Blind Eye Forward
Tags: art/music, capitalism, class, globalization, historical sociology, inequality, marx/marxism, race/ethnicity, social mvmts/social change/resistance, alienation, counter-hegemony, crisis, ideology, patriarchy, social justice, subtitles/CC, 06 to 10 mins
Summary: Blind Eye Forward (BEF) is an attempt to convey in words, music, and imagery the contradictory character of contemporary global capitalism, with attention to its historical formation, the social and ecological maladies that issue from its logic of dispossession and commodification, and the movements that, in response to those maladies, are struggling for a better world. A minor blues accompanied by still images and popular-cultural video clips, BEF begins at an ideological juncture and moves successively through issues of militarism, alienation and reification, and the challenge of creating the new within an obdurate present. In its middle part, which is carried musically by an extensive guitar solo, the piece moves through a world-historical narrative of colonial dispossession, slavery and the construction of "race", patriarchy, and capital and class. The final verse, though pessimistic, invites us to keep a red rose fastened to our chest, and to temper our pessimism with a Gramscian optimism of the will. Blind Eye Forward is useful as a discussion piece in learning contexts that problematize social inequality and the irrationalities of capitalism, within a broadly Marxist perspective. Pedagogically, it employs an arts-based approach, which can complement more expository communicative styles. Students generally find it both inspiring and troubling. It is important to reserve time after showing it in class for comments, questions, and dialogue. (Note: The piece does not have subtitles but the complete lyrics can be accessed by clicking "show more" under the description on the YouTube site.)
Submitted By: William K. Carroll
Tags: capitalism, class, economic sociology, government/the state, historical sociology, inequality, organizations/occupations/work, political economy, social mvmts/social change/resistance, theory, violence, war/military, ideology, labor, neocolonialism, postcolonialism, postcolonial theory, propaganda, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This animated excerpt comes from the documentary, "Banana Land: Blood, Bullets and Poison." The clip recounts the events of December 6, 1928, when Colombian workers gathered to the protest the conditions of their employment under the United Fruit Company (UFC), which is now known as Chiquita. As the film explains, by the early twentieth century UFC had become a powerful multinational corporation, and in exchange for its role in helping to prop up repressive regimes in Latin America, the company was afforded cheap land, and in time, it came to develop a monopoly on the transport of fruit in the region. When workers organized to demand better working conditions, including 6-day work weeks, 8-hour work days, money instead of scrip, and written contracts, they were met with a violent response from the Colombian military. Protecting the interests of American economic elites, the United States government threatened to invade Colombia in order to quell the UFC worker protests, and in response, the Colombian government dispatched a regiment from its own army to do the job. The Colombian troops effectively created a kill box, setting their machine guns on the roofs surrounding the plaza where a group of protestors had gathered. After a five-minute warning to disperse, the troops opened fire killing women, men, and children. Other than a sobering reminder of the power corporations often wield over the lives of workers, especially when they have the backing of states, this clip would work well as a means of introducing some of the basic components of postcolonial theory, which can be understood as a body of thought that critiques and aims to transcend the structures supportive of Western colonialism and its legacies. In contrast to Marxist dependency theories and the world systems perspective, work in the postcolonial tradition tends to emphasize cultural, ideological, and even psychological structures born from the forceful and global expansions and occupations of Western empires (Go 2012). The banana strike and its violent conclusion is a vivid example of the way the United States has maintained a postcolonial grip on the running of foreign economies. In this case, a propaganda machine chipped away at international sympathy for the protesting workers, while at the same time, the U.S. was able to wield power over the Colombian government by mere threat of military force.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: capitalism, economic sociology, globalization, political economy, social mvmts/social change/resistance, theory, argentina, deregulation, double-movement, embeddedness, karl polanyi, laissez-faire capitalism, neoliberalism, regulation, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Access: YouTube (start 3:05; end 8:35)
Summary: In his famous book, The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi argued that, throughout human history, economic decisions have always been embedded within society (i.e., they have been shaped and constrained by social values and relationships). However, with contemporary capitalism, the economy has become disembedded from society through laissez-faire capitalism, which is promoted by many liberal economists and capitalists, and meant to disregard social factors. While this system has created tremendous wealth, it is unable to regulate itself and is not a "natural" economic order, as its proponents claim. In actuality, if laissez-faire capitalism is left to itself, it creates so much social dislocation that it would destroy itself, and thus it inevitably sparks resistance to it. This resistance leads to movements to regulate capitalism to varying degrees, from reforms that put constraints on capitalism (e.g., the New Deal) to more radical changes to the capitalist structure (e.g., socializing the economy through a centralized state), thus re-embedding the economy within society. This excerpt from the documentary, The Take (start 3:05; end 8:35), illustrates this double-movement between efforts at regulation and de-regulation. With a focus on Argentina, it shows how systematic deregulation in the 1990s, and the problems it created, sparked massive resistance. The deregulation (which itself required state action) included selling off public assets, eliminating currency controls, and implementing a variety of business-friendly policies. Supported by the IMF, these neoliberal policies crashed the economy in 2001, resulting in massive unemployment and poverty rates exceeding 50%, which sparked spontaneous protests throughout the country. Like similar double-movements throughout the world, the resistance sought to re-regulate the economy, and re-embed the economy in society, to meet vital social needs. The rest of the documentary shows that, in this case, the social response included a movement of workers that occupied and began running factories on their own.
Submitted By: Paul Dean
Tags: discourse/language, education, immigration/citizenship, inequality, nationalism, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, social mvmts/social change/resistance, theory, microaggressions, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: Microaggressions are something that happens every day, but which not many people really understand. This is a five-minute video about microaggressions featuring Professor SooJin Pate, who received her Ph.D. in American Studies at the University of Minnesota. In the video, she explains microaggressions with a couple of every day examples along with a personal anecdote, and then goes on to give advice for interrupting microaggressions. This is a great piece for helping students understand microaggressions and contextualize how they can interrupt them both as a microaggressor and a victim of microaggressions. Many students find SooJin Pate's radical approaches of kindness and activism to be an empowering way of understanding their role in achieving social justice. It is great both as an introduction to microaggressions, for students just becoming familiar with the topic; and also for students already familiar with concepts like Critical Race Theory and the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, as another perspective on the interruption of discrimination in their daily lives. Note that The Sociological Cinema has also explored the concept of microaggressions in an earlier post.
Submitted By: Macalester College Department of Multicultural Life
Tags: community, culture, discourse/language, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, social mvmts/social change/resistance, sports, politics of representation, symbolic representation, racism, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Access: South Park Studios
Summary: In this short clip from the animated television series South Park, Jimbo and Chef argue over whether the town flag should be changed. Keeping the flag unchanged might be seen as a noble cause for Jimbo and the other white residents of South Park, but given that the flag depicts the lynching of a black person, most viewers of the show will recognize the flag for the racist relic that it truly is. Working as satire, the racist flag controversy is clever misdirection, for the episode is really taking aim at much more polarizing issues, such as the display and celebration of confederate flags, and more pointedly, the widespread use of Native people as sports mascots. Jimbo and Chef briefly discuss the Cleveland Indians at the 45 second mark, but the controversy over the Washington "Redskins" is also relevant. Begun by the Oneida Indian Nation, there is a growing movement to end the use of the racial epithet currently used as the team's name. For the many people who have trouble understanding why Native Peoples are offended, the South Park clip suggests a useful thought experiment. Suppose the town and its flag were real. The depiction of a lynching victim would likely be offensive in its capacity to trigger public memories among Blacks of a particular form of racial violence that prevailed in the U.S. at the beginning of the twentieth century. Second, the flag would also likely be an uncomfortable reminder of the violence blacks must still face today, which in at least one form persists as racist policing, Finally, it should be obvious that the fact any community would proudly hang such a flag would be a slap in the face of the black community, who would rightfully perceive that their trauma is less important than preserving some image on a town flag. Like the fictional South Park flag, the "Redskins" name is offensive in that the slur recalls the white racism and genocidal policies imposed on Native peoples. The name triggers public memories among Native peoples regarding the U.S. government's campaign to annihilate and drive tribes from their homes. As a slur, "Redskin" seems to have fallen out of favor, but racism toward Native peoples continues and the association of the slur with the nation's capital certainly does nothing to engender hope that times have changed. Finally, as with the South Park flag, the continued use of the slur is a slap in the face of Native peoples, who rightfully perceive that their trauma is less important than preserving the name of a sports team. Symbolic representations, such as those that make their way onto flags and bumper stickers, are always born from relations of power; namely, who has the power to represent whom and what is the effect of those representations (Note that we also consider the question of who has the right to represent whom in another post).
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: capitalism, commodification, consumption/consumerism, marx/marxism, social mvmts/social change/resistance, theory, alienation, commodity fetishism, conspicuous consumption, false consciousness, thorstein veblen, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In this conversation between Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, West summarizes his thoughts on the “habitual vision of greatness,” or basing one’s life goals in altruistic motivations and behaviors. After discussing this vision from both religious and non-religious viewpoints, West goes on to distinguish between “success" and "greatness.” In contrast to greatness, he defines success as “pecuniary gain and financial prosperity” evidenced by “a big crib in a vanilla suburb.” Commodities become tools of division and alienation, and are fetishized by both the rich and the poor. This commodity fetishism leads people to believe that they are made human, and have a better chance of their personhood being noticed by others as they accumulate commodities. West emphasizes that this warped vision of success is directly tied to our market-driven, capitalist society. He concludes by citing the hope of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others as the foundation for leading a compassionate life, rather than a life driven by financial attainment. This video can be used in at least two classroom settings. First, in an Introduction to Sociology or Sociological Theory course, instructors can use the clip when discussing Karl Marx’s concepts of alienation, false consciousness, and commodity fetishism. This video can also be used to stimulate conversation around Thorstein Veblen’s conspicuous consumption, reflected in West’s dissection of monetary affluence flaunted with “a big crib in a vanilla suburb.” To incite discussion, instructors can ask students: What are media representations (i.e., Hollywood actors, reality TV, magazines, and advertisements) of commodity fetishism (and/or conspicuous consumption) that you see on a regular basis? Second, the clip can be used in a Contemporary Social Problems class when discussing remedies to social problems, specifically relying on West’s “habitual vision of greatness” as a potential starting point to think about social justice motivations and behaviors. Instructors can ask students: Why and how are feelings such as "hope," "compassion," and "love" important to theorize and research (and actually feel) when thinking about how to solve social problems?
Submitted By: Beverly M. Pratt
Susana Almanza recounts her work for environmental justice
Tags: environment, health/medicine, inequality, race/ethnicity, social mvmts/social change/resistance, environmental justice, environmental racism, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In this video Susana Almanza explains how, historically, communities of color, Latinos, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Native-Americans, have been disproportionately affected by industrial pollution. At the same time, these communities have not benefited equitably from these industries. She describes East Austin, Texas, where a power plant, fuel storage tank farms, refineries, lumber companies, and high tech industries regularly emit their pollutants into the air and water. In the video she goes on to describe the efforts of social movement activists, which led to the relocation of a gas tank farm that had been emitting toxic chemicals in the community for over 35 years and causing chronic illnesses for neighborhood residents. This short video could be used as an example of a successful social movement. The video might also serve as a platform for launching into much deeper discussions about environmental justice and environmental racism.
Submitted By: Erika Giesen
Mike Rugnetta explains the three waves of feminism
Tags: gender, inequality, media, social mvmts/social change/resistance, sex/sexuality, adventure time, bmo, feminism, first wave feminism, gender binary, popular culture, pronouns, second wave feminism, third wave feminism, subtitles/CC, 06 to 10 mins
Summary: This quirky little clip comes from the Idea Channel, which describes itself as "a weekly web series that examines the evolving relationship between modern technology and art." In it, bearded host Mike Rugnetta explores a connection between feminist theory and the animated television show Adventure Time. Fans of the animated series will recall that one of the minor characters is a sentient video console named BMO. Rugnetta argues that since this walking and talking gadget generally skirts the strictures of the gender binary system in a number of creative ways, the character can be read as expressive of Third Wave Feminism. On that point, Rugnetta breaks into a useful discussion of the three waves of feminism. The first wave emerged from the 19th century, and as Rugnetta surmises, it was concerned with "institutionalized inequalities, like women gaining the right to vote, executing contracts, or owning property." Another way of thinking about the first wave is that it sought to remove obstacles that prevented women from fully participating in public life and spheres of formal power. The right to vote is one such obstacle, but first wavers were also concerned with securing the right to attend such organizations as medical schools and labor unions. The second wave, by contrast, is most associated with the 1960s and 1970s. Rugnetta explains that the second wave "broadened its focus to cultural inequalities." It should also be noted that the second wave expanded the struggle for equality back into the private sphere, and cast a spotlight on such issues as domestic violence. Finally, the third wave, which is typically associated with the present moment, has broadened its focus even more by recognizing the way people are intersected by such dimensions as gender, race, class, and sexuality. As the BMO character exemplifies, Third Wave Feminism is also critical of the gender binary, or the cultural and social structures that divide people, roles, behaviors, occupations, and objects of consumption into strictly masculine and feminine spheres.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
This iconic image is from China's Tiananmen Square protests.
Tags: government/the state, social mvmts/social change/resistance, china, political opportunity, repression, tiananmen square, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In this retrospective look at the Tiananmen Square protests, "CBS News correspondent Richard Roth provides a firsthand account of the massacre of pro-Democracy students in China's Tiananmen Square, 20 years after the tragedy." In 1989, Chinese students (illegally) assembled in, and occupied, Tiananmen Square to fight for political freedoms and government accountability. In the end, the Chinese government opened fire on protestors, and the estimated deaths vary from several hundred to thousands. To this day, China has banned any public discussion or remembrance of the event so many Chinese citizens still lack knowledge of the protest (which is known as the "June 4th Incident" in China). Beyond recounting this important historical event, the video illustrates several concepts in social movement theory. For example, political opportunity refers to the capacity for movements to pursue their interests publicly and be able to manipulate the system. While political systems vary in their openness to change, the degree to which opportunity exists is always a matter of debate and subject to interpretation by movement actors. In this case, student protestors marched to, and occupied Tiananmen Square (occupation is an example of a social movement tactic), but overestimated the system openness. The window for political opportunity was largely closed and the government used violence to oust the protestors. Such repression, or the forms of control (e.g. violent force) used to suppress social movements, is one of the many variables that shape the "structure of political opportunity" in social movements. As part of this repression, not only was protest outlawed, but the means to develop and communicate collective grievances continues to be suppressed (e.g. through limits on assembly and Internet usage). The short video is also a reminder of the often taken-for-granted role of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in social movements. The news reporter's usage of a cell phone (which was very rare in 1989) was important for documenting and spreading knowledge of the event, which was impeded when the Chinese government cut satellite transmissions as the situation unfolded. While this example is from the mainstream media and not the protestors themselves, it echoes the important role of cell phones, the Internet, and social media in the Battle for Seattle, Arab Spring, and other contemporary protests.
Submitted By: Paul Dean
MLK and Malcolm X differed on their attitudes toward violence.
Tags: social mvmts/social change/resistance, violence, civil rights, malcolm x, mlk, strategy, 06 to 10 mins
Summary: One of the key debates within social movements is about the use of violence or nonviolence as a strategy to bring about social change. This video is an edited montage of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and Macolm X, respectively discussing the use of violence or nonviolence in the fight for civil rights. Thus, it juxtaposes key arguments in this debate by well-known activists (for better or worse, the clip also opens and closes with the Rocky theme song!). It also works well with readings that more systematically analyze this strategic question. One of the most famous positions (from a left perspective) advocating violence as one possible movement strategy is Ward Churchill's Pacifism as Pathology: Notes on an American Pseudopraxis. However, most movement activists and scholars support non-violent strategies. For one example of this, see George Lakey's (co-founder of the Pacifist organization, Movement for a New Society) response to Churchill, "Nonviolent Action as the Sword that Heals." Viewers are encouraged to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of nonviolent social protest and the role of violence in achieving social change in the past: should social movements always be nonviolent? Did the use of violence (or threat of violence) help or hinder the struggle for civil rights? What factors shape when violence is or is not a legitimate strategy for advocating social change?
I would like to thank Alper Yalçinkaya for suggesting this clip. The image above is a charcoal and pastel drawing by Ylli Haruni.
Submitted By: Paul Dean
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