Public Sociology

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Sociology and the Culture of Sex on Campus


When new students move into their residence halls to start their first year of college, they become a part of an institution. In many ways, it is a “total institution” in the tradition of the sociologist Erving Goffman: an organization that collects large numbers of like individuals, cuts them off from the wider society, and provides for all their needs. Prisons, mental hospitals, army barracks, and nursing homes are total institutions. So are cruise ships, cults, convents, and summer camps. Behemoths of order, they swallow up their constituents and structure their lives.

Many colleges are total institutions, too. Being a part of the institution means that students’ educational options are dictated, of course, but colleges also have a substantial amount of control over when students eat, where they sleep, how they exercise, with whom they socialize and, pertinent to our topic today, whether and under what conditions they have sex.

In my newly released book, American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus, I show that hookup culture is now at the center of the institution of higher education. It’s thick, palpable, the air students breathe; and we find it on almost every residential campus in America: large and small, private and public, elite and middling, secular and religious, Greek- and sports-heavy and otherwise.My own research involves 101 students at two institutions who wrote weekly journals, tracing their trials and tribulations through a semester of their first year, but quantitative and comparative research alike supports hookup culture’s ubiquity. Anecdotally, too, students insist that it is so. “[Hookups are] part of our collegiate culture,” writes a student at the University of Florida. Up north at Connecticut College, a female student describes it as the “be-all and end-all” of social life. Oh, sure,” says a guy 2,500 miles away at Arizona State, “you go to parties on the prowl.” Further up north, at Whitman in Walla Walla, Washington, a female student calls hookup culture “an established norm.”

These comments reveal hookup culture’s pervasiveness, but these students are almost certainly overestimating the frequency of hookups on their campuses. According to the Online College Social Life Survey, a study of over 24,000 students at over 20 institutions, the average graduating senior has hooked up just eight times in four years; a third won’t hook up at all. In fact, today’s students boast no more sexual partners than their parents did at their age. But students can be forgiven for their misimpressions. Hookup culture is a powerful force, leading them to overestimate their peers’ sexual behavior by orders of magnitude.

The topic of my book, then, isn’t just hooking up; it’s hookup culture. Like other cultures, hooking up is a social reality that operates on several levels: it’s a set of widely-endorsed ideas, reflected in rules for interaction and the organization of the institution. Accordingly, hookup culture is the idea that casual sexual encounters are the best or only way to engage sexually in college, a set of practices that facilitate casual sexual encounters, and an organizational structure that supports them.

Students can and do opt out of hooking up, but few can escape hookup culture. Many of the students in American Hookup said so often and explicitly: Partying and hooking up, insisted one, “is the only way to make friends.” “Hookup culture = social life,” another concluded, simply making an equation. “If you do not have sex,” a third wrote forcefully, “you are not in the community.”

Being a part of the community means playing by the rules of hookup culture. It means bringing a certain kind of energy (up, drunken, and sexually available) to certain kinds of parties (dark, loud, and sexually charged). It means being willing to be careless about sexual contact and trying to care less about the person you hook up with than they care about you. It means following a hookup script that privileges male orgasm and a stereotypically male approach to sexuality. It means engaging in competitive sexual exploits: women against women, men against men, and men against women. And it means being stripped of the right to insist upon interpersonal accountability, enabling everything from discourtesy to sexual misconduct.

Some students thrive. About a quarter of the students in my sample truly enjoy hookup culture. Most do not. A third of my students opted out of sex altogether, deciding that they’d rather have none of it than follow hookup culture’s rules. Close to half participate ambivalently, dabbling with mixed results. More students decreased their participation over the course of the semester than increased it.

Almost to the last one, though, students were earnest, thoughtful, and good-humored. Few escaped hookup culture’s grasp, but they never failed to impress me with their insight and resilience. Hearing them tell their stories, it was hard not to feel optimistic, even when the stories did not lend themselves to optimism. I finished the book feeling hopeful. Today’s young people are open, permissive, genuine, and welcoming of diversity. They’re well-positioned to usher in a new new sexual culture.

But students need their institutions to change, too. Institutions of higher education need to put substantial resources and time into shifting cultural norms: they need to establish an ethic of care for casual sexual encounters and they need to diversify the kind of sexual encounters that are seen as possible and good. They also need to change the institutional structures that entrench the worst features of hookup culture, including those that give disproportionate power to the students on campus who most support, participate in, and benefit from it: white, class-privileged, masculine-identified, heterosexual men.

The neat thing about cultures, though, it that they exist only with our consent. We can change them simply by changing our minds. And because residential colleges are total institutions, ones that are bounded and insular, they are particularly responsive to reformation. The new sexual culture on America’s campuses can be improved—made safer, healthier, kinder, more authentic, more pleasurable, and more truly conducive to self-exploration—and faster than we might suspect. I hope that the voices in American Hookup help empower both students and administrators to do just that.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.


Date         :               February 3, 2017

Author     :                Lisa Wade, PhD

Source     :               Sociological Images

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Dr. Turkle suggests technology has social drawback


To encourage students to be cautious of their ties to technology and social media, the keynote address for the Hofstra Cultural Center’s Social Media Summit focused on the subtle impacts that technology can have on us socially. The speaker was Dr. Sherry Turkle, professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the author of “The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit and Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other.” On Wednesday, Feb. 15, Turkle gave insight on understanding the relationship between technology and human social behavior.

“The message of my work is that this is not an anti-technology message,” Turkle said. Wednesday’s symposium was designed to teach the Hofstra community about how social media and technology have shaped our world as well as understand the value of their online presence, how to effectively utilize technology and how technology effects relationships with other people.

“It is so easy to let technology slip into a way that it undermines our conversations,” she said. Turkle’s keynote address emphasized the value of face-to-face conversation and she identified how technology has changed it. For example, in a classroom setting, she said students learn best from in-person experiences.

Turkle encourages her students to stay off their phones during class and engage in meaningful dialogue. Her work has even found its way into classrooms at Hofstra. Dr. Cynthia Bogard, Professor of Sociology at Hofstra, often uses Turkle’s work to create conversation amongst her students. “She offers my beginning sociology students a solid format from which to begin to assess their own lifestyles with a critical eye. I appreciate Professor Turkle’s ability to spark reflection in my students,” Bogard said.

Another primary theme of the lecture was that there is an increase in dependability on technology which impacts a person’s ability to be empathetic. Turkle mentioned a study done by Dr. Sara Konrath which recently found a 40 percent decrease in empathy among young adults who use technology.

Turkle discussed a trend occurring on college campuses across the country called, “Rule of Three.”

The Rule of Three is that if six people are in a conversation, and three other people are participating in it, it is not rude to check your phone. However, Turkle noted that once a phone comes out in a conversation, the dialogue often turns trivial because people begin to focus on the other world in their hands.

Freshman journalism and Spanish major, Courtney Shapiro, agreed. “Her speech did make me more aware of how easy it is not to focus on what people are saying due to the distractions of our many devices,” Shapiro said. Turkle described this phenomenon as being “Alone together.”

Her message is not anti-technology because she thinks it plays a valuable role in society today, and she knows it is not going away. Yet, she hopes her message will make people more aware of the consequence of always being online and not appreciating the people around them.


Date         :               February 21, 2017

Author     :               Rachel Bowman

Source     :               The Hofstra Chronicle

Posted in Internet, Latest Post, Public Sociology | Leave a comment

Fighting for Justice at Home and Abroad: Students for Justice in Palestine


On Wednesday, February 15th, shortly after 10am, I meet with Ciaran O’Rourke in his room overlooking a sunlit Front Square. Below the room, a long line of hopeful punters are seeking to secure tickets for Trinity Ball. This general feeling of anticipation reaches O’Rourke’s room, although for a different reason. He eagerly fills me in on his Trinity campaign group and their action week starting on February 20th. O’Rourke, a PhD student and scholar, founded and spearheads the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Although the group is independent, it belongs to the wider Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement that advocates the economic boycott of Israel on human rights grounds.

O’Rourke explains that the movement is “modelled on the global struggle against apartheid South Africa”, drawing a link between the treatment of black people as second-class citizens in apartheid South Africa and the treatment of Arabs in Israel. The case of South Africa itself has strong links to Trinity. In 1971, the Board of the College set a precedent among Irish universities by divesting all shares from any company that was trading in South Africa, as well as cutting any research ties with South African institutions. This creates a striking comparison between the university’s reaction then and now. So far, O’Rourke says there has been “no response by Trinity to the campaign other than committing to a review of research ties to Israeli universities”. Presently, Trinity has research ties with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Ariel University in the West Bank. O’Rourke asserts that both institutions “are built or partly built on illegal settlement lands, according to international law”. This is a reference to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 that prohibits countries from moving populations into territories that are currently occupied by war.

Trinity also has research ties with private companies, including Elbit Security Systems, which supplies surveillance equipment and drones to the Israeli Defence Forces. Research links with these companies are a lucrative revenue stream for Trinity, one that the College management will be reluctant to give up, especially given the College’s recent funding shortfall. But aside from monetary interests, critics of the BDS’ approach argue that it is an attack on academic freedom, by excluding academics based on their political views. Undoubtedly, if a boycott were implemented, Trinity and its students would be shut off from a pool of talented academics. On the issue of academic freedom, O’Rourke adds that “very often this argument has little or no reference to the academic freedom of Palestinians living in the occupied territories”. With respect to Palestinians’ freedom being curtailed, Israeli military killed at least 15 people when it bombed a school in Gaza in July 2014. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the deliberate shelling of the school as a “moral outrage”. In that vein, O’Rourke argues that the moral grounds for a boycott of Israel overcomes whatever financial considerations the university has, which would favour trade and research.

As part of its boycott campaign, SJP is carrying out a petition, which has attracted over 2,000 signatures to date. To put that in perspective, 2,000 is eight times the number required to hold a Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) referendum, and so it is an amount that will put pressure on the university to accede. Outlining the strategy for the petition, O’Rourke explains it will be addressed to the Chancellor of the University, Mary Robinson, “as an attempt to make reference to Trinity’s record for academic boycott”. Given that Robinson served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997-2002 and previously supported the boycott of South Africa, the human rights rationale driving the campaign should ring true to her. According to Trinity’s website, the Chancellor “is the head of the University”, with a special visitor power to interpret College policy, adding that they have “been involved in some of the great controversies in the history of the College”. It remains to be seen whether Robinson will use her position to fight for Palestinians’ human rights and risk adding to those great controversies. The petition will be delivered on Friday, February 24th, as the final event of the Student for Justice in Palestine action week.

The week will comprise a variety of cultural and informative events. The week began with a BDS information evening on Monday, in conjunction with Trinity People Before Profit. On Tuesday, there is a film screening of Elia Sulieman’s award-winning film, The Time That Remains. The semi-biographical drama captures the life of a Palestinian family throughout the chaotic events in Israel and Palestine during the second half of the 20th century. This is followed by a poetry evening on Wednesday, hosted by Cave Writings in the Boar’s Head pub. On Thursday there will be a music and cultural night at the Seomra Spraoi in conjunction with Refugee and Migrant Solidarity Ireland, with dinner available for €5. Across the range of events, O’Rourke hopes to give people an understanding of the suffering that Palestinians face in their daily lives. Looking beyond the action week, he hopes to establish more grassroots solidarity, based on “principles of equality and peaceful protest”. While the campaign has primarily focused on an academic boycott of Israel, he would like to focus more on the economic side. This would involve the university and TCDSU shops boycotting all Israeli products. The most obvious example is Hewlett-Packard, a company that conducts operations in the disputed territories and whose printers are widely used in Trinity.

Despite the “reticence” of College to endorse the campaign, numerous lecturers from the Department of Sociology and the School of Ecumenics have lent their support, among them Prof David Landy. O’Rourke is confident that many more lecturers support Palestinian freedom but that the financial reward of the research ties prevents them from speaking out. Nonetheless, he believes that these obstacles can be overcome through people coming together in active solidarity. College, like government, he says, must bow to the weight of public opinion.


Date         :               February 21, 2017

Author     :               James Shaw

Source     :               The University Times (

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Engaging the Public


There is communication gap between our sociologists and larger public.

Sociologists are in the habit of ‘constructing’ identities in societies. They conceptualize everyday practices and built concepts. For instance, a category of women may be seen as upper caste, Janajati, Dalit or Madheshi, to name only a few. But how much of this identity construction is a product of engagement with the larger public and how much of it is the product of standard theoretical assumptions? To evaluate this, one has to first differentiate between the engagement of sociologists or anthropologists with their fellow professionals, and their engagement with a larger audience which may not necessarily include the aforementioned groups. Often the formulations of sociologists are not within the reach of the common public.

This points to lack of communication between the sociologists and the larger public from whose experiences they claim to derive conceptual framing. In fact, use of terms such as ‘common sense’ and ‘sociological sense’ point to the variation in understanding of an issue among sociologists and others. There have, however, been attempts to bridge this gap with effective communication. The product is what American sociologist Michael Burawoy calls ‘Public Sociology’. This is an effort to take sociological issues beyond conventional professional groups and to communicate with the wider public.

Sociology by nature is a science that questions the status quo. So questions pertaining to the interest of larger public are invariably raised. In this context, practice of public sociology is all the more necessary in contemporary Nepal which has witnessed unprecedented social, political and cultural changes in the past three decades. Issues of identity, nationalism and rights have come to occupy center-stage in Nepal. Many questions are raised on these issues. However, little seems to be coming from the practitioners of sociology and anthropology in popular discourse. For instance few professionals write in newspapers on these issues.

The practice of public sociology in Nepal is important as social issues need to be understood in their wider context so that the general public has a nuanced understanding.

If sociologists or anthropologists engage the broader public apart from their core academic world, they also shape the citizenship of the country by engaging in difficult but pertinent issues. Therefore, there is a need for a swarm of articles and programs in popular media to engage the public. In addition, a sociologist could be part of the social movement, where the engagement is more than at an ideological level. This also adds to new sociological insights for the sociologist.

But even if some feel their role is limited to the academic world, they still need to engage their only target audience: students.  If the teacher is able to engage constructively with this ‘public’, then half the battle is won, as you have nudged the critical faculties of these young minds. Pressing issues of the day should be put into their wider sociological context and discussed, in and outside classrooms. For instance, a teacher could ask the class to prepare a note on why Dr Govinda KC has been staging repeated hunger strikes. What does this say about the Nepali state?

In fact, issues like these need to be placed before the public in the wider context through popular writings. This is also an opportune moment for sociologists to formulate concepts and ideas which are organic in nature and not a replica of their Western avatars.

Sociologists by training are asked to look at issues in objective manner. This training, if utilized in engaging the public, can demystify crucial issues. For instance various current social movements have their own sociological grounds. People either tend to support or reject these movements. Sociologists can explain why some movements succeed while others fail. This is the academic framing which is currently largely confined to the comity of professionals. But if the same framework can be applied and explained at the popular level, it is certainly going to clear many popular misconceptions.

So professional sociology and public sociology should not be seen as exclusive domains.

Rather than compete they can reinforce each other and thus benefit mutually. After all, the same person could be teaching in a university system while at the same time also championing a public cause.

The authors are assistant professors at Kathmandu School of Law. 

By            :               Pranab Kharel & Gaurab KC

Date         :               November 29, 2016

Source     :               myRepublica

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How Teachers Learn to Discuss Racism


Urban-education programs prepare them for imperative contemporary conversations with students.

After a rash of police killings last summer, H. Richard Milner, a professor of urban education at the University of Pittsburgh, set out to answer a question that had been gnawing at him for some time. As a noted expert on race in education, he frequently received calls from journalists seeking comment on how to help teachers talk about race in the classroom, typically following the fatal police shooting of a black victim. And he always thought the questioning was misguided and inadequate. “Rather than asking me how to help teachers … we should be asking teachers if they believe race is salient … something [they] should be interrogating and thinking about [in the classroom].”

So in early fall 2016, he surveyed 450 pre-service and current public-school teachers on their beliefs about race. Despite the small sample size, the preliminary findings from the nationally representative group revealed an intriguing disconnect. Teachers overwhelmingly agreed that race should be discussed in classrooms; they felt woefully unprepared to lead such
conversations; and they strongly rejected discussing racial violence, which Milner called “central to working with … black and brown students” who are frequently the victims of police shootings. “Basically, teachers said, ‘You’ve twisted my arm. We should talk about race. Nope, I don’t feel prepared to do
that. And I’m definitely not going to [talk about] violence against black bodies.’ That’s where we are in 2017.”

With a profession that’s characteristically white, female, and middle class—and with students of color and children in poverty rapidly making up the majority of the public-school population—it’s become a necessity to have teachers equipped and willing to talk about race and racism. The mere mention of these topics can be awkward and difficult, yet various research findings point to the need to confront the discomfort to improve student learning. Increasingly, that duty has fallen to urban-education programs—a special category of teacher preparation that is reimagining how teaching candidates are prepared and disrupting the race and class stereotypes surrounding urban students and communities.

The dictionary definition of “urban” relates specifically to cities and people who live in them, but population shifts have rendered the term somewhat imprecise. According to federal education data from 2013, some 14 million students (29 percent of total enrollment) attended public schools in cities during the 2010-11 school year. The city classification, however, ranged from urban areas with a population of less than 100,000 to those with 250,000 residents or more—and spanned school districts as geographically diverse as Anchorage, Alaska, and Baltimore to Nashville and New York.

More commonly, urban schooling is defined by bleak statistics and the prejudices encoded in the adjective “urban” rather than official government categories. A 2015 report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education offered a stark glimpse of the state of urban public schools, including one in four students not graduating from high school in four years. Additionally, a study probing the intersections of race and teaching found the word urban was regularly used as shorthand for unfavorable characteristics associated with students of color.

“People generally [believe] that if it’s urban, it’s negative,” said Milner, the director of Pitt’s Center for Urban Education, noting that includes student teachers from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Much of his work—in this case, training undergraduates—is concentrated on cultivating “the skills, the attitudes, and the dispositions” to be effective in urban environments. “That means we think about this notion of urban [and] teachers’ belief systems about who these students are and what their capacity happens to be.”

A major impetus behind urban programs was to bring more nuance to teacher education, said Camika Royal, an assistant professor and co-director of the Center for Innovation in Urban Education at Loyola University Maryland. Much of the history of education is rooted in psychology with a focus on problem-solving, she explained. Yet urban education is more encompassing—blending psychology with anthropology, sociology, political science, and other disciplines to shed insight on working in urban communities. In Loyola’s program, future teachers hone in on knowledge and practices especially relevant to urban schooling and working with racially, culturally, and economically diverse students. Among the core and elective courses offered are “Language, Culture and Literacy,” “Neighborhood and Community in Urban America,” and “Cultural Diversity in Communication.”

“Historically, we’ve seen education as a blanket thing,” she said. “Theories and practices are tried out in lily-white, suburban areas and then [brought] to urban centers that have much less funding [and] other extenuating issues. What urban-education scholars have said is … consider the context in which [teachers] work and how it may play out differently.”

Royal believes urban education, unlike general teacher education broadly, can give pre-service teachers the tools to navigate race, class, gender, culture, and language, as well as help them grow “an asset-based view” of their students and students’ families. Whether she’s teaching about curriculum or classroom management, Royal centers on anti-racism and anti-oppression in her urban-education courses—concepts that have special significance in urban schools and are equally applicable in non-urban districts. “In suburban schools where you have populations of black students, those same [biases] are often carried over. Our job is to debunk and to poke holes in their long-held beliefs [and] if we’re not upfront and deliberate, it doesn’t happen.”

Melissa Katz, an urban-education student at The College of New Jersey in Ewing, strongly agrees, and credits her professors and the extensive fieldwork she’s completed with unlearning and relearning what it means to be a white teacher in an urban school district. Now in the fourth year of a five-year integrated bachelor’s and master’s program, Katz student-taught in a North Philadelphia public school, where she was teamed with a white teacher she soon discovered was unequipped to work in an economically disadvantaged, mostly black and Hispanic neighborhood. The assignment was short-lived, but the memories were lasting. “She would talk about wanting to go back to the suburbs and students having alcohol- and drug-addicted parents … every stereotype you could imagine,” Katz said. “Worst of all, she approached [teaching] completely from a deficit mindset … it’s the students who suffered.”

The experience forced Katz to ponder the implications of her own racial identity in the classroom. “I definitely felt it on a personal level,” she said, adding that self-reflection was crucial when “students were so explicitly saying your whiteness is preventing you from seeing our humanity.” Katz further explored the subject in a blog post titled, “Teaching While White,” where she aimed to push white educators to “think critically about race, justice, and our own privilege, and most importantly—how these play out in the classroom as teachers.”

Relatedly, one area where Katz believes her urban-education program could be strengthened is in tying what she observed at the individual classroom level to patterns of institutional racism in communities of color—from health care and housing to the environment. Connecting to systemic inequalities, she said, would provide students like herself a “framework for going into a community [unlike] your own.” Similarly, Royal and Milner are pressing their education schools to sharpen and improve how teacher prep is packaged and delivered.

Taking a cue from the University of San Francisco’s Center for Anti-Oppressive Education, Royal is lobbying for Loyola to incorporate “anti-racist” as part of its identity as a school of education and all of its work: “If this is something [we] stand by, then [formally] adopt that into who we are as an institution,” she said. And in Pennsylvania, Milner is working with the state’s department of education to approve a special teaching credential for urban teachers. Modeled after the urban certificate program at his university, prospective teachers would complete 15 extra credit hours in addition to the state-mandated requirements for teacher certification—one year of intensive teacher development to “really disrupt and complexify … what they believe they know about race [and] students or families who live in poverty.”

For Katz, approaching the end of her college years, the urban-education program has taught her much more than the mechanics of teaching. It’s taught her to think more deeply about race—in white and nonwhite spaces. “One of my placements was in a very wealthy [suburban] district [that] reflected my lived experience. However, I wasn’t thinking about the racial aspect, which is hilarious because it was mostly white … the world we live in doesn’t treat white as a race. It’s an interesting tension, and I’m learning to sit in [those] uncomfortable places.”


By            :               Melinda D. Anderson

Date         :               January 9, 2017

Source     :               The Atlantic


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Arlie Hochschild: Looking for answers from Berkeley to the Bayou


Berkeley sociologist Arlie Hochschild — author of the best-selling book Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right — wrote her first book when she was nine years old. You could think of Colleen the Question Girl as a prequel to Strangers in their Own Land, which tries to make sense of why Trump supporters in Louisiana’s ‘cancer alley’ feel loyal to the oil companies who pollute their air and water, while despising the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Why don’t bears have horns?” “Why aren’t zebras plaid?” “Why are some houses so big and others so small?” Hochschild wrote in her first book. Even as a child — and Hochschild readily admits that Colleen was modeled after herself — she was asking difficult questions. “It was about a little girl who was trouble to the adults in her life,” she said. “She’s a little radical, and she was always trying to get her father’s attention.” Colleen starts out as a girl who asks too many questions but, eventually, she becomes the town’s question girl. “Question-asking spread all over town,” the young Hochschild wrote. “And over the years to come, questions flew out of Colleen’s dreams into a wind that blew all around the world.”

As it turns out, Colleen — first published in 1974 by the Feminist Press and now reprinted and available on Amazon — was prescient. Hochschild started teaching at the sociology department at UC Berkeley in the 1970s, at a time when there were precious few female sociologists. From the get-go, she started asking the kinds of questions that were not on her male colleague’s radar screen. Why is “women’s work” less valued than men’s work? What happens when traditional “women’s work” (such as childcare and elder care) is outsourced to strangers? And, more recently, how can blue-collar workers be so blind about billionaires?

Hochschild revels in these seemingly intractable questions. In between Colleen and Strangers in their Own Land, Hochschild wrote several other groundbreaking books, including The Second Shift, The Outsourced Self, The Managed Heart and The Commercialization of Intimate Life: Notes from Home and Work. But her latest book has been her most successful yet: it has spent time on the New York Times bestseller list, and was a finalist for the National Book Award. It has been so popular that it was unavailable for three weeks before Christmas because Amazon could not keep it in stock. (Hochschild is still irritated about that.) “I have written 10 articles since the book came out: I never imagined I’d be doing all this,” she said.

But timing is everything and, once again, Hochschild was prescient. “Five years ago, here in Berkeley, I began to sense a terrible divide,” she told a gathering at the Hillside Club recently. “Not because the left was becoming more left, but because the right was becoming more right.” Look at a Republican such as President Eisenhower, she said. “He was a great sponsor of public infrastructure. Reagan was for gun control. Goldwater’s wife was one of the founders of Planned Parenthood. Nixon brought us the Environmental Protection Agency. And now we hear that the nominee to head the EPA is a climate-change denier.”

In Louisiana, Hochschild — who sheepishly told her interviewees she came from “Bbbbbbb … Berkeley” — encountered true Southern hospitality. She was served lots of sweet tea and gumbo. She was invited to family dinners and community barbecues and was taken out for leisurely boat rides on the (highly polluted) bayou.Hochschild began the research with one of her trademark questions: “How is it that the poorest states in our country, with the worst levels of education, the worst health, the lowest life expectancy — and states that take more aid from the federal government than they give back in taxes — how is it these states revile the federal government? I didn’t understand.”

She was also called a “communist,” an “environmental wacko,” and a “femi-Nazi” by her subjects. “Luckily, they always laughed after they said that,” she recalled. But she added that, “people in Louisiana were also concerned about the divide. They felt they were a fly-over state, and that they were considered uneducated and wrong-headed and Southern and redneck. They were glad I came down to see who they really were.”

Hochschild began the research with one of her trademark questions: “How is it that the poorest states in our country, with the worst levels of education, the worst health, the lowest life expectancy — and states that take more aid from the federal government than they give back in taxes — how is it these states revile the federal government? I didn’t understand.”

Louisiana was the poster child for this paradox: in 2004, Hochschild says, it was the poorest state in the union, and 44% of the state budget came from the federal government. “And they are very strongly Tea Party,” she said. “By the end of my journey, I discovered that they are enthusiastically for Donald Trump. For five years, I had been studying the dry kindling. When I went to New Orleans to see a Trump rally in 20016, I saw the match.”

Hochschild has always been interested in studying feelings and not just data, so it’s not surprising to hear her say that “we need to understand who the Trump supporters are, why that vote makes sense to them — without presuming they are deplorables.” The people Hochschild interviewed felt “culturally colonized [by liberal values] and marginalized. They felt like a minority group, that was unnamed and couldn’t — didn’t — want to name itself. They were victims, they felt, but couldn’t claim victimhood.”

They felt that Hillary Clinton’s economic and trade policies would push them further back, while Trump told them, “we’re’ making you great again, I am recognizing you, blue-collar people.” These communities felt looked down upon as a region but also as a social class. “There was a lot of despair and depression” among Trump supporters, Hochschild said, “and Trump was like an anti-depressant. He’s very good at drilling down for anxiety and deploying it. He said, ‘I will get you un-depressed.’”

But how can a billionaire from Queens understand the situation of blue-collar workers in Louisiana? “He’s been watching it out of the corner of his eye for 25 years,” Hochschild said. “He watched [George W.] Bush put on a cowboy hat and pretend to be a cowboy,” and he attempted a similar feat.

Democratic party policies, meanwhile, were not helpful to blue-collar workers, Hochschild said. “Raising the minimum wage does not help blue-collar workers,” she said. International trade agreements were not helpful to the people she interviewed, and government regulations sometimes made their lives more difficult rather than easier. “The Democratic Party has relied on Silicon Valley for support, but paradoxically many of the interventions that will come out of Silicon Valley will put blue-collar people out of work,” she said. She added that many public institutions actually benefit the middle class “a lot more than the poor.” In addition, she said, progressives don’t want to see that “some public things are not functioning well. Some regulations have gone haywire.”

And, though many Berkeleyans feared that five years of repeat visits to Louisiana would cause Hochschild to go native, exactly the opposite has happened: Hochschild moves right into Berkeley mode when she returns from her field work. “Berkeley is my home,” she says. “It has allowed me to exhale, to take more chances, be more creative.” And so, Hochschild now tells anyone who will listen that Berkeley needs to go back to its activist heyday to respond to the Trump phenomenon. “We need to move on from despair and recover in the spirit of the ’60s,” she said at the Hillside Club.

Hochschild said that in these troubled times progressives need to engage in “some peaceful and massive demonstrations. I think we do need to fight. I want to see a lot of ’60s activism out there.” Progressives need to fight — and file massive lawsuits — against any policies of a Trump administration that would hurt the environment, or civil rights, or women’s rights, or other progressive values and principles, she said. “We need a large vision, and we need to set up a loyal opposition.”

At the same time, she said, progressives should engage with individual Trump supporters and try to find areas where we are in agreement. “We need to stand up, assert our values, and have conversations. We need to reach out to Trump supporters who a mere eight years ago voted for Barack Obama. They aren’t so far away, and we can’t just hurl epithets at each other.”

Hochschild, in fact, is still in conversation with her ‘friends’ in Louisiana. In fact, she is about to embark on another trip to the Bayou, this time with her son David Hochschild, one of five members of the California Energy Commission. David has a background in solar energy and works to promote renewable energy for the state of California. Hochschild’s radical plan is to put David together with Mike Schaff, an ardent Tea Party member and Trump supporter, who is also a major character in Strangers.

Schaff’s house and community were basically destroyed when a 37-acre sinkhole opened up and swallowed up much of the neighborhood. Those houses that still stand, including Schaff’s, are filled with dangerous levels of methane gas. This oil industry disaster could have been prevented, she says, with better regulation by both state and federal agencies, yet Schaff is vehemently opposed to regulation. (Read Hochschild’s essay on Schaff.)

“I thought it would be good to get Mike together with my son,” Hochschild says. “You couldn’t find two more different people. But my idea is to get them in Mike’s boat and see whether people with such different political philosophies can find common ground on the environment.” Hochschild plans to be a silent witness in that boat, recording the conversation.

Hochschild refers those who are interested in embarking on a Left-Right dialogue of their own to a new website called This site was founded by Joan Blades, a co-founder of, who also appeared with Hochschild at the Hillside Club. Living Room Conversations provides a format for people from opposite sides of a variety of issues to seek common ground. The group will be launching another site called in the near future, so people with different views from different geographic areas can begin online conversations, also to seek common ground.   “I think we will be bigger and better” for having these conversations, Hochschild said.

Even though Hochschild is technically retired, she is already thinking about her next project. “I’m thinking of going where global warming is really hurting people, but where there is a culture that promotes the idea that global warming is a myth,” she said. “I would like to meet these people and see what they think.”


By            :               Daphne White

Date         :               January 11, 2017

Source     :               Berkeleyside


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Why Universities Must Choose One Telos: Truth or Social Justice


Aristotle often evaluated a thing with respect to its “telos” – its purpose, end, or goal. The telos of a knife is to cut. The telos of a physician is health or healing. What is the telos of university?

The most obvious answer is “truth” –- the word appears on so many university crests. But increasingly, many of America’s top universities are embracing social justice as their telos, or as a second and equal telos. But can any institution or profession have two teloses (or teloi)? What happens if they conflict?

As a social psychologist who studies morality, I have watched these two teloses come into conflict increasingly often during my 30 years in the academy. The conflicts seemed manageable in the 1990s. But the intensity of conflict has grown since then, at the same time as the political diversity of the professoriate was plummeting, and at the same time as American cross-partisan hostility was rising. I believe the conflict reached its boiling point in the fall of 2015 when student protesters at 80 universities demanded that their universities make much greater and more explicit commitments to social justice, often including mandatory courses and training for everyone in social justice perspectives and content.

Now that many university presidents have agreed to implement many of the demands, I believe that the conflict between truth and social justice is likely to become unmanageable.  Universities will have to choose, and be explicit about their choice, so that potential students and faculty recruits can make an informed choice. Universities that try to honor both will face increasing incoherence and internal conflict.

[Please note: I am not saying that an individual student cannot pursue both goals. In the talk below I urge students to embrace truth as the only way that they can pursue activism that will effectively enhance social justice. But an institution such as a university must have one and only one highest and inviolable good. I am also not denying that many students encounter indignities, insults, and systemic obstacles because of their race, gender, or sexual identity. They do, and I favor some sort of norm setting or preparation for diversity for incoming students and faculty. But as I have argued elsewhere, many of the most common demands the protesters have made are likely to backfire and make experiences of marginalization more frequent and painful, not less. Why? Because they are not based on evidence of effectiveness; the demands are not constrained by an absolute commitment to truth.]

As I watched events unfold on campus over the past year, I began formulating an account of what has been happening, told from the perspective of moral and social psychology. I was invited to give several talks on campus this fall, and I took those invitations as opportunities to tell the story to current college students, at Wellesley, at SUNY New Paltz, and at Duke. By the time of the Duke talk I think I got the story worked out well enough to send it out into the world, in the hope that it will be shown on many college campuses.  It’s long (66 minutes). But it is as short as I can make it. There are many pieces to the puzzle, and I had to present each one in order.

Here is a link to download the powerpoint slides i showed in the talk. Teachers and professors may borrow freely from them.



I begin with two quotations:

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” –Karl Marx, 1845

“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion…” –John Stuart Mill, 1859

Marx is the patron saint of what I’ll call “Social Justice U,” which is oriented around changing the world in part by overthrowing power structures and privilege. It sees political diversity as an obstacle to action. Mill is the patron saint of what I’ll call “Truth U,” which sees truth as a process in which flawed individuals challenge each other’s biased and incomplete reasoning. In the process, all become smarter. Truth U dies when it becomes intellectually uniform or politically orthodox.


Each profession or field has a telos. Fields interact constructively when members of one field use their skills to help members of another field achieve their telos. Example: Amazon, Google, and Apple are businesses that I love because they help me achieve my telos (finding truth) as a scholar. But fields can also interact destructively when they inject their telos into other fields. Example: Business infects medicine when doctors become businesspeople who view patients as opportunities for profit. I will argue that social justice sometimes injects its telos of achieving racial equality (and other kinds) into other professions, and when it does, those professionals betray their telos.

Motivated Reasoning

A consistent finding about human reasoning: If we WANT to believe X, we ask ourselves: “Can-I-Believe-It?” But when we DON’T want to believe a proposition, we ask: “Must-I-Believe-It?” This holds for scholars too, with these results:

Scholarship undertaken to support a political agenda almost always “succeeds.”

A scholar rarely believes she was biased

Motivated scholarship often propagates pleasing falsehoods that cannot be removed from circulation, even after they are debunked.

Damage is contained if we can count on “institutionalized disconfirmation” – the certainty that other scholars, who do not share our motives, will do us the favor of trying to disconfirm our claims.

But we can’t count on “institutionalized disconfirmation” anymore because there are hardly any more conservatives or libertarians in the humanities and social sciences (with the exception of economics, which has merely a 3-to-1 left-right ratio). This is why Heterodox Academy was founded—to call for the kind of diversity that would most improve the quality of scholarship (at least, if you embrace Mill rather than Marx).


Humanity evolved for tribal conflict. Along the way we evolved a neat trick: Our ability to forge a team by circling around sacred objects & principles. In the academy we traditionally circled around truth (at least in the 20thcentury, and not perfectly).  But in the 21st century we increasingly circle around a few victim groups. We want to protect them and help them and wipe out prejudice against them. We want to change the world with our scholarship. This is an admirable goal, but this new secular form of “worship” of victims has intersected with other sociological trends to give rise to a “culture of victimhood” on many campuses, particularly those that are the most egalitarian and politically uniform. Victimhood culture breeds “moral dependency” in the very students it is trying to help – students learn to appeal to 3rd parties (administrators) to resolve their conflicts rather than learning to handle conflicts on their own.


“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” Nietzsche was right, and Nasim Taleb’s book “Antifragile” explains why. Kids need thousands of hours of unsupervised play and thousands of conflicts and challenges that they resolve without adult help, in order to become independently functioning adults. But because of changes in American childrearing that began in the 1980s, and especially because of the helicopter parenting that took off in the 1990s for middle class and wealthy kids, they no longer get those experiences.

Instead they are enmeshed in a “safety culture” that begins when they are young and that is now carried all the way through college. Books and words and visiting speakers are seen as “dangerous” and even as forms of “violence.” Trigger warnings and safe spaces are necessary to protect fragile young people from danger and violence. But such a culture is incompatible with political diversity, since many conservative ideas and speakers are labeled as threatening and banned from campus and the curriculum. Students who question the dominant political ethos are worn down by hostile reactions in the classroom. This is one of the core reasons why universities must choose one telos. Any institution that embraces safety culture cannot have the kind of viewpoint diversity that Mill advocated as essential in the search for truth.


At Truth U, there is no such thing as blasphemy. Bad ideas get refuted, not punished. But at SJU, there are many blasphemy laws – there are ideas, theories, facts, and authors that one cannot use. This makes it difficult to do good social science about politically valenced topics. Social science is hard enough as it is, with big complicated problems resulting from many interacting causal forces. But at SJU, many of the most powerful tools are simply banned.


All social scientists know that correlation does not imply causation. But what if there is a correlation between a demographic category (e.g., race or gender) and a real world outcome (e.g., employment in tech companies, or on the faculty of STEM departments)? At SJU, they teach you to infer causality: systemic racism or sexism. I show an example in which this teaching leads to demonstrably erroneous conclusions. At Truth U, in contrast, they teach you that “disparate outcomes do not imply disparate treatment.” (Disparate outcomes are an invitation to look closely for disparate treatment, which is sometimes the cause of the disparity).


There seem to be two major kinds of justice that activists are seeking: finding and eradicating disparate treatment(which is always a good thing to do, and which never conflicts with truth), and finding and eradicating disparate outcomes, without regard for disparate inputs or third variables. It is this latter part which causes all of the problems, all of the conflicts with truth. I work through an example of how the attempt to eliminate outcome disparities can force people to disregard both truth and justice.


Given the arguments made in sections 1-7, I think it is clear that no university can have Truth and Social Justice as dual teloses. Each university must pick one. I show that Brown University has staked out the leadership position for SJU, and the University of Chicago has staked out the leadership position for Truth U. (This has been confirmed by their rankings in the new Heterodox Academy Guide to Colleges.)

I close by urging students on every campus in America to raise the question among themselves: which way do we want our university to go? I offer a specific tool to raise the question: the Heterodox University Initiative. If students on every campus would propose these three specific resolutions to their student government, perhaps as the basis of a campus-wide referendum, then students could make their choice known to the faculty and administration. The students would send a clear signal as to whether they want more or less viewpoint diversity on campus. At very least, a campus-wide discussion of Marx versus Mill would be a constructive conversation to have.


By:           Jonathan Haidt

Date:        October 21, 2016

Source:    Heterodox Academy



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Sociology, According to Putin

Long before the Russian state declared the Levada Center, Russia’s only reputable independent polling organization, to be a “foreign agent” in September, its director, Lev D. Gudkov, knew this was going to happen.

For the last four years, Russia has required nonprofit organizations to register as “foreign agents” if they receive funding from abroad and engage in “political activity.” The law requires an organization to identify itself as a “foreign agent” in all public communications and imposes stringent financial reporting requirements.

The latest amendments to the law, proposed by the justice ministry in February and passed in May, added polling to the list of activities considered political. When I visited Mr. Gudkov in April, he said that these amendments seemed intended specifically to target his center.

For most nongovernmental organizations, it’s the reporting requirements that effectively paralyze the work. For a polling organization, it’s the designation itself: Who is going to answer questions from someone who calls and introduces themselves as a foreign agent?

So when in September the Russian justice ministry declared the Levada Center a foreign agent, Mr. Gudkov was not surprised. He had been warning about a dark turn in Russian politics longer than anyone else had.

As far back as 1994, he and his colleagues at what was then the Russian Public Opinion Research Center were challenging the narrative of a smooth transition from the Soviet system to a democratic one. By the early 2000s, Mr. Gudkov was writing about the need to revisit the concept of totalitarianism, which Kremlinologists had long retired: He thought that Russia was beginning to show symptoms of the old disease.

Totalitarian regimes have a conflicted relationship with sociology. On the one hand, they have no elections or free media from which to learn about the public mood, so they need sociologists even more than democratic governments do. On the other hand, their fear of information is directly proportional to their need for it. They fear that sociologists, if allowed to work freely, will obtain knowledge about the vulnerabilities of the regime. An ideal totalitarian regime would find a way to obtain sociological data without the sociologists.

This push-pull relationship with sociology kept playing out throughout the Soviet period. For decades, sociology was effectively a banned discipline. Even Karl Marx, in official Soviet scholarship, was stripped of his sociological credentials, retaining the title only of “founder of scientific communism, teacher and leader of the international proletariat.” But starting in the 1950s, a little bit of sociology was allowed, under the auspices of philosophy — Marxist philosophy, of course.

Mr. Gudkov first encountered sociology in the late 1960s, when he was a journalism student at Moscow State University. He signed up for an elective taught by Yuri Levada, a pioneering Soviet sociologist. Mr. Gudkov fell in love with the discipline and began begging Mr. Levada for a job.

In 1970, Mr. Levada gave the college student an administrative job on his small research team. Mr. Gudkov has told me that this was the happiest time of his life. But within two years, it was all over. Mr. Levada’s work was deemed to contain an “incorrect understanding of important political issues,” his department was eliminated and his staff had to look for jobs elsewhere.

For the next two decades, Mr. Levada’s dozen students worked at various Soviet institutions. Mr. Gudkov changed workplaces several times; in some, he was allowed to do a little bit of research, but not to publish it.

But Mr. Levada’s group continued to exist: For two decades, his former employees and a few others who joined along the way gathered at his office or at his apartment every couple of weeks, to discuss what they could learn about contemporary and classic Western sociology. Together, they kept themselves in shape academically.

In 1987, at the height of perestroika, Mr. Levada was finally allowed to reassemble his team: Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s government needed to understand the country it was trying to change. The All-Union Public Opinion Research Center was formed. When the Soviet Union collapsed, it became the Russian Public Opinion Research Center.

A few years after Vladimir V. Putin came to power, the Kremlin took over the Russian Public Opinion Research Center. Mr. Levada was forced out, and his team left with him. The center got a new Kremlin-appointed director and began producing research to the Kremlin’s taste.

Mr. Levada started his own shop. It was a smaller outfit, and it had lost its academic outlet, a bimonthly journal that was now in the Kremlin’s hands. The center’s staff could no longer afford to write long scholarly articles, but it continued to conduct and interpret public-opinion surveys. When Mr. Levada died in 2006, Mr. Gudkov — his youngest student — became the director of the center.

The Levada Center retained its reputation as the most reliable source on Russian public opinion. Even federal ministries occasionally commissioned surveys from it. Sometimes the results of those differed little or not at all from those produced by the Kremlin-controlled pollsters.

But the Levada sociologists could not be controlled by the Kremlin, and that sealed their fate. In the end, the Kremlin’s fear of information became stronger than the desire to know, just as Mr. Gudkov knew it would.


By:           Masha Gessen

Date:        October 4, 2016

Source:    The New York Times (The Opinion Pages)

Masha Gessen is the author, most recently, of “Where the Jews Aren’t: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region.”

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The social implications of Zika


U.S. responses to the Zika crisis are fundamentally flawed. Headlines like “The War on Zika in Miami Turns to the Air” and “Genetically modified mosquitoes newest weapon in war on Zika” may be intended to signal the seriousness of the response, but the world is more complicated than that.

Even if military and medical might could eliminate every single trace of Zika, the social, environmental and political conditions that made Brazil, Florida, and Puerto Rico vulnerable to the rapid spread of a new infectious disease remain in place.

These conditions include, global warming, movements of populations into overcrowded urban areas, and attitudes and policies that restrict women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

Patterns of spread of the Zika virus highlight the reality that the world’s poorest families disproportionately bear the burdens of global warming.

In Brazil, residents of shantytowns are exposed to Zika virus due to crowded living conditions, substandard sewage systems, and reliance on public water pumps that often are surrounded by pools of standing water (and mosquitoes).

Here in the United States, Zika virus-bearing mosquitoes have shown up in Florida and other southern states that have inadequate public health resources and in which many low-income people are unable to access basic healthcare because their state governments have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Wars on disease too easily turn into wars on those who embody the disease (as has been the case in our disastrous “war on drugs.”) In the case of Zika, the military language is more than metaphorical. While the virus is the presumptive enemy, it’s an enemy that takes cover in human populations that become “military” targets. Naled, the pesticide used to spray communities in Florida, has been deemed to pose unacceptable health risks to humans by the European Union. Respected scientists point out that “the family of chemicals naled belongs to can harm a growing fetus — which means [spraying] could be harming the very same pregnant residents it’s trying to protect.”

Declaring war on disease sends the message that the sufferer is somehow at fault, placing far too much responsibility in the hands of sufferers who have little power regarding their circumstances. The CDC has urged pregnant women not to travel to areas in which the Zika virus has been reported. Most recently, this included the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, a majority Hispanic neighborhood with a median income of $11,000 per year. Local woman are unlikely to be able to afford to live elsewhere to avoid both the mosquitoes and the sprayed pesticides.

One woman I interviewed in Mississippi (one of the states in danger from Zika) explained that she doesn’t know what to do about sex. She is hearing “everywhere” that women should not get pregnant because of the danger of bearing babies with microcephaly, but in Mississippi it’s nearly impossible to get an abortion. She even has trouble getting hold of reliable contraception. Indeed, few women in the states most likely to be affected are currently using the most reliable forms of birth control.

While media and public health sources encourage women in Zika-affected areas not to fall pregnant, the prevalence of both stranger rape and intimate partner violence force many women into pregnancies that, in the wake of Zika, are not only unwanted but also likely to carry the extra stigma of failure to obey “sensible” public health directives. Recent reports that Zika can be carried in male sperm for at least six months after a man was infected add new layers of terror to a sexual landscape that is already stacked against women.

The problematic history of public responses to viruses such as HIV-AIDS that may be spread through sexual contact, especially when the virus initially impacts disenfranchised or stigmatized groups, is further cause for concern. For women in Brazil and other countries that prohibit abortion, women are forced to choose between illegal, backstreet abortions and the fear of carrying a pregnancy to term in a setting in which pictures of tiny-headed babies grace the front pages of newspapers nearly every day.

I hope that the Zika crisis will drive progress on addressing global warming and environmental conditions, particularly in low-income communities. At the very least, shocked and saddened by the pictures we are seeing in the press of babies born with microcephaly, the Zika crisis should serve as a wake-up call for making contraception and abortion universally available and extending healthcare access to all people.


Susan Sered is a professor in the Department of Sociology and senior researcher at Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights at Suffolk University. 


By           :               Susan Sered

Date       :               August 19, 2016

Source    :     

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The Democracy of Everyday Life


Nancy Rosenblum studies neighbors and the power of proximity

IT STARTED WITH A BULLY. “The noise bully,” Nancy Rosenblum calls him, a man who lived in her Cambridge loft building years ago and tormented the family next door with a rooftop air conditioner whose roar and vibrations shook their apartment day and night. They couldn’t sleep. They tried earplugs and insulation; they tried moving their bed to the back of the room. Finally they tried selling their place. They received no offers.

Meanwhile, the noise bully refused to move the air conditioner, even after Rosenblum and other neighbors confronted him on behalf of the sleepless family, even after they got together and offered to help pay for the cost of relocating the AC unit to a quieter spot on the roof. Instead he hired engineers to certify that the sound and vibration were within legal limits and posted the paperwork in the hallway. “This was malice,” Rosenblum says. “It was an act of deliberate cruelty.” In part, he liked the attention. “Some people will accept even negative attention.” But, she believes, he was also enjoying the power of proximity: “There’s a saying that goes, ‘No man can live longer in peace than his Neighbour pleases.’”

Eventually the bully moved away, and things more or less resolved. But the episode stayed with Rosenblum ’69, Ph.D. ’73, who until her retirement this past May was the Clark professor of ethics in politics and government. She kept thinking about the particular social sphere that neighbors inhabit, distinct from family or friends or citizenship at large, a separate moral identity with its own ethos and structure and set of norms. Neighbors’ daily encounters—their feuds and friendly nods, barking dogs and blaring televisions, unkempt yards and usurped parking spots, tools borrowed and returned, plants watered in one another’s absence, silences kept or broken—make up what Rosenblum has come to describe as “the democracy of everyday life.”

That idea anchors her book Good Neighbors: The Democracy of Everyday Life in America, released this past May. In it, Rosenblum lays out her theory of neighborliness: “both a supplement and corrective,” she says, to American democracy’s more formal frameworks and institutions. The concept of “good neighbor” (and its opposite) goes back as far as the country itself. Writing A Model of Christian Charity on board the Arbella in 1630, before he reached what would become the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop insisted on the foundational significance of “love thy neighbor”: “Upon this ground stands all the precepts of the moral law.” In her introduction to Good Neighbors, Rosenblum extends Winthrop’s argument. “The democracy of everyday life rises from the ground of day-to-day reciprocity and neighbors’ responses to ordinary kindnesses and ordinary vices,” she writes. “We give and take favors and offense; we assist, speak out, monitor, scold and rebuke, and rally others to enforce ‘what anyone would do, here’; we live and let live.”

Good Neighbors is a curiously gripping book, with its amalgam of political philosophy, moral psychology, and stories drawn from literature, journalism, and Rosenblum’s own life. In its pages, she roams a wide terrain. There are the sleepy (or sinister) suburbs and troubled urban neighborhoods where danger and distrust make it harder—and all the more important—to “live and let live,” a practice that in Rosenblum’s formulation is not a shrug of indifference but a deliberate way of letting neighbors know that you mean them no harm. She digs through oral histories of Japanese internment camps and early twentieth-century lynchings, atrocities in which the social framework broke down and neighbors betrayed and murdered one other. She explores the rescue that neighbors offered in the rising floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina.

Rosenblum also spends time with fictional neighbors: Willa Cather’s frontier settlers, Robert Frost’s mending-wall repairers, the Polish immigrants jostling together in Saul Bellow’s Chicago, the suburbanites in John Cheever’s and Raymond Carver’s short stories. She devotes a whole chapter to Henry David Thoreau and the neighbors around Walden Pond to whom he gave such attentive and sustained observation. “Literature gives you what anthropologists get when they do field research,” Rosenblum says. “If you want a good description of the phenomenology, the felt experience, of neighbors in different contexts, and over different times—where else are you going to get it?” The stories and novels and poems don’t merely illustrate her ideas, she adds—they influenced them. She couldn’t have written the book otherwise. “The phenomenon of neighbor relations so infuses American literature that our greatest writers and thinkers have written about neighbors.” And small wonder: “Neighbors are not just people living nearby,” she writes. “Neighbors are our environment. They are the background to our private lives at home.”

A Fence and a Neighbor

Home. That word expresses perhaps the most deeply felt theme in Good Neighbors. The idea of home is not explicitly a part of the book’s core philosophical argument, but it suffuses every page, a shadowy undercurrent, a beating heart. Home is the place with “no exit,” Rosenblum tells us, whose refuge is precious and fragile, where people—neighbors—are at their most vulnerable. In political theory, home is an “underappreciated moral and psychological phenomenon,” she says. “We can’t overestimate what it means to have a home, even if it’s a shack under a bridge. A place that’s yours, that you can control, that you can close the door on, that you can keep people out of. And that you can let people into.”

Four years ago, Rosenblum moved to New York City. On a one-year fellowship at New York University, she rented a little apartment right off Washington Square Park, at Macdougal and Bleecker streets—the heart of Greenwich Village and a place with, among other things, a whole new cast of neighbors. She loved it. “The youth I never had,” she says. After that, she never really left. When she returned to teaching at Harvard the following year, she commuted back and forth by train.

Most of Rosenblum’s youth was spent in Cambridge, where she arrived as freshman at Radcliffe in 1965. The rest was in suburban Teaneck, New Jersey, in a neighborhood of schoolteachers and social workers. “I used to say that ours was a mixed neighborhood—Orthodox and Reform Jews,” she deadpans. Rosenblum’s parents were divorced; her father was an economist, her mother a social worker, and her stepfather taught math at a junior high school in the Bronx. As the oldest of seven, Rosenblum helped raise her brothers and sisters; she was 13 when the youngest was born. “Our most remarkable neighbors lived across the street,” she recalls. “It was one of those developments where the houses are all alike, and these two identical twin brothers had married identical twin sisters, and they lived right next door to each other in identical houses.”

Then at 17 she came to Radcliffe, and in the five decades since, Cambridge became an anchor, emotionally, intellectually, and geographically, even as her home life moved beyond its borders. “Almost every physical bit of this campus—the Law School, the Yard, the river Houses—are part of my life,” she says, sitting in her office on Cambridge Street one April afternoon, midway through the last semester of her teaching career. “I mean, I had my first love affair in Winthrop House. It’s odd, this kind of personal archaeology as you walk through the campus.” The decades have deposited new layers of remembrance: faculty seminars and meetings with the dean and other business of grown-up academic life. “But still,” she says. “It’s there. And every once in a while, an emotion comes over me with some memory that surfaces.”

The neighborhoods around campus, too, inhabit that sphere of memory. She recalls the shabby Green Street apartment in Cambridge where she lived as a political-science graduate student in the early 1970s, before she and her husband married and decamped for Somerville. Her grandmother, a Polish immigrant, visited once. Her grandparents “were people who had truly worked themselves up in the world—I mean, they really had lived on potatoes,” she says. Her grandmother walked in the door of her apartment, took one look around, and started to cry. Rosenblum laughs about it now. “It was like, shtetl to shtetl in two generations.”

She and her husband, Richard Rosenblum, a sculptor, spent most of their married life in Newton, Massachusetts. “A replication of Teaneck, New Jersey,” she says, “except a little more affluent, a little less mixed.” They raised their daughter there, moving from one house to another. It was also during those years that Rosenblum’s academic life detoured from Cambridge to Providence. She had joined the Harvard faculty in 1973, right after receiving her doctorate; in 1980 she moved to Brown University’s political-science department, returning periodically to Harvard and Radcliffe for fellowships and visiting professorships before coming back for good in 2001.

While living in Newton, Rosenblum and her husband got into a scuffle with neighbors over a gate her husband wanted to build at the edge of their property, with a Chinese-inspired imperial roof. Rosenblum and her husband called it a “fence,” which municipal rules sanctioned; their neighbors insisted it was a “structure.” In the end, a city inspector came out and declared their gate a fence, and that was that. It stayed. “But it did sour relations between us and our neighbors,” Rosenblum says. “It was never quite the same. That’s almost always how it is once you have some sort of negative relationship with a neighbor—it’s really awkward in ways that are hard to repair. And it’s not a major life event, but it alters the experience of home.”

On Cape Cod, where she and her husband owned a house for a time, an uglier dispute engulfed their community. She describes it briefly in Good Neighbors: in 1997 her homeowners association sued and was countersued by a wealthy buyer whose construction plans for a new home violated the association’s covenants. The lawsuit dragged on for nearly a decade (“He thought he could out-lawyer us,” she says), before a district court ruled in favor of the homeowners association and the wealthy buyer sold and moved. The fight “transformed us from stakeholders,” Rosenblum writes, “into neighbors united by a common adversary—a reliable source of solidarity. We always had something to talk about.”

Stories of disputes between suburban neighbors are easy to come by, abundant both in literature and in life. Rosenblum could have filled her whole book with them. And it makes sense, she explains, when you consider Americans’ striving perfectionism. “The United States has always been a country of utopian communities,” she says. “We’re ground zero.” All that cheap land and wide open space, plus the bursting eclecticism of the American population. Decades after the communes of the 1960s and ’70s and almost two centuries after Fourier Societies—inspired by the early French socialist Charles Fourier—first flowered across the Northeast and Midwest, utopianism remains deep in our bones. “I think there’s a spillover from that to suburban life, where you’re, in a sense, designing a community,” Rosenblum says. “The peril is, when you move in, you think you’re getting like-minded people and that the rules are going to protect and buffer you.” But often they don’t, and disappointed expectations lead to anger and acrimony and lawsuits. “People don’t understand that you can only resist randomness so far, and then there are just the people who actually live up the street.”

Rosenblum moved back to Cambridge after her husband’s death in 2000 from cancer, to the loft building where the noise bully would earn his nickname. The building was fertile ground for lively neighbor relations. A former nineteenth-century elevator factory in Porter Square—Rosenblum moved there for the high ceilings that could accommodate her husband’s massively tall sculptures—it had originally been converted into cheap lofts for artists. “So that they would have neighbors who appreciated that they might work all hours of the day and night,” she says, “that they would use welding machines, that there would be noise.” But as the neighborhood began to gentrify, so did the building. And the new residents “didn’t necessarily want the noise and the smells and the acid from the etching plates,” she says. Sometimes their building’s particular democracy of everyday life all worked out; sometimes it didn’t. “It was this changing, dynamic mix of people.”

“We’re Not of a Piece”

THAT Good Neighbors arose so directly from Rosenblum’s own daily experience makes it unusual in the world of political theory, but not in her oeuvre. “Something happens, and I’m startled into thought,” is how she puts it. “It’s not a straight line, but neither is a research agenda.” That everydayness is one of the threads tying together her work, in a career of few obvious ones. Rosenblum’s subjects are eclectic and contrarian and deceptively ordinary; they often set up a tension between the formal aspects of political theory—institutions, rights, analytic categories—and the personal and psychological. Almost always her subjects have gone unnoticed by the rest of her field.

In 2008, after discovering to her alarm that most of the students in her course on election law rejected party labels, calling themselves not Democrats or Republicans, but Independents—years later, she still sputters in disbelief telling the story of that discovery—she wrote On the Side of the Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship. The book traces the history of American anti-partyism and defends the “moral dignity” of partisanship and party identity. She wound up arguing that parties constitute a fundamental and historic achievement of liberal democracy, and that they give structure and coherence to politics and regulate its conflict.

Ten years before Angels, Rosenblum wrote Membership and Morals: The Personal Uses of Pluralism in America. It grew out of her observations about civic groups that had come under fire for being illiberal and undemocratic—the Boy Scouts with its ban on gays, the Jaycees with its all-male membership. On the way to an argument in favor of unfettered pluralism and freedom of association, even when those associations are authoritarian or outright oppressive, the book surveys a vast landscape of Americans’ voluntary civic attachments: prayer groups and bowling leagues, homeowner associations, self-help groups, secret societies, and book clubs—as well as hate groups, paramilitary organizations, and racial identity groups. “People are complex,” she says. “We have the capacity for holding and entertaining—as parts of our moral identity, not just superficially—a variety of practices and political and moral aspects. We’re not of a piece, and neither is our society.” She argues that people navigate this motley landscape by having a certain kind of freedom. “I’m always guided by a love of liberty, and particularly freedom of association. I would say that’s our most important constitutional freedom.”

At an event in early May celebrating Rosenblum’s work and marking her retirement, her former student Emma Saunders-Hastings, Ph.D. ’14, described how Rosenblum’s scholarship “takes up one of the neglected tasks of political theory: capturing our intuitive reactions to political life.…This is the thing she does better than anyone.” Now a postdoc at the University of Chicago, Saunders-Hastings was discussing Rosenblum’s 1987 book, Another Liberalism: Romanticism and the Reconstruction of Liberal Thought. Rosenblum calls it her first “real” book (her dissertation gave rise to her actual first book, Bentham’s Theory of the Modern State, published in 1978). Another Liberalism considers the inherent conflict between what Rosenblum calls the “romantic sensibility”—heroic individualism and self-reliance and self-improvement—and the strictures of liberal democratic government. During the discussion, Saunders-Hastings elaborated: “Nancy’s work expresses a particular kind of hope: that we might be able to see reflected in political theory the experiences and emotions of real human beings. Exceptional people, ordinary people. That we be able to see the blood in the veins.”

For many years, Rosenblum taught Government 1061, “Modern Political Philosophy,” which she herself took as an undergraduate. The course begins with Machiavelli and progresses through Hobbes and Locke, Rousseau, Kant and Hegel, and Marx, on its way to Nietzsche. In other words, it covers the canon. Her introductory lecture for that course was titled “The Anchored Book, the Needy Reader, the Eternal Truth, and the Jumping Mind,” and it offered four ways of reading: historicist, utilitarian, traditionalist, and something closer to aesthetic. She would tell her students that if they paid attention to how they read and what attracted and excited them, then they would learn something about themselves, not just about the works. Rosenblum herself is the fourth kind of reader, she says: the jumping mind. “What I respond to in these texts is just the sheer creative genius of these writers. I find them inspiring, both for their pictures of political greatness and their pictures of evil.…The jumping mind response to these books is, I think, what makes you want to do political theory. The idea of trying to understand your time politically in this way.”

She recalls two lines from Wordsworth that she frequently quoted in meetings with new graduate students: “What we have loved, / Others will love, and we will teach them how.” She laughs. Wordsworth got it wrong, she says: you can’t teach someone to love anything. “But you can explain to them why you do. And you can suggest to them the different ways that they might. And that’s what I’ve tried to do.”

There is something of Rosenblum’s beliefs about liberty in her teaching, too. At the event in May, Cornell law professor Aziz Rana ’00, Ph.D. ’07, another former student, noted the breadth of research subjects and opinions among Rosenblum’s graduate students over the years. “Nancy’s really had no desire to replicate her own arguments,” he said. “That’s quite rare.” Describing what he called her generosity and warmth as a mentor, he talked about her ability to “think within the terms of her students, to produce arguments in conversation that are the natural extension of how they’re conceiving of their own project.” Looking up at Rosenblum sitting a few rows away in the auditorium, he added, “That’s why so many students gravitated toward you.” McGill professor Jacob Levy, who was Rosenblum’s student as a Brown undergraduate, said that she had “deeply shaped my sense of the possibility of political theory.” At the end of the evening, a handful of current graduate students rose up from the audience to present Rosenblum with the Everett Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring Award, established by the Graduate Student Council; she is one of five Harvard faculty members to receive it this year. One of the students handed her an engraved silver bowl. “From many grateful students,” he said.

Rosenblum’s own mentors at Harvard were political theorists Michael Walzer, Ph.D. ’61, now a Princeton professor emeritus, and Cowles professor of government Judith Shklar, who died in 1992. Walzer advised Rosenblum on her undergraduate senior thesis, and years later his 1983 book Spheres of Justice opened up a concept that’s become fundamental to her work: the idea of “giving dignity to the autonomy of different spheres of life and the experience we have in them and the norms that should guide our behavior. Those things came to lie behind everything I wrote.”

Shklar was Rosenblum’s graduate adviser, and she still rereads Shklar’s 1984 collection of essaysOrdinary Vices, a “deep phenomenology” of cruelty, hypocrisy, snobbery, betrayal, and misanthropy. Like Rosenblum, who was then a young professor working on Another Liberalism, Shklar plumbed the depths of literature to bring out truths about her subjects. And like Rosenblum, Shklar drew on moral psychology. “She gave me permission to do what I was already doing, already experimenting with,” Rosenblum says. “I saw that you could go somewhere with it.”

From Lynching to Katrina

ROSENBLUM SPENT the better part of a decade researching and writing Good Neighbors, teasing out the norms and customs and regular principles that govern neighbor relations. But the passages that come back to her now are not the norms, but the outliers, the extremes: violence and rescue, murder and deliverance. She’s haunted by what remains unexplained, and unexplainable, the “deep ethic,” as she calls it. “People who save other people talk about being a good neighbor,” she notes, “and I think there’s a sort of double resonance there. There’s a moral take-home about the significance of being a good neighbor, the internalization of that idea.” And it goes back to the notion of home and why its disruption is so catastrophic. “Neighbors hold our lives in their hands,” Rosenblum writes again and again in the book, and it is true. Narrating what happened to Japanese citizens in 1942 when the order was given to evacuate them to internment camps, Rosenblum describes how so many were assaulted by people they knew in drive-by attacks, how their neighbors vandalized and set fire to their property, “swooped down like scavengers” to profit from the forced sale or abandonment of Japanese shops and businesses, farms, machinery, property, homes. And heartbreakingly—and in some ways just as cruel—they turned away. Rosenblum describes how, seeing their Japanese neighbors herded off with overstuffed suitcases, some people didn’t even wave goodbye.

Even worse is the “unique horror” and “intimate violence” of neighbors lynching neighbors. In a chapter called, simply, “Killing,” Rosenblum describes the chaos and terror and wounded confusion. Often enough, “victims knew the people who mutilated and killed them,” she writes. “Murderers knew their victims. Locals knew who the killers were.” Rosenblum quotes the testimony of an Alabama freedman who saw his son cut to pieces with a knife. “I knew him,” he said of the perpetrator. “Me and him was raised together.”

Civil-rights activist James Cameron’s survival memoir chronicles a 1930 lynching attempt in Marion, Indiana, when he was 16 years old. He and two friends had been accused of killing a white man in an armed robbery and of raping his girlfriend. A mob stormed the jail the same night the three were arrested and grabbed the other two boys, whom they beat and hanged; one of them died even before the noose was around his neck. When it was Cameron’s turn, an unidentified woman interceded on his behalf. He was beaten but returned to the jail alive. Rosenblum quotes his memoir: “It is impossible to explain the impending crisis of sudden and terrifying death at the hands of people I had grown to love and respect as friends and neighbors,” he wrote. And of the crowd at the lynching: “I recognized a few faces from homes near my own neighborhood. I saw customers whose shoes I had shined many times. Boys and girls I had gone to school with were among the mob…neighbors whose lawns I had mowed and whose cars I had washed and polished.”

At the other end of the spectrum are the rescuers and protectors: local sheriffs who faced down lynch mobs, neighbors who did not take part, the woman, whoever she was, who saved James Cameron from hanging. “Even in a caste system, some neighbors signaled ‘I know you’ and ‘I will do no harm.’” Rosenblum writes. “During the Florida massacre in 1923 that killed six blacks, burned the entire black section of Rosewood to the ground, and sent people running for refuge in the swamps, white neighbors took in women and children to protect them from the gunfire, hid them, and got them onto trains to safety. Moving firsthand accounts describe the interruption of viciousness as men and women recover their own identity as a neighbor.…A memory, a familiar gesture in the present, the appearance of a person they know from home—something mundane returns me to the person I am there where I live.”

In modern memory, Hurricane Katrina looms large, both for the massive governmental failure to protect the most vulnerable citizens, and for the way those citizens—neighbors—looked after one another. “Neighbors’ presence on the deranged terrain around home…provides more than physical orientation,” Rosenblum writes. “Congregation on the street stimulates an awakening.” People with boats rescued neighbors from rooftops and trees; neighbors shared food and water and siphoned off gasoline and drove people out of immediate danger. They scared off alligators and rescued each other’s pets; they found liquor and cigarettes, diapers, medicine, mops, bleach. They comforted one another and kept each other safe. They told each other that it would be OK, and they made it true. Rosenblum describes people “venturing out into a chaos that was unimagined, with no instructions or protocols, judging immediate necessity and taking action.” Mutually vulnerable, neighbors were defending their lives and homes.

* * *

IN NEW YORK CITY, Rosenblum recently moved in with her companion of the past few years, Robert Jay Lifton, a psychiatrist and scholar who studies war and political violence (his best known book is The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide). Lifton’s place is on the West Side, but Rosenblum’s own apartment, the one she bought and still uses as a studio, is back down in the Village, in a white-brick high-rise just around the corner from Union Square Park. Her living-room window gazes out to the Empire State Building in the distance and, in the blocks in between, to dozens of brick apartment buildings, both facing and facing away, their low, square shoulders stacking up one behind another, with aging water towers perched on every rooftop. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, a view of the layered Manhattan neighborhoods laid down in the nineteenth century. “This is old New York,” she says. “This is New York as I imagined it.”

Her neighbors in this building are physically closer to each other than she’s used to. “I’m from suburbia and Cambridge,” she says. “The accident of proximity was brought home to me when I got this place.” The smell of meat, distractingly intense, emanates all day long from the kitchen across the hall, whose door backs up catty-corner to Rosenblum’s—a problem she hasn’t yet figured out how to broach. She’s learning new norms, new etiquette, the democracy of everyday life in a building like this one. “The elevator is a phenomenon,” she says. “I’ve begun to see that many, many people relate to one another through the elevator.” They know little things about each other, the kind of information you would get from traveling together for 20 stories. One day, Rosenblum got on the elevator and about two floors down another woman boarded. She was elderly, and Rosenblum noticed she was barefoot. “And she says to me, ‘I can’t put on my shoes.’” So Rosenblum helped her put them on. “I get the sense that there are a lot of people in this building who are older and living alone.” Neighbor relations have a different urgency here, a different rhythm. “This woman was riding down in the elevator to find somebody who could help her put her shoes on.”

In this new environment, Rosenblum is learning again what kind of a neighbor she is. During the dispute with noise bully all those years ago, she was struck not only by the feeling of pride in being a good neighbor and comrade, but also the growing awareness of other neighborly traits she hadn’t realized she had: a limited capacity for friendly exchange in the hallway, a judgmental attitude toward neighbors’ disarray, a reticence that was hard to shake. In Good Neighbors, she writes that those living nearby “can illuminate our reluctance to know ourselves and they can spur self-understanding.” In her Greenwich Village building, she’s discovering herself all over again: sympathy, patience, attention.

Improbably, amid the commotion of old New York and the closeness of a high-rise apartment building with a shoeless old woman and a neighbor’s kitchen that smells of meat, she thinks of Thoreau and his years on Walden Pond. An intellectual polestar for Rosenblum (in 1996 she edited a book of his political writings, and her own writing returns to him often), Thoreau occupies 15 pages toward the end of Good Neighbors. A reviewer for her publisher, Rosenblum says, suggested leaving him out—in some ways that chapter feels out of synch with the rest of the book—but she kept him in. “All the complexity of the neighbor relationship was right there, in the mind and the writing of a great American thinker,” she says. “His somewhat odd relations with people were basically relations with neighbors”: the woodchopper, Irishman Seeley, the inhabitants of a poor shanty where he sought hospitality. She’s particularly moved by what she calls a “romantic bit” in Walden: “the importance of seeing people, neighbors, as not just familiar—his phrase is, ‘the old musty cheese that we are’—but foreign. As unique individuals and interesting.” Thoreau claimed that we rarely see our neighbors for who they are: “We live thick and are in each other’s way, and stumble over one another,” he wrote. Appreciating their separateness is a way of taking neighbors as they take themselves. “Thoreau has this beautiful line,” Rosenblum says. “‘They are our Austrias and Chinas, and South Sea Islands.’” She pauses a moment to let that sink in, Manhattan unfurling out the window beside her. Finally, she says, “Neighbors are our distant places, and they are right in front of us.”


Lydialyle Gibson is a staff writer and editor at the Harvard Magazine.


By           :               Lydialyle Gibson

Date       :               September-October 2016

Source    :               Harvard Magazine

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