Tough Questions from Students

Students from Sydney’s Newtown High School of the Performing Arts give Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott a tough question time that he was evidently poorly prepared to answer with grace. The clip begins with Abbott giving weak environmental advice (“plant a tree… but don’t raise taxes”). He then faces questions about why he opposes gay marriage and his inhumane treatment of asylum seekers. Flustered and annoyed, he resorts to his infamous sexism: “Let’s have a bloke’s question, OK?”

Working off the cuff and under estimating Australia’s youth, the Prime Minister is clearly out of his depth.

In connection, ask the powerful five questions: Continue reading Tough Questions from Students

Refugees: Belongings and Loss

In sociology, we distinguish between two general types of refugees: anticipatory and acute,  both of which I discuss below. This typology helps us to think about the resources that facilitate the refugee journey. Some people leave with their families and belongings relatively intact, which can support their resettlement in another country. Others flee with very little belongings and they are lucky to have their families with them.

The refugee process renders tremendous loss and trauma, but the material and social assets that people are able to take with them can make a significant difference on resilience. Continue reading Refugees: Belongings and Loss

Sociology of Class and Australian Politics

I’ve been reflecting on some of Australia’s political uproars from last year. This one comes to mind because it makes explicit Australia’s enduring class struggle for power. The Palmer United Party became embroiled in a derogatory exchange about Australian voters who are supposedly “bogans.” An email was leaked where Dr Alex Douglas (former MD), a Queensland MP in the Palmer United Party, calls Australian voters “bogans” who live “empty lives” and survive on a “diet of grease.” He also says of bogans: this is a “world we see daily and quietly hope will disappear.” These words exemplify class derision. Bogan is a colloquial term used on working class and rural Australians who are seen to be uncouth or poorly educated. Continue reading Sociology of Class and Australian Politics

Poverty as a Matter of Justice

Below is an excellent, succinct argument for addressing poverty as a human rights issue that requires government intervention. Jeffery Reiman of the American University argues that leaving the issue of poverty to charitable organisations alone reflects the idea that disadvantaged groups are somehow lesser citizens.

He notes that this is not a critique of charities or the people who receive benefits, but instead he argues that the opposite ideal should prevail. He sees that poor people should be seen as being entitled to government support.

“If inequality is a matter of justice then it shouldn’t be rectified by charity. Charity means, ‘I give freely what I have out of my generosity.’ Justice means, ‘I give what I owe – what people have a right to… The idea that you do it by law, that these people have a right, treats them with dignity. And of course you should follow through on that.” 

Sociology of Ponzi Schemes

A White woman counts money at a cafe. The title is at the top of the graphic: Sociology of Ponzi Schemes

This is an intriguing image below came to me on Google+. It asks why Bernie Madoff was the only Wall St investor to be facing jail. The text argues it’s because Madoff ripped off the 1% – the rich elite. The meme is inferring that justice is not served for the 99%, the working classes, who have been fleeced by Wall Street practices.

There’s a grain of truth to this message, but not quite in the way you might think. White middle class and upper class people are more likely to be convicted of “white-collar” crime and they are less likely to get severe sentences relative to minority first-time offenders who are caught for blue-collar crimes.

The punishment of crime is a tricky cultural terrain. Society gives higher penalties for some forms of crime (such as low-level drug abuse) that ensure more poor people are jailed. So where is the justice for the poor?

As for justice for the 99%: there’s another way to think about this too. The people who were conned by Bernie Madoff were rich and so they had more resources and could be better organised to seek justice.

Continue reading Sociology of Ponzi Schemes

End of Business Review Weekly

Former BRW journalist, Ali Cromie, reflects on the end of publishing titan Business Review Weekly. While BRW will move into digital publishing, some of its better known features will migrate to the Financial Review.

This interview is fantastic. Cromie speaks passionately about the low points (“hi-jinx”) that BRW reporters faced as well as what it represented as a media institution of over three decades. She tells a detailed story of how she got under Rupert Murdoch’s skin. She also said she left journalism because she felt she could no longer protect her sources due to phone tapping.

Cromie argues that the BRW’s parent publisher Fairfax failed to have a cohesive strategic vision. It pulled apart BRW’s entrepreneurial section, it mixed in BRW stories into a broader pool of financial reporting, therefore hurting its niche readership.

Cromie argues that the BRW brand still has power, but it requires dedicated management. “The problem is not the platform. It’s the board.”

Political Change in Australia

In the Howard years Australia became a much meaner and more self-interested country … We are the richest people per capita in the world, if you just look in material terms, and we are the richest people ever to live on the Earth… Yet there’s this air of dissatisfaction and a feeling that we are being cheated, and that is a cultural shift that came out of the Howard years and has been promoted mightily by the Murdoch media — and that flows on through the ABC and all the other radio shock jocks and so on….

People voted for that with their eyes wide open [on the removal of environmental policies]. And I might add to that, that they voted for $4 billion dollars in foreign aid to be not spent.

Youth Protest During the Election in Chile

On the 17th of November, Chile voted in the national election. Michelle Bachelet has won twice as many votes as her major opponent (47% of votes) but this may not be enough for a win.

Al Jazeera English explore the importance of student activist movement on the election. Students protested for free education and improvement of services. Bachelet was popular amongst low income and among younger voters, but not everyone was convinced that social change can happen.

Historical Inquality During the Roman Empire

The Young Turks video from 2011, Crazy Facts On Income Inequality, links to an article from Travis Waldron, published in Think Progress. Waldron writes:

The 99 Percent Movement effectively changed the American political debate from debt and deficits to income inequality, highlighting the fact that income inequality has increased so much in the U.S. that it is now more unequal than countries like Ivory Coast and Pakistan. While those numbers are startling, a study from two historians suggests that American wealth inequality may actually be worse than it was in Ancient Rome — a society built on slave labour, a defined class structure, and centuries of warfare and conquest.

Waldron is referring to the study by historians Walter Schiedel and Steven Friesen, summarised by Tim De Chant in his blog Per Square Mile. De Chant provides detail on how Schiedel and Friesen estimated the distribution of wealth in the Roman Empire, 150 C.E. De Chant  writes that the study finds:

the top 1 percent of Roman society controlled 16 percent of the wealth, less than half of what America’s top 1 percent control… In total, Schiedel and Friesen figure the elite orders and other wealthy made up about 1.5 percent of the 70 million inhabitants the empire claimed at its peak. Together, they controlled around 20 percent of the wealth…

These numbers paint a picture of two Romes, one of respectable, if not fabulous, wealth and the other of meager wages, enough to survive day-to-day but not enough to prosper. The wealthy were also largely concentrated in the cities. It’s not unlike the U.S. today.

Using data which estimates the gini coefficients of various nations (a statistical estimation of income inequality), De Chant writes that imperial Rome was ‘slightly more equal than the USA:

Continue reading Historical Inquality During the Roman Empire

Visual Sociology of the Western Suburbs of Melbourne

Visual sociology of the Western Suburbs of Melbourne, Australia: Caroline Springs is a relatively new area that had a bad reputation about a decade a go. First because the media sensationalised illegal cock fighting as something that was endemic of its residents. It wasn’t; it was a tiny minority of unethical people treating animals illegally. Second, I was struck by the number of people who lived in the longer established outer suburbs in the West who looked down on the families who moved into these new estates. Continue reading Visual Sociology of the Western Suburbs of Melbourne