Knowledge is Power (Except for When It’s Not): Susan Sered on Learning and Access to Education

In the wake of a new school year, Susan Sered, co-author of Can’t Catch a Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility, reflected upon the (often limited) access to education afforded to marginalized women, particularly those who have been criminalized.

Read the full text on her blog, along with a clarification: her argument “was NOT a call to eliminate access to educational programs until we perfect curricula and pedagogy, but rather a cautionary note based on conversations I’ve had with criminalized women in Boston over the past decade.”

Can't Catch a Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility
Can’t Catch a Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility

Sered presents the poignant example of a black woman named Tonya, who was accepted to a local homeless organization’s culinary arts training program. Underpaid and overworked, Tonya finally completed the program, only to discover that she needed to pay $185 to receive a “safe service” certificate; without it, she could not be hired. She did not have the money. “I feel like a loser,” said Tonya of her .

“We like to say that “knowledge is power,” but, unfortunately, the thrust of a great deal of contemporary American education has less to do with helping students understand who actually holds the political and economic power in our grossly unequal society, and more to do with drilling students in the notion that they personally are responsible for their own failure to take control of their lives, make the “right” contacts, excel at exams, land jobs, and stay out of jail,” says Sered. “That kind of “knowledge” disempowers; it obscures who profits from the status quo; and it keeps individuals focused on their own failures rather than on the structural conditions of poverty, racism and gendered violence that sentence the majority of Americans to be “losers”.

As new educational opportunities may be opening up for criminalized and for low income students, and as teachers and professors (like myself) prepare to go back to school, it’s a good time for educators to give some serious thought to what we actually are teaching our students. Are we merely telling them that ‘knowledge is power’ or are we clarifying that much of the knowledge we are imparting has been accumulated and validated by sources of power with vested interests in maintaining that power? Are we encouraging them to speak truth to power: to discover the truths that shape their lives, to identify who really does (and does not) hold the power in our world, and to speak loudly so that those in power will listen? If we are not doing these things, we are allowing our educational programs to add propellant to school-to-prison pipelines.”


Data Mining for the Social Sciences

By David Monaghan, co-author of Data Mining for the Social Sciences: An Introduction

This guest post is published in advance of the American Sociological Association conference in Chicago.Check back every day for new posts through the end of the conference on Tuesday, August 25th. 

Many social scientists focus on qualitative methods for their inquiry and analysis. Do you have any examples of how qualitative researchers have employed data mining techniques to assist them in their work? 

Usually, in the social sciences, when we say “quantitative” we mean analysis of numbers, and when we say “qualitative” we mean  the analysis of words (and sometimes images, sound data, etc.)  The fact is that just as our stocks of numeric data have exploded in recent decades, so too do we now have far, far more data pertaining to the social world that is “qualitative” in nature.  One great example is twitter feeds.  Over 300 million people use Twitter at this point worldwide to discuss everything from the details of their personal relationships to politics to media to promoting their own businesses or artistic careers.  Twitter data can be “scraped” and then analyzed, and this is tremendous amount of real-time data on the social world.  This field is, at this point, wide open – we have only just begun to think about how this data might be best analyzed.  The rules that we rely on in standard statistical analyses, which presume that data come from a random sample, clearly won’t hold very well here.  And this is a big-data problem par excellence – with this amount of data, standard “qualitative” interpretive techniques won’t work either.  This is an instance of the worlds of qualitative research and computationally-intensive analytic methods meeting.  And it is certainly not just Twitter – the same can be said of google searches, of Facebook posts, of the massive numbers of books and other texts which have been digitized.

What are some of the most compelling ways you’ve seen social scientists use data mining in their research?

Social scientists, as a whole, have been rather slow to embrace data mining.  In all honesty, social scientists – and sociologists in particular – have spent far more time (and text) discussing the sociological implications of “Big Data” and computationally intensive methods, and the fact that social scientists should be getting into these areas, then they have actually performing 9780520280984useful or interesting analyses.  At this point, the most interesting “social science” work done with data mining methods has been done by computer scientists.  There are probably a number of reasons for this.  Perhaps it is because social scientists are not comfortable with the methods themselves or the software necessary to use them.  To some degree, these methods have been dismissed as unscientific “data dredging”.  It is probably harder to get an article that uses these methods into a top journal, because the norms for how to present these sorts of analyses haven’t really been developed yet.  But I think, most importantly, it is because the type of data we now use is neatly fitted to a certain type of social-science question, and in order to profitably use computationally-intensive methods, we need to be using different sorts of data (particularly data that is very wide or long) and to be asking different sorts of questions.

What do you think are the most important lessons you have learned about data mining that you would like students of sociology to know?

I think there is a lot of mystique surrounding data mining, in the lay public and even among a lot of social scientists.  Data mining methods are discussed as something almost magical, a way of “discovering structure in data” uncovering otherwise hidden knowledge.  At the same time and as a corollary, it is presumed that these methods are very abstract, difficult to understand, difficult to use.  I think the most important thing, first and foremost, is to puncture this mythology.  Data mining methods are not magical ways of automatically uncovering knowledge.  Like traditional techniques, they are computational tools, and what they tell you depends on what you tell them to do.  And they are not particularly hard to understand or inaccessible.  In fact, a fair number of methods – like decision trees or association rule mining, to give examples – in fact use very simple algorithms.  It is just that they perform fairly simple mathematical operations a huger number of times.  And increasingly, software has been developed that makes these methods accessible to  people other than computer scientists.  Our world has, as has been noted ad nauseum, become much more data driven than ever in the past. These sorts of methods are being increasingly applied to analyze the massive stocks of data we find in our possession.  So it is all the more important that people understand them. The good news is, this is very, very possible.

David B. Monaghan is a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and has taught courses on quantitative research methods, demography, and education. His research is focused on the relationship between higher education and social stratification.


Decoding Albanian Organized Crime

By Jana Arsovska, author of Decoding Albanian Organized Crime: Culture, Politics, and Globalization

This guest post is published in advance of the American Sociological Association conference in Chicago.Check back every day for new posts through the end of the conference on Tuesday, August 25th. 

Can you tell us a bit about your firsthand experiences with the mafia in Macedonia?

I was eleven years old when the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was drawn into a highly destructive conflict. In 1991 the collapse of the federal state culminated in the secession of its more developed republics, Slovenia and Croatia. By 1992 the struggle had shifted to Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Europe experienced the bloodiest war on its territory since World War II. Once the conflict spread to Kosovo, however, it became clear that regional conflict would have serious consequences for Macedonia, my native country, as well.

By the late 2000, the local Macedonian newspapers were writing about the spread of interethnic violence in the country. These were terrible times for both ethnic Albanian and ethnic Macedonian people who were trapped in a world full of silent laws, deception, 9780520282810political manipulations, and crime. These were also horrible times for most small businesses in the Balkan region. However, I was optimistic about opening a café bar in Macedonia during the most turbulent times. The café bar Decorum came to life in January 2001. One night a group of men, known in our city to be thugs, racketeers, and “tough guys,” visited my bar. They drank good-quality Scotch whisky and then asked for the check. Because I was aware of their reputation for violence, I instructed the waitress not to charge them anything, hoping they would leave without causing trouble. As soon as they paid the bill, the man approached my business partner, and asked him to step outside the bar. He claimed that we had “dishonored” him because when he asked for the bill, he didn’t expect that he would have to pay for the drinks of everyone else in this bar. This was his way of initiating an argument and then asking for money. Consequently, we became victims of extortion and this was just the beginning.

You structure the book around a series of myths about Albanian organized crime. What are some of the most persistent myths in our popular imagination, and why?

There are many myths about the rise of the “Albanian mafia” in Europe and beyond. For various reasons, often political, these myths developed over the years. Therefore my book attempts to make sense of the mythology surrounding the topic of ethnic Albanian organized crime, although its implications are much wider. For example, some of the most widespread myths about the so-called Albanian mafia are that the traditional Albanian “culture of violence” and the customary Kanun laws have led to a drastic increase in organized crime in Albania; that the Albanian mafia is the new Sicilian mafia; that there is one nationwide Albanian mafia; that this Albanian mafia is hierarchically structured, with families, bosses, and 
underbosses; that this organization adheres to the ancient Albanian customary Kanun laws 
(code of conduct); that the Albanian mafia is able to move easily across territories and gain 
control of foreign territories; that politicians in the countries of origin (Albania and Kosovo) control the 
Albanian mafia, and so on. One challenge for scholars and law enforcement officials is understanding the nature of “transnational” organized crime groups as well as the relation between organized crime and international migration. The administrators of justice must be aware of the invisible lines that separate perception and reality, legitimate anger and ignorance-inspired bitterness. This book challenges various assumptions made about the rise and expansion of Albanian organized crime groups in the Balkans and the West. It is important for governments to develop politically acceptable solutions to issues related to international migration and transnational organized crime while separating these two phenomena.

What does your research tell us about criminal networks and criminal decision-making beyond the Balkans? 

My decade-long research project indicates that there is no single, ethnically homogeneous Albanian or Balkan “mafia,” structured hierarchically like the traditional LCN or the Sicilian mafia. Contrary to common belief, no strict hierarchy exists within ethnic Albanian criminal groups, and there are no “Kanun-based” godfathers. Rather, Albanian organized crime groups, for practical reasons of language and culture, are organized around ethnic groups and friendship ties. Often, family ties play a role, but the membership of a group is rarely exclusively Albanian. Although organized crime figures maintain ties to the Balkan region and their countries of origin, this does not mean that groups in the Balkan region control Albanian criminal organizations abroad. The Balkan region remains a safe haven for some of these groups, but one should bear in mind that some Albanian groups established themselves abroad after escaping justice in Albania or Kosovo. There is little evidence that Albanian organized crime is a strategically transplanted entity or a rational bureaucracy that has been able to move its “business” successfully to foreign territories. It does not appear that these criminal groups resemble multinational corporations, or that there is a nationwide Albanian mafia. On the contrary, the mobility of the groups seems to be functional and project-based, and there is no “one size fits all” explanation of criminal mobility. In general this book is skeptical both of theories that deny the importance of structural constraints on individual decisions, and of structural theories that deny agency to individuals and families. In fact, it proposes its own multi-level theory of organized crime offender decision-making.

Jana Arsovska is Assistant Professor of Sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York.

 


Lives in Limbo

By Roberto G. Gonzales, author of Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America

This guest post is published in advance of the American Sociological Association conference in Chicago.Check back every day for new posts through the end of the conference on Tuesday, August 25th. 

Congress’s failure to pass immigration reform has left millions of undocumented immigrants in dire circumstances. For my forthcoming book, Lives in Limbo, I followed a group of 150 undocumented young adults for twelve years. My long term engagement with this group of young people provided me an intimate view of the disastrous effects our immigration policies have had on the more than 2 million children coming of age in the United States.

A Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe permits undocumented children to attend K-12 schools, but once they graduate their futures are uncertain. The young people I came to know moved to the United States as children and grew up in communities around Los Angeles. Following many of my study participants for twelve years gave me a chance to chart the various turns in their lives—More than half of them went to college, over time many of them have had children, several have married, and a handful have become legal permanent residents after very long waits to adjust their status. For the majority of my respondents, however, their life outcomes fell far short of their hopes and expectations.

In 2011 I sat across a factory lunchroom table from Jonathan and Ricardo. Lacking a high school diploma, Jonathan resembled other modestly educated young adults from low-income backgrounds and a narrow range of employment options. Because he was undocumented he had far fewer choices than his American-born high school buddies who had also dropped out of school. Ricardo, with two postsecondary degrees, would have had his choice of attractive job possibilities if he had been a citizen. Several years prior, Ricardo’s good grades and strong network of school and community support allowed him to go much further than Jonathan. But in their late twenties both young men faced the same limited range of options for work.9780520287266

They had reached dead ends. In my conversations with them and the others in my book they described anxieties, chronic sadness, depression, and desire to “not start the day.” Illegality extended far beyond legal exclusions. It reached into their bodies, minds, and hearts.

The American dream is seductive, compelling many to believe that hard work and achievement will garner material success. However, the experiences of my respondents show that this is far from the reality for a significant slice of the American population. Excluded from financial aid and unable to secure the kinds of jobs their legal resident peers were taking, my respondents had no choice but to watch and wait. Life in the shadows enacts a heavy toll and the undocumented young adults in my study are the embodiment of Langston Hughes’ “dream deferred.”

But things are slowly changing. In 2012 the Obama administration initiated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In its first three years DACA beneficiaries have experienced a pronounced increase in economic opportunities and have become more integrated into the nation’s economic and social institutions. They have started new jobs and paid internships, increased their earnings, opened bank accounts and obtained credit cards, and enrolled in health care programs and obtained driver’s licenses. Indeed, DACA has increased undocumented access to work, education, and other milestones in adulthood, but this is not enough. DACA is temporary in duration and partial in coverage. Most importantly, it offers its beneficiaries no respite from long-term uncertainty and legal limbo. The young people I met need immigration reform so that they can have access to the same opportunities their citizen peers do. And they need their schools to do more to integrate them and to prepare them for better futures.

Roberto G. Gonzales is Assistant Professor of Education at Harvard University.


Provocations

By Susan Bordo, M. Christina Alcalde, and Ellen Rosenman, co-editors of Provocations: A Transnational Reader in the History of Feminist Thought

This guest post is published in advance of the American Sociological Association conference in Chicago.Check back every day for new posts through the end of the conference on Tuesday, August 25th. 

The foreword mentions that your own feminist cross talk became the collection’s true editor. In constructing such a broad, transnational text, what were some of the greatest challenges that you faced in the construction of Provocations, particularly in terms of placing very different readings in conversation with one another?

SB: One of the biggest challenges was not intellectual, but learning to be joyously collaborative rather than watchful and protective of our respective “turf.” We started out with a great deal of respect and affection for each other, which was a huge plus. But even so, coming from different disciplines and knowledgable about different areas (national and topical), we had our own ideas about what to include and what couldn’t be left out. This is the jagged reef on which many collaborations founder, as issues of inclusion and exclusion are so charged–and often in highly personal ways. Most academic feminists have still-raw memories of being shut out of conversations, having our concerns trivialized, having the traditions we love marginalized. Even the most successful among us have wounds of exclusion that can easily be re-opened. And of course, we all have blind spots in our own perspectives.

You can’t will away these very human limitations. But you can commit to not letting them destroy your process. That meant bringing a certain emotional equanimity and generosity to our discussions.  When sore spots were irritated, we learned not to let our knee-jerk reactions dominate, and we continually reminded each other that including everything we wanted to was a fantasy that couldn’t be realized by any collection. Once you let fantasy that go, you become open to excitement over the connections that you do discover rather than annoyed at what is left out. And that’s when the collaboration starts to bubble and pop, and you begin to see the world in a different way.

CA: I absolutely agree with what Susan writes above. From the time we began working on the collection to when we finally completed it, the organization of the book and crosstalk went through several iterations as we discussed what each of us envisioned, and learned from those discussions and the readings we selected.  Having a deep respect and affection for each other (and for this project!) helped us explore and recognize the parameters of what we could and could not include, since we knew from the start it would be impossible to include all world areas, time periods, feminisms, and topics one or more of us might be interested in including.  The bigger the project became, the more exciting it was to find connections, yet the more questions about texts, ideas in those texts, and decisions about how and why to include or not include something in a section we faced.

ER: Of course, I agree with both of you! It’s hard to separate the intellectual challenges from the interpersonal/process ones, because one of the wonderful thing about feminist work is the seriousness,  intensity, and commitment that people bring to it. The passion of our colleagues challenged all of us to assess our own assumptions about feminist thought. I think we were lucky to begin with a collection of scholars rather than a table of contents, because we immediately confronted dynamic points of view and complex ideas rather beginning with a static, impossible “coverage” structure — a series of empty boxes already labeled and awaiting content. Placing the readings in conversation with each other was actually not that difficult – the connections emerged in ways that were organic yet often surprising. Because we looked for rich instances of feminist thought without the constraint of coverage, the readings raised multiple issues and engaged in multiple conversations across time and space, intentionally or not.

Were you able to uncover new insights or discussions between your areas of feminist specialty and areas you may have been less knowledgeable about?

SB: All the time! There’s so much that we attribute to the fiction we call “the West” that is happening at roughly the same time in different ways across the globe. Sometimes the parallels are the result of actual “cross-talk” or various cultural or geographical interactions. But sometimes, too, there seems to be a more mysterious transnational convergence of concerns and ideas. One of the biggest discoveries, for me, as a historian of ideas, was learning how transnational the “Querelle des femmes”–the 15th and 16th century debate about “woman’s” reason, morality, virtues–was. I’ll never teach Cristine de Pizan again without teaching Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz at the same time. Discoveries such as this explode–in a concrete rather than theoretical way–the very notion that there is such a thing as “our” history (no matter how the “our” is designated.)

CA: Yes! I’ll only mention a few examples to add to those Susan already mentioned. The essay co-written with Srimati Basu and Emily Burrill, on violence against women in Peru, Mali, and India was a great a way for us to examine 9780520264229connections and differences among three contexts and for us to approach the broad topic of violence against women in a way that made sense to three scholars, each with distinct training and expertise. The essays by Ciasullo and Mogrovejo similarly approach a broad topic, lesbian movements, from distinct perspectives and I think readers will be interested in the similarities and differences across these contexts. Nnaemeka’s essay on African feminisms similarly expands discussions of feminisms, colonialism, and womanism. These and others, we hope, will provide additional areas of expertise and examples to those of us teaching who want to expand what we teach in feminist thought, social movements, or history of feminisms.

ER: Because my scholarship has focused primarily on England and the United States, I learned an enormous amount about feminisms around the globe.  I was struck by the similar questions encountered by British suffragettes and the women activists in Cristina Alcalde’s essay – what role, if any, should violence play in feminist activism? And I discovered the wit and insight of Gu Ruopu from China and Tarabai Shinde from India, whom I will now include in my classes on women writers. At the same time, I learned a lot about material I thought I already knew, such as the tensions around race, class, and sexuality in what we sometimes call second wave Anglo-American feminism. That period is sometimes treated in a simplified way, almost as a series of slogans, but the anthology emphasizes the nuances of those conflicts and the extent to which feminists in different camps were talking to each other, trying to figure out difficult problems that hadn’t been articulated before.

In what ways does Provocations emphasize new approaches and perspectives to feminist thought?

SB: For a long time, I’ve been frustrated by how readily feminists have allowed–even encouraged–the erasure of our intellectual accomplishments. Neither Plato nor Foucault (just two examples) have gotten wiped from the curriculum because of their failure to attend to gender or race. But whole traditions of feminist thought have been discarded by later feminists because of their “ethnocentrism.” As a result, intellectual breakthroughs that should properly be seen as inaugurated by feminists–examples: the “politics” of the body, the development of social constructionist thought–continue to be attributed to male thinkers. The sense of feminist intellectual and creative history also gets lost when anthologies are thematically organized (as they often are, lumping various periods and thinkers together under topics like “Bodies,” “Work,” “Activism,” etc.) or when sheer “diversity” becomes paramount rather than context and connection.

At the same time as we wanted to restore a sense of historical movements to the study of feminist thought, we definitely didn’t want to do a “history of feminist thought” that followed the same-old lines of the traditional “Western” narratives.  And we wanted to explore how the categories mapping history change when you put both feminism and transnationalism at the forefront.  You can’t do everything, of course, so we concentrated less on sheer historical coverage or maximum “diversity” and more on inspiring, provocative, challenging periods of transnational activity whose convergences and divergences could be chewed over, explored, analyzed.  We hope that readers will come away not just having been introduced to “more” feminist thought but new ways to think about the history of feminist thought.  In editing the book, we certainly were!

ER: In addition to what Susan has said so well, the contextual essays constitute a new approach to presenting feminist thought to students. As I teacher, I’m ambivalent about venturing beyond my scholarly comfort zone, especially since I value historical context in my own work. On the one hand, I want to expand students’ knowledge – and my own — beyond the modern English-speaking world, but on the other, I don’t want to present material superficially or irresponsibly. The anthology will give teachers more confidence about teaching out of their areas.  It also presents “feminist thought” as a dynamic, shifting series of engagements, interactions, and revisions rather than a series of canned statements about familiar topics such as sexuality and motherhood. We hope readers will come to understand that these topics came to be familiar – in fact, they came to crystalize as topics — because of the persistence with which women throughout history and around the world grappled with their experiences and their worlds.

Susan Bordo is Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and holds the Otis A. Singletary Chair in the Humanities at the University of Kentucky. Her publications include Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body; The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private; and The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen.

M. Cristina Alcalde is Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Kentucky. She is author of The Woman in the Violence: Gender, Poverty, and Resistance in Peru and numerous articles on migration, gender violence, race, and masculinities.

Ellen Rosenman is Provost’s Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Kentucky . She is author of The Invisible Presence: Virginia Woolf and the Mother-Daughter Relationship and Unauthorized Pleasures: Accounts of Victorian Erotic Experience, as well as coeditor of Other Mothers: Beyond the Maternal Ideal.


Jornalero: Being a Day Laborer in the USA

By Juan Thomas Ordonez, author of Jornalero: Being a Day Laborer in the USA

This guest post is published in advance of the American Sociological Association conference in Chicago.Check back every day for new posts through the end of the conference on Tuesday, August 25th. 

In what ways would you say that the interplay of isolating factors affecting migrant workers damages their position in American society overall?

When I first came to the corner where I ended up working with day laborers, I initially saw a “group” of men who seemed to look out for each other. As time went by I realized they really did not know one another well and were more or less on their own in a state of isolation from family, friends and the state, which they avoided in all forms, real and imagined. By imagined I mean they avoided representatives of what they thought was the state or places where the state had influence. These included the police, hospitals and even immigrant rights NGOs for some people. Men were afraid to give out their name and address to people they did not trust and made very radical decisions like moving or not going to work based on hearsay and rumor. Clearly this is not a good position for anyone in any society, as it raises risk of injury and discrimination at work (employers know the day laborers will not seek legal help that is effective), distrust of institutions that aim to protect all members of a community, and ultimately, it results in a form of belonging “in the shadows” which goes against the most basic and cherished premises the United States prides itself on.

Do you believe that any recent developments have, or have the potential to, change la situación as you knew it while writing Jornalero?

The short answer is no. There was much optimism a few years after I left because California and other states decided to allow undocumented migrants to have a driver’s license or something of the sort, which in theory would facilitate many 9780520277861aspects of life that were very difficult or confusing. Think of all the things you do with your driver’s license besides driving; every time you have used it to get on an airplane, at the bank, or even to enter buildings with high security. The list can get even longer when you think about purchasing things where your ID is required which at the time of fieldwork included cellphones. But the truth is such policies simply redraw the boundaries of migrant illegality and reshape the incompletes belonging. I don’t see how migrants are any closer to social inclusion and, more importantly, to the recognition of their contributions to US society and of their everyday suffering. If anything, with the upcoming elections we can see undocumented migration is again at the heart of the political debate and many proposals propose situations that are even more drastic than the one the men I studied were going through at the height of the 2008 economic crisis.

What key points do you wish for readers to take with them after reading your book?

I think the most important point I would like readers to take from reading my book is that living “undocumented” lives in the United States is harsh and full of sacrifice. The men in Jornalero loved joking about their suffering (and everything else in their lives) but in between lines were terrible experiences of separation, discrimination, and sorrow that are direct results of their contribution to the communities where they live and work. The people whose houses they painted, whose furniture they moved, all the gardens they fixed up, and everything else are all tied up in the system. Migrants are not in the U.S for an easy life and most have to face conditions both at work, on the corner, and in the places they live that most people in the country would not recognize. These conditions, in fact, are what makes their labor an essential part of the labor market; that is cheap and disposable workers with little access to any form of social protection. I think it is also important to recognize that even in migrant tolerant areas like the Bay Area there is a fair share of employer abuse and discrimination that goes unseen and is not talked about.

Juan Thomas Ordóñez has a PhD in medical anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, and is Professor of Anthropology at the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá, Colombia.

 


Paradise Transplanted: Honorable Mention for the Thomas and Znaniecki Best Book Award

We’re excited to kick off the 2015 American Sociological Association meeting by recognizing Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo’s outstanding achievements!

At this year’s ASA meeting, her book, Paradise Transplanted: Migration and the Making of California Gardens, will be receiving the Honorable Mention for the Thomas and 9780520277779Znaniecki BestBook Award. This award, given by the ASA’s International Migration Section, recognizes recent outstanding works of social science scholarship in the field of international migration. Paradise Transplanted was also a finalist for the 2015 C. Wright Mills Award, awarded by the Society for the Study of Social Problems.

She will also be receiving the Distinguished Career Award in the International Migration Section, in recognition of her lifelong contributions to the field of the sociology of international migration.

We are very proud to have published with Pierrette, and we offer her our congratulations!


Skills of the “Unskilled”

By Jacqueline Hagan, co-author of Skills of the “Unskilled”: Work and Mobility among Mexican Migrants

This guest post is published in advance of the American Sociological Association conference in Chicago.Check back every day for new posts through the end of the conference on Tuesday, August 25th. 


Which fallacies surrounding “unskilled” migrant workers do you especially seek to dispel through your book? 

Each year tens of thousands of international migrants with little schooling or formal credentials migrate to the United States and labor in industries and occupations upon which much of the U.S economy rests. Dominant theories of migration, labor, and human capital have largely ignored the experiences of skill acquisition and labor market mobility of these migrants, who are quickly categorized under the shorthand “unskilled” and deemed to be trapped in dead-end occupations at the bottom of the labor market. Needless to say, many of these migrants face exploitative conditions, legal uncertainty and receive inadequate compensation for their work. While numerous critical contributions to the scholarly literature have described and analyzed these precarious work conditions, in this book we have taken up the task of challenging the notion that migrants with low levels of formal education are “unskilled” and experience little or no economic mobility in their work and migration careers. We dispel the fallacy of the unskilled migrant by identifying the skills they acquire throughout their lives and across countries and social contexts—what we call lifelong human capital. We then identify mobility pathways associated with the acquisition and transfer of technical and social skills across the migratory circuit, including reskilling, occupational mobility, job jumping (brincando), and business formation.

9780520283732What implications do your findings have for future migration policy, in both the U.S. and Mexico?

Our findings have implications for the migration policies of both the United States and Mexico. There is a fundamental mismatch in current U.S. immigration policy that gives preference to “skilled” who rank high on traditional human capital attributes, such as years of formal schooling, and restricts the entry of “low-skilled “ migrants, a classification that ignores the high level of informal skills and working knowledge they bring to labor markets, especially in industries such as construction that have been partially vacated by the native born but traditionally characterized as very skilled. And while the failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform has temporarily closed some opportunities to bring attention to the skills that so called “unskilled” migrants bring to U.S. labor markets, we believe our work, especially the skills classification scheme we developed and feature in our book, can inform the efforts of migrant advocacy groups, economic and social justice organizations and foundations, and bi-national institutions dedicated to workforce development and migrant and worker rights.

We also contend that similar programs can be implemented in Mexico to recognize and take advantage of the skills migrants bring with them upon return. Sizeable return flows are a long and persistent characteristic of the Mexico-U.S. migratory system. The great recession, stepped up enforcement, and a policy of mass deportations have impacted patterns of return migration to Mexico. While target earners might have decided to weather the recession and prolong their stay abroad, many others had no choice but to return due to forced removal by U.S. authorities or fear of incarceration. Although return migration declined between 2006 and 2010, the number of those removed from the United States increased significantly. During this period, approximately 1.2 million Mexicans were removed from the United States. According to Mexico’s census data, nearly one million individuals had returned home between 2005 and 2010. The Mexican federal government has a long history of building programs to serve Mexicans abroad, facilitate their social integration and encourage their remittances. In this context, it is notable that the Mexican government has not developed policies to reintegrate returning migrants to local and regional labor markets and to harness the skills acquired in the United States and transferred back home. Our research suggests that the Mexican government would be well served by supporting self-employment ventures and reintegration programs that recognize the enhanced skill sets of return migrants. For example, Mexico’s federal and state authorities could jointly develop employment information centers to screen return migrants, identify skills and match them with potential employers.

Through researching for Skills of the “Unskilled”, were you able to discover any areas you would be interested in exploring in the future?

Lingering research questions remain. Will those return migrants who have successfully transferred skills stay in Mexico? Will these return migrants continue to experience mobility within the Mexican labor market, especially in pronounced pattern of business formation? If so, what are implication of return migration and business formation for local development? Will those who acquired new skills in the United States but were not able to successfully transfer them back home be compelled to emigrate again? To tease out these complex questions, we returned to Guanajuato in summer, 2015, five years after we implemented our survey, with an eye towards understanding how family, life cycle processes, labor markets, and state and local institutions have shaped the lives of the return migrants and how they in turn have shaped their local economies. Once we have analyzed the data, we plan on drafting an epilogue to a new edition of “Skills of the “Unskilled:” Work and Mobility among Mexican Migrants. Stay tuned for the update!


Jacqueline Maria Hagan is Robert G. Parr Distinguished Term Professor of Sociology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research interests include international migration, labor markets, gender, religion, and human rights. She is author of Deciding to Be Legal and Migration Miracle.


From DuBois to Black Lives Matter

By Aldon Morris, author of The Scholar Denied: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology

This guest post is published in advance of the American Sociological Association conference in Chicago.Check back every day for new posts through the end of the conference on Tuesday, August 25th. 


Today black blood flows in streets throughout the nation. A century ago, the great sociologist, W. E. B. Du Bois, witnessed white mobs murder and maim African Americans to keep them in their place. Little did I know when I started my research over a decade ago for my just-published book on DuBois entitled The Scholar Denied that his role as scholar/activist would provide a lens for me to think and act in 2015.  But I find myself seeking counsel anew from his work.

We all know that racial violence and oppression is hardly new. And it was not new a century ago when Du Bois wrote, “We bow our heads and hearken soft to the sobbing of women and little children.” The Black community sobs today. Racial oppression has not lifted. Black poverty still stalks the land and as Du Bois observed in 1903, “To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.”

9780520276352Over a century ago, Du Bois founded a field of sociology that demands that we hold up for examination hard truths about racism and that forces one to separate myth from reality. He uncovered the ways in which the “white” West dominated people of color globally.  His scholarship set out to prove all races were equal and that race was “socially constructed.” Gleaning how racial oppression operated, Du Bois set out to do nothing less that produce an academic and public sociology that sought to further social justice. As he observed: “I do not laugh. I am quite straight-faced as I ask soberly: ‘But what on earth is whiteness that one should so desire it?’ Then always, somehow, some way, silently but clearly, I am given to understand that whiteness is the ownership of the earth forever and ever, Amen!” The disproportionate rates of poverty, murder, and incarceration of Black people today demonstrate that white skin color continues to be privileged while Black lives are denigrated.

While activists have used a new social movement moniker Black Lives Matter to give voice to a sense that racial injustice continues to dominate the lives of people of color, I find myself wondering about what responsibilities I have as a black intellectual to speak out.  It’s risky to be an activist sociologist: as often as not it derails careers, limits social networks and curtails upward mobility in the profession and in the public media.  But, again, Du Bois illuminates my own path, declaring: “I am one who tells the truth and exposes evil and seeks with Beauty for Beauty to set the world right.”  I’ve concluded that one of the primary tasks of black sociologists—actually all sociologists– is to produce pointed and critical scholarship, even when it’s discomfiting to the powers-that-be.

As black intellectuals we need to follow Du Bois’s lead in speaking truth to power. White sociologists should also follow Du Bois’ lead and execute research enabling them to speak racial truth to power. But, ah, white privilege is a stubborn beast, standing in the way of truths. Countee Cullen, in a poetic conversation with God concedes, “Yet do I marvel at this curious thing: To make a poet black, and bid him sing!” Our calling is to sing sociological truths. Black scholars should heed Frederick Douglass’ insight: “He who would be free must himself strike the first blow!” As I try to show in The Scholar Denied, our work needs to be political, engaged, rigorous—Du Bois has paved the way for us in his path breaking, brilliant body of scholarship and activism.


morris 2Aldon D. Morris is Leon Forrest Professor of Sociology and African American Studies at Northwestern University and the author of Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change, among other books.

 


Immigrant America

By Alejandro Portes, co-author of Immigrant America: A Portrait, Updated, and Expanded

This guest post is published in advance of the American Sociological Association conference in Chicago. Check back every day for new posts through the end of the conference on Tuesday, August 25th. 


You argue that while foreigners have repeatedly fueled local economies with their labor, they have been consistently persecuted by the authorities and denounced by nativists as a threat to the nation throughout history. To what do you attribute this type of behavior, or reaction, to immigrants? 

A regular feature of the history of international migration has been to opposition of natives to migrants. If foreigners are few, they are ignored. But when they reach a certain number , they start to be perceived as a threat by citizens. The higher the number of foreigners, the greater their concentration, and the greater their physical or cultural visibility, the greater the opposition they elicit. Citizens then put pressure on elected officials to “do something” about the foreign threat. The functions that migrant labor fulfill for the national economy and the cultural innovations that they contribute are commonly not appreciated. It takes years, often the passing of the first generation, for these contributions to be recognized and celebrated. The second generation, children of immigrants, are often at the forefront of this recovery mission.

9780520274020You revised and updated Immigrant America: A Portrait to include a chapter on immigration and policy. What changes would you like to see in public policy around immigration?

It is a commonplace to say that the American immigration system is “broken”. Only parts of it really are, but these are arguably the most important. The most immediate issue is how to deal with the millions of undocumented immigrants laboring in the shadows and their children who grow up in conditions of severe disadvantage. Long-term, the key task is to transform the present clandestine labor flow from Mexico and other countries into a regular and legal program of temporary migration. The last chapter of Immigrant America presents a detailed set of proposals to do just this. Present Obama’s executive initiatives to regularize the situation of undocumented youths, the “dreamers”, and to offer a path for regularization for their parents goes a significant way in the right direction, but they have met stubborn opposition in Congress and the courts. Until that opposition is overcome, the drama of these migrants and the problem that their clandestine presence poses for the country will not be overcome.

Your book is adopted frequently in courses in Sociology and Immigration Studies. What are the key points you hope students take with them after reading your book?

The key take-home points are an understanding of the diversity of contemporary immigration, their major types, and the profound reasons driving these flows that are commonly obscured by the uniformed and often self-interested pronouncements of politicians and pundits. Students reading this book should come out with an appreciation of why some immigrant groups succeed economically and socially in America while others do not; why small entrepreneurship has proven a viable path of mobility for certain foreign minorities; and the role of family, schools, and religious institutions in helping migrants and, especially, their children confront the many challenges to successful social and economic adaptation to American society.


Portes_author_bwAlejandro Portes is Professor of Sociology and founding director of the Center for Migration and Development at Princeton University and Research Professor at the University of Miami. He is coauthor of Legacies: The Story of the Immigrant Second Generation and coeditor of Ethnicities: Children of Immigrants in America with Rubén G. Rumbaut (Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine, and founding chair of the International Migration Section of the American Sociological Association).