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By Hitting Up Those Post Holiday Sales, Are You Supporting Contemporary Slavery?

Do you support slavery? Don’t be so quick to answer no. Conservative estimates show that in a given year, 27 million people are enslaved across our global society. Yes, our current society! While you may find different forms of contemporary slavery reprehensible, our ties to the ongoing slave trade are often times closer than you think. In this post, David Mayeda questions our consumer culture and its ties to worker exploitation.


I admit, I love my iPad. I utilize it so much and so often that one of my colleagues calls it my best friend. I also own a laptop, a cell phone and a number of other gadgets that I find extremely useful in our contemporary techy society. I’ve also been tempted to hit up those post-holiday sales that emerge every December 26, but thus far I have resisted. My modicum of resistance stems from a moral consciousness. Remember, in a capitalist society, the objective is to profit. Rendering a profit means cutting costs, and this happens most effectively by cutting labour costs. Too often, labour costs are cut entirely by enslaving people.

Kevin Bales – the foremost scholar on contemporary slavery – defines slavery as the total control of one person by another for the purpose of economic exploitation. Why is it that those of us in high-income countries can go into stores and pay $5-$10 for clothing items? It is likely because the stores you’re buying those items from, purchased the items for substantially less than the relatively small amount you’re paying. Does $5 even cover the cost of the materials used to make a T-shirt?…

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Life at The Intersectionality of Race, Class, & Gender

Sociology often talks about race, class, gender, and many other social attributes as though they are a single stand alone issue. However, our day-to-day lives are much more complex than that. In this post Nathan Palmer thinks back on an incident that happened in his undergraduate history course that taught him a valuable lesson about intersectionality

“Michael, you have a unique perspective on this issue, I’m guessing. Would you care to give us another point-of-view?” my history [1] professor said. My mouth dropped open in shock as I watched Michel, the only African American student in the class, shake his head side to side, eyes looking down, “No. I, uh… No.” My professor looked surprised, or perplexed might be a better word. After a long silent pause he said, “Okay,” and then proceeded to talk about the civil rights movement. Many of my classmates looked around the room at each other in confusion at what just happened.

So what happened here? Before we get to that, let’s talk a little about intersectionality. In sociology we often talk about race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and many other social aspects of the individual. However, when we talk about them we tend to focus on them one at a time as if they were separate from each other….

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Karl Marx’s Trip to a College Football Game

What would Karl Marx make of the labor relations of college athletics? In this post, Sarah Michele Ford shows that we can examine college athletics through a Marxist lens; in doing so we find that the university athletic directors and sponsors are functioning as the bourgeoisie, while the athletes themselves are the proletariat.


Crowd at a football game
It’s a Saturday afternoon in early autumn. The air is crisp, and thousands of football fans are filing into the stadium to watch the members of the proletariat produce entertainment for their consumption.

Wait, what? If it’s fall, and it’s a stadium, aren’t the fans coming to watch football?

I never said they weren’t. Keep reading to find out how we can apply Marxist theory to college football.

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Is Your Professor a Hypocrite? Gender Inequality in Occupations

Even in 2011, 50 years after the second wave of the feminist movement, there exist dramatic gender inequalities in the workplace. At this point, women and men participate roughly equally in paid labor, but the types of work men and women do are dramatically different. In this piece Sarah Michele Ford explores gender inequality in the workforce and asks are sociologists any better?

The feminists have won! 50 years after the second wave of the feminist movement, women make up just under 50% of the workforce!

Wait… does this necessarily mean that we have reached a point of equality in employment? Sadly, the answer is no. Across the board, men who are employed full time earn 17.6% more than women who are doing comparable work (Bureau of Labor Statistics); these differences are even more pronounced when we start taking into account differences across racial/ethnic lines.

 

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The 2011 Rugby World Cup and New Zealand’s 99%

About three months ago I moved from Honolulu, Hawai’i to Auckland, New Zealand. Moving to a new country made me keenly aware of my American-centered sports interests. While in the United States gridiron football is king, across the Pacific and Australasia, the sport of choice is rugby. For the past six weeks, New Zealand has been hosting the 2011 Rugby World Cup (RWC), with the home team’s “All Blacks” just defeating France 8-7 in the finals. During this time, the RWC had to share its stage with global movements for social equity.

In downtown Auckland (New Zealand’s biggest city), the landscape transformed from a typical big city central business district (CBD) inundated with glitzy stores, to one that shared commercialized space with increasingly ubiquitous RWC advertising and merchandise….

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Occupy Troll Street: “Please Stop Being Greedy”

Occupy Wall Street is a rapidly growing social movement against corporate corruption and greed. Despite the massive numbers of supporters around the world, and the numerous events in other cities, this movement seems to be confusing to a lot of folks.  In the hopes of making it a little more clear, Sarah Nell describes how easily her first grader “got it” through playing with troll dolls and fuzzy balls.

Troll Doll with pile of Fuzzy Balls

“What’s the deal with this Occupy Wall Street thing?,” a friend asked me.  “What do they mean ‘We are the 99%’?” A lot of people seem to be wondering this same thing (without much insight from the mainstream media). Saying “We are the 99%” aims to illuminate the vast inequalities in wealth in the U.S., mainly that the top 1% of the population owns 43% of the nation’s financial wealth. To make the math really easy, let’s say we have 100 people and 100 bucks. One person – that 1% – has $43. Now there’s 57 bucks to split between 99 people – 80 of whom need to find a way to share a measly $7. If you don’t believe me, see this. [1. You might be tempted to defend the 1% saying they’ve worked hard, and that they earned their place at the top. You wouldn’t be alone. This is what sociologists call the achievement ideology – the belief that financial success can be had by anyone who works hard enough, regardless of where they start. I can assure you that those in the 1% do not have rags to riches stories; the facts of economic success simply do not fit this belief. The achievement ideology is, perhaps, a topic for another day.]

So, the 99% is fed up with the corruption and greed of the 1%, especially because people are suffering in ways U.S. citizens have not seen (on a large scale anyway) since the Great Depression. “Okay, so we’re unequal,” you might be thinking. “But all those numbers don’t help me understand why people are camping out in a park in New York City. They didn’t see a pie chart and take to the streets, right?” No. They didn’t. Not exactly. The distribution of wealth as it is today is not a brand new reality. Yet the rich are getting richer, even in a time when the economy hasn’t been this bad since the 1930s. To understand the varied kinds of suffering I mean, hear it from the people themselves….

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Hey Workers! Clean up My Mess!

Cleaning up messes is a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it, right? But just who has “gotta do it?” Who are these invisible workers? Have you ever looked at messes from a cleaner’s perspective? Perspective-taking is a critical part of developing a sociological imagination. In this post Sarah Nell argues that by learning to take the perspective of others, you can understand and appreciate them more as workers, citizens, and human beings.

Hotel House Keeping

Most likely, someone cleans the spaces you frequent: classrooms, dorm rooms, cafeterias, shopping malls, and so forth. But do you see them? Do you know who empties your trash and who mops the floor? Who replaces the toilet paper roll and who scrubs the toilets? Who changes the light bulbs and cleans up unexpected messes like vomit, broken glass, or spilled liquid? Depending upon where you live, this person is probably a racial minority and is also likely to be a woman. Do you know her name or anything about her? Have you ever thanked her or spoken to her? I ask you this because of something I observed recently while in Las Vegas for an ironically located sociology conference. Before you continue, I want you to take the perspective of others by imagining yourself as the workers in these stories.

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Eat Like A Patriot!

Government food guidelines communicate American values in addition to educating us about healthful eating. Comparing the imagery the government uses to communicate its food guidelines shows us how our values have changed overtime and also stayed the same.

How do you decide what to eat?

  • Taste
  • Cost
  • Convenience
  • Familiarity
  • Health
  • Patriotic duty

What? Patriotic duty? Check out the U.S. government’s food guidelines from 1941-1945:

"For Health...eat some food from each group...every day!", 1941 - 1945

First, look at the center. “U.S. Needs Us Strong. Eat the Basic 7 Every Day.” So, follow the U.S. guidelines out of patriotic duty. Here we can see how patriotism is something highly valued to the point that our government uses it to get us to eat the “Basic 7”. The image suggests that we have the all-American (read White) family with mom, dad, son, and daughter at the center as well. These guidelines are also promising freedom of sorts. Look at the bottom of the poster: “in addition to the basic 7…eat any other foods you want.” Evidently we heard the last part of the message instead of the first part if the obesity rate is any indication (that’s a topic for another day)….

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