Sociology

The Prince of Tricksters at the Guardian

November 28, 2016
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The Prince of Tricksters at the Guardian

From a recent review of Matt Houlbrook’s The Prince of Tricksters: The Incredible True Story of Netley Lucas, Gentleman Crook, at the Guardian: Between 1917 and 1924, Lucas was taken to court five times. In a society of strangers, his crimes were subversive, suggesting all you needed was money and the veneer of class to pass yourself off as a gentleman. For historian Matt Houlbrook, Lucas’s life story reveals deeper truths about the period after the first world war. He cites the criminologist Henry Rhodes: “Show me your crimes and I will show you the nature of your society.” New forms of mass culture and democracy promised greater possibilities of personal reinvention: “Lucas’s crimes were unusual, but his aspirations echoed those of countless ordinary men and women in a period when advertising encouraged dreamlike fantasies of social mobility.” . . . Lucas drank himself into an early grave in 1940. Few mourned the passing of the man known as the “prince of tricksters.” Even Houlbrook acknowledges that Lucas was a “lying bastard.” But he can’t help but be beguiled by this extraordinary character: “I’m obsessed with making sense of you.” Lucas is an exquisitely slippery subject and Houlbrook admits that “my writing echoes . . .

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Forrest Stuart: Down, Out, and Under Arrest on Skid Row

September 2, 2016
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Forrest Stuart: Down, Out, and Under Arrest on Skid Row

Forrest Stuart’s Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row puts to use the author’s five years of ethnographic research on LA’s Skid Row, home to one of the most stable (and sizable) homeless populations in the nation, and demonstrates what it looks like to police poverty in the US today. (Hint: Stuart was stopped by police 14 times during his first year working in the neighborhood.) From an interview with Stuart at Mother Jones:   Mother Jones: What struck you during your time on the streets that might be useful to policymakers? Forrest Stuart: Right away I started seeing how the police, in part just because of their numbers in Skid Row, were creating a situation I’d never seen before. Just as a guy was starting to get on his feet—for example, he had finally secured a bed at a shelter—some small infraction would cut him back. “The places that people need most—like a soup kitchen or homeless shelter—become really risky, because that’s where the police are.” It could be as little as getting a single ticket for loitering. For people living on dollars at day, to suddenly have to pay $150 for a sidewalk ticket is huge! . . .

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August excerpt: Confident Pluralism

August 12, 2016
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August excerpt: Confident Pluralism

“Doctrinal Problems”* It may seem odd that we see so many constraints on expression in traditional public forums in light of today’s generally permissive First Amendment landscape. In recent years, the Supreme Court has upheld the First Amendment rights of video gamers, liars, and people with weird animal fetishes. But in most cases involving the public forum—cases where speech and assembly might actually matter to public discourse and social change—courts have been far less protective of civil liberties. Part of the reason for this more tepid judicial treatment of the public forum is a formalistic doctrinal analysis that has emerged over the past half-century. Courts allow governmental actors to impose time, place, and manner restrictions in public forums. These restrictions must be “reasonable” and “neutral,” and they must “leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information.” The reasonableness requirement is an inherently squishy standard that can almost always be met. The neutrality requirement means that restrictions on a public forum must avoid singling out a particular topic or viewpoint. For example, they cannot limit only political speech or only religious speech (content-based restrictions0. And they cannot limit only political speech expressing Republican values or only religious speech expressing . . .

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On the anniversary of the Mann Gulch wildfire

August 5, 2016
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On the anniversary of the Mann Gulch wildfire

Reader’s note: last year, to honor the anniversary of the Mann Gulch wildfire, we posted the below note, along with an excerpt from Norman Maclean’s Young Men and Fire. Today marks 67 years since the events of August 5, 1949, so in tribute, we repost the excerpt and its accompanying introduction. More on the matter, of course, can be gleaned from Maclean’s singular work, while additional background on its author can be found in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, where a piece on fly-fishing in Montana turns into a meditation on Maclean’s writing and life. *** August 5, 2015, marks the 66th anniversary of the Mann Gulch wildfire, which eventually spread to cover 4,500 acres of Montana’s Gates of the Mountain Wilderness in Helena National Forest, and claimed the lives of 12 of the 15 elite US Forest Service Smokejumpers, who acted as first responders in the moments before the blaze jumped up a slope and “blew up” its surrounding grass. Haunted by the event, Montana native, author, and former University of Chicago professor Norman Maclean devoted much of his life’s work to researching and writing an account of the events that unfolded that first week of August 1949, which would met publication posthumously two . . .

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Responses to the New York Times on Chicago’s problem with gun violence

June 28, 2016
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Responses to the New York Times on Chicago’s problem with gun violence

Earlier this month, the New York Times published a blockbuster piece of investigative reporting that involved sending a team of journalists and photographers to Chicago to cover the unfolding events of a Memorial Day weekend that culminated in 64 shootings and 6 deaths in just under 72 hours. As the violence escalated, reporters on the scene followed the blotter, interviewing those injured, witnesses on the scene, and community members, many of whom live on the city’s South and Southwest sides, leading to a portrait in real time not only the weekend’s events, but also how these bloody circumstances significantly impact the neighborhoods in which they continue to occur. The coverage comes on the heels of several other recent pieces by the NYT on Chicago’s ongoing problems with gun-related bloodshed, including “Chicago’s Murder Problem” (May 27, 2016), “Pleading for Peace in Chicago Amid Fears of a Bloody Summer” (May 28, 2016), and “When Violence Hits Home in Chicago,” a feature from the Lens Blog, on the photos that accompanied that major piece, “A Weekend in Chicago” (June 4, 2016). We asked Robert J. Sampson, a sociologist whose work on crime, civic engagement, inequality, and the neighborhood effect was used as research by the NYT in the piece, and Susan A. Phillips, an anthropologist who focuses on urban violence, . . .

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“Welcome to Austin; don’t move here.”

March 21, 2016
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“Welcome to Austin; don’t move here.”

Sociologist Jonathan R. Wynn went live in the Guardian last week with piece coincident with the 29th annual SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas—in which he articulated the role festivals like SXSW play in urban infrastructure, as they replace previously staid (and spatially permanent) cultural institutions, all the while playing an increasingly major socioeconomic role, especially in terms of gentrification and symbolic impact. All of this draws on the research behind Wynn’s recent book Music/City, which considers the expansive and shifting roles played by these kind of festivals in contemporary urban and cultural life. In a brief excerpt from the Guardian piece below, he explores how previous mayor Will Wynn’s strategy of nurturing SXSW as a crucial part of the city’s downtown development played out of the course of several years: There are direct and indirect costs and benefits to Wynn’s strategy. While Austin’s downtown has seen robust growth, its inner core has gentrified, homeownership has risen well above the city’s median income, and the city’s poor have moved to Austin’s outer ring. Downtown condo, hotel and residential growth has boomed. When I returned to the Mohawk two years later, for example, I saw that the onetime dirt lot across the street had transformed into . . .

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The New York Times Magazine on Alice Goffman

January 13, 2016
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The New York Times Magazine on Alice Goffman

The controversy surrounding Alice Goffman’s On the Run is nothing new—the book’s appearance was met with both laudatory curiosity and defensive criticism, from within and outside academic sociology. On the Run offers an ethnographic account based on Goffman’s work in the field—and the field happens to be a mixed-income, West Philadelphia neighborhood, whose largely African American residents lived their lives under the persistence presence of the cops, whose pervasive policing left Goffman’s subjects, the members of her community, caught in a web of presumed criminality. The elephant(s) in the room: how does a privileged white woman engage in this kind of (often passé) participant-observer research without constantly self-checking her positionality? How can this type of book—and its more sensational elements—be true to the word? Who has permission to write about whom? And what happens when these questions leave the back-and-forth behind the closed doors of the academy and bring up very real suggestions about legal culpability, fabrication, and the politics of representation? In a long-form piece for the New York Times Magazine, Gideon Lewis-Kraus assesses Goffman’s predicament and how her personal experiences shaped several of the more controversial aspects of the book’s account. All the while, he traces the book’s emergence during a crucial (and heated) moment for the . . .

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Excerpt: Masters of Uncertainty

December 4, 2015
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Excerpt: Masters of Uncertainty

Excerpt: Masters of Uncertainty: Weather Forecasters and the Quest for Ground Truth  by Phaedra Daipha *** PRODUCING THE WEATHER FORECAST Protecting America’s life and property against the calamities of the weather is a daunting task to manage, above and beyond the formidable meteorological challenges involved. There is a tremendous range of “weather” for the NWS to keep an eye on: land weather, airport weather, marine weather, fire weather, hydrologic weather. To properly protect America’s life and property against the calamities of the weather, therefore, NWS forecast offices are operational around the clock.“The weather never sleeps and neither do we” is the usual stock phrase Neborough forecasters use to enlighten outsiders about their schedule and, by extension, their importance. The primary responsibility of an NWS forecast office, of course, is to advise and alert about the potential for hazardous weather. Only when hazardous weather warning requirements have been met do forecasters turn their attention to routine products and services. Indeed, during a hazardous weather event, the NWS becomes transformed into what Fine (2007, 40) calls an“activated organization . . . verging on being overwhelmed and understaffed, until routine can again be established.” In this, NWS forecasters readily resemble firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders— . . .

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Judy Wacjman on digital serfdom and the future of work

October 29, 2015
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Judy Wacjman on digital serfdom and the future of work

  In a piece for Pacific Standard, as part of their Future of Work series, in collaboration with the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, Judy Wacjman tackled themes from her recent book Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism, which accounted for our paradoxical desire to interpret our experience of digital technology as bound up with the hastening of everyday life: Such anxieties are based on a fundamental misreading of the relationship between humans and machines. I have been researching technological change for 30 years, and one thing I’ve learned is that technology never simply speeds things up. Rather, every major technological innovation comes hand in hand with new activities and experiences, creating new ways of working and socializing. Indeed, often as not, its effects are counter-intuitive and contradictory, surprising even the designers. So the very same devices that can make us feel overworked and harried also enable us to work more efficiently and take more control of our time. In other words, the notion that we are all cyber-serfs, technologically tethered workers, is far too one-dimensional. It attributes too much power and agency to technology itself. While it is true that we have all . . .

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The In$ane Chicago Way

October 6, 2015
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The In$ane Chicago Way

John M. Hagedorn’s The In$ane Chicago Way mines the secret history of the attempt to form a Spanish Mafia by Chicago gangs in the 1990s—including why it failed—in order to examine and contextualize our current potential to intervene in and reduce gang-related violence. Hagedorn was recently interviewed by Milt Rosenberg (podcast in full here), and submitted his book to the scrutiny of the Page 99 Test, both of which you can access online, including an excerpt from Page 99 below. And, if you’re in Chicago, you can catch Hagedorn in person at the Great Cities Institute (412 S. Peoria, Suite 400) on Monday, October 19th, at 2:30PM. From the Page 99 Test blog: The In$ane Chicago Way tells a heretofore unknown story of how Chicago Latino gangs tried to create a Spanish mafia and why they failed. In$ane explains how a coalition of Latino gangs, Spanish Growth & Development (SGD), was created by gang leaders to control violence, organize crime, and corrupt police. Law enforcement and even most gang members were not aware of the 10-year existence of SGD which ruled the streets from the Illinois prison system. SGD was not destroyed from outside by arrests but by an internecine war of the families, or . . .

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