bell hooks on Critical Thinking

“I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.” ― bell hooks

Black American cultural theorist bell hooks’ distinguished contribution to sociology has been to unearth the intersecting issues of cultural difference, race and knowledge within feminism. Starting out as a literature professor, hooks would go on to challenge cultural studies in the early 1980s with books such as Ain’t I A Woman?: Black Women and Feminism and Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre. Her work shows how women of colour have been marginalised by power structures in society as well as by White feminists who purport to speak about the universal struggle of all women. hooks argued that mainstream feminism silences experiences of race, ethnicity and class.

For the past three decades, hooks has explored the representation of race in popular culture, and how this affects social relations and public education. In the seminal Cultural Transformation video series, from 1997, bell hooks explains the importance of critical thinking for women in general, as well as for racial justice. Her work has been adopted by feminists and cultural theorists around the world. Let’s take a look back at this work and its prevailing resonance two decades later.

Gif of bell hooks talking. Quote reads: 'Critical thinking is at the heart of anybody transforming their life.'

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Sociology of Swearing

Young man wearing sun glasses with a t-shirt that reads 'Let me hear the f*cking bass'

Why is swearing on TV more offensive than graphic depictions of violence?

In December 2011, The then-Australian Minister for Communications, Senator Stephen Conroy, created a media controversy when he swore during a live address on the national public broadcaster, the ABC. This live gaff had me thinking about swearing, the power of ‘bad words’ and the regulatory bodies that set and enforce the standards for television programming. It’s popped back into my mind as I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about power dynamics and the changes in linguistic practices.

Speaking to the National Press Club about the proposed tax for the National Broadband Network, Conroy said:

“If a tax goes up, God, that is sovereign risk, but if a tax goes down, its fucking fantastic. Excuse me – that is fantastic.”

This comment went to air during 12:30 pm and 1:30 pm. As Aidan Wilson (2011) points out, Conroy’s offence was not simply using a ‘vulgar’ word, but also that his address was followed by the ABC’s afternoon children’s shows.

The language guidelines for TV shows can be confusing. Why are some words allowed in some contexts and not in others? It’s not simply a timing issue – some swear words are only allowed to escape the mouths of thespians late at night but not during the day. This makes sense if you’re trying to protect children from being exposed to certain swear words.

The again, some words are generally considered to be more offensive than others – but the social norms on this are not clearly articulated by law.

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Indigenous Women’s Leadership

This past week, Australia celebrated NAIDOC Week (8-15 July), a time to recognise the leadership, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Originally standing for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee, NAIDOC Week has historically reflected the ongoing resistance to genocide, assimilation and land dispossession, famously culminating in the annual Day of Mourning in 1938 (a protest against Australia Day on 26 January). The NAIDOC committee emerged in 1956, and has in recent decades coordinated local and national events and awards to promote Indigenous excellence. This year’s theme is Because of Her We Canpromoting the multiple leadership roles of Indigenous women for their families and communities, as they push for social justice and human rights at the local community and national levels.

I share with you two events I attended that highlight the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in academia, journalism, business, law and social policy. Continue reading Indigenous Women’s Leadership

The Surprising Cultural History of New Year’s Resolutions

By Zuleyka Zevallos, PhD

In a fun rummage through vintage sociology, I found an interesting study by Isidor Thorner. Writing in 1951, he used a survey of Americans from various backgrounds to determine the relationship between New Year’s Resolutions (NYR) and Protestant values. Below I take a look at the major findings of Thorner’s study, exploring the historical and cultural variations of resolutions.

Protestant culture highly valued the idea of being in full control of one’s emotions. This meant being organised and denying oneself frivolous pursuits so as to be free to fulfil religious duty. Not adhering to these strict values brought about great personal shame.

Thorner argues that the New Year’s resolutions helped Protestants to manage their emotional baggage, and that over time, this practice lost its religious connotation and spread more widely.

Photo by Steve Davidson via Flickr.
Photo by Steve Davidson via Flickr.

Continue reading The Surprising Cultural History of New Year’s Resolutions

From “Anti-Rape Underwear” in India to Sexual Harassment in Australia: Social Complicity in “Rape Culture”

By Zuleyka Zevallos, PhD.

Trigger Warning: Rape.

A couple of weeks a go, a new, so-called “anti-rape” underwear device got quite a bit of international attention. It was invented by a team of Indian students, including two women. The device was designed to give rapists an electric shock. It is also reportedly equipped with a GPS tracking device to alert the women’s parents and police that she is being assaulted. The underlying attitudes that led these engineers to make this device are representative of the problem of rape not just in India, but in other parts of the world. Rape and harassment are not seen as public issues that require social intervention, but rather these are perceived as personal problems that individual women must navigate and manage in their day-today lives. In Australia, women’s public safety is also positioned as a personal issue. Both the Jill Meagher case and the public sexual harassment of Prime Minister Julia Guillard exemplify that women are ultimately forced to fend for themselves, while society does little to acknowledge rape culture as a societal responsibility.

Via Larry and Fly
Via Won’t Stop Til We Surrender

Continue reading From “Anti-Rape Underwear” in India to Sexual Harassment in Australia: Social Complicity in “Rape Culture”

Challenging the Social Value of Child Marriage

By Zuleyka Zevallos

Challenging the Social Value of Child MarriageThe 11th of October 2012 was the inaugural Day of the Girl. This year, the focus was on the eradication of child marriage. Around the world, 70 million girls were married before they reached the age of 18. My post today explores how the interrelated issues of gender, education and child marriage might be addressed by sociology. My focus is primarily on girl brides. While young boys are also married, the research I review shows that the adverse effects of child marriage have chronic health and socio-economic impact on young girls. The “value” attached to child brides refers to the cultural and economic issues underlying child marriage. Young girls are married off according to dominant beliefs about preserving women’s “honour” (that is, ensuring virginity before marriage), as well as the costs of raising girls. Child marriage has been linked to people trafficking in extreme situations. In most other cases it maintains the status quo in poor or underdeveloped areas, where economic deprivation is used to justify men’s dominance over young women’s reproductive and life choices. In order to eliminate child marriage, communities need to be shown practical demonstrations that delaying marriage increases everyone’s welfare. Continue reading Challenging the Social Value of Child Marriage

Context and Outcomes of Intercultural Education Amongst International Students in Australia

By Zuleyka Zevallos

Here’s the abstract of my latest journal article, titled “Context and outcomes of intercultural education amongst international students in Australia.” It’s published by Intercultural Education:

International students represent a large economic and international relations investment for Australia. Australian universities are increasingly relying upon overseas students for their revenue, but these institutions are not adequately addressing the special learning, linguistic, cultural and religious needs of these students. Despite their Australian education, international students experience various difficulties in finding work in their field of study after they graduate. Poor English-language, communication and problem-solving skills are the biggest obstacles to securing ongoing and satisfying jobs. Employer biases regarding international students are equally a problem. This paper provides a demographic context of the international student population in Australia and it also addresses the gaps impeding their full social participation in Australian educational institutions. This paper argues that a stronger focus on the socialisation of international students is likely to increase their educational and career satisfaction. Educational providers would better serve international students by focusing on practical learning, career-planning and reinforcing the social and cultural skills valued by Australian employers.

australian-intercultural-society

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Hollywood Racism: The Magical Negro Trope

By Zuleyka Zevallos

Adam Serwer reports in Mother Jones that George Lucas’ latest film, Red Tails had trouble getting made, partly because the “studios weren’t willing to finance a film without a White protagonist as an anchor”.  Lucas’ claim can be put into wider historical context by examining the entrenched racist practices of big Hollywood studios. In particular, the idea of the “magical negro trope” puts things into perspective. This term refers to the way valiant Black characters in movies exist only as a narrative device to teach the White protagonist how to be a better person. I also delve into other variations of the “magical negro” and the gendered dimensions of these characters. Hollywood studios bemoan that paying audiences have stopped going to the cinemas. Is it any wonder, when big productions treat us all as if we’re stuck in some arcane mono-cultural bubble?

Hollywood Racism: The Magical Negro Trope
Hollywood Racism: The Magical Negro Trope

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Samoa Loses a Day: Sociology of Time

Samoa (Credit: sarah|rose, Flickr. CC)

The island nation of Samoa wants to improve its trade relations with Australia, New Zealand and China. As such, it is getting set to lose a day in order to align its time zone with its trade partners. Tomorrow, on what should have been Friday the 30th of December in Samoa, time on this island will jump ahead to Saturday the 31st of December.

I want to explore this shift in time in Samoa through the broader lens of the sociology of time. The theory of social construction states that the things that we take for granted as ordinary, mundane or commonsense are actually social ideas shaped by culture. The idea of temporal time is measured through our watches, calendars and other scientific instruments and technologies. As such, the passing of time is perceived as an unremarkable fact of life. The social meaning of time in different cultures varies. The idea of time as a fixed entity is actually a social illusion. I will show how history, social forces and life situations shape our ideas about time. I include a case study of ‘island time’ to show the variability of how time is understood and valued in island nations such as Samoa and Gabriola Island in British Columbia, Canada. I use the impending time change in Samoa to introduce the idea of ‘social time’, which is a useful way to understand how people in different cultures organise and think about time.

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Beauty, Biology and Discrimination

Several recent articles recreate the ever-popular idea that beauty aesthetics are based on biological imperatives. The premise of this argument is false – beauty, sex, gender and the social consequences of their related biological processes are not pre-determined. This line of thinking lumps the complexity of human experience and sexual expression into a uniform category and it provides the false impression that nothing can be done to change human behaviour. Sociology can help unpackage how and why so-called “common sense” ideas about beauty become established as commonplace knowledge. Contrary to what mainstream culture may have us believe, beauty ideals can be challenged and transformed. Beauty-based discrimination is not natural nor is it unavoidable.

We need to theorise the meaning of beauty in our lives so that we can educate for critical consciousness. - bell hooks
We need to theorise the meaning of beauty in our lives so that we can educate for critical consciousness. – bell hooks

Continue reading Beauty, Biology and Discrimination