Monday, August 29, 2011

Labeling and Deviance at the 2011 Track and Field World Championships: Oscar Pistorius

So I'm blogging over at now as well. Track & Field afficionados are well aware of South African 400m sprinter Oscar Pistorius, who made it to the semi-finals in this week's World Championships. While he had an outside shot, he failed to make the finals.

At SIF I argue that as Pistorius has become faster, his ascribed statuses have shifted, and are now labeled deviant by some due to his "blade runner" prosthetic legs.

Check it out here: "
(Dis)Advantaged? The Changing Statuses of Oscar Pistorius"

Watch the video below for Pistorius's qualifying sprint at 45.07 seconds:

And the quarter-finals of this year's champ's, clocking 45.39:

Photo via The Guardian.

Academics Blogs

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Globalization, Poverty, and Slavery - Aljazeera's "The Nigerian Connection"

Drug use and sex work are topics that tend to evoke high emotion in the general public. Viewed as victimless crimes by some, others note that victimization is an integral component of international systems where people are trafficked as contemporary slaves in robust drug and prostitution rings.

Aljazeera’s People & Power recently produced an outstanding two-part series on human trafficking that focuses on global connections between Italy and Nigeria. Titled “The Nigerian Connection,” the first piece examines an Italian community, Territorio di Castel Volturno, where Italian and Nigerian Mafia’s compete for supremacy of the local organized crime scene, as the second piece turns to Nigeria.

In sociology and the broader social sciences, globalization is hot topic that refers to the increasingly efficient connections facilitating economic exchanges across the global landscape. This includes everything from legal modes of communication (e.g., the internet), to money exchange industries (e.g., Western Union, typical banking corporations), to the trafficking of drugs and human beings, provided these transactions cross international borders.

While globalization has existed for centuries, today’s international exchanges occur much faster, and illegal exchanges frequently transpire under the radar of law enforcement, that is unless corrupt law enforcement agencies are directly involved in the trafficking. Conservative figures estimate that approximately 27 million people are trapped as slaves in a given year, more in absolute number than at any time in the 18th or 19th century. Most are forced to work in the agricultural sector, though slaves are also forced into drug trafficking, sex work, and industrial tasks.

Kevin Bales, author of Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, defines slavery as the total control of one person by another for purpose of economic exploitation. Bales argues that overpopulation in low-income countries has created an increasingly large and vulnerable labor class. An extremely exploitable proletariat, this class is treated by greedy and corrupt capitalists as disposable. Bales further notes that contemporary slavery is characterized by seven qualities that distinguish it from slavery in centuries past:

1. Legal ownership of slaves is avoided
2. Slaves can be purchased at very low cost (for as low as US$90, see here)
3. Slavery yields high profits since slaves are inexpensive
4. Due to overpopulation, the world has a surplus of potential slaves
5. Slaves are disposable, replaceable because of the global surplus
6. Being disposable, slaves have a short relationship with slavers
7. Ethnic differences between slavers and slaves are less important (it is not uncommon to see slavers and slaves from the same ethnic group)

Most of today’s slaves are tricked into slavery through debt bondage – the individual pledges him/herself against a loan of money tied to an inflated cost of transportation to a new country, where the individual will presumably work in a conventional, legal job. However, upon arriving in a new and unfamiliar place, the workers are forced into slave-based jobs with conditions that make it virtually impossible to pay off their debts, escape, or seek help from legal authorities (e.g., passports are taken away).

Watching Aljazeera’s two-part documentary, one can clearly see the seven qualities Bales presents that characterize modern-day slavery, as well as how globalization is facilitating slavery tied to prostitution.

Part I (25 minutes):

Part I offers additional insights into important sociological concepts. For instance, cultural norms are corrupted in order to control the Nigerian female prostitutes via a “Juju oath” that women are forced to take prior to leaving Nigeria (@16 minutes; and @ 12:00 minutes in Part II). This oath is used to control the women while enslaved in Italy. Patriarchy is also clearly evident, as systems are established that privilege men over women. With the prostitutes being predominantly female and without official paperwork, laws are established that further criminalize them. Though prostitution is legal in Italy, sex workers can be arrested (by mostly male police officers) if they do not have residency papers, which obviously these women lack since they are forced to work off the books (@ 17:30 minutes). Note also the comments by the nun regarding a male market (@ 22:30 minutes) that keeps the industry flourishing. Part II shifts to Nigeria’s economic deprivation and internal corruption that fuels an exploitable slave class.

Part II (25 minutes):

Returning to one of Bales’s key points, Part II displays how agents in Nigeria are often Nigerians themselves, who trick young Nigerian women into sexual slavery (@ 5:00 minutes). This further demonstrates the decreasing status of race and ethnicity as rigid markers in the slavery system. Mass poverty is also highlighted as a contributor to the human trafficking machine, with one third of the population in this Nigerian state living on less than $1 per day (@ 7:50 minutes). As such, becoming a human trafficker of one’s own people emerges largely out of economic desperation, while globalization and global stratification provide the distant places of hope that seduce poverty stricken Nigerians into deceit. Part II closes by exploring the illegal trafficking of Nigerian babies (@ 18 minutes).

The two videos provide for excellent pieces on discussions surrounding globalization and contemporary slavery.

Friday, August 19, 2011

South Korean K-pop, Perpetuating Patriarchy

In the 1990s, The Spice Girls had an infectious global impact on young people across Europe, North America, and Australia – girls in particular. While some may argue women’s sexuality, fandom, and business prowess mix in ways promote female empowerment, others claim that despite having a central position on stage, these mainstream girl groups reproduce male privilege. In contemporary South Korea, this topic is especially germane.

I recently attended a lecture by Associate Professor Stephen Epstein (2011), Director of the Asian Studies Programme at Victoria University of Wellington, where I learned that all female “girl groups” are having major influences in South Korea and across much of Asia through the phenomenon of K-pop.

The Wonder Girls:

According to Professor Epstein, girl groups’ music and videos in the K-pop genre tend to fall in one of four typologies, which make for useful comparisons with popular female artists in the West.

1. “Desire Expressed but Initiative Given to Males” – In videos falling into this typology, female artists communicate a craving to forge romantic relationships with males, but the artists’ physical movements and lyrics privilege the desired male partners. According to Dr. Epstein, the following video, “Tell Me Your Wish” by Oh!, exemplifies this typology since the female artists ask their male partners how they can fulfill the males’ desires:

Going back a few decades, one cannot help but compare this video’s genie theme to the sit-com, “I Dream of Genie.” It is no coincidence that “I Dream of Genie” emerged in the midst of America’s second women’s movement. With women in the broader society advocating for equal pay, “I Dream of Genie” portrayed a woman considered physically attractive with magical powers confined to a small lamp and controlled by her male proprietor. In South Korea’s contemporary K-pop industry, Oh! present a strikingly similar message.

And while not a “genie in a bottle” or part of a larger group, one can still see similarities in Nicki Minaj’s recent video, “Super Bass.” In her video, Minaj and an entourage of female dancers exude a highly sexualized femininity as they indulge males with whom they hope to forge a romance. Hence, the males are ultimately in control, there to sit back as the women work for their affection:

2. “Power through Narcissistic Sexuality” – The second typology includes videos in which girl groups supposedly garner power by brazenly accentuating their sexuality. Scenarios in these videos repeatedly show the South Korean female artists rejecting male suitors as they soak in compliments and climb the social ladder, their increasing popularity tied solely to their sexual prowess. The irony, of course, is that power garnered through sexuality does not alter the gender order. Rather, it reproduces gender norms with women (and girls) objectified as sex articles. This is seen quite clearly in the somewhat comical video “So Hot” by the Wonder Girls (note how cheerleading and American gridiron football is built into the video's gendered dynamics, a sport hardly popular in South Korea):

Again, this typology is not unique to girl groups in South Korean K-pop. Keri Hilson’s recent hit, “Pretty Girl Rock,” includes a number of lyrics that encourage women to publicly flaunt their sexual supremacy: “…Mad cause I’m cuter than the girl that’s with ya. I can talk about it cause I know that I’m pretty and if ya know it too then ladies sing it with me…. Don’t question that this girl’s a 10. Don’t hate me cause I’m beautiful.” As such, men are supposedly relegated inferior to the beautiful woman(en), but in actuality, women are valued strictly for their physical attractiveness. More to the point, Hilson’s video demonstrates this theme manifesting over generations:

3. “Objectified Female Solidarity” – The third typology includes videos where members of the girl groups completely reject males, holding no desire for male attention. With such an overt rejection, a greater female solidarity is definitely present in these videos, and perhaps even a stronger sense of independence. Still, the girl groups’ body language and attire perpetuate the same visual narrative – that women are sexual objects, as seen in Miss A’s “Bad Girl, Good Girl”:

Overlap may exist in these South Korean K-pop videos with those starring Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga has been heralded as a talent who questions authority and speaks to minority issues, but doing so while simultaneously reproducing a visual imagery in line with traditional gender norms.

4. “Revenge Narratives” – The final typology stated by Dr. Epstein was that of the revenge narrative in which the girl group members plan and carry out vengeful acts against promiscuous ex-boyfriends. In doing so, girls bond to presumably reclaim a collective sense of power. However, the over-arching theme of these videos still places women’s and girls’ value in the framework of a heterosexual relationship. See, below, 4minute’s video, “Heart to Heart”:

Though perhaps not a perfect comparison, Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter,” definitely holds similar tenets. Aguilera purports a strengthened individuality after being harmed, presumably by an ex-boyfriend. The song’s lyrics state, “Makes me that much stronger. Makes me work a little bit harder. Makes me that much wiser. Thanks for making me a fighter.” These empowering lyrics on the one hand continue to exist in the context of a woman’s central focus in romantic affairs, thereby cementing the current gender order.

Marketed as a means of increasing girls’ and young women’s power and independence, girl groups in the South Korean K-pop industry follow the same gender lines seen in music videos produced world-wide that emphasize femininity. The music videos may communicate slightly different points, but their messages have the same basic implications.

Girls’ and women’s worth is connected to (1) frequently unhealthy and unattainable beauty standards, and (2) romantic relationships with men. Despite being promoted as empowering for girls and women, the videos do not challenge patriarchy at all. To the contrary, they reinforce a world where gender inequality is embedded in its social systems.

Epstein, S. J. (2011 August 4). Girls’ Generation?: Gender, (Dis)Empowerment and K-pop. School of Asian Studies Seminar Series 2001. Auckland: The University of Auckland.

For more of Dr. Epstein’s work, conducted in tandem with his colleague, James Turnbull, go Turnbull's blog,

Academics Blogs

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Feminized Firearms: Marketing Violence Through Gender Norms

NPR has a story up that discusses the ways gun stores are now catering to an increasingly female client-base. The images pictured here illustrate the symbolic gendering of color plastered onto these feminized firearms.

The story also has an interesting quote from a female buyer: "'If you listen to the news at night, all you hear are women in parking lots — someone coming up, or threatening them for their purse or threatening their life, or raping [them],' she says."

If in fact the news in this woman's community reports cases of women being assaulted in parking lots incessantly, her community is highly abnormal (or the news is probably over-reporting street crime, while not realizing violence within households between intimate partners is among the most under-reported type of crime).

Not to dismiss the seriousness of being attacked by a stranger, but research shows overwhelmingly that on average (1) women are at far greater risk of being assaulted in their own homes and/or by a friend than on the street; and (2) having a firearm does not enhance one's own protection (Plaxico Burress anyone?).

This just makes me wonder, is a moral panic being created to identify a new female market who will buy more guns?

Pic vis NPR.

Academics Blogs

The Chi-square Formula

Here are two videos that walk you through the chi-square analysis.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The University Is Me

So I've walked into an interesting situation at The University of Auckland. The main concern for me is that if my research time is limited, I will have less official time to work with communities in preventing violence and building social capital. Research can be community-oriented and driven; it should be valued as an opportunity for universities to connect with the broader community in mutually beneficial ways.

I don't want my research time cut, specifically because doing so further separates me and my colleagues from non-academic community mobilizers.

Please do whatever little bit you can to support out rights as academicians with academic freedom. Protecting our worker rights will benefit the entire university, including students, as well as the broader New Zealand and global community.