The Importance of the African American Vote

During this election cycle, one of the most pressing questions have been how the African American vote could sway the results of the presidency. Attempts at blocking early votingAfrican American women still expected to “show up” to vote, and why some African Americans are voting Republican show just how influential African Americans can be for the turnout of the presidential election.

Some have wondered why Black Republicans may vote for Donald Trump. “It’s completely legitimate to look at a Black Republican and say, ‘why are you doing this? How are you doing? I don’t understand how you can support this kind of policy.’ But you would have to ask those same questions of a white Republican,” says Corey D. Fields, sociologist and author of Black Elephants in the Room: The Unexpected Politics of African American Republicans, while in conversation with Tavis Smiley on October 19, 2016.

Corey D. Fields and Tavis Smiley discuss the impact of the African American vote this election season.
Corey D. Fields and Tavis Smiley discuss the impact of the African American vote this election season.

Many have tackled the question of whether a person can be black and Republican. Joshua Goodman for the New York Times writes that Fields “wants to understand how their sense of themselves as black people and their ideas about black people shape their politics and how their politics shape their identity and ideas. Fields … argue[s] that a majority of black Republicans are race-conscious, seeing their positions on social and economic issues in racial terms. If that seems surprising, it is because white Republicans prefer colorblind black conservatives.”

On the 125th Street subway platform in Harlem, April 2016. Credit Joseph Michael Lopez for The New York Times
On the 125th Street subway platform in Harlem, April 2016. Credit Joseph Michael Lopez for The New York Times

In his book, Fields illustrates this race-blind, color-conscious preference by white Republicans in relation to the Republican Party’s outreach efforts to black voters:

Fields-BlackElephantsRather than link Republican policies to the concrete concerns of black voters, outreach efforts have generally been grounded in vague, race-blind language. Betsy, another white Republican tasked with black outreach, chatted with me at a political event after Michael Steele, then making waves as a prominent African American Republican, spoke. Betsy praised Steele for being “articulate and well spoken” (words often recognized as a racially back-handed compliment) and was enthusiastic about him, though she was quick to note that she would like him whether he “was black, white, red, or orange.” She went on to say that the biggest barrier to getting more blacks involved in the Republican Party was education—stressing that, to her mind, when other groups like Jewish, Italian, and Polish immigrants had been underprivileged, education offered a “way out.” Even when these people were uneducated, Betsy said, they made sure that their children were educated.

I asked how education would increase black people’s Republicanism. She explained that once black people were educated, they would realize the affinity between their beliefs and the Republican Party. There was a palpable shift in the tone of our conversation, and Betsy became very serious, shaking her head and hitting the table to emphasize her points. She said that education would lead to more success and less “dependence on the government.” She paused. “Don’t you agree?” I tentatively responded that it was hard to argue against education. With her triumphant look, the tension in the conversation dissipated. Smiling, Betsy assured me that she was not going to give up on black voters just because it was hard to win them over.

What does this mean for the current presidential election? Fields writes that “a major shift in black support for the Republican Party this fall seems very unlikely. Based on my findings, the GOP has to reconsider how it incorporates black Republicans into the party if it has any real interest in appealing to black voters. It is not enough to incorporate blackness on terms that are comfortable to white leaders.”

How do you think the African American vote will influence today’s election? Share your comments below. #GetOutandVote #Election2016


Trump and Homosexuality: Differences in Public Opinion

By Amy Adamczyk, author of Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality: Examining Attitudes across the Globe

This guest post is published in advance of the American Society of Criminology conference in New Orleans. Check back every week for new posts through the end of the conference on November 19th. #ASC2016 #Election2016

Like many academics, I was surprised at how well Donald Trump did early in the presidential election, securing the Republican nomination and at times rivaling Hillary Clinton in the polls. Part of the reason I was so surprised is because almost everyone I know and spend time with is a staunch democrat, socialist, or even communist. For many academics most of our friends are very liberal left-leaning highly educated people. For me it is even more extreme because I am childless and live in Manhattan. So the thought of millions of Trump enthusiasts has been hard to fathom.

Adamczyk-CrossNationalThat a social scientist like myself, trained to avoid generalizing from personal experience, is nonetheless taken aback by the Trump phenomenon is a testament to the power of context. Simply put, those with whom we interact have a powerful role in shaping our views. And our friendship groups tend not to be very diverse, so it’s easy to find ourselves in an echo chamber soundproofed from the voices of the outside world. This is especially true for people at opposite ends of the educational spectrum, whose friendship networks tend to be particularly homogeneous.

The media coverage of the presidential election provides repeated reminders of the deep cultural divides within our country. When we regularly see our fellow citizens cheering on a candidate who we find outrageous or worse, it is easy to forget all the subjects on which most of us agree, and how this agreement is fostered by the cultural and structural context we share as residents of the United States. For example, the issue of gay rights, a wedge issue in past elections, has faded from view in the current election. Opposition to same-sex marriage has narrowed over the last two decades and this year Republicans nominated someone who appears only now to oppose same-sex marriage out of political expediency. Meanwhile, there are nations where a person can be put to death for being gay. As great as the cultural differences among our fellow citizens, the differences between nations are vaster still, especially on key issues like gay rights.

In my forthcoming book, Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality: Examining Attitudes across the Globe, I show just how vast the differences are across nations on this important issue. What accounts for such dramatic differences across nations? The book shows that much of the variation in attitudes about homosexuality can be traced back to differences in the degree of economic development, democratic governance and religious fervor. The book also shows how these factors interact in complex ways with a nation’s unique history and geographic location to produce divergent cultural and structural climates.

The interesting thing about contextual forces, whether they are operating within friendship groups, regions, or nations, is that we often do not know they are there. It takes something like a divisive national election or stories about the denial of civil rights to remind us of the different worlds in which we live.


Adamczyk.Amy-PhotoAmy Adamczyk is Professor of Sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.


How Donald Trump’s “Locker-Room Talk” Perpetuates Sexual Violence Against Women

By Jerry Flores, author of Caught Up: Girls, Surveillance, and Wraparound Incarceration

This guest post is published in advance of the American Society of Criminology conference in New Orleans. Check back every week for new posts through the end of the conference on November 19th. #ASC2016 #Election2016

Recently, a video of presidential candidate Donald Trump making sexist, lewd, and offensive comments about women flooded media coverage. In the video, Trump can be heard saying, “I just start kissing them [women]. Just kiss—I don’t even wait. And when you are a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Whatever you want. Grab them by the pussy. Whatever you want.” A reporter laughed aloud at these statements.

“Locker-Room Talk”

After the release of this video a slew of women have come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of Mr. Trump. Even more problematic is that videos and quotes have also emerged. With this new information the resounding theme of the hyper-sexualization of women, the use of sexist language and the objectification of women’s bodies are exceedingly clear. In response, Trump apologized and referred to this type of language as “locker-room talk.” He also affirmed that he holds the utmost respect for women. Despite these statements, Mr. Trump’s discussion of women reflects the larger hyper-sexualization of women in a patriarchal society that largely ignores this type of sexual misconduct. There is no place where this is more painfully apparent than in the narratives of marginalized young women (especially women of color) featured in my book Caught Up.

Flores.CaughtUp

Sexual Abuse at the Hands of Those We Trust

In this book, I address how the schools and detention centers in Southern California are collectively punishing young Latina girls in new and dynamic ways. For this project, I interviewed over 30 young women and included twenty more via group interviews or ethnographic fieldwork. The ubiquitous sexual abuse of young women was the largest and most pervasive theme I heard during my two years of research. Interview after interview, I heard young women recount instances of this type of abuse at the hands of immediate and distant family, neighbors, students at school, current and ex-romantic partners, institutional actors, priests, human traffickers or by complete strangers.

Another major theme in my research was the relative impunity with which these men continually victimized the young people in my study. From stories of gang sexual assault at the hands of boys told by “Feliz” or stories of being molested by multiple neighbors over the course of various years like “Ray,” sexual violence was ubiquitous in the lives of young women.

Consequences

Additionally, while local, state and federal governments always seemed to have the resources to punish young women, they often lacked the ability to provide resources to help youth cope with their prior and current sexual assault. As a person who is concerned with the well being of these young women, my wife, mother, cousins, and all women, I wonder how Trump’s type of “locker-room talk” emboldens and perpetuates the ongoing assault and abuse of young women, and rape culture as a whole. I also wonder what message it sends to men of all ages when they hear how Mr. Trump has allegedly victimized so many women and gotten away with it. This is even more shocking since Donald Trump is a presidential candidate that has the support of large segments of the U.S. population.

As an academic, feminist and victim of childhood sexual assault, I hope that we as a society can find a way to stop the continued attack on women and more broadly on all marginalized and oppressed groups. I also hope that we come to our senses and realize that a person who preys on the weak and exploits their privilege to do so is not someone we want as our president.


Flores.author.photo-croppedJerry Flores is a Ford Foundation Fellow, University of California President’s Postdoc, and Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice in the Social Work and Criminal Justice Program at the University of Washington, Tacoma.


An Immigrant’s Identity

The upcoming presidential election has once again brought immigration issues to the forefront of national discussion. From Donald Trump’s border wall to the near-daily stories we hear of racial profiling, candidates and citizens alike are discussing how the lives of Latin American immigrants in the U.S. are complicated by immigration law and reform.

An Identity for Work 

Sarah B. Horton, author of They Leave Their Kidneys in the Fields: Illness, Injury, and Illegality among U.S. Farmworkers discusses in her book the impact of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) on immigrants’ daily lives.

kidneys.hortonScholars of immigration law denaturalize migrant “illegality” by direct­ing our attention to how it is legally produced. Indeed, federal and state policies—specifically, IRCA and the exclusion of undocumented migrants from unemployment insurance—enable and encourage iden­tity loan. The passage of IRCA in 1986 criminalized the employment of undocumented workers, making it illegal for employers to knowingly hire such workers. With the aim of reducing employment as an incen­tive for migration, IRCA requires employers to personally inspect each employee’s documents proving their identity (usually a mica, or green card) and their eligibility for work (a seguro, or Social Security card). Employers must record this information on a federal I-9 form and keep a copy for three years. Although IRCA imposes sanctions on employers who violate its provisions, it contains a loophole that protects employ­ers from such penalties: it does not require them to verify the authentic­ity of employees’ documents. As a result, employers are considered to be complying with the law as long as the documents they accept “appear on their face to be genuine.” Thus while IRCA has done little to curb the employment of undocumented workers, it has created a thriving black market for fraudulent work-authorization documents.

In a Huffington Post article titled “The Hole in Trump’s Wall,” Horton discusses the issues in Donald Trump’s border wall plan. His plan includes mandating e-Verify for all employers. Horton notes that Trump’s “plan does not address the role of employers in getting around immigration laws and providing workers with the documents they need. In fact, just like employer sanctions before it, E-Verify is likely to worsen workplace conditions for all those who work in industries dominated by undocumented workers.”

Forms of Identification

Angela Stuesse, author of Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep Southwent deep into Mississippi’s chicken processing plants and communities, where Latin American migrants, alongside an established African American workforce, continue to work in some of the most dangerous and lowest-paid jobs in the country. Stuesse writes:

Scratching Out a Living StuessePermitted to obtain a driver’s license, I didn’t worry that at a traffic stop I might lose an entire month’s earnings to fines or be detained or deported. I might be pulled over because of my out-of-state license plate, but not likely because of my fair skin and hair. With a social security number, I had a bank account and thus didn’t have to worry that my only savings could be stolen from underneath my mattress. Despite my concerns that I would have a hard time finding affordable rental housing in Forest, I was ultimately able to find a two-bedroom house on an acre of land for far less than most poultry workers pay to share a dilapidated trailer. These privileges of race, class, and citizenship were palpable as I went about my daily life in Mississippi, fighting alongside others in their struggle to access such basic human rights as dignity on the job, a living wage, minimal health and safety protections, affordable housing, and the ability to help their families thrive.

In another Huffington Post article, both Stuesse and Horton discuss the dangers of “Driving While Latino” and the impact of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA), which enables “state and local police to investigate, arrest and detain any noncitizen they believe has violated immigration laws—a responsibility previously reserved for federal immigration authorities alone. … This has created a gauntlet of immigrant policing that stretches across the country and operates through the intensified surveillance of immigrants as they go about their daily lives.”

What are your thoughts on current immigration reform?


Horton.photoSarah Bronwen Horton is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado, Denver. To learn more about Sarah, please visit http://www.sarahbhorton.com/.

 

 

Stuesse-Author-Photo-2014-146x150Angela Stuesse is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Learn more about Dr. Stuesse here: www.angelastuesse.com/bio/


In Defense of Poverty

This essay was originally published as part of a series called “What is Inequality?” hosted by the Social Science Research Council on its online forum, Items.” The piece is reposted here in recognition of International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. #EndPoverty #ItsPossible


By Ananya Roy, co-author of Encountering Poverty: Thinking and Acting in an Unequal World

Inequality bothers me. I am troubled by the persistence and prevalence of wealth and income inequality in the United States. I join earnest social scientists and conscientious global citizens in condemning inequality. But that is not all that bothers me about inequality. The widespread use of the term inequality also bothers me. The language of inequality is everywhere—dominating newspaper headlines, gaining prominence in the agenda of philanthropic foundations, and anchoring a host of new university programs and centers. Readers might have noticed that I serve as director of the brand-new Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA. I worry that inequality has become a mere trope for social justice. I worry that the expansive use of inequality distracts attention from specific forms of impoverishment, exploitation, discrimination, and segregation. I worry that the institutionalization of inequality as a banner theme keeps the concept safely contained within the discourses and practices of liberal democracy, often twinned with other liberal themes such as inclusion and diversity.

For those of us involved and implicated in academic work organized under the sign of inequality, we must be constantly alert to such containments. Repoliticizing inequality is an ongoing project, one that increasingly demands vigilance and creativity on the part of social scientists. In this brief essay, I offer one approach to the task of repoliticizing inequality: the resignification of poverty as a critical concept. My defense of poverty is meant to be a provocation rather than a blueprint, although I outline some ideas about what such a conceptual commitment might mean for an agenda of social science research.

Poverty is a well-worn term. It is also, especially in the United States, seen to be a personal failing, a disgrace, a matter of shame. Poverty knowledge has thus often been tinged with the shadow of stigma, be it the efforts to wrestle with a so-called “culture of poverty” or in vocabulary such as “the underclass” or “ghetto.” Indeed, the intellectual history of poverty studies does not bode well for a defense of poverty as a critical concept to be mobilized in the efforts to repoliticize inequality. Yet, this is my intention. With this in mind, I pinpoint three elements of what can be tentatively called “critical poverty studies,” a field of inquiry that I believe is in the making in various corners of the social sciences.

The active relations of impoverishment

A welcome aspect of the widespread discussion of inequality in the United States is the simple and yet powerful mantra that there is nothing natural or inevitable about current patterns of inequality. Be it Joseph Stiglitz or Robert Reich, Emmanuel Saez or Paul Krugman, the consensus is unwavering: policy, for example systems of taxation, has produced inequality, often by allowing the hyper-rich to hoard and guard their wealth. Such stockpiling of prosperity contrasts with a generalized condition of precarity; one in which the American middle class lies in ruins, burdened by debt and stripped of key assets such as homeownership. This is the power of the trope of inequality. It identifies a common condition to which most of us belong; it names an indefensible hierarchy within which we all chafe. This, of course, is the rallying cry of Occupy Wall Street: we are the 99%.

My argument in defense of poverty is straightforward: we are not all equal in the experience of inequality. We are not all equally impoverished. We are not all equally indebted. We are not all equally precarious. The poor are uniquely so.

I recently participated in a simulation of the social services system organized by various nonprofit organizations in Los Angeles. This was not, as the organizers noted, a simulation of poverty, for that is simply not possible. It was a glimpse of the public assistance bureaucracy that the poor must navigate in order to survive. Despite being fluent in sophisticated understandings of poverty and inequality, the participants, mainly middle-class social justice professionals, were thoroughly disoriented by the sheer dehumanization wrought by the experience. Shunted from office to office, in search of basic paperwork, trying to meet convoluted criteria of eligibility, we the privileged experienced, for a brief moment, what it is like to be undeserving. We were reminded that we are not poor and that we barely understand the lived condition of poverty.

That lived condition, in the United States, is necessarily and persistently racialized. It is embedded in, and reproduces, systems of racial capitalism. To pinpoint poverty—to acknowledge how poor others are imagined, named, managed, and incarcerated—is to come into contact with this long-standing history. This history did not start with the Great Recession or even with the era of neoliberalization. It is the long history of racialized expropriation and quarantine. I worry that a general narrative of inequality elides both the specificity of poverty and the distinctive history of impoverishment.

Some of my current research is concerned with the relationship between bureaucracies of poverty and poor people’s movements. Following the seminal work of Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, I see poor people’s movements as “both formed by and directed against institutional arrangements.” Most importantly, poor people’s movements are not organized around the cause of ending poverty. After all, these movements are acutely aware that racialized poverty is not an anomaly, but rather a necessary supplement to prosperity. Instead, be it the National Welfare Rights Organization or the National Union of the Homeless, poor people’s movements transform poorness from stigma to rights, from lived experience to political agency. I am also arguing that social science research must document and analyze the histories and futures of such organizing.

The problem of poverty

Describing the Industrial Revolution and its social transformations, Karl Polanyi,  wrote that “it was in relation to the problem of poverty that people began to explore the meaning of life in a complex society.” So is it the case today. The start of the new millennium is marked by the emergence of poverty as a visible, global problem. The constitution of poverty as a problem to be solved, in our lifetime, through cool gadgets and smart apps, through volunteerism and humanitarianism, through aid advocacy and micro-economic field experiments, requires critical scrutiny by social science research.

Roy.EncounteringPovertyIt demands the question that Michael Katz poses in Territories of Poverty, a book that Emma Shaw Crane and I recently coedited: “What kind of a problem is poverty?” It demands studying the forms of power and privilege that are exercised and extended by acting upon poverty and in relation to poor others, as does the Relational Poverty Network led by Sarah Elwood and Victoria Lawson. It demands an honest examination of how the global university fosters formats of service-learning such that well-heeled college students can build resumes filled with examples of poverty action and community service. Indeed, the “end of poverty”—Jeffrey Sachs’ influential phrase—has become a lucrative and alluring endeavor. As I have argued in ongoing work, new scripts for global citizenship and personhood, as well as new markets for global capital, are being negotiated and opened up through the staging of such encounters with poverty. Indeed, in Encountering Poverty, my colleagues and I argue that such scripts often enact an old coloniality of power in a new global order.

Social science research must thus pay attention to how, at specific historical conjunctures, poverty is constituted as a problem, and how acting on poverty makes possible the reconstitution of social class, professional expertise, and even our academic disciplines. Indeed, in studying the constitution of poverty as a problem, we study the making of authoritative knowledge, the marking of poor others, the assembling of humanitarian reason, the crafting of good will, and the constant rejuvenation of whiteness as the center of human experience. In other words, we come to study ourselves, both our liberal selves and our embeddedness in the institutions of liberal faith. The task of “critical poverty studies” is to not only make visible such processes but also to consider how encounters with poverty—whether in individual acts of goodwill or in the making of our disciplines—can be a space of doubt, critique, and even transformation.

Rethinking North and South

In 2012, as the discussion of inequality was heating up in the United States, the Pew Research Center released a report titled The Lost Decade of the Middle Class: Fewer, Poorer, Gloomier. Highlighting severe income and wealth losses, the report notes that middle-class Americans looked to the future with “muted hope.” I am struck by the particular language in use here, that of a “lost decade.” Without intention or citation, it echoes descriptions of the bruising effects of structural adjustment policies, implemented in the 1980s, in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, of a lost decade of development. Indeed, it is possible to think about the contemporary moment in the North Atlantic as structural adjustment returned home, a vicious austerity politics that has already played out elsewhere in the world. More interesting, such austerity politics is not necessarily the order of the day in the global South. While quite a bit of the inequality discourse (much of it concerned with the global North) has relied on broad generalizations about neoliberalism and its inexorable reach, the present worldwide history of welfare and development is marked by difference, divergence, and discrepancy. Of particular significance is the proliferation of social assistance and human development programs that are being envisioned and launched in the global South, whether by governments, development banks, or nongovernmental organizations. As Maxine Molyneux has argued, central to such formations of social policy is a concern with poverty or what she calls the “New Poverty Agenda.” None of this can be easily read in the register of North Atlantic neoliberalism. Instead, what is at stake is what James Ferguson has foregrounded as the revalorization of distribution, notably distributive state policy and distributional claims.

The resignification of poverty as a critical concept requires a transnational research agenda, one that is attentive to the “reinvention of development for the poor”—Richard Ballard’s phrase —that is afoot outside the territorial boundaries of the West. My own interest in such a transnational research agenda is not multinational comparison. Instead, I am interested in how the study of poverty, be it that of poor people’s movements or poverty expertise, can also resignify the familiar geographies and histories of North and South. As the “New Poverty Agenda” unfolds in discrepant locations, through processes that are necessarily differentiated and divergent, the South becomes, as the Comaroffs put it, “an ex-centric location, an elsewhere to mainstream EuroAmerica,” an “angle of vision” in “the history of the ongoing global present.” In their much-discussed text, Theory from the South, the Comaroffs read the global South as a prefiguration of the future of the global North. Following Obarrio’s response to the Comaroffs’ work, I am interested in this “anthropology of anticipations.” But as Ferguson notes in his own response to the work, the point of such an impulse is not to suggest that the global South is ahead of the North but rather to disrupt conventional ways of thinking about North and South and thus about “emergent new empirical configurations of the social” which may provide us with “clues for thinking about how we might re-imagine ‘the social’ as object both of theory and of politics.” Poverty, I have suggested, is one such configuration of the social. To study it with critical force may require us to rethink the geographies of research and theory through which we have configured the social sciences.


Ananya.Roy.photo

Ananya Roy is Professor of Urban Planning and Social Welfare at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin. She is co-author of Encountering Poverty: Thinking and Acting in an Unequal World with Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales, Kweku Opoku-Agyemang, and Clare Talwalker.


Left of the Left

The following excerpt from Andrew Cornell‘s introduction to Left of the Left: My Memories of Sam Dolgoff is reproduced with the kind permission of AK Press.

Until very recently, the history of anarchism in the middle part of the twentieth century has remained frustratingly opaque. Anatole Dolgoff’s memoir of his father, Sam, and the worlds of work and activism Sam inhabited, is a unique gift in that it sheds both light and warmth on this period. Readers learn not only who knew whom and how anarchists reacted to major historical events, but also gain real insight into the emotional and family lives, the motivations and coping strategies, of a network of stalwart radicals confronting the highs and lows of the American Century.

Sam Dolgoff was a house painter, a loving husband and father, a militant labor organizer, a powerful orator, and a self-taught public intellectual. He was not, perhaps, as daring and globetrotting a figure as Emma Goldman or the subjects of some other radical biographies. To hilarious and heart-breaking effect, Anatole describes the way Carlo Tresca and other mentors talked Sam out of joining street fights with Italian-American fascists or shipping out to fight in the Spanish Revolution, owing to his poor eyesight and family responsibilities. But Sam Dolgoff was heroic in a least one respect, and that was his tenacity.

Left of Left

Sam stuck to his bedrock beliefs that humans were capable of cooperating with one another, managing their own affairs, and sharing earth’s wealth equitably. For seven decades he continued to express these ideas in print and speech. And he continued to show up—to demonstrations, to lightly attended forums, and to tedious meetings—even when many of his former collaborators had given up. In doing so he served as a connecting thread that stitched together generations of people invested in the project of human liberation. His willingness and ability to play this bridging role is powerfully exemplified in the story Anatole tells of Sam taking members of the countercultural Up Against the Wall/Motherfuckers group to beg financial assistance from octogenarian friends of Sacco and Vanzetti in the late 1960s.

It also becomes readily apparent that Sam and his wife Esther truly lived the communal ethos they espoused. Hardly a chapter of this memoir passes without an account of old Wobblies camped out on the Dolgoffs’ living room sofa, or Sam giving away prized possessions to a new acquaintance. This spirit of selflessness is mirrored in the structure of the book, for Anatole’s portrait of his father soon spins off to recount the stories of his mother (herself a dedicated anarchist organizer), other family members, and more than a dozen fascinating revolutionaries, such as Russell Blackwell, Ben Fletcher, Dorothy Day, and Federico Arcos, whose own stories and contributions are in danger of being lost to history. The book, then, serves as the collective biography of an entire milieu, echoing the fashion in which Goldman studded her own autobiography, Living My Life, with biographical sketches of comrades and lovers.

450px-Anarchist_flag.svg

(Pictured above: the red and black flag used as anarchy symbol. The flag is commonly associated with Anarcho-communists, a branch of Anarchism closely associated with labor organizations. The red portion of the flag represents labor; the black, anarchism; image ineligible for copyright/in the public domain.) 

These stories are not always rousing. We meet aging seafarers and longshoremen grown cynical and lonely following the cascading catastrophes of the Red Scare, the repressive turn in world communism, and the defeat of the Spanish Revolution. But that is part of what makes this book so fascinating; where else can one glimpse the interior life of old Wobblies still devoted to class war as they watch fellow workers embrace middle-class identities and the anarchist movement become overrun with college students? As these sections unfurled, I recognized the double entendre tucked into the book’s title; this is not only the story of a man who was more radical than many other rabble-rousers, but also an account of what remained—what was left—of the Left during the years that Anatole was growing up. That the book is, at other turns, incredibly funny testifies to the author’s skills as a writer and raconteur—especially his ear for dialogue.

The later chapters of Left of the Left discuss Sam’s contributions to anarchist scholarship, such as his important books on Bakunin’s thought and the Spanish and Cuban revolutions. Sam taught himself to read multiple foreign languages to better understand international events and keep abreast of anarchist and labor struggles throughout the world. He penned prescient analyses of postcolonial governments, technological change, and the shortcomings of centrist labor unions, while providing crucial information to the historian Paul Avrich, to whom we owe much of what is known about pre-WWI U.S. anarchism. This production and preservation of fugitive knowledge, outside the university and other official channels, should be seen as another important form of activism, from which we, as readers, can learn and take inspiration. I am grateful that Anatole Dolgoff chose to follow in his parents’ footsteps, in this regard—to collect and protect the stories and the hard-won knowledge of earlier generations of radicals, knowing there would be a time, like now, when many people would be ready and eager to hear them.


Unruly Equality

Andrew Cornell is an educator and organizer who has taught at Williams College, Haverford College, and Université Stendhal-Grenoble 3. He is the author of Unruly Equality: U.S. Anarchism in the Twentieth Century (published by UC Press), and Oppose and Propose! Lessons from Movement for a New Society (AK Press).


Poverty Redux

by Kweku Opoku-Agyemang, co-author of Encountering Poverty: Thinking and Acting in an Unequal World

This guest post is published in advance of the American Sociological Association conference in Seattle. Check back every week for new posts through the end of the conference on August 23rd.

Roy.EncounteringPovertyPoverty remains one of life’s biggest mysteries, although it seems to be more ethereal than usual as election years around the world kick into high gear. Through accidents and orchestrations of history, poverty is constantly exploited by politicians on the left and right and argued to have tidy and neat answers. In a time of what appears to be mass fear around the world, the demand for tidy solutions is probably at an all-time crescendo. I see this, not just in the San Francisco Bay Area, where homelessness is raging, but in Ghana (where I’m writing this blog post), where we too are preparing for an Election 2016. However, one thing my contributions to the new book, Encountering Poverty: Thinking and Acting in an Unequal World (co-authored with Ananya Roy, Genevieve Negron-Gonzalez and Clare Talwalker) has taught me is that there is still much that we do not know about poverty. Every election is just an opportunity for us to be reminded about this sobering reality. Perhaps some reflection is in order. Being an economist, I’ll draw upon a recent illustration from my field.

A week or so ago, I read about a fellow economist in the news who was, of all things, “de-planed” — a nice way of saying he was mistaken for a terrorist and taken off a flight he had paid for—due to the discomfort of his fellow passenger with the mathematical proofs that the economist was writing on a notepad, of all things. This violation of his rights and peace of mind is outrageous for obvious reasons. It is interesting, to say the least, that to his fellow passenger, the first thing that came to mind from observing a social scientist was a negative effect on personal safety. But, although the comment sections on many media websites have trashed this passenger into the ground (and then some!), I think that this event shows the yawning gap between social science research and the public in general. One can only imagine the relatively fearless conversations that might have transpired about poverty on that plane if we worked towards sharing our thinking with the public in an inclusive way. For all we know, the economist might have even learned something beneficial.

While these new opportunities present themselves to reintroduce poverty studies to a new generation of scholars, policy makers, activists and students, I find myself wondering what role I might play as an economist. As the profession has benefited from a shift towards technology and data-driven development economics research to complement and discipline economic-mathematical theory, I’ve concluded that the perspectives of the public in general, and the poor in particular, is more important than ever before.

Long ago, G. K. Chesterton argued that the essence of a picture is its frame. How you look at something determines what you see. But one does not have to fly on a plane with a social scientist to figure this out: we only need to take a look at one of the major issues of our times that is playing a dominant role in this election cycle: economic inequality. Global inequality, seen through the distributions of income and wealth and the stratospheric rise of the 1 percent, is the flavor of the month to a wearied journalist, a political platform for a cynical politician, and the reality for millions of middle-class Americans.

Why is it critical to ask better questions of global poverty and inequality? Even global inequality, as important as it is, appears to focus mostly on the  gap between the very elite of the very elite and the merely very elite…when framed as a discourse between middle-class Americans and the rest of the world. The missing voices in this discussion, as important as it is, is the voices of the poor, whose needs are obviously on an entirely different plane.

What does this mean for the next generation of social movements, which require a level of social media-savvy and technological exposure that, not only abound in today’s movements like Black Lives Matter, but are championed by a new generation of start-ups that are fast remaking non-governmental organizations around the world in their image? For better or worse, such awareness is necessarily absent from people who are too poor to afford a mobile phone—the very people who the poverty discourse must serve.

As economists, I believe that we need to follow the poor in asking better questions in our research and of ourselves, and make an effort to understand how to share our perspectives to broader audiences in ways that bring them on board as partners, not just subjects. Although I don’t have all the answers, I think that we have not yet began to ask the best questions, such as whether we need the poor more than they need us. As we try to show in Encountering Poverty, all of us, as researchers, students, policy makers, activists, can come closer wrestling with the questions that may help us to better understand poverty—not just as a policy problem, but as a lived experience.


Kweku Opoku-Agyemang is a Research Fellow at the Center for Effective Global Action at the University of California, Berkeley.


Brexiteers and the Sheer Cliff into the Unknown

This post was originally featured in Social AnthropologyAnthropologie Sociale, the journal for the European Association of Social Anthropologists, and has been reblogged with the permission of the author and Social Anthropology.”

by Ruben Andersson, author of Illegality, Inc.: Clandestine Migration and the Business of Bordering Europe

Amid Brexit hysteria, the academic temptation may be to hide behind the ‘expert’ mask so derided by the nasty Leave campaign. But besides their dismissiveness, there’s a bigger problem looming for UK-based scholars: our deep personal involvement. As an ‘EU migrant’ studying migration, I’m also caught up in the free fall of Brexit – comically depicted by the New Yorker in the shape of John Cleese silly-walking off the white cliffs of Dover, yet frightening all the same as the world around seems consumed in panic.

Andersson.IllegalityInc

Instead of offering ‘expert analysis’ on migration, then, I’d rather write about the emotional charge of this political moment. Let’s start with anger: at the prime minister and his selfish, simplistic referendum; at the mendacity of Brexiteer politicians now covering their tracks; and at UK newspapers that have spouted hatred of migrants and Europe for years only now to cash in on the turmoil. Next follows a rather continental Schadenfreude. Gloat at the dimwits! Look what you just did! However, chuckling at the madness on Twitter does not protect against another emotion – anxiety, roiled into fear. Which other countries may jump off the cliff towards the 1930s-style mayhem on the rocks below? And where do I stand in this migrant-bashing season as a white northern European? The Murdoch-owned Sun publishes pictures of East European shops while Polish migrants are attacked and called ‘vermin’; research colleagues receive hate mail while ‘foreign-looking’ people are abused in the street. Meanwhile, employers (including my own) assure ‘non-UK staff’ that they remain valued. I have lived in London longer than I care to remember yet never before have I felt that invisible line drawn between my colleagues and myself. A chill wind sets in – this is visceral and real in a way that I until now have experienced vicariously, through the undocumented African migrants among whom I have worked.

This emotional dislocation mirrors that of my enfranchised neighbours. Set aside the racism fanned by the media and politicians, and it is clear that both sides’ anger, gloating, anxiety and fear keep feeding off one another. One Twitter meme reads: ‘Of course foreigners steal your job. But maybe if someone without contacts, money, or speaking the language steals your job, you’re shit.’ In this callous rejection, repeated everyday in myriad forms in class-divided Britain, fear can easily be whipped into hatred.

Yet as we’re all buffeted by political emotions, social science remains curiously underinvested in exploring them. This includes ‘migration studies’, where academics including myself often veer towards the bigger picture, assuaging fear by numbers or offering detailed critiques of migration policy. This is all fine, but we also need a broader lens. Not in the least, we need to craft a better ethnographic understanding of how anger, anxiety, fear and hatred blow through communities, of who fans the flames and who reaps the whirlwind. We need deeper analyses of how destructive emotions globalise and propagate, and how they attach to objects and people: be they refugees, borders, ‘EU migrants’ or Brexiteers stepping over that sheer cliff into the unknown.


Ruben Andersson is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of International Development, London School of Economics and Political Science, and an associated researcher at the Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University.


101st Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

Author Joachim Savelsberg was invited by the President of the Republic of Armenia to present a talk on the occasion of the 101st anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Savelsberg delivered his lecture on April 23, 2016, at the Global Forum against the Crime of Genocide in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. The event was introduced by a speech by President Serzh Sargsyan and concluded with an address by Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Eduard Nalbandian. Other speakers included genocide survivors, several ambassadors, other scholars and activist-actor George Clooney. Savelsberg’s lecture addressed the relationship between human rights and humanitarian aid in the context of genocide. It was based on materials from his recent book Representing Mass Violence: Conflicting Responses to Human Rights Violations in Darfur, available as open access online. Savelsberg also participated in the official wreath laying ceremony at the Armenian Genocide Memorial on April 24, the official day of commemoration, and at the inaugural award ceremony for the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity. Upon his return Savelsberg reported about his experiences to the Armenian community of Minnesota.


Don’t Make A Mystic into a Martyr: Fethullah Gülen as Peacebuilder

This guest post is by Jon Pahl, Ph.D, the Peter Paul and Elizabeth Hagan Professor in the History of Christianity at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia


I can’t speak to the causes of the recent failed military coup in Turkey—although there is certainly precedent for coups in the history of the Turkish Republic (1960, 1971, 1980). But I can speak to the accusations by journalist Mustafa Akyol and the Turkish government that an imam living an ascetic life of prayer and teaching in a Pennsylvania retreat center was somehow “behind” the most recent military uprising: they’re preposterous.

For the past four years, I’ve been researching a biography that focuses on Fethullah Gülen’s life and theology. I’ve been to the impoverished rural village in Northeastern Turkey where he was born. I’ve visited the mosques across Turkey where he preached and taught—in Edirne, Izmir, and Istanbul. I’ve spoken with hundreds of people inspired by him, and some who simply hate him. And I’ve read nearly everything he’s written that’s been translated into English (over two dozen books, and countless sermons), and I know the vast literature for and against him.

My conclusion? He’s a mystic in the Sufi tradition of Islam. And like other famous mystics in history—notably Gandhi, or Rumi—from whom Gülen draws deeply, Fethullah Gülen is a peacebuilder. And history teaches us that peacebuilders are likely to be misunderstood, vilified, and targeted. It would be tragic if once again historical forces conspire to turn a mystic into a martyr.

In fact, Gülen has previously been the victim of military coups in Turkey. Despite being an advocate for the compatibility of Islam and democracy, he was imprisoned in the 1971 and 1980 military takeovers in Turkey. Having lived through the chaos of such times, he has written against “unbridled force.” “The Prophet [Muhammad] defined true Muslims,” Gülen writes in his most accessible work, Toward a Global Civilization of Love and Tolerance, “as those who harm no one with their words and actions.” Indeed, “there is no difference between a physical and a verbal violation,” Gülen goes on. This sensitivity to even subtle violence plants Gülen quite clearly in the mystic camp—and about as far from the instigator of a military coup as one can imagine. This sensitivity to violence—call it engaged empathy, is also likely to be badly misunderstood by outsiders.

One of the features of especially Sufi Islam is what is called fana—an Arabic term which means (in rough translation) the cessation of ego. Many Americans are familiar with the whirling dervishes—who in their ecstatic dance demonstrate this Sufi loss of ego in the whirl of life and in submission to God (every step of a dervish is in fact a prayer). So Sufis often speak of themselves in terms that minimize their individuality—which makes them easy targets for demagogues. Gülen is very much in this tradition.

Even more—there is ample evidence throughout Gülen’s extensive writing and public speaking that points away from military force and toward a very different kind of power. Like Gandhi, who practiced satyagraha—or “truth-force,” Gülen teaches that “power depends upon truth.” Like Rumi, Gülen teaches that “love is the most essential element of every being, and it is the most radiant light, and it is the greatest power.” And for Gülen, love, in politics, means a commitment to the democratic practices of persuasion. One of Gülen’s favorite phrases—drawn from another Sufi teacher, the poet and philosopher Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, is that: “among civilized persons victory is won by persuasion.”

At the heart of what Gülen has taught throughout his life is the Turkish ideal of hizmet (service). This ideal of Hizmet has motivated thousands of volunteers around the globe to build schools (mostly math and science academies), to develop social enterprises (e.g., newspapers and publishing houses) and other businesses to support these schools (many recently confiscated illegally by the Turkish government—a process underway before the failed coup), and to sponsor interreligious dialogues. As Graham Fuller recently put it in a cogent article, this movement is not a “cult” with political ambitions driven by “shadowy” leaders and furtive “followers.” It is one of the most encouraging faces of Islam today.

In contrast to this long history of teaching peace (and inspiring a global movement of peacebuilding volunteers), there’s the history of Turkish politicians finding Gülen a convenient scapegoat against whom to secure their own political ambitions—again, in 1971, 1980, and in all likelihood today. It’s as if Western media (and especially the New York Times) cannot conceive of an apolitical Muslim leader actually dedicated to good causes. The Turkish government then reinforces this Islamophobia in a convenient feedback loop, which of course serves its purposes (Erdogan began his career as an Islamist—recall).

In any event, such scapegoating of a Sufi mystic serves primarily to reinforce the authoritarian ambitions of the current political regime; a regime that has all but shut down the free press; imprisoned thousands of rivals and intellectuals; allegedly engaged in torture—according to Amnesty International; and built for its President a place of such grandiose proportions as to make the White House look like a shack.

So the scapegoating of Fethullah Gülen and those inspired by him ought to be read with utter suspicion until, as Secretary of State John Kerry put it well—credible evidence to the contrary is provided. I don’t expect to see any. An accusation is not evidence. Let’s not turn a mystic into a martyr: there have been enough of those already in the distant and recent past.


For more on Fethuallah Gülen and Hizmet, read Hizmet Means Service: Perspectives on an Alternate Path Within Islam, edited by Martin E. Marty

Hizmet Means Service


Jon Pahl is the Peter Paul and Elizabeth Hagan Professor of History at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. He can be reached at jpahl@ltsp.edu