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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Contemporary Slavery: Developing and Preying on Vulnerability

It is becoming increasingly known among those interested in social inequality and human rights that slavery is a significant part of our global economy. Existing in a variety of forms, slavery has been defined as “the complete control of a person for economic exploitation by violence or threat of violence” (Bales, 2000, p. 462). Differing from slavery in the 19th century, today’s slavery operates in clandestine fashion, hidden from the common consumer’s consciousness behind corrupted bureaucracy, law enforcement, and massive social distance. In this post, David Mayeda begins a 4-part series on modern day slavery, based on a recent trip he took to Thailand through Global Exchange and Not For Sale.

Thailand-Myanmar border

This past August, I took part in a 7-day reality tour through Global Exchange and Not For Sale, examining modern day slavery in Thailand. Our group was comprised of 16 individuals, primarily from the United States, with additional representation from Australia, Japan, and myself coming from Aotearoa New Zealand. We worked in a variety of industries (government, social work, retail, academia), but bottom line, we were all concerned citizens hoping to learn more about this social ill that continues to plague our society.

During our 3 days in Bangkok and 4 days in Chaing Rai and Chaing Mai, we met with activists, teachers, and social workers who were doing what they could with the limited resources they had to combat overwhelming, broad structural forces that maintain today’s slavery systems. In terms of broad sociological causes, contemporary slavery stems from extensive overpopulation, poverty, and corruption between business and law enforcement agencies. As explained in Kevin Bales’s book, Disposable People, those countries that have seen the fastest population growth since World War II (e.g., India, Bangladesh, Nepal) tend to have the most poverty-stricken vulnerable people, who are the most susceptible targets for exploitation.

Before delving into examples of slavery itself, it is critical to understand how the state can be complicit in creating mass vulnerability. In Thailand, those most vulnerable to becoming victims of slavery or worker exploitation in general come from two groups: (1) individuals from rural hill tribes in the northern part of the country, and (2) Burmese refugees seeking work in Thailand and/or fleeing from political instability in neighboring Myanmar….

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Can Sociologists Hurt People?

Researching humans is what social scientists do, but what happens when they want to conduct research that would harm the people in their study? In 1993 a team of researchers in Baltimore Maryland wanted to find out which method of lead paint removal was most effective. Their study allowed predominately African American families with small children to live in homes they knew were contaminated with lead. In this piece Nathan Palmer discusses three key aspects of ethical research and how if followed they protect human subjects.

Researchers in Baltimore, who wanted to find the best method for removing lead paint from old houses, watched as children suffered from lead poisoning for years. These are the charges brought by two parents who are now suing the research team. The parents argue that while they knew that their home had lead paint in it, the researchers gave them a “false sense of security” from test results that only showed low levels of contamination. The research conducted from 1993 to 1999 enrolled 108 low income African American families many of whom were already living in the contaminated homes.

The first two judges to hear this case dismissed it, but later a judge upheld the case arguing that it was very similar to a modern day Tuskegee Experiment. During this experiment African American men in Alabama who suffered from syphilis were monitored by the U.S. Public Health Service from 1932–1972. The men were not told they had syphilis, but rather only that they had “bad blood”. Worse yet, when penicillin became the widely available cure for syphilis, the researchers decided it was more scientifically valuable to document how the men would die from the disease than to give them treatment. While this is beyond tragic in it’s own right, these men also unknowingly passed the disease to their wives and partners and many of their children were born with congenital syphilis.

“What it going on here? Can researchers really do stuff like this?” are the first two questions many of my students have. And the answer is, no.

Because of incidents like the Tuskegee experiments, federal research ethics and regulations have been established. Before a researcher can carry out a study on human subjects they must, if they receive federal funding, have their methods reviewed by an independent panel to verify their safety. These panels, often called an Institutional Review Board (IRB)[1], are guided by the three pillars of ethical research: 1. Do No Harm, 2. Informed Consent, 3. Voluntary Participation.

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The Olympic Transformation: Regeneration or Gentrification

With the thousands of hours and millions of words reported on the London 2012 Olympics, there was one story that was relatively ignored. As we watched awesome synchronized diving, Mitt Romney’s horse prance, runners blaze new records, most of us failed to realize one thing. The ground on which the rhythmic gymnasts ribbon-twirled once, not too many years ago, was a neighborhood with businesses, factories, nature lands, and residents. In this post, Bridget Welch discusses not the athletes, but the people who actually used to live where the Olympic Village now stands.

I watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics with awe. As the pastoral English countryside was shoved away for the smoke stacks of the industrial revolution, I was amazed at the pageantry. The stage was set for the upcoming stories of transformation of young boys and girls into Olympic champions. From the achievements of Gabby Douglas to the announced retirement of Michael Phelps, we ate up these stories. But the real story of transformation went untold.

Think about it for a second. The Olympic Village was located in London – a city of over eight million people. If you’ve ever been to a big city, quick question: Can you think of a vacant area in these cities big enough to house the Olympics?


Same deal in London….

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Understanding Sociology: A Beginner’s Guide

Hi. I know we’ve just met, but I already like you. I want to give you a piece of info that will make learning sociology a snap. All you need to do is invest five minutes in learning a few key sociology vocabulary words. Words like disproportionately, dichotomy, continuum, and empirical are thrown around left and right in a sociology class, so do yourself a favor and learn them real quick. In this piece, Nathan Palmer will hook you up with a few key vocabulary words that will make it easier to understand any sociology teacher or text.

“… and that’s why some people are poor and others are rich,” I said finishing a nearly 10 minute explanation of how social inequality works in the United States. My four year old daughter had asked, “why are some people poor?” on the way to school and then sat there intently as I delved into the nitty gritty of economic inequality. I kept checking her facial expressions in the rearview mirror and she seemed interested, so I laid it all out. Sitting in her car seat with a furrowed brow she looked perplexed as she asked, “Dad?” Her long pause prompted me, “yeah sweetie?” “What does inequality mean?”

While my students aren’t four year olds, my daughter did remind me that no one can learn sociology if they don’t understand some basic vocabulary. Some grouchy professors would argue that you should, “Look it up yourself!” But I’ll hook you up with a few of the basics here.

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Sociology at a Baseball Game Part 2: “I Feel Like a Rich Person”

What does it mean to be rich? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath talks about what social class has to do with baseball.

This is the second installment in a three part series on my most recent attendance at a baseball game. In the first part, I talked about racial stratification and segregation. In this installment, we are going to talk about social class.

My family and I try to attend at least one Major League Baseball game each year. We typically buy tickets that are somewhere in the middle- or low-end price range and our the tickets we have bought the last several times have been dependent on coupon restrictions. Each time we attend, we think that next time we will buy all-inclusive tickets. The all-inclusive tickets range in price and options, but all include food and drinks of some sort. This year, I managed to get some coupons to make all-inclusive somewhat affordable. (Does this make me an extreme couponer?)

Our tickets included an assigned outdoor seat with unassigned indoor (and air conditioned) seating, too. These tickets included an all-you-can eat and drink buffet and drinks (with and without alcohol). The buffet included three stations with someone there to serve you. One man was making gourmet macaroni and cheese, another was grilling brats and other sausages, and a third was carving roast beef. You could go to bar for drinks, but servers also came around to take drink orders….

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Can Women “Have It All”?

Can “women have it all”? That is, can women have a family and a high power job? In a recent Atlantic cover story Anne Marie Slaughter argues that it’s impossible. A few days after it’s publication we learned that Marissa Mayer would leave Google and become the CEO of Yahoo. Which is news worthy in it’s own right, only 20 women serve as CEO in all of the Fortune 500 companies, but the Internet was a buzz after the announcement because she’s…. wait for it… pregnant. In this piece Nathan Palmer will explore the barriers women and mothers face in the modern economy and also ask, “why do women have to be mothers to ‘have it all’?”

Marissa Mayer, CEO Yahoo
Marissa Mayer, CEO Yahoo

At 37 years-old Marissa Mayer is the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500[1. The Fortune 500 is a list of publicly traded companies that are ranked by annual gross revenue by Fortune magazine. In other words, these are arguably the 500 most important publicly traded companies] company. However, not only is she the youngest CEO she is one of only 20 women CEOs on all of the Fortune 500. Let’s pause for a second, that means while women represent 51% of the population they represent only 4% of the top leadership of the corporate world. What’s going on here? Why aren’t more women making it to the top of the corporate ladder?

While there are many factors that can help explain why women are better represented at the top including discrimination in promotion, discrimination in hiring and job placement, etc. I’d like to explore the gendered expectations within heterosexual families. Women, more than men, are expected to be the primary care givers for children and aging parents. Heck, some of you reading this might argue that women are “naturally better parents”[2. This, of course, is a gender stereotype that is not supported by science and one that hurts both women and men.]. The responsibility for parenting is disproportionately placed on women and because of it they are less able to promote their careers by taking high-power high-demand opportunies and more likely to take time off from their career for family reasons. One study that looked at people in highly competitive jobs found that nearly half of the women took time away from the ultra-demanding jobs, while only 12% of men did (Hewlett 2010; Hewlett & Luce 2005). When these women return to the highly-competitive career track they are often years behind the men who never left. What’s worse is, even when women don’t have children they still face the stereotypes that women aren’t reliable enough for high-power high-demand jobs.

Feminists, among others, have long argued that women should be able to reach their career dreams while also having the family they want. Society affords men this luxury, so why should women not be able to have both?…

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Sociology At A Baseball Game Part 1: Race Matters

What’s sociological about baseball? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explores how racial stratification and segregation can be observed in the stands at a baseball game.

At the end of June, I attended a baseball game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Sadly, the Cardinals lost the game, but that is not going to stop me from sharing with you some my sociological observations at the ballpark. This is part one of a three part series. In this first installment, I am going to talk to you about racial stratification and segregation at the ballpark. Keep in mind, that this discussion is focused only on the fans in the stands and not about who is on the field.

The racial stratification and segregation at baseball games held in St. Louis is striking. (I’m not saying that St. Louis is unique, it is just the case I am most familiar with and am using.) By stratification, sociologists mean inequality. Be segregation, sociologists mean that different social groups (in this case, racial, but could be talking about gender, age, and so on) are separated in daily life (e.g., housing, school, or work).

To understand why race appears as it does at Busch Stadium, I visited the U.S. Census to learn the racial demographics of the city of St. Louis….

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Home Ownership is For Everyone

Stainless steel appliances. Granite counter tops. “Man-caves.” What’s not to love? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how fake or not, house hunting shows illustrate persistent class, race, and gender inequality in society.

Anyone who watches House Hunters for any length of time begins to notice clear patterns of desirable traits a home “should” have. Home buyers express strong desires for stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, “man-caves,” and a yard for the dog.

Like many other viewers, I held out hope that the show really was real and not like those other reality shows that are often scripted and heavily edited. Recent headlines suggest the show is at least partially faked. In hindsight, my inability to pick up on this fakery seems silly when considering the patterns of what home-buyers want emerge. Every home buyer can not be that narrowly-focused on stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.

While other observers have written about the conformity evident in house-hunting shows, inequality can also be observed in these shows. In particular, class, race, and gender inequality are quite evident in the content of house hunting shows….

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The Sociology of MMA: Fight Sport Theatre: Silva vs. Sonnen II

This weekend on July 7, mixed martial arts’ (MMA) most dominant champion, Anderson Silva, will defend his middleweight title against long time nemesis, Chael Sonnen. The fight is a rematch from their first fight, which took place on August 7, 2010, when Sonnen controlled Silva for four and a half rounds, before being submitted by Silva with less than two minutes left in the fifth and final round. Though MMA reflects one of the more physically visceral sports out there, the Silva-Sonnen rivalry is known as much for Sonnen’s brash trash talking, as it is for their first epic encounter in the cage. In this post, David Mayeda examines the hype going into the Silva-Sonnen rematch to illustrate the concept of “fight sport theatre.”

Ask just about any athletic coach what values sport brings to society, and s/he will typically rattle off a number of clichéd responses: “Sport builds character”; “Sport teaches people to bounce back from defeat”; “Sport produces discipline.” Okay, I won’t deny that sport if coached under certain conditions can, and sometimes does teach those values while also enriching our lives. On the other hand, there is no denying that sport is tied intimately to the capitalist market; sport is a form of entertainment with its own set of commodities (namely the athletes) that can be bought, sold, and used for profit-based motives. As John Sewart (1987) writes, “when sport becomes a commodity governed by market principles there is little or no regard for its intrinsic content or form” (p. 172). Like other professional sports, MMA is no doubt governed by market and gendered principles….

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