Contemporary Slavery: Connections to Thailand’s War on Drugs

Slavery and other exploitive systems do not exist in a social vacuum. Rather, they are deeply connected with other institutions in society, materialising in ways that intensify existing social disparities. In this post, David Mayeda continues his series on contemporary slavery, based on an August trip that examined the issue in Thailand. Specifically, this post discusses the Thai government’s 2003 war on drugs and its influences on minority group members.

rice patties in Thailand
Laboring in the rice patties - one of the few alternatives to excessive labor exploitation in northern Thailand.

As noted in this series’ first post, the two social groups most severely impacted by Thailand’s policies surrounding statehood are (1) an ethnically diverse range of rural hill tribe Thai, and (2) Burmese migrants, many of whom are refugees. Given these groups’ exclusion from formal citizenry rights and in turn from mainstreamed education and health care systems, they are all the more vulnerable to being exploited as labor, even ensnared in slave-based settings. However, worker exploitation is not the only way in which these groups are systemically mistreated. Broad-based governmental policies directed towards other social issues often have unintended deleterious consequences. Given the extreme power imbalances existing in Thailand, it is unsurprising that minority groups feel the brunt of these wayward policies.

In the 1970s and 80s, the United States and United Nations funded efforts leading to the widespread eradication of opium in Thailand and other countries. As is the common pattern in society, when governmental forces eliminate the production and distribution of one drug without altering the root causes of demand, another drug simply replaces the old one. Thus, the basic drug trafficking system stays in place, only with a different product permeating the market, which is what happened in Thailand. While opium production, distribution, and use still occurs in and around Thailand, between 1993 and 2001, various forms of methamphetamine replaced opium, becoming the more popular drug across Thailand (Wong & Wongtongson, 2006, p. 131)….

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“We’re A Culture, Not A Costume”

Is your Halloween costume this year offensive? Even racist? Some students from Ohio University are asking others to take a second look at their Halloween costume choices this fall. The statement “We’re A Culture, Not A Costume” is seen on posters developed by the student group. The students are trying to raise awareness about what they consider to be racially insensitive attire that many Americans don each October, and view as harmless. As you purchase groceries this month, you may walk by Halloween accessories with titles such as “Ghetto Fab Wig” or “Adult Beer Belly-White Trash” and continue walking without a second thought, just as others once did with signs stating “Whites Only Water Fountain.” In this piece, Mediha Din takes a look at campaigns against stereotypes found in major institutions of society- holidays, sports, and fashion.

My friend Julie hosts a Halloween party every year that the whole neighborhood looks forward to. It’s her favorite holiday, so she goes all out. Her house always looks like it’s decorated professionally, the food and drinks have spooky themes, and there are always prizes for the best costume. Last year the winner was a girl in a sexy cop costume. What helped her get votes wasn’t just the knee-high boots and short shorts though, it was extra touches of a different kind. She put on a pig nose mask, a pig tail, and had a small zip-loc bag of baby powder in her pocket. The corrupt cop stereotype was a hit.

As sociologists, we describe a stereotype as a preconceived, simplistic idea about the members of a group. These ideas can hinder social interactions and lead to false assumptions about others.

Many times stereotypes can also lead to prejudice, discrimination, and racism. Prejudice refers to attitudes (fear, anger, strong dislike, hatred). While, discrimination refers to actions (unequal treatment based on group membership). Racism includes discriminatory beliefs or actions based on race.

Img: Ohio STARS

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Cooking Meth, Selling Weed, & Our Fascination with Innovators

What does a high-school chemistry teacher who begins manufacturing meth to pay for his cancer treatment, a widowed suburban housewife who begins dealing pot to save her family financially, and a CIA agent who allows her sister to secretly treat her for bi-polar in order to keep her job all have in common? Well, other than being main characters in popular American TV shows, they are all what Robert Merton would call “innovators”. In this post, Kim Cochran Kiesewetter explores our cultural fascination with deviance innovation through the lens of Merton’s strain theory.

Breaking Bad

Between MTV’s Cribs, My Super Sweet Sixteen, and the Real Housewives of various cities, is it safe to say that as a society we want to be financially successful? Would it be fair to assume that most people in the US admire the wealthy? While social movements like Occupy Wall Street have been critical of the super rich, the abundance of rich people in television suggests that many of us still want to live their lifestyle.

Now what would you think of me if I had a house nice enough to be on Cribs, spent more on lavish parties than most Americans make in a year, and never left the house except in designer clothing? Now what if I told you that I had earned my money by “cooking and slanging “crystal meth?

Before you answer, let me bring in some sociology that may help you. Robert Merton was interested in what motivates some people to break the mold or even the law. He argues that there is a difference between the goals in a culture and people’s ability to equally achieve them. That is, in our culture almost everyone wants to be financially successful. It’s the carrot that is dangled in front of us to motivate us through schooling, work, and life. However, not everyone has access to the same resources and opportunities required to achieve this goal.

Understanding Innovation

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Socialization & The Advantage of Being a 2nd Generation Student

First-generation college students (i.e. students whose parents did not graduate from college) have lower graduation rates than second-generation college students. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains the ways in which having college-educated parents influenced her own college experience and success.

First-generation college students (i.e. students whose parents did not graduate from college) are at higher risk of not completing college compared to students who have parents who completed college. Consider these statistics reported in USA Today:

Nationally, 89% of low-income first-gen[eration college students] leave college within six years without a degree. More than a quarter leave after their first year — four times the dropout rate of higher-income second-generation students.

What is going on here?

First-generation college students face obstacles that non-first-generation college students do not face, while non-first-generation college students typically fail to recognize the advantages they have as college students. I’m a third-generation college graduate. Besides a statistically likely income advantage compared to first-generation college students, I can think of specific examples of how the fact that my parents’ (and my grandma) graduated college helped me succeed in college. They used their experiences to socialize me towards college success.

My parents told stories about college….

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Declining Homophobia among Male Athletes

Historically, sport has been constructed as one of the last institutional bastions of hegemonic masculinity where homophobia stands as cultural norm. Such a perspective definitely pervades in numerous sporting contexts. But times are changing. A recent poll of professional athletes conducted by ESPN found that 61.5% and 92.3% of National Football League and National Hockey League players, respectively, support gay marriage. Some professional athletes are speaking up as individuals and collectively as teams to support marriage equality and admonish homophobia in general. In this article, David Mayeda, examines this critical cultural shift in sport.

Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has done his share to end homophobia in society.

If you have not read the phenomenal letter Minnesota Vikings punter, Chris Kluwe, wrote to Maryland state delegate, Emmett C. Burns Jr. this past September, well, it is a must read. In the letter to delegate Burns, Kluwe supports Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo in the movement to legalize gay marriage (i.e., marriage equality). Previously, delegate Burns had admonished Ayanbadejo for speaking out in support of gay marriage. Among numerous other gems, Kluwe writes to Burns:

“I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster…. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?”

Again, the entire piece is a must read.

Kluwe’s and Ayanbadejo’s support for gay marriage reflects a broader and quite radical shift among male athletes – a declining trend in homophobia and being outspoken about it. Another very informative article by NPR notes that although no player in one of America’s four major professional sports (football, basketball, baseball, and hockey) has come out while still a competitive athlete, support for gay rights in these sports is growing. Unfortunately, the fact that gay athletes who are male typically come out after their athletic careers have ended demonstrates the violent forms of social control they fear from athletic teammates, coaches, management, and the broader fan base. However earlier this month, professional boxer Orlando Cruz came out, an especially significant act given that Cruz is still boxing….

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This Just In: Deviance is the News!

These are some crazy times, or at least that is how it seems when you watch the news. The news media love to highlight all the craziness the world has to offer because it’s sensational. This is nothing new, but as a sociologist we should ask, what is it that makes something sensational. In this piece Nathan Palmer answers this question by discussing what sociologists call deviance.

The news has been crazy the last few weeks. In case you missed it Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga both yacked on stage, a huge brawl broke out at a Philadelphia wedding (during which the bride was punched in the face), and a QVC host took some heat for doing almost nothing when his cohost fell face first on the ground after passing out on air. The news media is always looking for a sensational story to highlight, so it should surprise no one that these gems made it onto the air. However, the interesting sociological question is, what is it about these stories that made them sensational in the first place.

When the news media decides what stories to feature and which ones to leave out, they almost always look for something alarming, sensational, or remarkable. Stories about things working out the way they should or stories about people doing ordinary things almost never make the news. That’s why you never read headlines like, “Woman Eats Sandwich And Then Calls Mother[1].” Who cares about the boring aspects of life? But when people deviate from the norm, when they break the rules, or when they do something that no one thought was possible, now that is the stuff that the news media falls all over themselves to cover.

To put all of this in sociological terms, deviance is the news. Deviance is the sociological term used to describe when anyone says or does something that violates social norms. But not all news clips/acts of deviance are created equal. Small norm violations like not shaking someone’s hand or walking away from someone who’s trying to talk to you are called folkways and are generally considered trivial or minor. Other norm violations like murder, rape, or adultery are called mores[2] and are treated as more socially significant and they have profound repercussions.

In fact an easy way to tell if something is a folkway or a more is to examine the social sanctions/punishments for the violation. Folkways are punished with things like a mean stare, an eye roll, or mockery. On the other hand mores are punished with strong social sanctions like banishment, ended friendships, and often jail time.

So when fans at last weeks Kansas City Chiefs game cheered as their own quarterback was knocked out of the game, they earned a stern talking to from Chiefs lineman Eric Winston. This is clearly bad fan behavior and an example of a folkway. On the other hand last week former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was found guilty earlier this year on multiple counts of pedophilia, received a 30 year prison sentence. Child sexual abuse is without question an example of a more.

The next time you are watching the news and you hear a story about the Governor of Florida mistakenly telling people to call a phone sex number instead of a hotline for people concerned about a meningitis outbreak I hope you will shout, “folkway!”

Dig Deeper:

  1. Look for three news stories about norm violations that you think are examples of folkways.
  2. Watch this video of college students standing completely still “doing nothing”. What type of deviance is this and why do you think people reacted the way they did?
  3. Does the context of the situation matter when deciding what is a folkway and what’s a more? For example, if you interrupt someone during a speech, that’s pretty uncool. However, if you interrupt the president during a speech before a join session of Congress, is that a more?
  4. As discussed in the article not all mores are punished by jail time. For instance people who cheat on their partners do not go to jail, but there are typically severe social sanctions placed upon adulterers. Can you think of other mores that are not punished by the judicial system?

  1. We save these asinine stories for Twitter.  ↩

  2. I know this looks like a mispronunciation of the word more, but don’t let that fool you. The word mores should be pronounced like more-rays. Just FYI.  ↩


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“I Like All the Colors”: Gender Policing Children

What’s the problem with pink? We paint our daughters rooms pink, dress them in pink, and even color their toy aisle in Walmart. Girls love pink, right? So what’s the big deal? In this piece Stephanie Medley-Rath explores the role gender socialization plays in training young girls to have a particular preference for pink and discusses why this is limiting.

Minnie Mouse in 2012

When I ask my preschool-aged daughter what her favorite color is, she has always replies, “I like all the colors.”

After a couple weeks back in preschool she came home with a worksheet that she filled out with the help of a teacher and classmates. One of the questions asked her what her favorite color is and there it was: pink.

What? She has never before indicated a preference for pink. A slight preference for purple, yes, but not pink. Let me be clear, pink can be awesome, but I want her to select her own favorite color.

My feminist-mommy heart broke as she continued to identify pink as her favorite color. At four, she is learning that her preferences do not matter nearly as much as what society thinks her preferences should be. She is learning that gender is such an influential marker, that it indicates what one’s favorite color should be. More importantly, she is learning that this inconsequential choice has already been made for her because of her gender.

Another week passed, and I asked her again about her favorite color. She was back to liking “all the colors” (Victory!). Any memory of her brief consideration of pink as her favorite color seems to have vanished. Though she may still like “all the colors,” there are numerous occasions when other people encourage her to select pink when there are other choices, which leads me to believe that pink will rule once again in the future….

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That’s Wrong! When You Do It.

Parents often say to their children, do as I say not as I do. That’s because parents make the rules and they can punish their children for doing things that parents do everyday. It’s easy to see how having power allows the powerful to define their behavior as normal or at least acceptable while at the same time defining the actions of the less powerful as being abnormal or wrong. In this piece Nathan Palmer illustrates the sociological concept of labeling theory by discussing how members of Congress, up until recently, were able to legally break the law to make millions of dollars using insider trading schemes.

Hey, come over here. Look, I got this inside information about a law that is about to get passed. If I hook you up with this juicy piece of intel, you could make millions of dollars. Do you want to know more? Before you answer that question I should tell you, if you say yes you may face 20 years in jail and up to a $5 million fine. So, keep that in mind.

Trading stock based on information that is not publicly available is the textbook definition of insider trading. Many people including home decor guru Martha Stewart, have done time for this serious crime. It’s a big deal and if you dabble in some insider trading, you can expect the Department of Justice to hunt you like a Wall Street dog. That is, unless you are a member of Congress.

U.S. Senators and members of the House of Representatives trade on insider information all of the time. As discussed in a 60 Minutes exposé late last year, because of a legal loophole members of Congress are not able to be charged with insider trading.[1] And let me be clear, there are recent examples of both Democrats and Republicans cashing in on the inside information they come across while writing the nation’s laws. In fact, this is such a large issue that an industry called “political intelligence” has sprung up around members of Congress to buy their insider information and sell it to the highest bidder.

So to reiterate, if you buy or sell stock based on insider information you better like the taste of prison food. However if you are a member of Congress, it’s all good; play on playa.

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Contemporary Slavery: How’s That Shrimp You’re Eating?

One of the frustrating things about studying contemporary slavery is that our consumption is so deeply connected to it. Even if one has an awareness of this connection, it is difficult to escape purchasing items that may have been made in part by slave labour. In this post, David Mayeda continues his series on contemporary slavery, recounting some of the stories he heard from abolitionists regarding the deplorable conditions enslaved workers experienced in Thailand.

Ever wondered how much you unintentionally support modern day slavery? You can test your estimated “slavery footprint” by clicking on the link, below:

Slavery Footprint

I don’t purchase too many electronic gadgets anymore, but I did in the past. I suppose I have a fair number of clothes, virtually no bling, and little in the way of cosmetics. The thing is, I eat a lot, which probably drives my slavery footprint. Unfortunately, my consumption contributes to the enslavement of about 42 people per year, not something I am proud of.

The thing is, my personal connection to slavery is hardly unique. The type of slavery that receives the most media attention is commercial sexual exploitation, but actually, the largest number of people enslaved globally are forced to work in agriculture; this makes sense considering the global market existing for different food types. In Thailand, however, the largest number of enslaved workers are entrapped in the fishing and shrimping industries….

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Subcultures & Within-Group Hate Crimes

What exactly is a hate crime? And while we are at it, can a person commit hate crime against someone who is the same race, gender, religion, sexual orientation etc.? In this piece Sarah Michele Ford answers both of these questions by exploring the recent case where 16 Amish men and women were convicted of hate crimes against other Amish men and women.

Last month, sixteen Amish men and women were convicted of committing a series of hate crimes. While this already conflicts with the conventional image of the Amish, the details of the case are even more surprising. The victims of these crimes were also Amish, and the attacks took the form of home invasions followed by the forcible cutting of the victims’ hair and trimming of their beards. The attackers are members of a breakaway Amish sect led by Samuel Mullet.

This case has received significant media attention not only because these events fly in the face of our stereotypes about the Amish, but also because it challenges the conventional definition of a “hate crime”. The 2009 Shepard-Byrd Act, under which the attackers in this case were charged and convicted, ” criminalizes willfully causing bodily injury (or attempting to do so with fire, a firearm, or other dangerous weapon) when: (1) the crime was committed because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, of any person or; (2) the crime was committed because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person, and the crime affected interstate or foreign commerce, or occurred on federal property. ” The prosecutors in this case were able to convince the jury that Samuel Mullet and his followers had, in fact, been motivated by the victims’ religion, although to “the English” (Note: This is what the Amish call non-Amish Americans) world, they all appear to belong to the same religious subculture.

So the question becomes, can we hate our own?…

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