This Week in Sociological Perspective
(Audio) Economists talk money. Politicians talk government. On This Week in Sociological Perspective we talk money, politics, and everything else that makes the world go ‘round, offering insight on society, public affairs, and news of the week. Guest authors join your host, UC-Berkeley Professor Samuel Roundfield Lucas, to transcend the headlines through fascinating research in sociology.


Public Affairs




September 2014
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30


This Week in Sociological Perspective is on hiatus for the week of Monday, March 10th. During this week we will attempt to resolve audio-video sync problems, as well as pixelation problems, that have harmed the video version. We expect to be back with a new episode of This Week in Sociological Perspective for the week of Monday, March 17th.

Direct download: TWiSP2014m03monday10audio.mp3
Category:Public Affairs -- posted at: 4:40pm PDT

Segment 1 – "Inside The 2014 Forbes Billionaires List: Facts and Figures"; Forbes

Segment 2 -- Karla Erickson on How We Die Now: Intimacy and the Work of Dying

Segment 3 - "The ivory police"; Christian Science Monitor

Selected Keywords: Wealth and poverty, U.S. poverty threshold, world poverty threshold, reservation wage, conflict minerals, unbalanced development, the good death, longevity dividend, poaching, anti-poaching militarization, environmental stress, deterrence, poverty policy and sustainability

Direct download: TWiSP2014m03Mon03Audio.mp3
Category:Public Affairs -- posted at: 10:39am PDT

Segment 1 – "Lawmakers push to end 'scream rooms' for punishing students"; Fox News

Segment 2 -- Sara Sternberg Greene on low-income households' varying strategies for dealing with debt

Segment 3 - "Pressure mounts over Arizona bill opposed by gays";

Selected Keywords: Student discipline, scream rooms, Keeping All Students Safe Act, moral development, school administrator discretion, low-income households, responses to debt, anti-gay legislation, Arizona Senate Bill 1062, status implications of anti-gay legislation, proprietor motivation

Direct download: TWiSP2014m02Mon24Audio.mp3
Category:Public Affairs -- posted at: 8:36am PDT

Segment 1 – "Generic drug makers fight rule on health risk warnings"; Los Angeles Times

Segment 2 "‘Abundant evidence’ of crimes against humanity in North Korea, panel says"; CNN


Selected Keywords: Generic drugs, property rights, crimes against humanity, North Korea, sovereignty

Direct download: TWiSPm02Monday17Audio.mp3
Category:Public Affairs -- posted at: 7:07pm PDT

This Week in Sociological Perspective is on hiatus for the week of Monday, February 10th. During this week we will attempt to resolve audio-video sync problems, as well as pixelation problems, that have harmed the video version, as well as the audio drop-out problem that has harmed both versions in the previous week. We expect to be back with a new episode of This Week in Sociological Perspective for the week of Monday, February 17th.


Direct download: TWiSPY2014m02monday10audio.mp3
Category:Public Affairs -- posted at: 10:50am PDT

This Week in Sociological Perspective, for the week of Thursday, February 6, 2014

Segment 1 – "New Fed chief Janet Yellen let’s a long career of breaking barriers speak for itself"; Washington Post

Segment 2 – Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy on downshifting motives and effects

Segment 3 – "Push for Preschool Becomes a Bipartisan Cause Outside of Washington"; New York Times

Selected Keywords: Janet Yellen, hiring, cultural match, downshifting, preschool expansion, Republican governors,


Hello, and welcome to This Week in Sociological Perspective.

This week we will discuss bipartisan politics and the effort to increase access to pre-school. We’ll have an interview with Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy on the phenomenon of downshifting.

Segment 1

But we begin with an article in the Washington Post published on February 3, 2014, titled "New Fed chief Janet Yellen let’s a long career of breaking barriers speak for itself."

The report chronicles how Professor, well, actually, new Fed chief Janet Yellen, when she entered economics, when she graduated from Yale in economics with a Ph.D., she was the only woman in her class. And how throughout her career she’s often encountered situations where she’s been breaking barriers, and struggling against the assumptions of people who are sitting in judgment of her. This is an important sociological phenomenon, but it also presents an occasion for considering a sociological dilemma.

On the one hand, on average, we know that people of different categories think and act differently. Sometimes those differences are very small, in fact, they often are very small. But, they do exist.

On the other hand, it’s easy to over-emphasize the difference those slight differences, or even existing differences of the average behavior or position or way of thinking of one group of people versus another, because we also know that people are not determined by their categories. That is to say that you have people in category A that think and act the way the average person in category B acts and thinks, and you have people in category B who think and act in the way that the average person in category A acts. What this means is that the categories that people occupy or to which we assign them do not determine or even tell us very much about them themselves. They are still individuals.

Now, Professor Lauren Rivera, a sociologist, has found that in hiring, hiring authorities, so, in a company or in an organization, tend to look for cultural match, either explicitly or implicitly, or subconsciously. So what that means is that when people are hiring the tendency is that like hires like. Now, we’ve heard this before, in work with Denis Trapido, Professor Trapido at University of California-Irvine, and there’s a lot of research on this.

What it also means is that institutions are composed of roles. So, a person, while they have their own socio-demographic characteristics, and even their own political or ideological or religious beliefs or commitments, they’re constrained by the particular role that they are charged with fulfilling. So, while people are not automatons and they aren’t completely constructed by their roles, they aren’t completely bound, they are largely constrained. That is to say, the person who occupies the role of Fed chief, there are just some things that person will not be able to do. Even things that might be economically defensible, they may not be able to do, because the role does not allow for them to do that.

Now, this, there’s two ways to go about this, or there’s two important points to make about this. First, breaking barriers is important because we for too long had a society that only some people have been occupying positions of power. So, it would be completely misleading to imply this isn’t important. One thing that makes it important is the concept and the phenomenon of role modeling.

That’s where people, often younger children, young adults, people in college, look to the people who are older than them, the people who are already in positions of power, who are already professors, who are already administrators, who are already CEOs, who are already coaches in sports, who are already on the judiciary, who are already governors and Senators and members of Congress and mayors, to figure out what kinds of occupational trajectories are possible for them, what kinds of careers are truly open. So, if that’s occurring, and we, evidence suggests it is occuring, then, it’s incredibly important that we broaden the number of people of different categories who are occupying positions of importance, power, influence in this society.

But we should not go so far as to presume that that by itself will create some major transformation in societal functions or societal organization such that they work better for the wider set of people. Because it is very unlikely that someone who will radically change any given role will be placed in that role. This is in part because of what Professor Rivera has shown about cultural matching.

So, one thing about news reports is you see news reports of breaking barriers, groups, individuals who are the first of their category to occupy a position. It’s interesting and it’s important, but we should also ask, "When they’re breaking this barrier, are they planning to change policy? Is there some sense where the policy direction or the underlying assumptions or the power, or the something is going to be changed, altered, modified, expanded, contracted, by virtue of their particular insights that come, in part, not in whole, but in part, from their being of a category that is not commonly, or not ever at that point, been in that position." That would truly be breaking barriers, if people who really have more expansive or critical understanding of the institutional role to which they’re about to be appointed are appointed to that position.

Now, I can’t say, I don’t know, I do know Janet Yellen, I don’t know her well, I can’t say if this is such a case, but I can say this: We see these breaking barriers stories from time to time. The question to ask is, "Are we just breaking a socio-demographic barrier, or are we truly expanding the set of people who will be served by the institutions of this society?"

Segment 2

I connected with Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy recently to discuss her paper that was published in Sociological Forum. It’s a co-authored paper, with Harvey Krahn and Naomi Krogman, and the paper is titled "Downshifting: An Exploration of Motivations, Quality of Life, and Environmental Practices." Let’s see what she had to say.

Samuel Roundfield Lucas: Alright. So, okay. Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy. Welcome.

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: Thank you.

Lucas: So, your paper. The first question I have to ask is – what is downshifting?

Professor E,ily Huddart Kennedy: Yeah. Downshifting is this idea of making a voluntary long-term lifestyle change that involves earning less money while gaining leisure time.

Lucas: So is that, that sounds similar to voluntary simplicity?

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: Voluntary simplicity involves a bit more of a conscientious effort to reduce one’s environmental impact where the idea of downshifting is more strongly oriented towards leisure time.

Lucas: So which leads to who created this downshifting behavior?

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: Yes.

Lucas: It doesn’t seem like, it doesn’t seem, I mean I haven’t heard a lot of people, maybe they’re using other terms or whatever, it’s interesting I’m not so sure I’ve encountered someone who has said they’ve downshifted or thinking about downshifting. So who is doing this activity or, yeah?

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: Well, the idea was first coined by Amy Saltzman in the early 90s. In 1992. And it was capturing this idea that there were people who were working part-time by choice or quite a few parents, either the mother or the father more frequently the mother, would choose to stay home with kids even though they did have a place in the labor market. It’s certainly, there are various studies mostly from the U.S. but also from Australia and England and now from Canada that shows that roughly a quarter of the population would be trying to increase their leisure time at the expense of their income. Because most of these studies are quantitative it’s often difficult to tease out, you know there certainly might be voluntary simplifiers within that group of downshifters and that’s harder to tease out with a survey.

Lucas: So are the people who downshift, I mean does it work? I mean they’re still embedded in the same environment or do they move a, they just change jobs? Do they stay? What strategies are they using to engage in this, to enact the downshifting?

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: Right. So these are all the questions that were intriguing to my colleagues and I. Specifically that, you know, once they are embedded in a place – a neighborhood, a job, school system – that there isn’t a whole lot of flexibility in terms of say, how to improve their environmental impact or how to create stronger social networks. That is the idea of downshifting. That you can consume a little bit less perhaps. Have more leisure time. Make less money, but be happier. Have a better impact on the environment. So it really sounds like one of these win-win and win situations.

Lucas: A quadruple win!

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: Yeah.

Lucas: Well, you talked about the double dividend in your paper. What is the double dividend?

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: So the double dividend is this idea that you can consume less, work less, have a better impact on the environment but that that’s not going to involve any sort of trade-off for your quality of life. The problem with the double dividend is that it hasn’t actually been empirically tested and the reason that I was interested in this study is more broadly I’m interested in how people respond to environmental issues.

So one thing in particular is this frustration that people tend to respond to say, a collective action problem. You know, a problem that’s created by multiple actors in society has impacts on multiple actors in society where people are responding to these collective action problems in a very individualistic way. And even though downshifting is a bit more significant or involves a bit more effort than say, taking a cloth bag to the grocery store, it’s still another one of these individualistic responses to a collective action problem.

So specifically, we’re interested in the fact that on the one hand downshifting is, it’s interesting because you know, I walked into a bookstore one time and there was a whole shelf full of books on living more simply and working less and being happier. It is something that is popping into public consciousness to a certain extent. So, clearly there are people challenging this work and spend lifestyle or what we would think of as the American Dream, but can we respond to it in an individualistic way? Can we actually have a positive environmental impact and a stronger or higher quality of life with an individualistic response? That was what we wanted to test in this paper.

Lucas: So just to clarify, I’m a little. When you say collective action problem, like concretely what would be an example of a collective action problem as opposed to a, the opposite kind of problem? You mentioned, I imagine, well I should just.

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: Sure. So, you know, say if you had an individual level problem it might be a financial one or not knowing where to send your kid to school or something. Maybe you don’t like your doctor. A collective action problem might be something like labor laws. You know, a work week that is too demanding. From the environmental standpoint, a lot of people look at climate change as a collective action problem. Something in the way that our society runs on a day-to-day basis is producing a level of greenhouse gas emissions that the earth can’t support. So that is a collective action problem in that it is created by multiple actors in society and it affects multiple actors in society.

Lucas: So do you take an individualistic response to a collective action problem it, could I?

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: You and your…

Lucas: I didn’t quite hear. What did you? Yeah.

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: Well, it’s somewhat of a category error. The units of analysis aren’t the same.

Lucas: So, which leads to the question, does it – so the people who are downshifting are expecting to have greater leisure time, right? Or subjective satisfaction. Did you find that that was the case?

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: No. I’ll also add that the literature expects that they will also have a lower environmental impact. So, we didn’t. We found that on two measures of quality of life, one is sort of your satisfaction with time use and one is a sense of quality of life overall, but there were no differences between downshifters and non-downshifters and when there were, the downshifters were less satisfied than non-downshifters.

Lucas: So how do you explain their, that they don’t get what they were looking for or that they get the opposite of what they were looking for? I know, I mean this may not be something you specifically studied, but even speculating why the evidence is pointing in that direction.

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: Well speculating on it, it’s that they are trying to downshift in a culture or a social fabric that is not downshifting. So I think what this is pointing to is this limit of an individualistic response. If you are one person in your neighborhood that’s trying to downshift, you’re still having to live in a car-dependent society. So you’re still having to drive to grocery stores, schools, various errands. It might be that most people in your neighborhood are either working or away from their homes or stuck inside their homes, so you’re not meeting more people. You’ve made a trade-off to your income so all of a sudden your finances have taken a hit, which can be stressful.

And, so many of these people who are downshifting, so about 40% of our sample downshifted to stay home with children, which for anyone who has been home with children, it doesn’t tend to be the most relaxing.

Lucas: It has other positive benefits, but it’s not an increase in your leisure time by any means.

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: Exactly. And there’s also this myth or maybe it’s not a myth, but this sense that if you have more leisure time it’s going to make you happier. I mean, there’s so many factors there. How is that leisure time distributed? Is it just 30 minutes a day where you have some more leisure time? That might be just 30 more minutes of TV that someone’s watching. If it’s entire days at a time, certainly you could do more with that. You could volunteer or take up a satisfying hobby, but often the way leisure time is distributed is in tiny parcels of time that you can’t do that much with.

Lucas: So what factors seem to be associated with, in other words, who downshifts? I mean you mentioned that people are downshifting to have more time with their family and more time with their children. Does that mean, does that tell us who is downshifting or are there other factors that are leading people to downshift?

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: So we were looking at people who were not downshifting for retirement age. So that would obviously be a large proportion of the population that in some ways is forced to downshift and the fact that so many people chose to downshift after having young kids suggests that a large proportion of the downshifters are also young parents, primarily female, and the other, the bulk of downshifters in terms of an age range tend to be between about 35 and 45. The second most popular response to why someone is downshifting is because they were just not willing to accept the stress of the paid work force and wanted to either move away from it altogether or join the work force more on their own terms by let’s say, starting a business or working part-time.

So downshifters seem to be people who have the financial and also education and wherewithal to make this choice and the financial buffers to actually make it work for them.

Lucas: Another question is, it sounds like, so one thing I was thinking of as I read the paper is that you have an economy where for some people downshifting, I mean downshifting if you have financial difficulty. If you are at the bottom of the distribution of earnings, you’re earning less, you’re more in poverty than – the question would be how can you escape poverty as opposed to how can you buy less? Are, you know, it’s a little, these two things seem to be contradictory or they are at least a little difficult to reconcile. How, you know, is this really an issue just for the people who are in this go-go-go high level economy or is it also something that people basically at all levels of the economic distribution, poor, wealthy, in the middle are confronting?

I don’t know if your data allows you to address that, but even your reading of the literature or your sort of understanding of it as you started on the research would be, you know, I’m interested in your response.

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: Well, these data certainly wouldn’t support an answer to that. The range of income was about 46 to 150, I think. So there were very few low income families in our sample. Juliet Shor, who did a very large sample size study in the U.S. in I believe 1998 and 2003, did actually find that downshifting occurs roughly a quarter of the population and fairly consistently across different levels of income. So low income families were just as likely to downshift as high income families.

Lucas: Interesting.

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: Her explanation for that was that high income families are often also high debt families and may have just as much to lose in terms of prestige or being accustomed to a certain lifestyle than low income families. And that was what I think was surprising of her study.

Lucas: So another issue is, well another factor I noticed in your analysis is that household structure seemed to matter. It mattered, if I am understanding correctly, that the people who are married are more likely to, that families, households where they’re married were more likely to downshift than households where there’s only a single adult. Is that correct?

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: It is. That’s correct. Yes. So that sort of suggests to me that to downshift you do need to have a financial buffer and you need to know that someone is going to be the breadwinner and that it is a very privileged response to an issue. You know, whether the issue is you don’t feel like you have enough leisure time or whether the issue is you don’t feel that your work is satisfying. It’s certainly not a response that’s acceptable to the entire population.

Lucas: So the downshifters are primarily, they’re taking this individualistic response to a challenging, stressful economy. I guess it is one way to put it and feeling a loss of other opportunities they would like to pursue with family, leisure, but you were also wondering whether this would have an impact on environmental sort of pro-environment behaviors. So did you find any? What was the evidence on that particular score?

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: Well again, we used two measures of pro-environmental behaviors. One was an index of sustainable transportation. So, how often someone would use the bus or walk or cycle rather than using a car. The other was a collection of household behaviors–hanging your laundry to dry, buying local foods, things that are trying to reduce the impact of your household.

So I’ll just back up a bit. We also asked an open-ended question as to why people were downshifting and there wasn’t a single person in our sample who said they were downshifting for environmental reasons. They said they were downshifting for quality of life reasons. As I mentioned, there were no benefits to quality of life, statistically. When we looked at environmental behaviors, the downshifters were no more likely to engage in sustainable transportation behaviors than non-downshifters, but they were more likely to engage in household behaviors than non-downshifters.

We have this paradox where they’re not actually motivated by environmental aims or at least that’s not their stated primary motivation, but that is the one area where downshifters are out-performing non-downshifters. And, again, it’s not having what we would see as a systemic response to environmental issues, it’s this very private household level response which is in keeping with downshifting, which is also a private response.

Lucas: So what do you make of their action you found effects on private household pro-environmental behavior, such as, I can’t remember the list but things like hanging the laundry out to dry rather than using a dryer but you didn’t find it for things like biking where you go or taking public transportation or something like that? Why this? What might be the reasons for this distinction in one having an effect and not in the other area?

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: Well, we compared two different neighborhoods. One that is a residential area that is far from the city with very few amenities nearby and the other a more centrally located neighborhood where you could presumably walk to most of your basic needs. And it was that, sort of which neighborhood you lived in, that was explaining whether or not people were engaging in these sort of sustainable transportation behaviors.

So no matter how much leisure time you have, you are still at the mercy of the social structure that you were living in. How your neighborhood is designed, how far it is from the city, whether there are shops and services nearby – that’s what is going to impact your transportation behaviors. Everything really outside of your household.

Lucas: So it sounds like one of the implications of this analysis is that there’s some things people can do, but I think you may have said as well, I may be repeating it, but there are limits to the impact. So if that’s true, what’s the next step? I mean if you downshift and you can’t, and this is sort of a larger big picture issue, if you downshift and it looks like there’s no statistically discernible positive impact on the quality of life that you were seeking, what’s the next step? I mean, what might one do or what might a collection of ones do?

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: That’s a difficult question. There’s this idea called the environmental imagination that really fascinates me. So it’s this, it refers to the various ways that as a society we can dream up or imagine having an impact on the environment for the better. So you have individual solutions, community organizing, and institutional reform and we’re very good at dreaming up individual responses to environmental issues. If you look up any of these top 10 or top 50 things you can do to save the planet, they are primarily individualistic. It’s a bit easier to come up with community organizing strategems than institutional reform, but at a very basic level thinking about what it is making it more difficult for you to lower your environmental impact. If it’s making it more difficult for you, it’s probably making it more difficult for hundreds or thousands or millions of other people.

Then trying to talk to others about where it is that you have, what power do you have to try to change that or try to address that barrier because there’s, you know I don’t want to go too far off topic, but there are so many problems with this individual response to environmental issues and one of them is that individuals don’t tend to be the largest source of, you know, greenhouse gas emissions. That tends to be industry. So rather than feeling guilty and self-regulating in your own home trying to make it more a public statement. Writing letters to the editor, getting involved in school systems, getting involved at your workplace and speaking of being more confident in speaking in the public sphere about these barriers that affect us, you know not just me personally but others that I know. So just being more confident in speaking publicly about these barriers rather than feeling guilty about what we can’t do.

Lucas: The finding is also the opposite of what I would have expected when you downshift that you get the other things it’s a wonderful, I look forward to seeing additional work that you will probably, you do have other planned work on this topic?

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: Yes.

Lucas: So I look forward to seeing it unfold…

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: Yes, I do. Yes.

Lucas: And hopefully it’ll make a difference. So, thank you.

Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy: Thank you. Thank you so much for inviting me on the podcast and I really enjoyed speaking with you.

Segment 3

In a news article titled "Push for Preschool Becomes a Bipartisan Cause Outside of Washington" on February 3rd, 2013, the New York Times reported that Republican governors,

contradicting their congressional peers and looking for a popular social policy to embrace, have begun to join Democrats in pushing to expand preschool.

Preschool is intriguing because it is one kind of investment, and one thing we know theoretically and empirically is that early investment pays off. Two diametrically opposed theoretical positions, that of Pierre Bourdieu, a sociologist, and Gary Becker, an economist, come to the same conclusion: Early investment pays off.

Pierre Bourdieu argues that early investments, early development of children, is extremely difficult to go beyond, it provides a foundation that cannot be eradicated, and sets the trajectory that is very difficult to alter.

Gary Becker’s work on human capital theory has shown that early investments are important because the earlier the investment, the greater the chance to make later investments that capitalize on the early investment, as well as the earlier an investment is made, the longer time one has to obtain returns on that investment.

Empirical research confirms these findings. Research on the Perry Preschool program, which was an experiment done in the 60's, showed that there are major benefits, both privately and publicly to early investment. Clive Belfield and his colleagues found that for every one dollar of cost to the Perry Preschool program, there was $12.90 worth of savings.

Now some scholars and others have questioned the Perry Preschool study and other similar studies because they are based on small samples. The problem is that small samples actually make it harder to find effects, not easier, especially if you consider a range of several different small studies. The reason small studies are harder to find effects is that the effects have to be bigger to be observed above just random chance. So, the Perry Preschool research is much more indicative of gains that might be obtained through early investment such as preschool.

On the other hand, we have to note that mandating preschool will not dramatically reduce inequality. Findings from research on effectively maintained inequality, a theory of the intransigence of inequality and how changes such as a public policy that creates or were it to create universal preschool will not undo inequality.

Even though we know, or there is good reason to believe, that mandating preschool will not dramatically reduce inequality, it is still important to recognize that preschool can matter. Inequality isn’t everything. The evidence indicates that preschool can raise kids cognitive development, improve their later school performance, reduce teen pregnancy, and reduce crime.

It’s much too early to say whether this political move by the Republican governors will create policy change. But the theoretical and empirical work suggests that this policy change is long overdue, at least if one wants a population poised to realize their full potential.


And that’s This Week in Sociological Perspective. Next week we will have two new news stories as well as another interview with a researcher on new sociological research. ‘Til then, say, hope you have a wonderful week, and we’ll see you next week on This Week in Sociological Perspective.

For: TWiSP 2014 m02 mon03

Direct download: TWiSPY2014m02monday03audio.mp3
Category:Public Affairs -- posted at: 8:55am PDT

This Week in Sociological Perspective, for the week of Thursday, January 30, 2014

Segment 1 – "Uber sued over girl’s death in S.F."; San Francisco Chronicle

Segment 2 – Professor Laura Beth Nielsen on law, morality, and Disney animated movies

Segment 3 – "Connection failed: internet still a luxury for many Americans."; The Guardian

Selected Keywords: Uber, internet regulation, property rights, law, morality, Disney, child development, digital divide, effectively maintained inequality


Hello, and welcome to This Week in Sociological Perspective.

We have a story this week on the digital divide, we also have an interview with Professor Laura Beth Nielsen of Northwestern University and the American Bar Foundation.

Segment 1

But we begin with a story published in the San Francisco Chronicle on January 27th titled "Uber sued over girl’s death in San Francisco." The incident that sparked the suit is that on New Year’s Eve a woman and two young children ventured into a crosswalk in San Francisco. They were hit by a driver of a vehicle, who, the driver was, was employed is unclear, was engaged with the Uber ride service. The driver has not yet been charged with a crime. Uber has claimed that the driver was not working as an Uber contractor at the time because the person was not, there was no passenger in the car. The lawsuit has claimed that the driver was a contractor with Uber and therefore Uber is liable because the driver was checking an app that Uber provides to find a potential fare.

The death of the child is tragic and there’s, it’s a very unfortunate situation. The incident provides information or opportunity to consider certain issues that Uber raises and that many other internet start-ups providing services that were traditionally provided in other ways, providing them with a new business model, to consider the implications of this from a sociological perspective.

Sociologist John Campbell of Dartmouth University points to the state, that is to say the United States or particular states in the United States, basically the governmental entities, as constructing property rights.

Now the right of an individual, or a company or corporation to provide transportation services such as taxicabs–that confers a property right on that, for that activity. To obtain that right companies make a trade. They take the right but they accept certain limitations in their work arrangements. Those limitations might be regarded as regulations.

Now regulation can protect the consumer and one of the motivations that, or at least the articulated motivations for regulations is to protect the consumer. In the particular case of taxi services, it would be difficult for a potential passenger to vet the trustworthiness of a potential driver or a potential driving situation. So, for example, a passenger might not be able to assess whether the, what the driving record is of the potential driver, the safety of the vehicle in which they will be riding, the existence of insurance for the ride, and the criminal background or lack thereof of a potential driver. This is even more likely to be the case, that a potential passenger will be unable to investigate a potential, or interrogate a potential driver for taxicab services, because many potential passengers are visitors to the locale in which they are obtaining the taxicab services.

Further, regulation can more or less assure a reasonable minimum of trustworthiness, and that’s why many, that’s one of the logics for why many organizations, many states, many jurisdictions impose certain regulations. They can insure a particular kind of driving record, they can insure, on the cost of fines and other punishments, a particular level of car safety. They can insure a particular level of liability insurance, and they can insure the past criminal record is not a concern.

But that’s looking at regulation from the side of the potential passenger. We turn it around and look at regulation from the side of the particular, of the potential driver, the taxi driver, the company for whom, for which they work, regulation can also be regarded as a way of preserving the value of the property right.

For example, because the state regulates and licenses the taxicab operators, the state can assure that there are not so few taxicabs available to work in a particular area that a potential passenger cannot find a taxicab. Because if that were the case, if there were not a sufficient number of drivers available, taxicabs available, the passengers, if they routinely encounter that situation, they would develop other means of getting around. Even visitors might find other ways of getting around by using the concierge at the hotel or prior arrangements before they arrive to understand what they might do, instead of relying on the unreliable taxicabs if there are not enough made available.

At the same time, regulation can assure that there are not so many taxicabs in operation that over-competition can threaten to wipe them all out. Because if taxicab drivers and their companies cannot make a sufficient amount of money to profit such that they can stay in business and provide the service but still earn a living, then taxicabs will eventually go out of business and companies will eventually go out of business and that will be costly for the service that’s being provided.

The interesting thing in this case is that Uber and similar companies threaten the property rights of existing companies. While providing virtually the same service with the slight tweak in that the way you might obtain the service, and they are typically unhindered by regulation that protects consumers and that protects the taxicab companies such that they can maintain the business and have it be a viable one.

So, one of the interesting things that this lawsuit will put on the table is whether Uber is just another taxicab company with a particularly different way of, for people to obtain the service, or is it qualitatively different even though it is providing the same services as other companies such that it is not subject and should not be subject to existing regulations.

It is unfortunate that a child is, has given their life and that has led to this lawsuit, it would have been more, it would have been more proper and more appropriate for this to have been evaluated prior to such an event. But it is the case that this event has motivated a lawsuit and a lawsuit should put into discussion just these issues.

So, as these issues unfold, both in the courts and perhaps in legislative action, it will be interesting to see how this plays out and whether the property rights of existing companies are given weight, or whether they are regarded as an anachronism such that it is time to move to a different model.

Segment 2

Speaking of moving forward, I connected with Professor Laura Beth Nielsen of Northwestern University and the American Bar Foundation to discuss her paper "‘Ahead of the Lawmen’: Law and Morality in Disney Animated Films 1960-1998." The paper is published in Law, Culture and the Humanities, and the authors are Laura Beth Nielsen, Nehal A. Patel, and Jacob Rosner. So, let’s see what she had to say.

Samuel Roundfield Lucas: So I sat down with Professor Laura Beth Nielsen, who is Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of Legal Studies at Northwestern University and Research Professor of the American Bar Foundation, to talk about her co-authored paper, "‘Ahead of the Lawmen’".

So, as I understand it you are asking, what’s the relationship between law and morality in Disney movies? So my question is, why ask that question? What is going on there? What’s at stake?

Professor Nielsen: Well, as you know, this is not really my primary area of research, but as a mom I was watching lots of these movies with my children and as a scholar of the legal profession who believes that the legal profession, although imperfect, can oftentimes work to enhance justice in major ways, I thought, I continued to see a pattern where law failed. Law just didn’t work and I began to think, especially since, like many children, my children wanted to watch these movies over and over again, and I started thinking, what is the message that is being reinforced here about whether or not law is on the side of the good, the right? So I kind of knocked around in my head for a long time and I used it as an example in class. And then Jake Rosner, who is one of the co-authors on the paper and who was an undergraduate at Northwestern, he came up to me after class and said, "I think you should write that paper."

I said "I’ve always been thinking about writing this paper" and he said, "let’s do it." So, it’s always fun to work with an undergraduate and show them what the research process is like. So off we went.

Lucas: So why? I mean, if the, I guess what I’m wondering is, we take it as just a given or at least it is so commonly understood that law is different. That it’s sort of, that it’s, for example, they say you know there is a difference between what you know and what you can prove.

Professor Nielsen: Right.

Lucas: So why is there, I mean what would it look like if law and morality were, I mean if they were in alignment? I guess that is one kind of relationship. If they were in alignment as opposed to what you, and what did you see in Disney? Were they in alignment in the Disney films?

Professor Nielsen: Mostly no. There were some, there were a few examples where they were in alignment, but for the most part law failed to get the right outcome. And one nice thing about studying Disney movies is the right outcome is really obvious. Right? These are moral tales that have been told. They are retellings of Hans Christian Anderson, parables. I mean, we know what the right outcome is. So that takes out one big area of the guesswork.

If they were in alignment what you would have is very boring movies that boys don’t want to go see. Little girls might want to go see them, but the research on little boys–and who knows if this is cause or effect–but they want to have an action scene. So you have to have sort of something action, there has to be a battle, that’s part of the formula, but the only way that it’s legitimate for that battle to have occurred is if the good guys have tried the non-violent ways of resolving the problem first. And one of those ways is law. But because of the need for the battle, it means law almost always fails to work.

Lucas: So one of the things is, I have not watched many Disney animated movies, given situations in my biography. So I found it fascinating some of the stories you were telling. The one of the, I can’t remember the name, it was the one under the sea who signed a contract. What was that? What was going on there? Is this a good example of the kind of things you saw in a series of different movies, or?

Professor Nielsen: It is. It’s really the most obvious example of law being completely devoid of all morality and it’s portraying law in a really bad light because the contract–so Ariel is in, the mermaid and she wants to convince Prince Eric to fall in love with her, so she makes a deal with the evil sea witch Ursula to trade her fins for legs and she can keep her legs if she gets the kiss of true love. I mean, you can talk about what it’s teaching little girls about what they aspire to but that’s somebody else’s research, but so there is a contract. She, the sea witch actively prevents Ariel from accomplishing the goal and so Ariel’s soul is going to forever be owned by Ursula the Sea Witch.

And her father, who has been not supportive of her love for Prince Eric, comes to rescue her. And he’s the most powerful man in the sea and you know, he is King Triton and when he shoots his trident at Ursula, she holds up the contract, it’s golden, and literally all of his power bounces of. So he, and she says, see the contract is legally binding and no one can do anything about it, even you Triton. So she sold body parts, that’s illegal. She’s 16, so she’s not an adult who’s able to contract. She promised her soul, which you can kind of think of as a slavery contract, right? She was going to own her forever, the Sea Witch was going to own her soul forever. And when justice in the form of Triton comes along, this technocratic version of law, what’s written on a piece of paper, no matter how under duress Ariel was when she signed it or no matter how illegal it was, it’s still binding. So that dichotomy was really the first one that really struck me as telling kids over and over, yeah law is a bunch of formalities and justice doesn’t enter into the situation because we all know Ariel is the hero. She’s our heroine.

Lucas: So do they have a, if the king Trident? What?

Professor Nielsen: Right.

Lucas: What’s his name?

Professor Nielsen: King Triton.

Lucas: Triton. Okay. King Triton uses his powers at the, throws his powers at the contract. The contract survives. So that’s the failure of law. So what does the, that’s the force of law. Does he act in any other way or does he just walk away?

Professor Nielsen: No. He offers himself. So she takes his soul, he becomes enslaved forever. But then Prince Eric, being the prince that he is, kills the witch with a boat.

Lucas: So what’s, I guess one of the issues here is that, what in a normal, what would in a different vision of what the story would be, the contract would just be declared null and void and then she would not, the witch would not obtain the soul.

Professor Nielsen: Right. So, if there was a contract it was, so there’s lots of things in cases about this like used during war when, you know, people are starving and you can’t enter into a contract. It’s considered unconscionable to enter into a contract where you are taking advantage of someone’s plight through no fault of their own or if it was revealed that she wasn’t of the age of majority or any of these other things that make a contract unconscionable. That’s what you spend a ton of time on in contracts class. In law school it’s learning what you’re allowed to contract for and what you’re not.

Lucas: So do you, I guess one of the issues then is whether, it’s interesting because I guess one could say, well you know, these are, I don’t know the age range of children watching these movies but pretty young, and so it’s really just entertainment. Is there any evidence that they are picking up any, are they being socialized? Are they being transformed by watching these kinds of and in what ways might there be? Is there any evidence about that?

Professor Nielsen: Well, so.

Lucas: I know that’s not your research, but

Professor Nielsen: Right. So we don’t have any direct evidence on this question, but we looked to the body of research about children in child psychology that looks at how children form their moral codes. And, it turns out kids who are in this target age range, 5 to 10 roughly, do have pretty sophisticated moral codes and there’s variation based on their life experience and what they know their parent, what they know to be true of their parents and whether they had been taught to believe in God.

So this is a moment when a moral code is developing. And, what sort made it interesting to me, I think, was that it was reinforced over and over that law cannot accomplish a moral goal. And, you actually see this trend in other movies. The part of my thinking about this came from some other work about vigilante movies and Westerns. So, like if you think about the Clint Eastwood movies where somebody kills his wife and he’s after them. There has to have been a failure of law, right? So, it always starts with the trial and the person gets off because the policeman didn’t read his rights. Oh, the policeman didn’t read his rights and so the case gets thrown out and that’s part of what allows us to root for the vigilante who normally should be the bad guy in a movie is that law has failed. So, other people have written about it in other genres of movies and I don’t know what the relationship is between popular culture. Is it just entertainment? Maybe. Is it worth thinking through? My children, whether they liked it or not, had to have it thought through because of what their mother does for a living.

Lucas: I see. Well, my sense and this also is based on no evidence, just talking to, anecdotally talking to students. A lot of students go into the law interested in making a difference. So it’s an interesting juxtaposition. You have at least a set of students going into the law viewing it as a means to, as you said earlier, to aid the introduction of real justice in our society. At the other time, but apparently some of them at least are coming perhaps with a history of watching these kinds of stories which would seem to suggest this is not a strategy for, not a place, that law is generally ineffective in pursuing certain moral ends. So it’s an interesting juxtaposition. I wonder what you would think about that.

Professor Nielsen: Well, I think you’re right. Lots of my students both at the undergraduate level and I teach in law school, they come to law because it is the place where the state says this is where we are going to accomplish justice. And by the time they get to undergrad and to law school, they’ve heard about Brown vs. Board of Education and the importance of that landmark case for desegregating American schools. And, part of what I think is, is feeding back these ideas of law is ineffective is similarly troubling stories about law’s lofty effectiveness. So a lot of what you’re doing in, when you’re talking about law is, saying, well let’s look, how well did it really work? How many schools in the United States are actually desegregated or relatively well integrated? Even though there might not be laws anymore, do we have school integration? Do we have non-discrimination in employment? And, so I think you get both sides of the story. So you get a story over here about law being completely ineffective and then you have sort of this aggrandized story about law’s transformative power and what I would argue is, what we really have to do is study law on the ground and how it’s affecting people and what they are doing to accomplish justice in their own lived situations.

Lucas: Well, this makes me wonder when you talk about law on the ground and people’s own experience of it. If people are entering, you know, legal situations or navigating a society with this understanding of, that the law is going in one direction and morality is leading you in another direction. I mean, could you speculate about what that means for their experiences or their, how they balance those?

Professor Nielsen: Well, I think you probably have a lot more powerful understanding of law if you’ve been pulled over, or attitudes about law if you’ve been pulled over by a policeman. If you feel you were pulled over by a policeman unjustly or if you think maybe, you know, have I been discriminated against in the workplace and nobody did anything about it. Or if you’ve been victim of a crime. That’s going to have a lot, I think proportionately that’s going to have a lot more of an effect than a Disney movie you may have watched 40 times when you were a youngster.

But, I think it’s worth sort of dissecting the ways in which we’re portraying law in all kinds of cultural objects, right? So you can think about this kind of analysis in novels, movies, television shows. And, what are we telling ourselves, because the relation, what are we telling ourselves and our kids? Because the relationship between culture and society is sort of this on-goingly interactive. And so, what we put out there becomes what’s real and then it gets reflected back in movies and film and books and all kinds of things. So I think it’s worth thinking about, but I’m going to have to make a very strong argument that this is driving people’s consciousness.

Lucas: Well it’s a fascinating line of work and I look forward to seeing both its influence in the discussion, as well as next steps along this line of work. Are you planning other additional work? We have like 15 seconds, but any additional work?

Professor Nielsen: I do. I tend to be, I don’t tend to do cultural analysis very much. This was sort of a fun side-line for me. My work tends to be more empirical. So, I’m not sure but I really did enjoy doing it and I’ve enjoyed the reaction from it. From my colleagues. So, I might. Who knows?

Lucas: So, well one more question. What has been the reaction?

Professor Nielsen: Well.

Lucas: In general, I mean.

Professor Nielsen: Well, you know, everyone asks sort of questions like you ask about how do we know how this really affects people and I don’t have a great answer for that. I have this other body of literature that I can say they show that what you see in the media affects how your sense of morality develops as a youngster, but also your parents and your church and all those things.

But it was fun to do. It engaged students. It provided, even though we didn’t put a lot about this in the article, it allowed a couple of undergrads to work with me to get experience coding something. So we said, okay there are these themes, let’s watch all these movies. So they had a research experience that they enjoyed and got a publication out of it. I do actually have another sideline project about the representations of justice in daytime reality court TV dramas. We have some data analysis, but that’s a little more complicated because those are real life disputes.

Lucas: Also with adults. So you’re seeing a fully formed sort of the clash of different perspectives at the same time.

Professor Nielsen: And what you will think is interesting, I think, is so all these judges, I hate these shows, I’d rather stick a stick in my eye than watch them but I can get grad students to do it for money, is that the judges have different personality types that are very racially and gender, very raced, gendered and sexual. So there’s like a black judge, I think his name is Joe Brown, who’s like I grew up in the hood and I know who’s lying! Then there’s the no-nonsense mom and then there’s the gay judge who wants the parties to like hug it out at the end. So all these notions of justice are mediated through the identities, these performative identities that the fake judges, which I think will give the wrong idea.

Lucas: Well, I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with and I appreciate your spending some time with us today. I’d just like to thank you and I look forward to more quality research. And hopefully an impact on how we work together in navigating the law and constructing the law.

Professor Nielsen: Thank you. Thanks for having me. It was fun.

Lucas: Alright, thanks

Segment 3

Our final news report this week was titled "Connection failed: internet still a luxury for many Americans." It was published in The Guardian on January 26th, 2014. So, in essence, we will use the internet to highlight unequal access to the internet.

The report stated that 46 % of households with incomes under $30,000 lack home broadband access. And, one-third of those w/ incomes under $20,000 do not go online at all.

At the same time, 79% of teachers said they have students access or download assignments from online, and 76% of teachers said that they have students submit homework online. Teachers also reported that they use, the expect students to engage in online discussions, post their work online, and about a quarter of teachers reported that they expect students to use sharing, shared services for shared editing, such as google docs.

Now, one larger frame for understanding this arena, and many others, is provided by the theory of Effectively Maintained Inequality, or EMI for short. One common way to think about inequality is that some people have less than others. So, if that’s true, closing the quantitative gap would make those with less equal to those who originally had more.

The theory of effectively maintained inequality contests this simple story. Effectively maintained inequality posits that goods have both qualitative and quantitative dimensions. Thus, inequality is more complex.

Now, we can concretize this with a fanciful example. If having at least one dictionary at home conferred major advantages in school, the haves would be far more likely than others to have a dictionary in their household. However, if every child has a dictionary at home, the haves would obtain better dictionaries–for example, they’ll include detailed etymological analysis, for example. Once the have-nots obtain dictionaries, the advantage of a dictionary dissolves.

What we see in this fanciful example is the shift from a focus on consequential quantitative inequality, or what we might call "effective" inequality, to consequential qualitative inequality, or what we might call consequential, effective qualitative inequality.

Interestingly, research in at least a dozen countries has shown evidence consistent with the theory of effectively maintained inequality in educational systems. Not only in the United States, but in the UK, in Israel, in Australia, and several other countries, this dynamic has been found.

The implication of this dynamic is that reducing inequality and creating real opportunity for the poor is a much more difficult enterprise.

Now, we see this dynamic in the provision of internet services. At one time just having a computer was a major advantage. But eventually, having internet access became a major advantage. And, then, now we see, broadband internet access is a major advantage. With each one of these technological changes, we see changes in the implications for inequality.

When a computer was all that was needed, then the advantaged, socioeconomically advantaged had computers and the socioeconomically disadvantaged did not. As the socioeconomically disadvantaged may have obtained computers, then faster computers were more necessary. Once the socioeconomically disadvantaged obtained faster computers, internet access became more necessary. Once disadvantaged people obtained internet access, faster internet access was more necessary.

The implications of effectively maintained inequality are that this is a common dynamic, at least with respect to schools. And what it means for inequality reduction or for creating opportunity for people at the bottom, especially poor and near-poor children, is that you cannot solve that problem, you cannot provide true opportunity, if you focus on either quantitative inequality or qualitative inequality. But addressing both is extremely difficult; in fact, there is little research that has explicitly engaged the issue of how you address both quantitative inequality and qualitative inequality.

Now, the missing research notwithstanding, the theory of effectively maintained inequality implies that addressing both quantitative and qualitative inequality is the task, at least in the United States, for any individual or institution that wants to create real opportunity for the disadvantaged.


So, we’ll leave you with that this week. Next week we will interview Professor Emily Huddart Kennedy at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada on her paper on downshifting. ‘Til then, that’s This Week in Sociological Perspective. Hope to see you next week.

For: TwiSP 2014 m01 mon27

Direct download: TWiSPY2014m01monday27audio.mp3
Category:Public Affairs -- posted at: 8:44am PDT

Discusses vigilantes in Michoacan Mexico, and bipartisan proposals for election reform in the United States. Contains an interview with University of California-Irvine Professor Denis Trapido on factors that lead persons to form business partnerships with dissimilar persons.

Direct download: TWiSPY2014m01monday20audio.mp3
Category:Public Affairs -- posted at: 4:41pm PDT

Discusses use of "bar-raisers" in hiring, effects of violence in Chicago public schools, and the end of extended family visits for Mississippi prisoners. Interview with Dr. Julia Burdick-Will of Brown University.

Direct download: TWiSPY2014m01monday13audio.mp3
Category:Public Affairs -- posted at: 11:13pm PDT