanding the scope of the problem. Ultimately, the author writes, there “will be a very painful restructuring for what has traditionally been one of America’s strongest sectors – maybe its strongest – by global standards. If this does end up being a century of American decline, the student debt debacle will have played a modest but not minor role.”
Sara Shostak’s book, Exposed Science: Genes, the Environment, and the Politics of Population Health, recently received two huge honors from the American Sociological Association: the Eliot Freidson Outstanding Publication Award from the Medical Sociology Section and the Robert K. Merton Book Award from the section on Science, Knowledge, and Technology (SKAT). In this interview with Human Capital, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s blog, Shostak talks about what the awards mean for her, both personally and professionally. She also elaborates on the subject of her book, gene-environment interaction, and its ascendance within the field of environmental health science. The book’s central argument, Shostak explains, is that “scientists’ perceptions of and responses to the structural vulnerabilities of the field of environmental health science have both intended and unintended consequences for what we know about the somaticvulnerabilities of our bodies to environmental exposures.”
UC Press is home to one of the oldest and most prestigious lists in Food Studies, an interdisciplinary field that brings together scholars from diverse backgrounds to examine the role and impact of food consumption and production. Many of our authors, like Marion Nestle and Janet Poppendieck, highlight and challenge the food industry’s negative impact on health and the environment.
Today, the conversation about what constitutes “just food” has moved beyond talking solely about eating organic and local. Building on Julie Guthman’s seminal work Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California, a new generation of scholars is turning its attention to labor justice in the agricultural sector. Three new UC Press books from Sarah Besky, Margaret Gray, and Seth Holmes take on the issue of agricultural labor and all have received major society awards in recognition for their important work.
Sarah Besky’s The Darjeeling Distinction: Labor and Justice on Fair-Trade Tea Plantations in India is the first book to explore how fair trade operates on large plantations. The global demand for fair trade and organic tea is increasing, yet workers on plantations experience justice in uneven and contradictory ways. For her rigorous ethnography, Besky will be awarded theSociety for Economic Anthropology Book Prize at the annual American Anthropological Association meeting.
Margaret Gray, author of Labor and the Locavore: Building a Comprehensive Food Ethicoffers a revealing look at labor practices in Hudson Valley, New York. Despite Hudson Valley’s reputation as the bucolic landscape from which much of New York City’s local food is grown, it’s a region rife with labor conflict and abuse. The author challenges us to bring labor justice into the food justice movement. Labor and the Locavore won the annual Association for the Study of Food and Society 2014 Book Prize. It was also named co-winner of the Best Book Award from Labor Project from the American Political Science Association.
In his gripping book Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States,anthropologist Seth Holmes exposes the violence experienced by migrant laborers today. Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies was honored with the Association for Humanist Sociology Book Award, the New Millennium Book Award from the Society for Medical Anthropology, and the Anthropology of Work Book Award from the Society for the Anthropology of Work, among other awards.
Congratulations Sarah Besky, Margaret Gray, and Seth Holmes!
Can’t Catch a Break, publishing this month, is a brilliant book that teases out the nuanced relationship between gender, drugs, and jail in many women’s lives.
We asked coauthor Susan Starr Sered the story behind the cover image, which features an abstract image of bold colored stripes, dripping paint, and few hints as to how to contextualize what we’re seeing.
In an email, Susan describes her search in vain for appropriate images dealing with women and prison. The results depicted literal prison imagery that didn’t capture the range of experiences of the women her book profiles, or “disgustingly voyeuristic male-fantasy pornography.”
And then she came upon “this gorgeous image.” The piece is part of an installation by artist Markus Linnenbrink, at the JVA/Prison in Düsseldorf, in a 132 ft long underground tunnel that connects its security check to the visitors’ area. The artist explains that the JVA prison is considered “a model institution and has been designed to deal with security and humanity as best as possible, thus the desire for a unique approach [to its visitor entrance].” You can find more images and information about the project at this Colossal profile.
“It’s hard for me to describe why this image struck me so forcefully,” Sered writes. “Perhaps the vertical lines look like bars made out of women’s make-up and nail polish. The color dripping down from the horizontal stripes looks as if it’s weeping. The ambitious horizontal stripes decaying down into drips on the wall evoke, for me, the mess that’s come of the good intentions behind trying to cut down on crime, drug use and so on. And finally, people in prison spend so much time with nothing to do but stare at blank walls, so I love imagining those walls as color drenched acts of resistance.”
And with that, Sered cuts to the heart with precision, as she does so often throughout the book. Beyond interpretations of line, color, drip, and context, what captivates is the image’s undefinable power: inviting yet defiant; strong despite, and owing to, its imperfections. Just like the women this book profiles.
Learn about the women in the book on Susan Sered’s blog, where she provides ongoing updates about their lives.
Cooper’s book explores what keeps Americans up at night. Through poignant case studies, she reveals what families are concerned about, how they manage their anxiety, whose job it is to worry, and how social class shapes all of these dynamics. Watch their conversation below:
Cut Adrift makes an important and original contribution to the national conversation about inequality and risk in American society. Through poignant case studies, Cooper reveals what families are concerned about, how they manage their anxiety, whose job it is to worry, and how social class shapes all of these dynamics, including what is even worth worrying about in the first place.