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Commentary on Emily Raboteau’s Endurance: A Novel by Martin Aagaard Jensen

In her presentation “Endurance: A Novel: Gentrification and Its Effects in Washington Heights,” Emily Raboteau invited us into the process of writing her novel Endurance about life in an apartment building in the upper-Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights. Featuring Manny, a superintendent of Dominican descent, as its protagonist, Endurance depicts the lives of residents in a building on 180th Street. While Manny takes care of the never-ending job of building-maintenance, he simultaneously labors to raise his teenage son Angel who is diagnosed with autism. Confronted with gentrification and changing demographics of Washington Heights, the personal struggles of Endurance’s characters are bound up with social and economic forces that they seek to resist and navigate despite increasingly difficult conditions.

Describing her approach to writing as interdisciplinary, Raboteau explains her methodology to writing Endurance as a process of historical research and ethnographic observation, a methodology meant to capture the changing nature of a neighborhood. Practically, this has meant shadowing her building’s super on a regular basis to understand his job as well as volunteering with kids with autism to better depict Angel’s character. In terms of research, Raboteau studied immigration history and investigated the urban ethnography of Washington Heights.

Explaining how storytellers can bring to life the lived experience hidden behind our statistical knowledge of economic inequality, Raboteau describes a realist commitment to social justice. That is to say, realism’s job is to produce critical reflections on behalf of the reader by conveying the social conditions and conflicts of our shared reality. Thus, the critical question is: how do you capture a phenomenon like gentrification through literary representation? Raboteau’s suggestion is to make the economic forces of gentrification a dramatic driving component of the narrative, by placing Manny’s job at risk due to new management of the building. In turn, this instance of economic change similarly puts Angel’s future at risk.

At the same time, focusing on the life of and in a building—a sort of social microcosm mediating the urban structure at large—allows a novelist to activate gentrification through individual characters. Through this slice of social reality, depicting a group of people with diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds, large-scale conflicts of dispossession and displacement can be articulated in personal stories. This leads Raboteau to reflect on questions such as: what does it mean to be part of a community? What are our responsibilities toward our neighbors? And what is the role of public institutions in taking care of its most vulnerable citizens, here dramatized through Angel’s autism? Ultimately, asking the question, “to whom does an apartment building belong?” is to inquire about the right to the city.

In Henri Lefebvre’s classic rendering, the right to the city is a political practice in which we collectively transform ourselves by changing the city. I believe it’s fair to say that the same concern informs Raboteau’s literary writing on gentrification, the effect of which is precisely the dispossession of the collective, political claim to reshape the urban spaces we all share.

Written by Martin Aagaard Jensen

Reflections on Language and Power – Tatyana Kleynat at ARC By Sara Vogel

Language and power are tightly intertwined. That was my takeaway from November 16th’s ARC talk featuring the thoughtful, engaged, and critical scholar Tatyana Kleyn, who is an Associate Professor and Director of Bilingual Education and TESOL in the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Culture at the City College of New York.

This message about language and power came through in the substance of Kleyn’s talk and the film she screened about how transborder young people navigate language, family, and school as their families repatriate small towns in Oaxaca, Mexico after years of living in the United States. The power of words was also a theme that resonated in the post-talk conversation, including in ways that revealed some tensions in our ARC community that we would do well to address moving forward.

I’ll unpack that conversation in a bit. But first: the talk.

Tatyana is someone I have had the privilege to work with through the CUNY-New York State Initiative on Emergent Bilinguals, a project that brings K-12 teachers, administrators, and professors in bilingual education from across the CUNY campuses together to study and improve education for bilingual kids. As Don mentioned in his opening remarks, Kleyn’s work truly embodies the values and mission of ARC. Her research is interdisciplinary, straddling all of ARC’s clusters. She views phenomena such as immigration and multilingualism through the lens of theories that take into account racial, economic, and linguistic power hierarchies. And she is a public scholar, not content simply to write for narrow audiences of academics. Her films about the experiences of undocumented and transborder youth, as well as curriculum and guides for teachers based on the content of the films, are accessible for free online.

Before showing her film Una Vida, Dos Paìses (One Life, Two Countries), Kleyn asked us to consider the power of film as its own language. She argued persuasively that film can be mobilized as a research method, a medium of dissemination, and as service and activism. At the same time that she celebrated the capacity of the medium to “reprioritize whom we listen to” and to bring research participants’ stories alive for wider audiences, she also described some of the limitations and challenges of this type of scholarship. She has had to build strong relationships with her participants, many of them folks targeted in today’s political climate for their or their family members’ undocumented status. In addition, while she prefers not to use voice-overs in her films so that audiences hear participants “direct from the source,” she acknowledged her and her collaborators’ roles in editing and juxtaposing clips to create cohesive narratives.

The film she screened at ARC introduced us to a group of transborder young people living in Oaxaca, Mexico who call themselves “New Dreamers.” The film captures the complex, mixed emotions that come with “going home” — the feeling of belonging, but also of being “ni de aqui ni de alla” (from neither here nor there). One of the core themes discussed by participants was the role of language in their transitions to life in Mexico. Across contexts in the US and Mexico, languages are used for different purposes and have different statuses attributed to them. While the youth expressed love for the English language, and were often called upon by peers to tutor them in English, they also found themselves lost in classes delivered in Spanish, and felt peers and teachers in Oaxaca sometimes viewed them as stuck-up for their knowledge of English and experiences in the US. In her talk, Kleyn also described how indigenous languages, often regarded as less prestigious in their communities, are a key part of students’ linguistic repertoires, enabling them to communicate especially with older generations.

After Kleyn’s presentation, an audience member asked a question about the young people’s accents. It elicited a strong reaction from some of those present, including one who found it so offensive that he walked out. Rachel Chapman, a fellow ARC student, has provided her take on the question, and her response can be read on our blog here. Kleyn responded by critiquing the premise of the question, arguing that language ideologies about accent are rooted in socially and historically constructed hierarchies that rank speakers based on race, economic status, perceived education, ethnicity, and other markers (see Flores & Rosa, 2015 for more on this).

To me, the strength of ARC is its ability to foster critical conversations about dynamic and complex issues — immigration, inequality, multilingualism, and our digital world — with people at different stages in their academic careers, from different disciplinary, racial, and cultural backgrounds, in order to deepen research and practice in our fields.

Having conversations about complex issues across difference is not easy, however, and this moment at ARC brought those tensions into sharp relief.

Despite a professed desire for open, democratic dialogue, academic communities can reproduce many of the hierarchies they seek to dismantle. As we learned from the student when he returned to the conversation, for people of color, academia can be a violent space. Too often, people of color shoulder the burden and invest much emotional labor into correcting the oppressive dynamics which permeate our institutions. Others (read: white people) need to step up.

At ARC, there are some first steps we can take. There are many incredible organizations such as Border Crossers and the New York Coalition of Radical Educators, among others, which have figured out how to facilitate critical and constructive conversations across difference. I’ve drawn on resources from these organizations as I navigate my role as a white scholar and educator engaged in work with youth of color and their teachers, and have found them exceptionally useful.

To have critical and constructive conversations across difference, relationship-building and setting community norms are key. I noticed that when I began my time as an ARC student, there wasn’t a space devoted to building this community — perhaps such a space could be useful in the future. Some questions for ARC students and fellows to consider as we build community might include:

  • What are the challenges of coming together as an interdisciplinary community?
  • What norms might help ensure our conversations are both critical and constructive?
  • Who gets to study, publish about, and profit from research on inequality, multilingualism, and immigration? Why? In what ways does our community challenge those trends? In what ways does it reproduce them?
  • How might ARC fellows and students not just share our research, but work together to ensure we are also engaged in making our fields more equitable and just?

In many ways, Tatyana’s work offers us a compelling example of engaged, critical scholarship. She began her talk by discussing her own positionality — her own background and experiences, and how she arrived to her topic. She is transparent about how her own power and privilege shape her teaching and research. She forges strong bonds with her study participants, reciprocating in the communities that provide her with data. And her scholarship and teaching go hand in hand with her social justice activism.

I hope the talk from this week is a catalyst for some soul-searching at ARC. Not only might we strengthen and deepen our own work, but we might continue the hard work of dismantling oppressive structures within academia too.

Citation:

Flores, N., & Rosa, J. (2015). Undoing Appropriateness: Raciolinguistic Ideologies and Language Diversity in Education. Harvard Educational Review, 85(2), 149–171. https://doi.org/10.17763/0017-8055.85.2.149

 

By Sara Vogel

PhD Student in Urban Education, CUNY-Graduate Center

Commentary on Tatyana Kleyn’s ”Transborder Children and Youth (Back) in Mexico” by Kahdeidra Monét Martin

According to a recent Pew Research Report, between 2009 and 2014, one million people repatriated from the United States to Mexico. As a qualitative researcher, Dr. Tatyana Kleyn is interested in the stories behind these numbers. In particular, she studies the experiences of children and young adults who undergo these crossings—physical, social, linguistic, and educational. “Transborder youth are crossing many borders,” she said. Indeed, some recurring themes both in her research program and in reactions to her research are the power of language to form community and the need to cross borders in order to understand multiple perspectives. This blog piece begins by exploring the research topics, methodology and general findings of Kleyn’s work, and it ends by discussing the reactions to her lecture and offering practical suggestions for moving forward.

The Research

Kleyn, who is Associate Professor in the Bilingual Education and TESOL programs at the City College of New York, began her study entitled “The Other Side of Deportation Repatriation” as a Fulbright scholar in Mexico from 2014 to 2015.

Through interviews, classroom observations, and collections of art and poetry, Kleyn assembles portraits of transborder youth in elementary, secondary, and tertiary schools in Oaxaca, Mexico. Additionally, she uses documentary film as both a research method and tool for disseminating research findings to larger audiences. She said, “Film is accessible across borders. It does not matter your educational level or what language you speak.” Ethnographic data from her research on transborder youth in Oaxaca is highlighted in the documentary film “Una Vida, Dos Paises: Children and Youth (Back) in Mexico.” The complete film and accompanying unit plans are freely available at www.UnaVidatheFilm.com.

So, what are her findings? First, transborder youth bring their assets of multilingualism and multiculturalism that can be harnessed in the classroom. Differentiating classroom instruction to exploit their English language skills and knowledge of United States cultures can better support everyone in the learning community.

Second, it is important to note that transborder children are multifaceted and have varying degrees of fluency in the languages that they speak. Their linguistic repertoires are formed from the multiple speech communities that they have lived in. For example, one could hear features of U.S. English from the Midwest, Florida, and California; features of Spanish spoken in Latinx communities in Southern California; and Zapoteca, a language indigenous to Mexico. Generally, most of the youth in her study are more fluent and comfortable speaking English than Spanish, and they are least fluent in Zapoteca, which is stigmatized and mostly reserved for speaking with grandparents.

Naming themselves the New DREAMers, transborder youth negotiate their identities using language practices that are rooted in cultural and political hierarchies. Sociolinguists often refer to stigmatized language varieties or specific features of language, what lay people refer to as “accents,” in regards to prestige. We often criticize the less prestigious, stigmatized variety of a language while praising the dominant, higher prestige variety. Furthermore, higher prestige speech patterns that are considered normative or standard; one focuses on the content that their speakers are conveying. On the other hand, lower prestige varieties are considered irregular and substandard. Listeners tend to focus more on phonology and syntax rather than the substance of what the speaker is saying. These New DREAMers may speak varieties of Spanish that are lower prestige because they are different than what is spoken in Oaxaca. Conversely, their fluency in English is an asset that may be perceived as threatening by their teachers. These power dynamics and cultural fissions reflect the politicized nature of language.

The Reactions

After hearing about the project and viewing the 30 minute documentary on immigration, language, race, and class, audience members undoubtedly were feeling a mass of emotions. Personally, I was thrilled. I was impressed by Dr. Kleyn’s integration of mixed methods qualitative research and multimedia to magnify underrepresented voices. Her scholarship provides a model for me in several ways. As an Urban Education Ph.D. student who has been studying sociolinguistics since my freshman year of college in 1999, one could say that I have a close relationship with these topics. I’ve had time to mull them over, clarify questions, process strong emotions, and formulate my positions. But, this is not the norm.

Scholars from other academic disciplines and thematic clusters were processing their thoughts in the moment, perhaps unaware of the potential volatility in the atmosphere. The very first comment expressed in the discussion period was an anecdote about teaching multilingual children and a separate comment that drew attention to the fact that although youth had lived in the United States for several years, they still spoke English with a “Spanish accent.”

I am not sure where the comment was leading, or if there were a follow-up question planned after the anecdote and comment. However, I noticed that several audience members appeared to be uncomfortable and perplexed. What I heard in the comment was a lack of awareness about linguistic repertoires and the role of speech communities in shaping our linguistic repertoires. At the same time, I heard an ideological assumption of linguistic purity in the United States that is false and has been used as an instrument of racism in education, housing, and employment. It is this last piece that triggered some audience members, including my colleague who stated, “I’m sorry, but that is a racist statement!” He made other comments about being tired of racism at the Graduate Center before hurriedly leaving the room.

What happened? It was a charged context. We all hear and process information according to our own individual experiences and social positions. Bodies matter. Words matter. In recent months, my colleague and other Ph.D. students have experienced blatantly racist remarks such as being called ‘the N-word’ and ‘oriental’ in classes devoted to the scholarly study of language, power, and culture. They also have been subjected to sexist remarks in the same classes, and the individual rights of the offending parties—who are White—were prioritized over the rights of students of color and women.

Despite news articles to the contrary, I can attest that professors at the Graduate Center do in fact support the views of “conservative” and “right wing” students. They do in fact support academic dissent, even when it appears that comments teeter on racial and sexual harassment. And in this context, we students seek refuge in the lectures held at the Advanced Resource Collaborative with its stated commitment to promoting equity and critical, interdisciplinary dialogue. This work will not happen by itself. We must be intentional about forging community across boundaries of academic title, race, ethnicity, class, gender, linguistic background, and religion.

If a graduate student becomes enraged, do not question his intelligence or maturity. As Audre Lorde told us in “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” there is a place for eros in the academy. There is a place for rage as a defensive mechanism against the protracted, systematic oppression of our psyches. The academy is not neutral. There is a place for passion that can be transformative in our relationships, but reflexivity is key. What triggered our strong reactions to certain comments or actions? What are our “non-negotiables” as scholars? What experiences and teachings inform the values that we bring with us? Is it possible to understand someone else’s values and perspective? Can we apologize for our offenses and forgive others for offending us? Let’s assume the best of each other and receive each other with patience and compassion. Those are the first steps to navigating these often dangerous crossings of memory, of lived experience, and of perspective. As an ARC community, this is the work that we are uniquely called to do in these times, and to the extent that we are successful, the reverberations of our efforts are manifold.

 

Written by Kahdeidra Monét Martin, M.S.Ed.

Ph.D. Student in Urban Education

The Graduate Center, CUNY

Mellon Humanities Alliance Graduate Fellow

 

Commentary on Catherine Mulder’s ” Mondragon, its Cooperatives, and its University’s Role” by Laxman Timilsina & Fadime Demiralp

An Alternative to Capitalist University: The case of Mondragon University

Presented By: Catherine Mulder

Professor Mulder claimed that most academic programs assume capitalist structure and they do not regard anything to its alternatives. Since workers are the ones who know their job the best and who run the companies, it is best for the companies and institutions to rely on its workforce to make various decisions. Therefore, one of the alternatives to a capitalist system, she believes, is cooperatives which are broadly classified into three types: consumer, producer and worker cooperatives.

By invoking, Yanis Varoufakis, she claimed that capitalism might be undermining itself! Due to technological innovation and other things, capitalism is becoming obsolete. Will the world fall apart if capitalism stops now? she asked. Probably not, we will have a different system and maybe we could have more time for fishing and voting? She introduced Mondragon worker cooperatives as an alternative the current system.

Mondragon is located at Basque Region of northern Spain.  Mondragon companies are worker cooperatives where workers make rules and regulations. First Mondragon firms were opened in 1956. There are now about 260 firms and 15 technological centers, which employs over 80 thousand people. While Mondragon companies are subject to market forces and business cycle, they have faced very little bankruptcy case. It is primarily because they value workers over capital and planned market over the free market. In the areas where there were Mondragon companies there was very little unemployment because, if workers were laid off, they were absorbed in another company or given retirement benefits. She summarizes her critique of capitalism: what is the difference between a government ruling top-down and private companies doing the same?

While Mondragon companies are all over the world, her main focus was on Mondragon University. It is a knowledge sector of the companies. It has bachelor`s, masters and Ph.D. with various subjects from mechanical engineering to culinary arts. All stake-holders administer the university including faculty, staff, and students. They apply Mendeberri Learning Model whose components are training students to work cooperatively in teams, to learn how to direct projects, how to make decisions, how to negotiate and communicate. In this model, students have the central role.

In classrooms, in all subjects, they do not just assume capitalist models, but they learn about strategic management, market forces and how to be cooperative. The objectives of the university are: Broad social access to knowledge about the company and the global economy, developing interpersonal as well as critical and quantitative analytics, and the art of communication, team decision making (how to come up with mutually beneficial projects) and democratic principles (which is the whole idea: economic justice.).

At Mondragon, they elect their general manager. They elect a board of directors and then those people pick a governor body that does the daily stuff. Everything is done in a democratic manner and with a focus on its employees and the sustainability of labor. Major roadblock on forming such cooperatives is the lack of funding. To overcome that, Mondragon has its own bank which itself is a cooperative. While the ratio of average worker to CEO often ranges from $300-700 to $1 in several western companies, at Mondragon, it can only be maximum of 7 to 1.

Following her remarks, one can raise some questions: Where does the money come from? Does it not follow the same capitalist system to generate its money? If so, then how is it different among other from the current capitalist model? Why does a Mondragon company abroad have low paid workers who are not members of the cooperative while workers in Mondragon are the members of the cooperative?

Authors: Laxman Timilsina & Fadime Demiralp

Commentary on Michael Paris’s “Radical Liberalism and School Desegregation”

Over sixty years ago, the Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), determined that separating children into white and black schools was inherently unequal and that schools must integrate, “with all deliberate speed.” Despite the successes of the 1954 case, segregation based on race and class is on the rise, most especially for poor Latino students. Dr. Michael Paris, political scientist and professor of law at the College of Staten Island, presented on Thursday, October 19th at the Graduate Center, on the developments of his future book (working title), The Death and Life of School Desegregation: Racial Liberalism and American Constitutionalism. The book is based on his extensive research on the school desegregation case in Hartford, Connecticut: Sheff v. O’Neill (1996).

With the assistance of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Sheff v. O’Neill case originated with 18 school aged children and their parents (black, Hispanic and white) in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1989, they filed a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut (including Governor William O’Neill), citing the state had violated students’ state constitutional positive right to an equal educational opportunity, due to racial isolation and concentrated poverty. Specifically, the case cited the state spent fewer resources on public schools with majority Black/Latino populations, compared to schools with majority White populations.

The trial took 35 trial days, with testimony from 58 witnesses and some 1,000 documents of evidence. In 1995, the judge ruled in favor of the State, stating that the plaintiffs did not provide enough evidence to show that the state helped cause school segregation.  One year later, in 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the ruling and held that the state constitution “requires the legislature to take affirmative responsibility to remedy segregation, regardless of whether it has occurred de jure or de facto” (Paris, 2017). The court didn’t specify the particular remedies to be taken, but urged branches of state government to make de facto segregation a top priority. Due to the lack of specification, since 1996, the case has experienced five trips back to court, five consent decrees or agreements, several reform laws, approximately $2 billion in new expenditures and significant citywide school desegregation. The mechanism for desegregation has been voluntary for families and suburban districts, with the creation of inter-district magnet schools and a one-way urban to suburban transfer program. The result has been that by 2016, about 9,200 Hartford School District children or 45% total, attended desegregated schools, compared to 700 students or 3% in 1997. A desegregated school is defined as one in which the school population is 75% or less minority.

 Professor Paris’s analysis of why Hartford has been relatively successful at integrating schools where, in other cases, integration has failed so dramatically, starts with a critique of school desegregation efforts written by the legal scholar, Dr. Derrick Bell. Bell wrote his critique in 1976 in a Yale Law Journal article entitled “Serving Two Masters: Integration Ideals and Client Interests in School Desegregation Litigation.” Bell argued that these desegregation efforts were limited in several ways. The first is about the clients in cases like this, where Bell argues that these lawsuits claim to speak for the African American community as a whole, without actually establishing that the African American community shares the same goals as presented in the case. Paris believes that Sheff addressed this issue through community engagement, buy getting buy-in from the community, and having community members give vivid testimonies. Bell also believed that the focus of desegregation cases should be better education, not an ideological commitment to desegregation, per se. Sheff took this tact as well. Additionally, Bell made clear that previous desegregation efforts had been too legalistic and reliant on the courts, when the truth is that institutions and people don’t always follow the law in a way that is productive in meeting the goal of desegregation. Sheff made great efforts to have an educational and policy aspect to its work, thus avoiding the trap of relying too much on legalistic remedies. Lastly, Bell recognized the importance of focusing not on what courts say but instead what they actually do. Sheff took this into account through a framework of of moving from “needs to rights,” drawing on a previous court victory. Additionally, Paris argues that it was very important that Hartford built some excellent magnet schools in the central city, thus incentivizing suburban parents to bus their kids into the city for school.Despite the successes of the Sheff case and its attempts to uphold students’ rights to equal educational opportunities, Dr. Paris argues that schooling for students separated by race and class can never be equal. He cited the following social conditions: high rates of joblessness, crime & neighborhood violence, single parent households & family disruptions, recurrent evictions & housing relocations and frequent incidences of health problems, developmental disabilities and hunger. Additionally, schools where students are starkly separated by race and class, generally have less prepared teachers, high dropout rates, pre-packaged curriculum, high levels of student attrition, less parental involvement and fewer resources. Hence, Dr. Paris argues that housing policy is school policy. In order to achieve equal educational opportunities for all students, it is essential to re-create housing policy, the tax code for school funding and the distribution of social resources. What type of social movement is needed to achieve such legal changes? Who are the stakeholders that need to turnkey? What is the role of students and teachers in this movement? Where do we begin?

Written by: Rachel J. Chapman and Christopher Maggio

Paris, M. (2017). Racial Liberalism and School Desegregation: The Connecticut Case of Sheff v. O’Neill (1996). Presentation presented at the Advanced Research Collective, The Graduate Center, New York, NY.

Commentary on Brian Nolan’s “Inequality and Prosperity” by Erin Cully

Income inequality has become the watchword of the current era. It is often used as a shorthand explanation for wealth concentration, economic stagnation, declining social mobility, various social ills ranging from the decline of civic engagement to the opioid crisis, and for the populist politics that have blossomed in the US and Europe. In his fascinating talk, Brian Nolan, Professor of Social Policy at the University of Oxford, took a hard look at the evidence for these purported consequences of inequality, and in most cases found it lacking or inconclusive. But does data have the final word?

Take Brexit, for example. Many have argued that rising British income inequality was responsible for driving populist feeling. But Prof. Nolan showed that while inequality spiked sharply during the Thatcher era, it remained stable thereafter, meaning that the level of inequality did not, in a strict sense, correlate with the rise of populism. Yet Prof. Nolan didn’t discount the possibility that the data might not be telling the whole story. He acknowledged that there may be lagging or indirect effects, and it is possible that the spurt of inequality in the 80s sowed the seeds for the present wave of populism in ways that sociologists are still studying. Certainly the fact that, as he cited, education and geography are the strongest predictors for how people voted suggests that labor market competitiveness and uneven regional economic development — which are manifestations of inequality — rallied support for the “Leave” campaign.

On Growth and Inequality

According to Prof. Nolan, the claim that rising inequality slows economic growth is not robustly substantiated by the evidence. In my view, this causal relationship is not only unsupported by data but might also be conceptually flawed. Let’s say inequality does slow down growth: we are still left to explain what forces are creating inequality in the first place. And the possible answers to that question — financialization, stagnant wages, etc. — are all markers of a sedate economy. Thus, our hypothesis would be that inequality is both driven by and driving slow growth, in which case the impact of inequality on growth is a feedback effect, and we ought to focus primarily on the puzzle of slowed economic growth.

This puzzle cuts to the heart of a debate in the field of economics about the theories used to understand the workings of the economy. As Prof. Nolan pointed out, policymakers at the IMF and the OECD now argue that inequality can be addressed through market correcting tweaks, and have therefore begun developing policies intended to foster “inclusive growth.” But is inequality a bug or a feature of our capitalist economy? It might be more likely that slowed growth, like income inequality, is inherent to capitalism. In that case, are redistribution and other such schemes the solution? If the gears of the capitalist economy are in a secular slowdown, they might not provide more than a short-term reprieve.

Erin Cully

Commentary on Christopher Bonastia’s “The Southern Attack on Northern Hypocrisy in Education” by ARC Student Fellows Deshonay Dozier and Rakhee Kewada

Christopher Bonastia urges that integration, as a strategy for unearthing the unequal foundations of United States institutions such as education, is not expendable. In his presentation, “The Southern Attack on Northern Hypocrisy in Education,” Bonastia however sheds light on some of the contradictions of progressivism as part of his broader critique and historical analysis of Northern education intergrationist movements in the 1970s. Bonastia challenges conventional narratives of the Civil Rights Movement, asserting the movement’s longer history and continuation into the 1970s as well as the movement’s fight for integration as a tactic to achieve great equality rather than a moral good or good unto itself.

After the Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education decision (1954) banning intentional segregation in schools, most of the white South spent the next decade evading the mandate to create desegregated school systems. New York City and many of its purportedly liberal Northern counterparts denied that they intentionally fostered school segregation and vowed to redouble their efforts to increase integration. Yet, their deeds fell fall short of their rhetoric. Infuriated by sanctimonious Northern criticism of segregation and racism in the South, Southern white newspaper editors, anti-integration activists and politicians sought to expose Northern hypocrisy via scathing editorials, publicity stunts such as the “Reverse Freedom Rides” and the introduction of legislation to compel school desegregation nationwide. Bonastia presents a wealth of original archival data detailing these efforts to expose Northern hypocrisy all the while asking: Did white Southerners have a point?

For example, while Northern liberal newspapers at the time did not report on race tensions in the North, through their critiques of Northern hypocrisy, Southern newspapers such as the Montgomery Alabama Advertiser revealed that there was fierce resistance to school desegregation in the North in places where there was a large black population. The “Reverse Freedom Rides” where the White Citizens Council – informally known as “the gentlemen’s klan” – offered to pay one-way fares for Southern black people to travel North presented an attempt to force liberals in the North to take on welfare rolls and provide employment. And, when a Southern senator attempted to introduce a bill to amend the desegregation school bill so that it would be applied uniformly nation-wide, a Northern liberal senator effectively resisted the bill. Thus, Bonastia reveals the ways in which the politics and rhetorical gestures of both Southern conservatives and Northern liberals maintain inequality.

Bonastia’s interrogation of the hypocrisy of the liberal North is still relevant today as the pendulum of United States politics continues to swing between conservatism and progressivism while inequality remains rooted in institutions such as education. Indeed, Bonastia asks whether school integration in a place like New York City was ever possible opening up a fruitful discussion with the audience where questions around the scale of the New York City school system, “white flight” and the role of private schools arose.

We are very excited about the possibilities of Bonastia’s study to uncover the parallels between liberal and conservative approaches to institutional change. We are interested in how both of these reformist approaches repeatedly fail, as Bonastia outlines, and the possibilities for non-reformist reforms (See Golden Gulag by Ruth Wilson Gilmore) that can enable us to move effectively towards freedom and democracy.

A professor of sociology and public intellectual we are confident that Bonastia’s accessible research on U.S. politics will not disappoint as it will make an invaluable contribution to a wide-range of students and scholars.

~Deshonay Dozier and Rakhee Kewada

 

 

Commentary on Alexandre Duchene’s “The Multilingual Division of Contemporary Labor: Selection, Inequalities and Exploitation” by Student Fellow Luke Elliott-Negri

 

Alexandre Duchene studies the sociology of language and chairs the Department of Multilingualism studies at the University of Fribourg. His current research uses ethnographic methods to gather data from new economy workplaces in Europe. The empirical focus of his ARC talk was the experience of three types of service workers in a Zurich airport.

Dr. Duchene argues that theories of the “division of labor” are as relevant as ever to understanding how value is produced in 21st century capitalism. He argues that while Marxist, feminist and post-colonial critiques of and contributions to the division of labor concept are vital, they tend to underplay the role of language. Dr. Duchene suggests that language is an independent axis along which which to evaluate and critique theories of the division of labor and the way contemporary divisions fuel inequality.

Dr. Duchene’s empirical work in the Zurich airport is fascinating. He focuses on three types of new economy employees all of whom work for “Airport Logistics Company” (ALC):

  1. Service agents, who are mostly female, white, Swiss and who often have secondary degrees. Some have permanent jobs and others do not.
  2. Special assistants, who are mostly female. Swiss special assistants have less schooling than their service agent counterparts, but many are from eastern countries, Asia & Latin America. They are hourly and non-permanent.
  3. Luggage handlers, who are mostly mail and are from Southern & Eastern Europe, North Africa & South America. There are no Swiss luggage handlers to speak of, and they have a heterogeneous school profile.

It is not possible to understand the experience of these workers in the new economy without also understanding the role of language. Service agents are audible and visible to all passengers, and hence must be able to display a capacity for French. Special assistants only interact with marginalized – old and otherly-abled – passengers, and must be able to use English and German, but not French. Finally, luggage handlers must simply be able to function in German.

But these distinctions along language lines are not always permanent. Some service agents are “dedicated” to an airline, and wear their uniforms. Many are “all around” workers, and wear generic ALC uniforms. The former situation – dedicated employment – is higher in status and offers more predictable schedules and often better salaries. Dr. Duchene tells the story of a Spanish woman who was happy to be employed directly by a Spanish airline. Her language skills were an asset that she did not expect when she arrived in Switzerland. However, 10 months later, the airline broke the contract with ALC and she became an “all around” worker. Her advantage disappeared.

There was far more in Dr. Duchene’s talk than can be covered in this brief review, and undoubtedly far more in his research than could be covered in his talk. He successfully conveyed key points however – namely that language matters for understanding and critiquing the division of labor and the inequalities it produces, and that language distinctions, while powerful, are also non-permanent. We must track these distinctions incessantly, if we want to understand the empirical world around us.

~Luke Elliott-Negri

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary on Margaret Chin’s “The Hidden Rules of Work for Second Generation Asian Americans” by ARC Student Fellow Sarah Molinari

Margaret Chin is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY and a Faculty Associate at Hunter College’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. Her research broadly focuses on immigration policy, race, families, work, and Asian Americans. Dr. Chin is the author of Sewing Women: Immigrants and the New York City Garment Industry (Columbia University Press, 2005). On March 23, ARC welcomed Dr. Chin to discuss her new book project on second-generation Asian American professionals and corporate culture.

Dr. Chin’s research focuses on why Asian Americans do comprise a larger portion of employees or executive roles in big companies in the U.S. Despite stereotypes of being the “successful immigrant group,” she argues that Asian Americans indeed encounter a “glass ceiling” and are underrepresented in professional industries. Dr. Chin’s work promises to make a number of scholarly contributions. There is a lack of research specifically on Asian Americans within the literature on second-generation immigrants and work, and one major explanation for the “glass ceiling” is that “it’s only a matter of time” before Asian Americans attain more executive roles. Dr. Chin, however, argues that this explanation is too reductive and instead demonstrates the complex factors intervening in professional attainment processes and the uneven rewards employees receive for certain “cultural strategies.”

Dr. Chin employed ethnographic methods for her research, which included interviewing 103 second-generation Asian Americans between 28 and 57-years-old and observing corporate panels and professional events. Her interviewee sample is elite, but with a paradox: all make over $90,000 per year and 46% attended ivy league colleges and graduated between the 1980s and 2000s, but very few had achieved positions high up on the “corporate ladder.”

Informants obtained professional jobs directly through college recruitment at elite universities, or through college fairs and foundations’ affirmative action-like programs. Dr. Chin argues that during recruitment, companies seek a certain “cultural fit” to reproduce a corporate elite among a small group of people. Dr. Chin’s informants often spoke about “success” in terms of what their parents wanted and could easily explain their school successes, but had difficulty explaining work successes or seeing structural explanations like discrimination as a cause for not attaining executive roles. While “soft skills” are important to both school and professional success, Dr. Chin demonstrates that factors such as “polish and trust”—getting to know and being trusted by others in the company—are even more necessary to achieving executive roles.

Despite the diverse skill sets that second-generation Asian Americans bring to the corporate workplace, Dr. Chin’s research shows that Asian American employees are often pigeonholed into more “quantitative-type” jobs in line with stereotypes that circulate in the workplace. Micro-aggressions in the workplace also impact whether or not they get promoted. For example, Dr. Chin’s informants were often asked, “where are you from?” or told, “your English is very good.”

Dr. Chin explains that two factors made a difference for the few informants who attained executive roles: the employee learning and reproducing the company’s “cultural knowledge” and practices, as well as the particular company’s investment in minority groups. It would be interesting to compare Dr. Chin’s research findings with other second-generation immigrant groups or underrepresented populations to determine how the particular Asian-American experience might reflect broader trends in corporate culture.

~ Sarah Molinari