William Helmreich is back on the streets of NYC with The New Yorker

Bill Helmreich walks every street in New York City

Bill Helmreich walks every street in New York City

How well do many seasoned New Yorkers really know New York City? Chances are, few can claim the knowledge of all 6,000 miles quite like Professor of Sociology William Helmreich can. Inspired by childhood explorations with his father, Helmreich walked every block of New York City’s five boroughs, a mission that resulted in The New York Nobody Knows. This week, The New Yorker ran a fun video featuring Bill Helmreich and his walks. His unconventional portrait of New York City is due out in paperback this Fall.

From Joshua Rothman’s New Yorker piece accompanying the video:

Many New Yorkers daydream about exploring the areas of the city they don’t know. But actually doing it is incredibly difficult. Ten years ago, Ben McGrath wrote a Talk of the Town story about a man who walked all of Manhattan; that’s an impressive achievement, but even the dreariest Manhattan blocks are more interesting than the service road alongside the B.Q.E. Moreover, to walk all of New York within a reasonable time frame, you have to do it all year round; most likely, as Helmreich did, you’d also have to walk after dark. Helmreich wasn’t just game, in other words. He was dedicated. He allowed neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night to stop him from his appointed rounds.

Read the rest here, and the earlier New Yorker feature where Joshua Rothman walked the Bronx with Helmreich.

You can sample chapter one of The New York Nobody Knows here.

William B. Helmreich is professor of sociology at the City University Graduate Center (CUNY) and the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at the City College of New York.

An interview with Robert Wuthnow on his forthcoming book, IN THE BLOOD

Is your closest contact with the farming community your latest Instagram of a picturesque barn, or an occasional haul from the local CSA? If so, you’re not alone. Our day to day existence relies heavily on farming, but from Americans’ increasingly urban vantage point, the lives of farmers themselves can seem remote. In his forthcoming book, In the Blood, Princeton University sociologist of culture Robert Wuthnow offers a moving portrait of the changing lives of farm families. Recently Robert took the time to talk with us about what prompted him to write the book, the misconceptions he discovered, and how his new research spoke to his extensive body of work in the sociology of religion.

Robert Wuthnow, author of IN THE BLOOD

Robert Wuthnow, Princeton sociologist and author of IN THE BLOOD

You teach at Princeton University and live in a largely urban state. What prompted you to write a book about farming?

RW: I grew up on a farm in Kansas, spent most of my spare time until I graduated from college farming, and figured I would follow in the footsteps of many generations in my family who farmed. Things didn’t turn out that way. But I still have friends and family who farm and I’m intrigued, shall we say, by the path I didn’t take. I wrote about the changing history of agriculture in the Midwest in Remaking the Heartland and about rural communities in Small-Town America. After working on those projects I began reading the literature on farming. I discovered that most of it is written by agricultural economists and historians. As I sociologist, I wanted to hear from farmers themselves. I wanted to know what farming day-to-day is like, what it means to them, how it influences their values, and why they stay with it from generation to generation.

Why do you think people who don’t know much about farming might find this book interesting?

RW: Everybody – whether we live in a city, suburb, or small town – depends on farms for the food we eat. We know about problems with fast food, slaughterhouses, pollution, and the like. We also hear discussions every few years about farm policies. But for the most part, farming is out of sight and out of mind. In part, I wanted to give farmers a voice. I wanted people who know very little about farming to at least have something to read if they did happen to be interested.

In the Blood jacketApart from questions about food and farm policies, the reason to be interested in farmers is that our nation’s culture is still the product of our agrarian past. Correctly or incorrectly, we imagine that today’s farmers represent that heritage. In one view, they represent conservative family traditions, hard work, living simply, and preserving the land. In that view, it is easy to romanticize farming. A different view holds that farmers are country bumpkins who couldn’t do anything better than continue to farm. In both these views, farmers are actually serving as a mirror for us. I wanted to hold that mirror up to see what it showed – about the rest of us as much as about farmers.

You say farmers think the public doesn’t understand them. What misperceptions need to be corrected?

RW: One of the most serious misperceptions is that farmers are out there mindlessly ruining the land. That certainly was not how they saw it. Of the two hundred farmers that form the basis of the book, nearly all of them described the reasons why they do everything they can to preserve the land. I was especially impressed with the extent to which science is helping them do this. Farmers today have a much better understanding of soil chemistry, microbes, and ways to minimize water use and pollution than farmers did a generation ago.

Another misperception is that farmers are the problem when it comes to questions about tax dollars spent on farm subsidies. My research included farmers with large holdings as well as small farmers and it dealt with wheat belt, corn belt, and cotton belt farming as well as truck and dairy farming. Farmers spoke candidly and many of them were candidly critical of farm subsidies. They did benefit from crop insurance and appreciated the fact that it was subsidized. But they were doubtful that government bureaucrats understood farming and they were pretty sure farm policies were being driven by corporate agribusiness rather than farm families.

Much of your work has been about religion. What did you learn about religion from farmers?

RW: I wondered if farmers whose livelihoods are so dependent on forces of nature over which they have no control would somehow attribute those influences to God or be superstitious about them. Would they consider it helpful to pray for rain, for example? What I found is that hardly any of them thought that way. Some were devout; others were not religious at all. The most common understanding was that God somehow existed, was ultimately in control, but was also beyond human comprehension. Those who were the most devout prayed, figuring that whether it rained or not, God was real.

Churches are still the mainstay of farming communities, but vast changes are taking place in these churches, just as in cities and suburbs. Small churches in declining communities are dying. The ones that remain struggle to attract members and employ pastors. Increasingly, farm families drive twenty or thirty miles to attend churches in large towns and cities. That is also where they go to shop and where their children go to school.

You argue that farmers are deeply loyal to their families but are also ruggedly independent. How so?

RW: What I found about family loyalty and rugged independence is that both are changing. The basic values are unchanged but their meanings are being redefined. For instance, farmers say that farms are good places to raise children. But they rarely mean that children drive tractors and milk cows. They mean that children gain an appreciation of living in the country. Farm families continue to be examples of family-operated businesses. But gender roles are changing and informal relationships are being replaced by formal contracts. Being independent means making your own decisions, not having someone looking over your shoulder, and not having your daily schedule dictated to you. But all of that is constrained by government regulations and by having to depend on markets over which one has no control.

What did you identify as the main challenges facing farmers today?

RW: Farmers face a challenge that has always been part of their lives and is becoming less predictable. That challenge is the weather. Climate change is bringing extremes in temperature, storms, and rainfall unlike anything farmers have known. In addition, farmers with small to medium acreage are being forced to expand or quit. Whether large-scale farming adds efficiency is still debated, but farmers worry that if they do not expand they will be left behind. And competition to expand necessarily influences relations among farmers. As many of the farmers we spoke to explained, they enjoy seeing their neighbors but they also view their neighbors as sharks in the water.

Of all the topics you explored in your interviews with farmers, what surprised you the most?

RW: Technology. Spending my days, as I do, tethered to a computer and the Internet, I suppose I should not have been surprised to learn the extent to which farming has also changed as part of the digital revolution. But I was. My research assistants and I conducted interviews by cell phone with farmers on their tractors while a GPS guidance system drove the tractor through the field within a margin of three inches, an on-board computer monitored the soil and adjusted seed-to-fertilizer ratios accordingly, and the farmer in turn kept track of fluctuations in commodities markets. Technology of that sort is hugely expensive. Farmers acknowledge that it is not only labor saving but also enjoyable. But the digital revolution is influencing everything about farming – from who operates the machinery to how often farmers see their children and from what they depend on for information to what they have to do to qualify for financing.

The farmers we spoke to were deeply committed to family farming as a lifestyle. They hoped it would continue and that some of their children would be farmers. But many of them expressed doubts. They worried about the corporate takeover of farming. And they were preparing their children to pursue careers other than farming.

Read the introduction here.

Robert Wuthnow is the Gerhard R. Andlinger ’52 Professor of Social Sciences and director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University. He is the author of many books, including Rough Country, Small-Town America, Red State Religion, and Remaking the Heartland (all Princeton).

An interview with Justin Farrell, author of THE BATTLE FOR YELLOWSTONE

Farrell jacketYellowstone, the world’s first national park and a spectacular geothermal hot spot, has long been a popular summer vacation destination, with its unparalleled scenery, hiking and wildlife. But it also sits at the center of endless political struggles and environmental conflicts. What can Yellowstone teach us about the worsening environmental conflicts worldwide? And what can the persistent clashes about Yellowstone itself teach us about cultural upheaval in the US? Justin Farrell recently sat down to answer these questions and give us some background on the writing of his new book, The Battle for Yellowstone, which was recently called “The most original political book of early 2015″ by The Economist.

Why Yellowstone?

JF: Yellowstone National Park is the first national park in the world, and is a natural and cultural treasure of the United States. The history about how this happened is somewhat complicated, difficult, and imperialistic (as I describe in Chapter 1), but it remains a modern treasure nonetheless.

In recent years it has become a site for some of the most intractable environmental struggles in the world. As a prototype for conservation, these struggles have great impact beyond the bounds of the United States. This is why the issues I write about in the book draw so much attention from U.S. Presidents, Congress, environmental groups, local ranchers and farmers, national media, and millions of members of the public from outside of the Yellowstone region. Each year more and more money is poured into finding solutions, yet the toxic polarization rolls on.

What does morality have to do with anything?

JF: In and around Yellowstone there is a massive amount of energy put into solving these conflicts, and just about all of this energy is put into ascertaining more facts and technical knowledge about biology, ecology, economics, or law. While this is good, and we always need more of this, it has clouded what the conflict is really about, and hindered progress in a number of ways. Underneath this sort of reasoning is the notion that once people “have the facts,” they will make rational decisions based on those facts. Of course, we know this is not true.

Through several years of research on Yellowstone conflict, I ask more fundamental questions that reveal the sources of pre-scientific cultural, moral, and spiritual commitments that in many ways drive Yellowstone conflict. In the book I unpack this argument in much more detail, and describe empirically how environmental conflict in this area has intense cultural and moral dimensions that are often ignored, muted, or misunderstood by the participants in the conflict.

You’ve blended computational social science with traditional qualitative fieldwork. Can you explain why this methodological approach is important?

JF: Mixed-methods can open windows of insight that are often missed by a single methodological approach. I really enjoy computational methods, such as machine learning, text analysis, and network science. I wanted to blend them with the qualitative fieldwork in a way that worked together in a complementary way, rather than side by side. So my interview guides and choices for participant observation were many times informed by the computational social science. And vice-versa, the difficult interpretive work required by qualitative data was informed by what I found in the computational analyses. On a much broader note, I really believe that there are so many benefits to blending these types of research, and that qualitative researchers in particular should try to make use of computational social science because—as I try to show in the book (and in a class I teach here at Yale)—that there are a lot of similarities, and a lot of tools at our disposal that can help us better understand human culture.

What are the main theoretical contributions of the book?

JF: While the main contribution concerns morality and environmental conflict, there are four general contributions that fit more neatly into subfield boxes. I won’t go into too much detail here, but they are (1) a contribution to the (re)emerging field of sociology of morality; (2) bringing questions central to sociology of culture into the field of environmental sociology; (3) examining religion and spirituality in ostensibly non-religious or “secular” settings; (4) a methodological model and call for scholars to blend computational social science with qualitative fieldwork.

Environmental issues have become especially important in the 21st century, and will continue to do so. How might this book help solve the growing number of environmental conflicts around the world?

JF: The model and argument I develop in the book has broad application to any environmental issue where cultural factors weigh strong. My bias is that there are cultural factors weighing strong in almost any environmental issue, and are driven by larger conceptions and cultural commitments about what the “good” life looks like, and how we should go about living it in relationship to each other and to the natural world.

Justin Farrell is assistant professor of sociology in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University.

Read the introduction here.

Lauren Rivera, author of PEDIGREE, on the trouble with “cultural fit” in hiring

Rivera jacketLauren Rivera, associate professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and author of the new book Pedigree: How Elite Students get Elite Jobs, has an important op ed on class bias in the Sunday New York Times. In “Guess Who Doesn’t Fit in at Work” she argues that even in a hiring culture that emphasizes diversity, the idea of “cultural fit” has ‘gone rogue’, and interviewers at prestigious organizations practice a little-recognized form of discrimination in which they are “primarily interested in new hires whose hobbies, hometowns and biographies [match] their own.” From her piece:

ACROSS cultures and industries, managers strongly prize “cultural fit” — the idea that the best employees are like-minded. One recent survey found that more than 80 percent of employers worldwide named cultural fit as a top hiring priority.

When done carefully, selecting new workers this way can make organizations more productive and profitable. But cultural fit has morphed into a far more nebulous and potentially dangerous concept. It has shifted from systematic analysis of who will thrive in a given workplace to snap judgments by managers about who they’d rather hang out with. In the process, fit has become a catchall used to justify hiring people who are similar to decision makers and rejecting people who are not.

Rivera explains that “fit” can be used productively in the hiring process, but that it should emphasize behaviors associated with performance and not personal similarity. She outlines a better approach:

First, communicate a clear and consistent idea of what the organization’s culture is (and is not) to potential employees. Second, make sure the definition of cultural fit is closely aligned with business goals. Ideally, fit should be based on data-driven analysis of what types of values, traits and behaviors actually predict on-the-job success. Third, create formal procedures like checklists for measuring fit, so that assessment is not left up to the eyes (and extracurriculars) of the beholder.

Read the rest of her New York Times piece here, as well as her recent Q&A in Inside Higher Ed.

Chapter 1 is available here.

A Q&A with Richard Alba and Nancy Foner, authors of Strangers No More: Immigration and the Challenges of Integration in North America and Western Europe

With immigration at a record high, migrants and their children are a rapidly growing population whose integration needs have never been more pressing. Shedding new light on questions and concerns, Strangers No More is the first look at immigrant assimilation across six Western countries: Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United States and Canada. Recently the authors, Richard Alba and Nancy Foner, provided context for their book and answered some questions on immigration, including how individual nations are being transformed, why Islam proves a barrier for inclusion in Western Europe in particular, and what future trends to expect.

Foner jacketWhy does understanding immigrant integration in Western Europe and America matter?

Put simply, it’s one of the key issues of the twenty-first century on both sides of the Atlantic.

What makes it so urgent? The numbers: Western European countries as well as the US and Canada have been faced with incorporating millions of immigrants whose cultures, languages, religions, and racial backgrounds differ from those of most long-established residents.

Future trends: The challenges of integrating immigrants and their children—so they can become full members of the societies where they live—are likely to become even more important in the coming decades in the face of (1) continued demand for new immigrant inflows and (2) demographic shifts in which the huge number of people of immigrant origin—immigrants as well as their children—will constitute a much larger share of the adult population.  Large portions of the immigrant-origin populations of these countries are going to come from the “low-status” groups—such as Turks in Germany, Pakistanis in Britain, and Mexicans in the U.S.—that are the focus of the book. There is no question that their opportunities are critical for the future.

Does any one country come out clearly ahead?

Basically, the answer is no. The book’s comparison of four European countries, Britain, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, and two in North America, the United States and Canada, shows that when it comes to the integration of low-status immigrants—in terms of jobs, income and poverty, residential segregation, electoral success, children’s education, intermarriage, and race and religion—there are no clear-cut winners and losers. Each society fails and succeeds in different ways. Nor is there a consistent North America- Europe divide: Canada and the United States as well as countries within Europe differ in ways they’ve provided opportunities, and erected barriers, for immigrants.

So how is the United States doing?

In some ways the U.S. looks good compared to the continental European countries in the book. The U.S. has been quick (like Canada) to extend a national identity to immigrants and their children. Rates of intermarriage between those of immigrant origin and whites are relatively high. The U.S. has a pretty good record of electing immigrant-origin politicians, and is the only country to vote in the child of a non-Western immigrant to the highest national office.

In other ways, the U.S. has the highest bars to integration of all the six countries. The rate of residential segregation experienced by many immigrant families stands out as extreme. The disadvantages immigrants and their children confront in terms of their economic status is greatest in the U.S., which has the most severe economic inequality. The US also has the largest number—and proportion—of undocumented immigrants, who are denied basic rights and opportunities.

Aren’t all these countries being transformed by immigration?

Yes, they are. One could say that the face of the West is inevitably changing. During the next quarter century, a momentous transition to much greater diversity will take place everywhere. As the post-World War II baby booms—and such groups, made up largely of the native majority group, are found throughout North America and Western Europe– retire from work and become less socially active in other ways, they are going to be replaced by groups of young adults who in some countries will be relatively few in number, and everywhere will be more diverse, more likely to have grown up in immigrant homes.

The “mainstream” of these countries will change, too, in that the people who will occupy positions of authority and visibility will be much more diverse than in the past. We already see this occurring in the U.S., where younger workers in well-paid jobs are less likely to come from the non-Hispanic white group than their predecessors did.   But there is a paradox. At the same time – and a cause for real concern—many young people of immigrant background are being left behind because of grossly unequal opportunities.

But why is Islam a much greater barrier to inclusion for immigrants and their children in Western Europe than it is in the United States?

One reason is basic demographics: a much larger proportion of immigrants in Western Europe are Muslim than in the U.S., where the great majority are Christian. Also, Muslim immigrants in the U.S. have a lower socioeconomic profile than those in Europe. Second: the way Christian religions in Europe have been institutionalized, and historically entangled with the state, has made it difficult for Islam to achieve equal treatment. In the U.S., the constitutional principles of religious freedom and separation of church and state have allowed Muslims more space to develop their own religious communities. Third: a secular mindset dominates in most Western European countries as compared to the high level of religiosity in the United States so that claims based on religion, and Islam in particular, have much less acceptance and legitimacy in Europe.

What is the good news—and the more positive side of the story?

One positive is the growing success of immigrant minorities in winning local and national political office in all six countries. Children of immigrants are mixing and mingling with people in other groups, including long-established natives, in schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces. The emergence of super-diverse neighborhoods contributes to the sense that ethnic and racial diversity is a normal order of things.

Intermarriage rates are rising among some immigrant groups in all the countries, so that more family circles bring together people of immigrant origin and longer-established natives—and children of mixed backgrounds are increasingly common. In the U.S., one out of seven marriages now crosses the major lines of race or Hispanic ancestry; and most of these intermarriages involve individuals from immigrant backgrounds and whites. Everywhere at least some children of low-status immigrants are getting advanced academic credentials and good jobs. And while racial and religious divisions seem like intractable obstacles, over time the barriers may loosen and blur.

Richard Alba is Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His books include Blurring the Color Line and Remaking the American Mainstream. Nancy Foner is Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her books include From Ellis Island to JFK and In a New Land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christopher Bail on anti-Muslim sentiment

In this clip from the documentary aftertheshooting.com, sociologist and author Christopher Bail discusses whether the sea change in American public opinion about Islam over the past few years may have contributed to the recent murder of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. His recent book, Terrified, employs computer analytics techniques to show how anti-Muslim organizations have gained visibility in the public sphere. In this clip, Bail speaks with a close friend of one of the victims. You can watch the entire documentary here.

Last month, Bail spoke with Paul Rosenberg at Salon about his innovative new methodology for studying how fear is fostered in the broader cultural landscape. He was interviewed about the aftermath of the Chapel Hill shootings in the Guardian earlier this year.

Madness in Civilization

Madness in Civilization is a stunningly illustrated new cultural history of mental disturbance from antiquity to the present time.  Written by Andrew Scull, professor of sociology at University of California, San Diego and preeminent historian of psychiatry, the book’s mesmerizing subject matter ranges from exorcisms to Victorian asylums, from pharmacology to the introduction of psychiatry into popular culture. The Telegraph called it “ambitious and gruesome”, and the book has received wonderful write-ups in The Literary Review and The Financial Times. Scull has been blogging for Psychology Today as well, where he shares insights on his fascinating and frightening work. Check out chapter 1 here, and a slide show of some of the book’s most compelling images:

Types of Insanity
The Tranquilizer, 1811
Maniac in a strait-jacket, in a French asylum.
Battle Creek Sanitarium
Battle Creek Sanitarium
The first stage of General Faradization
The second stage of General Faradization
The third stage of General Faradization
Attitudes passionelles: extase (1878)
Advert for the psychiatric drug Thorazine
Depression Advertisement
Murder of Thomas Becket
Franz Joseph Gall examining the head of a pretty young girl
Hieronymus Bosch's The Cure of the Folly
Nebuchadnezzar as a wild animal
No Sex Please! (We're on antidepressants)

'Types of Insanity,' the frontispiece to John Charles Bucknill and Daniel Hack Tucke's A Manual of Psychological Medicine (1858), one of the first widely used textbooks on the diagnosis and treatment of insanity. Wellcome Library, London.

The Tranquilizer, 1811. Its inventor Benjamin Rush boasted that: "Its effects have been truly delightful to me." His patients' reactions are not recorded. Courtesy of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, Maryland

The French alienist J.-E.D. Equirol included many drawings of insane patients in the throes of their madness, such as this one, in his treatise Des Maladies mentales, published in 1938. Wellcome Library, London.

Photography at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, one of many therapies on offer there. 271

A postcard of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, for affluent and nervous patients. By 1933 it had been forced into receivership, a causality of the Great Depression. The Tichnor Brothers Collection, Boston Public Library.

Treatment with an electrical vibrator (1900); a nurse applies faradic current to a female patient. Wellcome Library, London.

Treatment with an electrical vibrator (1900); a nurse applies faradic current to a female patient. Wellcome Library, London.

Treatment with an electrical vibrator (1900); a nurse applies faradic current to a female patient. Wellcome Library, London.

The erotic overtones of Charcot’s pictures of his hysterical patients at the Salpêtrière are nowhere more obvious than here. Harvey Cushing/John Jay Whitney Medical Library, Yale University, New Haven.

An early advertisement for the virtues of Thorazine, touting its value in curbing the agitated husband's inclination to beat his wife. Wellcome Library, London.

Depressed? We have the solution! An advertisement for 'mother's little helper' - a pill for the housewife trapped in a prison of domesticity. Harvey Cushing/John Jay Whitney Medical Library, Yale University, New Haven.

A vivid portrayal of the murder of Thomas Becket, from a mid-thirteenth century codex. The saint's blood was thought to cure insanity, blindness, leprosy, and deafness, not to mention a host of other aliments. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

Franz Joseph Gall examines the head of an attractive young woman, while three gentlemen wait their turns to have their own characters read, in a satirical image published in 1825. Wellcome Library, London.

Hieronymus Bosch’s The Cure of the Folly: The Extraction of the Stone of Madness (c. 1494). A doctor, possibly a quack, uses a scalpel to remove the supposed cause of madness from the head of the patient. Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Nebuchadnezzar as a wild animal, his hair grown long and his nails like claws. This striking image of the biblical story of the Babylonian king’s madness is a detail from a manuscript painted by an unknown artist in Regensburg, Germany. Paul J. Getty Museum, Los Angeles (Ms. 33, fol. 215v)

Types of Insanity thumbnail
The Tranquilizer, 1811 thumbnail
Maniac in a strait-jacket, in a French asylum. thumbnail
Battle Creek Sanitarium thumbnail
Battle Creek Sanitarium thumbnail
The first stage of General Faradization thumbnail
The second stage of General Faradization thumbnail
The third stage of General Faradization thumbnail
Attitudes passionelles: extase (1878) thumbnail
Advert for the psychiatric drug Thorazine thumbnail
Depression Advertisement thumbnail
Murder of Thomas Becket thumbnail
Franz Joseph Gall examining the head of a pretty young girl thumbnail
Hieronymus Bosch's The Cure of the Folly thumbnail
Nebuchadnezzar as a wild animal thumbnail
No Sex Please! (We're on antidepressants) thumbnail

Zimmerman talks sex education at the American Enterprise Institute

Zimmerman jacket

Too Hot to Handle by Jonathan Zimmerman

Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education is shaping up to be one hot book for spring. A long format conversation with author Jonathan Zimmerman recently appeared in Globe and Mail, and he was interviewed (live and available to stream) for WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show. Zimmerman published “Can Sex Ed be Universal?” in Foreign Affairs, the book was excerpted on PopMatters.com, and was the subject of a feature on Vox.com as well.

This past Thursday, the American Enterprise Institute hosted a conversation with Zimmerman. Taking a look at the differences in sex education between countries and throughout history, he explains how, as countries become more democratic, sex education has become more contentious.

Check out Zimmerman’s American Enterprise Institute talk here.

 

Christopher Bail talks to Salon about “Terrified”

Christopher Bail, author of Terrified: How Anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream, recently spoke with Paul Rosenberg for a feature in Salon on how anti-Muslim sentiment is fostered by the broader cultural landscape, and the innovative new methodology he has used to study that process. Paul Rosenberg at Salon writes:

It may be hard to fathom or remember, but in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 the American public responded with an increased level of acceptance and support for Muslims. President Bush—who had successfully courted the Muslim vote in 2000—went out of his way to praise American Muslims on numerous occasions in 2001 and 2002. However, the seeds were already being planted that would change that drastically over time.  Within a few short years, a small handful of fringe anti-Muslim organizations—almost entirely devoid of any real knowledge or expertise, some drawing on age-old ethno-religious conflicts—managed to hijack the public discourse about Islam, first by stoking fears, grabbing attention with their emotional messaging, then by consolidating their newfound social capital, forging ties with established elite organizations, and ultimately building their own organizational and media infrastructure.

How this all happened is the subject of a fascinating new book, “Terrified: How Anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream,” by sociologist Christopher Bail, of the University of North Carolina.  The book not only lays bare the behind-the-scenes story of a momentous shift in public opinion, it employs cutting-edge computer analysis techniques applied to large archives of data to develop a new theoretical outlook, capable of making sense of the whole field of competing organizations struggling to shape public opinion, not just studying one or two the most successful ones. The result is not only a detailed account of a specific, significant, and also very pernicious example of cultural evolution, but also a case study in how to more rigorously study cultural evolution more generally in the future. In the process, it sheds considerable light on the struggles involved, and the difficulties faced by those trying to fight back against this rising tide of misdirected fear, anger and hatred.


Read the full interview with Christopher Bail that follows here.

Terrified, by Christopher Bail

Too Hot to Handle? Jonathan Zimmerman Q&A on the problem with sex education

A product in part of the Progressive Era’s efforts to eradicate prostitution, sex education today is more likely to take its cues from the hazards of sexting. But while sex education has always been emotionally fraught, according to Jonathan Zimmerman, author of Too Hot To Handle: A Global History of Sex Education, its opponents are not limited to the realm of evangelical ministers and Conservative pundits. What exactly is the world’s problem with sex education? Zimmerman has a terrific op-ed in today’s New York Times arguing that globalization, contrary to popular belief, has limited rather than expanded such instruction. He was recently interviewed for a piece by Jessica Lahey on the Atlantic.com, and spoke to the History News Network as well.

This week, Zimmerman took the time to sit down with Princeton University Press to shed some light on the fascinating social history of sex education, as well as his personal motivations for writing the book:

Ontario Sex Education Protest 20150224externalimagek104541

 

Why did you write this book?

Jonathan Zimmerman (JZ): My mother spent her career in international family planning and sex education. So she imbued me with the standard liberal American view of the subject: the United States was “behind” other Western democracies, which provide much more extensive, honest, and effective sex education than we do. And that’s why their teen pregnancy and STD rates are so much lower, or so the story goes.

So was your Mom correct?

JZ: Not exactly. First of all, it turns out that the USA was the global pioneer of sex education rather than a laggard. Eventually, countries like Sweden and the Netherlands did develop more detailed sex education than the USA, especially on the subject of contraception. But sex education is limited in those countries by citizen and teacher resistance, just as it is here. And, more interestingly, it has a different set of goals.

How so?

JZ: In Scandinavia and Continental Europe, the stated goal of sex education is not to limit negative social consequences, but rather to help each individual determine and develop her or his own sexuality. I didn’t understand the difference until I found an exchange in the Swedish archives between an educator in Ireland (where sex education was much more like the American version) and the leader of the RFSU, Sweden’s national sex education organization. The Irish educator wanted to know how Swedish sex educators kept teen pregnancy and STD rates so low. The RFSU guy replies with a kind note that says he doesn’t know whether sex education actually influences those outcomes, because there are so many other factors that affect young people’s behavior. And then he says, that’s not the point anyway! It’s to help them lead healthy and pleasurable sexual lives.

So the Americans emphasize social consequences, and the Europeans emphasize individual rights? That sounds like a very different story than the trans-Atlantic comparative tale we usually tell, in which the Americans stress the rights of individuals and the Europeans attend to the common good.

JZ: Exactly!

And I don’t imagine you could get elected to an American school board if you were pushing for a sex-education curriculum aiming to assist each teenager in developing sexual identity and pleasure.

JZ: Probably not. But there’s plenty of resistance to that perspective in Europe now, too, especially among new immigrants Countries like Sweden and the Netherlands have witnessed an enormous burst of immigration over the past two decades, mainly from Muslim and Hindu societies in North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. And many of these newcomers are angered and offended by a sex education stressing the “right” of each adolescent individual to engage in sex, which violates their communal or religious prescriptions on the subject. They also think that school-based sex education inhibits their own right to raise their children as they see fit.

What about their countries of origin, in the developing world? What does sex education look like there?

JZ: Until the 1980s, it barely existed. But the HIV/AIDS crisis changed all of that, especially in Africa. The question became not “Should we have sex education?” but “What kind of sex education should we have?” And in Africa and Asia, not surprisingly, it more closely resembled the abstinence-only or danger-centered approach that we see in many parts of the USA.

So would it be fair to say that an American-style sex education is more “culturally appropriate”—in many parts of the developing world—than, say, the Swedish version?

JZ: Yes, and that’s one of the central ironies of my book. Many people in the West who support so-called “comprehensive” sex education also fashion themselves “multiculturalists,” stressing the importance of diversity and the need for educators to respect it. It’s hard to square that perspective with a commitment to adolescent sexual rights, which are simply anathema in many cultures. I realized that, too, when I was in the archives in Sweden, and I came across a comment by a frustrated educator who had been trying—without a lot of success–to promote his approach in the so-called Third-World. As he acknowledged, many people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America did not share his premises on the value of the individual, at least not when it came to sex. “It is hard for people to be autonomous in cultures where autonomy seems to be of such little use,” he wrote.

What about conservatives? Wasn’t there also an irony in the way they invoked their “cultural” rights and prerogatives?

JZ: Definitely! In the USA and the UK, especially, white conservatives since the 1960s have often resisted “multiculturalism” as a divisive threat to the body politic. But on sex education, they invoked their own cultural and religious rights and—increasingly—they united with ethnic and religious minorities who shared their point of view. So in the UK, for example, you see white Tories joining hands with Muslim immigrant organizations against sex education.

And these conservatives make common cause across borders, right, as more and more people move across them?

JZ: Exactly. I think many people on the Left like to imagine that “globalization”—the rapid circulation of people and ideas around the world—as a force for liberal-ization. But in the story that I tell, globalization actually inhibits the spread of sex education by allowing critics to share ideas and strategies. Sex education has been a global movement, to be sure. But the same goes for its opposition.

In the USA and elsewhere, some conservatives have resisted or rejected scientific claims regarding evolution and climate change. Isn’t the opposition to sex education an example of similar behavior?

JZ: No. We simply don’t have the same kind of scientific knowledge or consensus about sex education as we do in the realms of evolution or climatology. And part of the reason is that there is so little sex education in the first place! It’s incredibly hard to show that something so brief and haphazard affects something as complicated as sexual behavior.

So maybe it’s really a story about what schools can do, and what they can’t?

JZ: I think so. The 20th century witnessed an enormous boom in formal schooling around the world, as well as new norms of sexual expression and behavior. Sex education brought these two trends together, but the marriage never really worked out. Kids get their messages and values about sex from other institutions, especially in the mass media. Schools just don’t factor into the equation very often, or very well.

Book trailer for Atlas of Cities edited by Paul Knox


Princeton University Press senior designer Jason Alejandro created this book trailer for Atlas of Cities edited by Paul Knox. (The catchy song in the background is the aptly named “Weekend in the City” by Silent Partner.)

8-7 Atlas of Cities Atlas of Cities
Edited by Paul Knox

 

In the News: Ghaziani Goes Global with ‘There Goes the Gayborhood?’

8-6 AminGayborhoods. Rising Rents. De-Gaying. ‘Straightening.’

What does it all mean?

Princeton University Press author and associate professor of Sociology Amin Ghaziani has dedicated his life’s work to defining these terms and to bringing the study of sexuality to the forefront of sociology. Naturally, the intent of his latest book, There Goes the Gayborhood? is no different.

In many respects, the book is an ode to the enclaves which have historically acted as havens of support, providing community and allowing those with common sociopolitical goals to coalesce in their quest for equality, meanwhile striking rich friendships and developing culturally vibrant and economically robust neighborhoods.

Throughout the book, Ghaziani analyzes deep demographic data looking for trends of same-sex and straight households moving in and out of traditionally gay neighborhoods like San Francisco’s Castro district, Chicago’s Boystown, and New York’s Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen neighborhoods. His findings show that gay neighborhoods are becoming decidedly less “gay”—the number of gay men who live in gay neighborhoods has declined eight per cent while the number of lesbians has dropped 13 per cent in the last 10 years. He also found that other areas of the country are becoming more diverse with same-sex reported households in 93% of the counties in America.

The amount of media attention to Ghaziani’s book, and particularly to his unique sociological diagnosis of this issue, has been nearly as overwhelming as his findings. Mainstream media outlets like Time Magazine,  Yahoo! News, Chicago NPR’s “Morning Shift,” Huffington Post’s “Gay Voices” and Huffington Post: Live, and the Chicago Tribune, among others, have responded accordingly to the radical realization of “straightening.” Salon has also paid due diligence to the dilemma, asking, “[A]s demographics shift, is it a sign of acceptance of a community – or the dilution of it? Is it possible, as the New York Times so damningly put it, that “gay neighborhoods face the prospect of becoming passe?””


“Gay neighborhoods have been crucial to the struggle for freedom, and have produced globally important contributions, from politics to poetry to music and fashion,” Ghaziani says. “[I]t is critical that we continue to find meaningful ways to preserve these culturally important spaces.”


Fortunately, Ghaziani’s own commentary in the Advocate rejects the claim that ‘gayborhoods’ are growing increasingly obsolete, no longer a necessary comfort to the gay community. He says that, “[t]here is a fine line between acceptance and the closet, just as there is between integration into the mainstream and the cultural loss of what makes gay people unique.” Although LGBT individuals have become “incorporated into the societal mainstream,” there’s no reason to dismiss such an integral and distinctive feature of the gay community.

And that’s not all the coverage. Not even close. The book has received recognition from French and German news outlets as well, in addition to an array of exclusively gay media sites like Pink News (Europe’s largest gay news service), Towleroad, and Joe.My.God, and we’re sure that the buck won’t stop there.

Even with this blitz of interest, though, it’s important to bear in mind the essence of Ghaziani’s argument: he is fundamentally fighting for these communities and seeking ways to preserve them without naively denying the realities of urban change. All neighborhoods change, of course, and gayborhoods are no exception. But they are evolving in unique ways as the long arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.

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Amin Ghaziani is the author of:

TGTG There Goes the Gayborhood? by Amin Ghaziani
Hardcover | 2014 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691158792 | 360 pp. | 6 x 9 | 5 halftones. 2 line illus. 15 tables. 6 maps.| eBook | ISBN: 9781400850174 | Reviews Table of Contents  Introduction[PDF]