There’s a Long History of Racism and Exploitation Behind Kaua’i’s GMO Controversy

A Guest Post by Sheena Iwamoto

In the summer of 2013, I returned home to Kaua’i after finishing my second year at Scripps College. I was born and raised on the island, the oldest in the Hawaiian chain. That summer, my dad had finally, reluctantly, agreed to teach me how to drive.

Because he grew up on Kaua’i, he is familiar with many of the older, hidden roads that go through the rural mountain areas. He decided to have me drive on the back roads of Kapa’a town, which are less travelled than others. As I drove along curved roads overshadowed by trees, I noticed that something had been spray-painted across the gravel: “NO GMO.”

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To the Little Girl Who Wished for Blonde Hair and Blue Eyes

A Guest Post by Kimberley Africa

This is for all those who once wished, or still wish, to be someone they are not.

Huwag ka magpapa-araw. Iitim ka. “Don’t go into the sun; you’ll get dark.” For years, I heard this phrase again and again, urging me to protect my skin. It was white, like the inside of a coconut, they told me.

By the time I was five, I knew exactly why. I held my daddy’s hand as we waited in line for a ride at an amusement park. Two men standing next us turned to the couple on our other side and commented that their little girl was beautiful. It was then that I realized that I, too, had to have light skin—in addition to blonde hair and blue eyes—so that strangers wouldn’t skip us in the line, and would tell my dad that I also was beautiful. I didn’t know how I was going to get the blonde hair and blue eyes, but I knew that I was definitely not going to go into the sun. I could at least have one of the three attributes.

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Underage Workers, Forced Internships, School Closures, and “Left-Behind Children”: Apple’s Impact on China’s Youth

Students at Renda Fuzhong Xishan school use an iPad in the classroom.
Students at Renda Fuzhong Xishan school use an iPad in the classroom. Published on Apple’s website.

Apple has long considered itself a renegade, a breaker of conventions, and a change-maker, and education has been a realm in which it seeks to have a revolutionary impact. Apple is well-known for its long-standing presence in classrooms, and its executives maintain, “Education is in our DNA.”

Apple is proud of its relationships with schools, as shown by the company’s robust education section of their website. While researching Apple’s education customers for my previous post, “The Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Apple,” one customer profile, which includes a short film, caught my attention.

The “Apple in Education Profile” of Renda Fuzhong (RDFZ) Xishan in Beijing, China, explains that a revolution in education is underway in the country, thanks in part to use of Apple’s MacBook Pro and iPad in the school’s 7-9th grade classrooms. Breaking from what is described as the dysfunctional Chinese educational model focused on “core knowledge” and “rigorous testing,” with the help of Apple products the school has implemented a successful new model that promotes “personal growth, creativity, and innovation.”

The description of the school’s “experimental” model of education resonates with contemporary American values and trends present in Apple’s marketing. In my study with Gabriela Hybel of over 200 Apple commercials that have aired in the US since 1984, we found that one of the key themes that courses through them is that Apple products allow their users to cultivate and express intellectual and artistic creativity. A video profile of the school and its program resonates with this theme, and provides an inspiring take on the what Apple means to the youth of China (Note: Please watch the video! Doing so will allow you to see for yourself the great contrast in how students from different backgrounds experience Apple).

As I read the profile of RDFZ and watched the video about the school, I couldn’t help but think that this did not seem to be an accurate depiction of what Apple means to the youth of China. While I certainly think it is great for these students that they are receiving a top-notch and technologically innovative education, a little research revealed that RDFZ Xishan is considered the most prestigious school in Beijing. While it is described by Apple as a public school, it is the sister school of Phillips Academy in Massachusetts and Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire–both exclusive private schools. The middle school is a part of the RDFZ high school, which funnels students to the most elite universities in China, the UK, and the US. It is also a part of the G20 Schools, a collection of elite and mostly private secondary schools around the world. In short, this school serves the children of Beijing’s wealthy elite–a minuscule portion of China’s youth.

When we think about what Apple means to the youth of China, we have to consider not only the privileged few who might benefit from using the company’s products in the classroom, but the hundreds of thousands of young workers assembling Apple products in factories throughout the country. Their experience of Apple is vastly different from that of the students of RDFZ Xishan. A recent report from China Labor Watch, which details numerous violations of Chinese labor laws and the employment of minors at Apple suppliers, makes this fact shockingly clear.

Continue reading Underage Workers, Forced Internships, School Closures, and “Left-Behind Children”: Apple’s Impact on China’s Youth

Fair Trade is Dead. Long Live the Farmer Cooperative.

Since 1999 Fair Trade USA, formerly TransFair USA, has brought Fair Trade certified coffee to the U.S. market. The organization, which manages the licensing and distribution of products in the U.S., introduced millions of consumers to the principles of Fair Trade. They did so primarily through coffee, which accounts for over seventy percent of the American Fair Trade market. Through product branding and advertising campaigns, even an award-winning documentary film, people in the U.S. have come to associate the Fair Trade label with democratically organized farming cooperatives, a minimum price that on average is higher than the price per pound paid on the open market, and social, economic, and environmental initiatives in producing communities. But, in January, 2012, Fair Trade USA (FTUSA) changed the rules dramatically. While they continue to market the small-scale farmer and the cooperative as the face of the brand, the base of it now is transnational corporations and large-scale plantations. So much for the little guy.

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Let’s Talk About Socialism, Baby

French leftists and socialists protest during the recent G20 meeting in Nice. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

Though it is a taboo topic in the United States, socialism is everywhere in Paris. At least, aspirations toward it abound. The city as I see it is awash in advertisements for socialist party candidates and those of “Front de Gauche,” a coalition of leftist and workers parties in France. Not limited to contemporary politics, the city wears its socialist history on its sleeve. Historical markers that explain the relevance of places to the revolution of 1789-99, and to the events of the Paris Commune of 1871 remind Parisians and visitors that the history of France is one of cyclical struggle for radical social, economic, and political change. Far from the derogatory intonation “socialist” has in the U.S., its ideals are infused into everyday life, and are mainstream influences in the political terrain of France. Though the word is hurled about rather liberally in the U.S., many do not know what it actually means. This post addresses one simple question: What is socialism?

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Overt European VS. Covert American Racism: A Critical Evaluation

As I walked through Zurich’s old city to meet my friend Anne for a beer on a warm, late summer night, I paused at an intersection to wait for the signal to cross. A cyclist approached from across the intersection, and I noticed that he rode on the wrong side of the street. As he approached the corner on which I stood, he lifted his arm and shouted forcefully in the face of a man on a scooter, “Sieg heil!” Stunned, I turned toward the scooter rider, and noticed that he had dark skin. The signal changed, and I crossed the street as the man on the scooter rode away. Disheartened, I noted that this was not the first instance of open racism that I had witnessed in the city.

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Critiquing Culture from the Sidelines, a Conversation on Football, Cultural Critique, Ethics, and Collective Action

Nicki Lisa Cole, Ph.D.:

Hot on the heels of the Super Bowl, the Nomad, along with Drs. Jenny Dyck Brian and Mary Ingram-Waters, discusses the ethics of watching football and playing fantasy football, given the rates of long-term brain injuries sustained by players, among other conundrums. Originally published by Culture in Conversation.

Originally posted on Culture in Conversation:

Organizer: Dr. Jenny Dyck Brian
Curator: Dr. Mary Ingram-Waters
Conversationalists: Dr. Mary Ingram-Waters, Dr. Jenny Dyck Brian, and Dr. Nicki Lisa Cole
Download a PDF Version of this Conversation: Culture in Conversation February 2014

Mary Ingram-Waters: Curator’s Introduction
In their statement of purpose, Culture in Conservation (CIC) editors, Brian M. Creech, Evan L. Kropp, and Mark C. Lashley, write that, “It is our hope to make public one of the more fundamental truths of our own education: in the life of a scholar, there are few experiences more exciting than the moment when ideas begin rubbing against one another and turn into something else entirely.” For Dr. Jenny Dyck Brian, Dr. Nicki Lisa Cole, and I, these moments of collaboration — some as quick and informal as hallway chats — are invaluable not only for the trajectories of our research but also for our development as scholars. Personally, I…

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Sociologist Sharon Zukin Discusses Her Love/Hate Relationship with Consumer Culture

szukin headshotSharon Zukin, chair-elect of the section on consumers and consumption, is a professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She started out as a political sociologist, became an urban sociologist, and now combines those interests with studies of institutions, spaces and cultures of consumption. She has received the C. Wright Mills Award, the Robert and Helen Lynd Award for career achievement in community and urban sociology, and the Jane Jacobs Award for urban communication. Her most recent book is Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places, and her most recent article looks at restaurants and racial identity in a gentrifying area of Brooklyn.

Nicki: You began your academic career in political science. How did you come to study consumer culture and its implications?

Continue reading Sociologist Sharon Zukin Discusses Her Love/Hate Relationship with Consumer Culture

Understanding Radical Peer-to-Peer Consumption: An Interview with Emilie Dubois

 “I have one chance at a career, and I want one with an impact for people that I really care about.”

Emilie-Duboiscopy-239x300Emilie Dubois is destined to be a change-maker. Driven by her working class roots and experience growing up in the post-industrial community of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, she is revolutionizing how sociologists approach and understand the phenomenon of “connected consumption.”

Emilie, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Boston College who works closely with Juliet Schor, was driven to our field by class inequities. She took her first sociology class at Columbia University while working in admissions at Columbia Business School. Appalled by the directive to give preference to wealthy candidates, Emilie sought conceptual tools to help her understand the situation she found herself in. She enrolled in “Power and Politics in Organizations,” experienced in her words a “massive consciousness shift,” quit her job, and applied to graduate programs in sociology.

Now, Emilie is in the midst of her dissertation research and works on Schor’s research team for the MacArthur Foundation’s Connected Learning Research Network. The team is studying the phenomenon of “connected consumption,” which Emilie explains is a new system of exchange premised on “economic connections that are not mediated by an organization in a demonstrative way.”

Continue reading Understanding Radical Peer-to-Peer Consumption: An Interview with Emilie Dubois

Closing the Loop: iPhones in Production and Consumption

On Friday, September 20, the new iPhone models 5S and 5C were presented for sale at Apple stores around the world. An onslaught of media coverage of customers waiting on line for and purchasing the new devices ensued. Yet, we have still seen very little coverage of the report published by China Labor Watch on July 29 that documented rampant abuse of laborers and violation of Chinese labor law at Pegatron Shanghai, where these new iPhones are produced. The photo pairings that follow–each composed of a photo from media coverage of Friday’s iPhone launch and a photo from the China Labor Watch report–are meant to close the loop between production and consumption. The information included with each pairing is taken from the photo captions provided by the Los Angeles Times, and from the China Labor Watch report titled “Apple’s unkept promises: cheap iPhones come at high cost to Chinese workers.” They are presented without editorial comment for your thoughtful consideration.

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Apple’s Seductive Brand Promise: Cultural Capital & Social Mobility

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Despite the recent scandals regarding Apple’s business practices, it has succeeded at cultivating a brand to which we feel positive emotional attachment. In three previous posts, I showed that the company accomplishes this with commercials that associate its products with playfulnesssentimentality, and cool youthfulness.  The most prominent theme, however, and I suspect the most powerful aspect of the company’s emotional branding strategy, is the hope it cultivates in each of us of who we could be by virtue of using the company’s products. Read the full article at Sociological Images: Seeing is Believing.

Be Young, Be Cool, Be Happy… As an Apple Consumer

Screenshot_117I cannot watch this 2003 Apple iPod commercial without shaking my hips, even in the midst of delivering a lecture or conference presentation. In fact, I struggle deeply to refrain from jumping around in an ecstatic dance of joy.

This commercial moves me. But, why? Yes, it has rocking music and popping colors. But, I suspect, more importantly, it has hip young things gyrating to the music, lost in the euphoria provided by an iPod and earbuds, with seemingly no cares in the world. For four years Apple aired a string of these, which became known as the “Silhouette” commercials, each featuring a different soundtrack and style of dance. In my previous posts, I’ve focused on two important elements of Apple’s brand promise: whimsicality and  sentimentality. In this post I spotlight another key finding from our research: the association of Apple products with coolness, hipness, youth, and a carefree attitude. Read the full article at Sociological Images: Seeing is Believing.

Sentimental Consumerism, the Apple Way

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In a recent post on the Apple brand and its cultural significance, I drew on my study with Gabriela Hybel of over 200 Apple television commercials aired between 1984 and the present to argue that Apple excels at what branding experts refer to as “emotional branding.” I pointed out that Apple commercials cultivate happiness through whimsical depictions of products and their users. In this post I focus on another key finding from this research, which is the prominence of sentimentality in Apple commercials. Both of these things — whimsicality and sentimentality — are key parts of the promise that Apple makes to its customers. To this end, an important part of the promise that Apple makes to its customers is that using their products will strengthen the customer’s relationships with loved ones, and that the customer will experience positive emotions because of this. Read the full article at Sociological Images: Seeing is Believing.

Fair Trade & Ethical Consumption in Global Context: A Short Film

A guest post by Manya Janowitz

fair-trade-shopperI was raised in a liberal, progressive community, and my parents and friends were aware of the issues surrounding globalization. My family shopped primarily Fair Trade when possible, bought produce from the CSA farm right next door, and my mom even took part in the Seattle WTO protests when I was young. Yet, while I was very familiar with the Fair Trade logo, I didn’t actually understand what fair trade was: I didn’t look past the label.

My lack of real understanding of an alter-globalization movement prompted me to study Fair Trade and more personally, my role as a consumer of ethical products. I wanted to understand what fair trade really means, and I was curious if other people too had only a surface understanding of the movement. In my research, conducted for the class Sociology of Globalization taught by Dr. Nicki Lisa Cole at Pomona College last spring, I found that this was largely the case. Most people knew that Fair Trade was “fair”, “ethical”, perhaps that it “guaranteed farmers a living wage.” But, few people had any deeper knowledge of the fair trade movement or the many Fair Trade organizations that compose it.

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