By SocProf.

And keep the girls out!

“Last Tuesday evening, Mark Cuban, the famously outspoken owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, told ESPN that he would consider drafting Brittney Griner, the 6ft 8in center for Baylor Bears, to his team. Cuban said:

“If she’s the best on the board, I will take her … You never know unless you give somebody a chance.”

He followed up with a statement the next day to USA Today, in which he wrote:

“We evaluate every draft eligible player on the planet … As I told the media yesterday, she would have to excel in workouts to get drafted. I have no problem giving her that opportunity. I hope she gives it a shot.”

Cuban’s remarks about Griner and her ability were conditional, based on her trying out for the team. He wasn’t offering her a seat on the bench, merely a chance to determine if her skill level deemed her worthy of a Mavericks jersey.”

And predictably, at the slightest hint of challenge to the patriarchal and phallocratic order – by having a few women cross the borders into exclusively male territory – a sh*tstorm exploded:

“And thus was born the #GrinerNBA hashtag – which turned quickly into a cesspool of misogynistic and transphobic (“she’s a he!”) comments about Griner (sadly, a common event whenever Griner is the center of the conversation). The misogynistic comments tended to point out that Griner is just a woman and the NBA is not the place for women: “no offense she a girl”“NBA’s a man’s sport”“I’m all for equal rights but Women need to know their place.” And Cuban would “take a chance with her in the kitchen”“I would not like to see #GrinerNBA happen because it is a men’s league.”

And the usual threats of physical violence, rape and murder.

Now this is interesting in light of the case of Caster Semenya. Caster Semenya is the South African track and field athlete who had to undergo a series of degrading procedures to ascertain that she was really a woman, because she was too good to be a woman, so, athletic authorities had to check. She was then ordered to undergo hormonal treatment to lower her performance level closer to a “normal” woman level. Commentators indicated that it would be unfair to have her compete with women if she had an advantage (hormonal levels, for instance).

But, as Dave Zirin writes in his book Game Over, women cannot win when it comes to sports and the Griner case is no different:

“These misogynistic jokes discredit Griner’s ability to play ball with men by tapping into old sexist ideas that women are always less than men and that their specific space in this world is wherever men are not. The very act of getting on Twitter and saying misogynistic things about such a popular female sports star is an act of desperation. It means to set right the balance that was upset when Cuban floated the idea of allowing Griner to try out for the NBA.

With an irony not apparent to these commentators, the belief that Griner is “not manly enough” to play in the NBA is flatly opposed by the other offensive method people used to insult her: that she is a man. This is aclassic transphobic trope, or a fear that her gender presentation does not “match” the sex she was assigned at birth. For example: “she possesses man parts, so why not?”“Griner has a penis and would fit right in”“She looks and sounds like a man.” For much more, if you need it, in this vein, just check out the hashtag.

These transphobic jokes, like the misogynistic ones, devalue Griner because we live in a society that denigrates trans people in general and chafes whenever confronted by someone who does not fit into a neat box of “feminine woman” or “masculine man”. Because athletes are seen as “masculine”, female athletes, by being athletic, are no longer feminine.”

So, a woman athlete is either not woman enough (to play with men) or not a woman at all (in which case, she’s a freak and can’t play with men either).

What this framing does is (1) shift the discussion completely away from the actual skills of the athlete in question, (2) reinforces the gender boundaries: men and women in sports have to fit in neat, separate boxes, no overlap possible, no path back and forth allowed; gender is exclusively binary; (3) overall reinforces patriarchal and phallocratic norms where women cannot win (remember Durkheim’s functions of deviance?): fit in culturally and patriarchally accepted and enforced gender norms and one is seen as inferior to men; don’t fit in gender norms and enjoy the torrent of misogyny and transphobia coming your way. The safest alternative then is to step back in line and let gender status take precedence over athletic status.

By David Mayeda

How can one provide sociological analyses of The Wire without bringing in the complex character, Omar Little? Little (well, Omar) is a Robin Hood-esque individual who incessantly steals drugs and money from Avon Barksdale’s crew. In retaliation, Avon has Omar’s partner brutally tortured and killed, leading Omar to hold an even greater obsession in ripping off the Barksdale crew.

In these two snippets from season 1, we first see Omar and his crew at night preparing to steal drugs/money (or “the stash”) from one of the Barksdale sites. Then the next day we see Omar and his crew try to carry out their plan. This is an excellent set of scenes one may use to better understand rational choice theory, which purports that individuals are generally rational, potential criminals, who would engage in crime if they could get away with it. In other words, we have a sense of free will and weigh the pros and cons that go into committing different crimes.

Rational choice theory, however, has a robust range of components. Again, all of us are potential criminals who…

  1. consider how crime is purposeful
  2. sometimes have clouded judgement about crime due to our bounded rationality
  3. make varied decisions based on the type of crime being considered
  4. have involvement decisions (initiation, habituation, and desistance) and event decisions (decisions made in the moment of a crime that should reduce the chances of being caught)
  5. have separate stages of involvement (background factors, current life circumstance, and situational variables)
  6. may plan a sequence of event decisions (a crime script)
Here are the scenes:

Note in particular Omar’s bounded rationality – how his judgement is clouded by his despise for the “Barksdale Crew”, as Omar’s crew asks at night in the car why they need to keep hitting up the Barksdale stash houses, even though more vulnerable targets exist. Also take note of the crime script that is supposed to work out well, but doesn’t, since Omar and company are not aware of the amount of firepower present in the stash house being targeted.

By David Mayeda

Edwin Sutherland is probably America’s most well known criminologist. His theory of differential association has been incredibly influential in criminology. It posits that crime – like any other type of behaviour – is learned. And there are some specific components to Sutherland’s theory of differential association, seen below:

  • criminal behaviours are learned
  • learning of criminal behaviours takes place through criminal teachers
  • learning of criminal behaviours is more effective when the teachers have close, intimate ties with the learners
  • crime techniques become more intricate and refined over time
  • criminal behaviours are defined and valued in a favourable light
  • motives for crime are different from motives behind non-criminal behaviours

It should be noted that Sutherland actually focused his theoretical positions on white collar crime – arguing that all types of crime, irrespective of their class parameters, were learned. Still, the theory can be applied in a variety of class contexts.

Now let’s look at another clip from The Wire that freaked me out … until we saw its ending. And as the ending of this short scene is revealed, pay attention to how the different components of Sutherland’s theory can be applied.

Real quick, a little background on what’s happening here. In this snippet, young Mike is being chased by mentors Chris and “Snoops” – two hardened, ruthless gang members. But eventually we learn that the chase is an exercise for Mike, in which he demonstrates the knowledge required to effectively engage in a gun fight:

http://youtu.be/kIUlhWWIcNc

Clearly at 2:45 of the video, we see that criminal behaviours are being taught and learned. There are older teachers/mentors (Chris and Snoops), and they have very close ties to Mike. In fact, Mike turned to Chris during a time of need to take care of a family problem Mike couldn’t cope with himself. In this scene, we also see Mike demonstrate that he is learning the more detailed dimensions of shooting targets (where to aim, from what distance). And Snoops’s smile at the end as she says, “Aiight, boy’s learnin”, illustrates the criminogenic behaviours – and Mike’s progress in mastering them – are being assigned with positive values.

Stay tuned, more sociology and The Wire coming up…

By David Mayeda

Back in the 1950s as criminologists began to more seriously explore the sociological causes behind crime, Robert K. Merton put forth his perspective through strain theory. Merton argued that mainstream society holds certain culturally defined goals that are dominant across society. In a capitalist society, the dominant goal that most people aim for is accumulating wealth. Merton further argued that this goal of becoming financially wealthy was so powerful that the goal of getting rich itself had become more important than the means by which one attained wealth. In other words, whether you got rich via conventional/legal means, or via unconventional/illegal means, it didn’t matter, as long as you got your coin. For Merton then, there was anomie (normlessness) regarding the means.

Merton furthered this perspective by providing a framework by which sociologists could typologise criminals and non-criminals – strain theory. Strain theory argues that one must consider if an individual rejects or accepts (1) society’s cultural goals (wanting to make money), as well as (2) the institutional means by which to attain those goals.

To this end, five typologies were established:

  1. Conformists, who accept the culturally defined goal of financial success, as well as the institutional means society defines as appropriate to reach that goal (e.g., advancing one’s education, steadily working, saving money). Conformists follow rules and believe doing so will pay off financially.
  2. Innovators, who also accept the culturally defined goal of financial success, but do not follow society’s rules (i.e., laws) in their pursuit of attaining wealth. Innovators may not have the means to attain financial wealth (e.g., not enough money to further advance education), and/or simply not believe in the law. Hence, innovators turn to crime.
  3. Ritualists are those individuals who do not believe they can attain the culturally defined goal of accumulating financial wealth, but who continue to do so through society’s acceptable cultural pathways simply because they are supposed to (e.g., going to work and school, despite feeling such actions will never pay off).
  4. Retreatists are people who reject the goal of financial wealth, as well as the means society deems acceptable to get rich. Hence people in this group escape, or retreat from society, often times through substance use.
  5. Rebels are the last group who redefine society’s goals and create new institutional means of pursuing their unique goals. Rebels work outside of the established system. (See the framework mapped out by clicking here):

Okay, so let’s apply this theory to some examples from HBO’s television drama series, The Wire. In this first example, we see two snippets from Season 3 when characters Avon Barksdale (a west Baltimore drug kingpin recently released from prison) and his right-hand man, Stringer Bell, debate how they can reclaim their top “real estate” (or “corners”), where they would have the younger members of their crew sell heroine. Though not seen in these snippets, a new player named Marlo has entered the west Baltimore market and violently taken the most lucrative corners from Avon’s crew.

Listen to Avon and Stringer Bell discuss the pros and cons of going against Marlo versus trying to work with him. And more importantly listen to Avon – despite already having achieved extensive wealth – state how he would rather habituate by remaining a gangster, or from Merton’s perspective, an innovator. In contrast, listen to Stringer Bell push to work with Marlo and eventually desist from the drug trafficking scene, making “straight money,” much more so as a conformist.

http://youtu.be/QG_jBGIIFWw

Let’s also examine two other characters from The Wire – “Bubbles” and Johnny. In the early parts of this series, Bubbles and Johnny would be defined predominantly as retreatists, who aspire incessantly to get high on heroine. But over the series, Bubbles changes. As the two comrades walk down the street in this scene, listen to Bubbles talk of wanting to desist by becoming a “snitch” for the police. In other words, he is working towards becoming a conformist. Johnny, however, wants none of this:

http://youtu.be/roTQtE820Yw

Johnny temporarily convinces Bubbles to help him rip off the man on the ladder. And note in this particular scene,  Bubbles and Johnny are both innovators – working to get money via illegal means. Still, I would argue Johnny’s status stands predominantly as a retreatist, who innovates through petty crime simply to feed his retreatist addiction (i.e., retreat from society). And again, while Bubbles is an innovator in tandem with his friend in this scene, he is clearly working towards a life of conformity, seen more clearly when he disappears and decides not to take the money.

More analyses through The Wire on the way..

Here is the second cranky sociologist illustration by Kevin Moore. A full, larger sized image  can be found in the gallery. As before, we appreciate the links but don’t take the image without asking.

Harriet Martineau (1802 – 1876) was not only the English translator of Comte’s work but a sociologist in her own right, committed to positivism but also social reform. She applied the sociological imagination before the expression was coined by Mills, studying both the large structures of society (with an attention to class, race, and gender before it became customary to do so) and their impact on various categories of people, especially marginalized ones in their daily lives.

She believed sociology should be an empirical science, dedicated to objectivity, but also should be able to evaluate societies on their own terms (for instance, was the US really committed to equality in fact and not just in principle… that’s an empirical question).

That is most certainly a cranky sociology kind of question.