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Habitus crisis

Wednesday, July 11, 2007 by Jeff

Imagine a continuum along which social science classes may fall. At one end is the "Consumers Choice" model, full of books and articles that conform to the interests of students. They describe sociological concepts in fun, familiar terms and memorable anecdotes, all easily accessible to undergrads. Numbers and statistics are noticeably absent, readings are bite-sized, and the obtuse classics of Sociology are taught with secondary sources. Case studies predominate, complimented with articles from the popular press. Non-specialist books that demonstrate pedagogical utility are preferred to specialist books.

At the other end is the "Professional Development" model. Readings include basic statistics and technical concepts and professional journals are the norm. Although a deep understanding isn't expected of students, classical theories and authors do make an appearance - always primary sources - and linear regression techniques are common. Qualitative work may be presented, but only to an extent proportional to that in the field of study being taught. Professional development is preferred to accessibility.

This frames some of the tougher choices I'm facing as I redesign my 300-level course on social movements this summer. I see the utility of the accessible course which corresponds to my belief that undergraduate classes should meet students halfway in order to provoke and inspire them to come back for more. On the other hand, students won't learn to perform at a higher level if it's not presented to or expected of them. This resonates with the mantra, "challenge all, exclude none," and strikes me as a good starting point for teaching a diverse bunch of students.

This might be an instance where a teaching philosophy would come in handy. What are my goals? Which methods of teaching most closely meet them? The easiest solution lies somewhere in the middle of this continuum, of course, but my sense is that most teachers fall closer to the side of accessibility. I know mine did, and I resent them for it. Of course, I'm in grad school now - not the typical path of the students we're teaching. What's a teacher to do? And does the answer depend on which university, discipline, or particular bunch of students we're talking about? And there's that nagging question in my head: are we training future consumers here?

Then I hear the wise words of experience: You're rewarded for your research, dummy, not teaching.

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3 reasons to be thankful you're not in Tucson

Tuesday, July 03, 2007 by Jeff

2:00 am is truly lovely this time of year.

Wish you were here,
Jeff

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He's no Vladimir Putin

Monday, July 02, 2007 by Jeff

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Is Democracy a consumer's right?

Saturday, June 30, 2007 by Jeff

He's dropped "consumer protection" for the "citizen participation." He's flouted political propriety by campaigning for president. He's flung himself onto the machinery of U.S. politics. Now, Ralph Nader is, once again, considering a run for the presidency.

In 2000, he swayed nearly 3 million voters, and four years later that number dropped to fewer than 500,000. We've heard it so many times that it's virtually unquestioned today that Ralph was the "spoiler" that put King George into office. To question that interpretation, which is but one politically expedient reading of that election, has been to invite venomous attacks and vitriolic condescension from Democratic apologists.

My hat is off to Ralph Nader. I don't believe that the weight of Al Gore's loss rests on his shoulders, nor do I believe that we should write off Nader's foray into electoral politics so quickly. Despite the nauseatingly common whining about Ralph's "bloated ego," his campaign is a conscious and thoughtful one that goes beyond any single presidential race.

Nader's career as a consumer champion has revolved around politics for decades. His advocacy for automobile safety, clean air, whistleblowers, food labeling, and numerous other causes in the name of the "public interest" has sought new or improved legislation, regulation, and enforcement - all thoroughly depending on political channels. When General Motors sent spies to undermine his auto safety campaign, he was testifying before congressional committees about the need for seat belts. When the Reagan Revolution steamrolled through Washington, Ralph was on the streets to drum up public support. When the Democrats buckled under a Republican Congress, he recognized that the Left was losing its political voice in Washington. That's when he ran for President. 1996. 2000. 2004. Now, possibly 2008.

Did he expect to win? Of course not. But this is part of a campaign that dates back to the Nixon Administration. It has broadened from narrow consumer issues to fundamental questions of democracy. Nader's campaign today amounts to institutional civil disobedience - without breaking a single law (although, to hear the yelps of Democrats you'd never know it).

"What third parties can do is bring young people in, set standards on how to run a presidential election and keep the progressive agenda in front of the people," he said. "And maybe tweak a candidate here and there in the major parties." The narrowmindedness of liberal pundits has squeezed out any analysis that extends much beyond an election cycle.

When Nader's campaign ends - and who's to say when that will be? - we'll still have to wait another 20-30 years to be able to assess how successful it has been.

There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all! - Mario Savio, Berkeley (1964)

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He said his name, BoRev, and he danced a lick across the cell

Sunday, June 17, 2007 by Jeff

I don't know how you people do it - blog three, four...seven times a week. Do you have family responsibilities, jobs? How about suntans (get outside!), or insomnia (get to bed!)? I simply can't keep up. In fact, the more I desire to keep up the less capable I feel.

In the spirit of reverence toward those with whom I can't keep up, I want to introduce you to BoRev.net, subtitled, "Dispatches from the Bolivarian Revolution." It's a political blog that drips with sarcasm and wit. It is unabashedly pro-Venezuelan and takes many incisive stabs at U.S. policies in the region and the media lapdog that follows it. It'll challenge any of you who think you know what's going on in Venezuela these days.

Here you can learn how our government supports a murderous Columbian regime; how Venezuelans are more satisfied with their democracy than are Americans; and how a pro-market media tells half-truths to mislead you about Venezuela.

Since its inception less than a year ago, BoRev.net has hit its stride. In recent months this blog has averaged 70 posts per month. Jee-zus! Mr. BoRev, Mr. BoRev, dance!

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Go, Dick! Go!

Friday, June 08, 2007 by Jeff

Be sure not to miss the story that Washington wants you to ignore.

Dick Marty, a Swiss senator working under the auspices of the Council of Europe, just released his 72-page report [PDF], his second in a year [first one here: PDF], that confirms that the CIA - yes, that's our folks - ran secret prisons in Europe to detain and torture suspected terrorists, the BBC reports. The CIA program of so-called "extraordinary rendition" sweeps up suspects (often without charges, warrants, or other requirements of U.S. and international law) and shuttles them off to countries where torture is both known and expected to happen. Conveniently, this allows our government officials to distance themselves from whatever unpleasantness may occur there.

Several European countries too, the report insists, are complicit in their transport and illegal treatment.

[Romania and Poland] did host secret detention centres under a special CIA programme established by the American administration in the aftermath of 11 September 2001 to “kill, capture and detain” terrorist suspects deemed to be of “high value”.

Today also marks the beginning of a trial for 26 (suspected) American CIA operatives accused of kidnapping a Muslim imam on the streets of Milan in broad daylight 4 1/2 years ago. None of the Americans are attending the trial and the U.S. government refuses to turn them over.

The imam, Abu Omar, says he was flown to Germany and then to his native Egypt where he was tortured. He has reportedly lost "70 percent of his hearing in both ears, has a lesion on his spine and suffers depression as a result of the torture he endured."

Dick Marty wants you to know that the U.S. is writing its own rules in the "War on Terror," rules that defy it's own constitution and laws, as well as European laws and global declarations against human rights abuse. So much for all that bullshit Thomas Jefferson fed us about individual liberties and democracy. We're eating crow now.

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The Old Left's new face in Congress

Friday, May 11, 2007 by Jeff

Anyone paying attention to the Democratic Party's new push for "A New Trade Policy for America?"

A couple of big shots in the party have been meeting privately with our Commander-In-Chief to hammer out an agreement that requires all future transnational trade agreements (e.g., those pending with Peru, Panama, Columbia, and South Korea) to include provisions that protect workers and the environment. (Here's a 1-pager outlining what those crazy left-wingers are pushing for). Well, it appears that Bush and Democratic leaders have tied the knot.

As the Center for American Progress (CAP) reports, the bipartisan compromise states:

Countries that sign trade agreements with the United States now must make fully enforceable commitments to respect the five basic international labor standards, as enshrined in the 1998 International Labor Organization Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work....

These five standards, if you're not versed in ILO policies, include rights to organize and bargain collectively, and prohibitions against child labor, forced labor, and workplace discrimination. That ain't half bad, that is if you can enforce compliance, something that has dogged the ILO for years. Why should we believe anything is going to change now? The article continues:

The compromise also calls for a new Strategic Worker Assistance and Training, or SWAT, initiative to deal more effectively with the negative impact of trade on the livelihoods of some Americans and their communities. Finally, it lays down important markers on areas of national concern that are substantially affected by global trade, such as environmental protection, port security, investor rights, government procurement, and developing countries’ access to life-saving medicines.

Finally! Someone's looking after investors. Whew! Ok, so there's nothing here about protecting women's rights, traditional cultures, sexual minorities, people of color, prisoners, political prisoners, prisoners of war, the mentally ill, seniors, the un- (or under-) employed, or preventing inequities that drive illegal immigration. Hell, maybe we should just be thankful that the workers of the world are finally on the road to meaningful recognition and that environmental protection is riding shotgun. Too much too quickly is probably just asking for trouble.

Trouble is exactly what Bush and his new Democratic bedfellows allies are facing with this new agreement.

In the Left corner we have David Sirota at TomPaine.com. He raises concerns that the U.S. won't be held to the very standards that it's imposing on other nations, that Dems had to agree to give up a substantial degree of Congressional oversight of future trade deals in order to seal the deal with Bush. Although, Sirota notes, there's no way to know for sure because the details of the deal have been kept suspiciously shrouded. Others, notably the Teamsters and the United Steel Workers, contend that these protections still don't address what free trade agreements are so good at, sending jobs oversees.

In the right corner we have Dan Ikenson of the Cato Institute. He worries that trade agreements now on the table may fall apart, and that the inability of poorer countries to meet the stricter requirements will lead to new sanctions and tariffs that will interfere with the smooth functioning of the market. Some of those precarious trade agreements have already been signed but would require those countries to agree to the new provisions. South Korea's chief negotiator delicately put it this way:

There is no change in our government's stance that there is no renegotiation on the Korea-U.S. FTA [free trade agreement].

It seems that The Middle is compromising the Right and Left right out of the picture. With respect to the stakeholders in this deal - labor and big business - Bush and the Democratic leadership clearly decided it would be better to ask forgiveness rather than permission.

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Jeff A. Larson
Sociologist, Arizona.


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