Citizenship, Anger and Bad Reputations

permanently alien in japan

After World War II, 600,000 of Japan’s former Korean colonial subjects remained there and have never been granted automatic citizenship. Nor have their descendants.

Kiyoteru Tsutsui and Hwa Ji Shin (Social Problems, August 2008) suggest that the ongoing struggle of these resident Koreans provides a good test of theories about how local activism and international human rights movements contribute to political change inside a country. The authors examined four different campaigns to decipher the conditions under which resident Koreans won better conditions for themselves.

In the fight over mandatory fingerprinting of resident Koreans and other aliens, for example, a combination of activism at home and international consensus on rights helped finally abolish the law in 1992. In contrast, attempts to achieve the right to Korean ethnic education haven’t made much headway. Infighting among North and South Koreans on the ground over what kind of education they want has stalled the impact of the international pressure in their favor.

Ultimately, this analysis suggests that while international human rights standards is indispensable to the success of local movements, the opposite is also true: without a strong local movement, international standards alone may not be enough to improve the situation on the ground. M.K.

fruit of the non-kosher vine

The Israeli wine industry is booming, yet most new wineries aren’t following the strict laws of kosher vinting. Tal Simons and Peter Roberts (Administrative Science Quarterly, June 2008) argue this is due to the prior “non-local” winemaking experiences of Israeli vinters. Even when the kosher rules of the local industry were well established, winemakers educated or employed in Napa Valley and elsewhere were able to introduce non-kosher wine practices to the region. Kosher winemaking may have been more common, but exposure to new ideas abroad uncorked a new vintage. W.L.

much ado…for nothing

Many Americans were angry about the events of 9/11, but a study by Kraig Beyerlein and David Sikkink (Social Problems, May 2008) finds those with the most anger often fail to put their time, resources, and money where their mouths are.

Past research on civic engagement has revealed that anger is a motivating factor in joining a social movement, while sorrow and empathy drive people to volunteer time and resources to assist in natural disaster relief.

Using data from the 2002 Religion and Public Activism Survey, the authors found that people with personal connections to the events and those who strongly identify with patriotic values were among the most likely to volunteer in 9/11 relief efforts.

People who felt enraged did little to assist in relief efforts, yet those who felt empathy for victims were more likely to help, the authors learned. Those who offered the greatest amount of assistance often developed personal connections to victims through participation in community or religious vigils. Because of their higher levels of religiosity, women and African Americans were more likely to volunteer their time to assist victims, the study showed, and New Yorkers who lived close to the site of the attack were empathetic and drawn to volunteer, regardless of their religious ties. K.H.

muchachas on the move

The last two decades have seen a dramatic increase in the flow of undocumented female migrants from Mexico. Although men and women crossing the border have increasingly similar demographic profiles, there’s significant variation in how they cross and the likelihood they’ll be caught.

Using data from household surveys in 107 communities in Mexico between 1987 and 2004, Katharine Donato, Brandon Wagner, and Evelyn Patterson (International Migration Review, 2008) find women are more likely to attempt clandestine crossings with a paid smuggler, while men are more likely to cross alone.

Crossing with smugglers in high profile areas increases the chances of being apprehended. A woman making her first trip was more likely to be caught than a man, and even seasoned women face a greater likelihood of being caught than men, the study shows.

The estimated 2 million undocumented Mexican women living in the United States represent the changing face of a migrant stream once overwhelmingly composed of men. The task now is to better understand how their gender helps or hinders the journey. S.G.

are you there god? it’s me, a poor teen

Poverty not only affects American teenagers’ self-esteem, educational achievements, and life chances, but it also influences their faith, according to Philip Schwadel (Sociology of Religion, Summer 2008). Poor adolescents differ from their non-poor counterparts in religious beliefs and practices.

Using data from the National Study of Youth and Religion, Schwadel finds poor teens are more likely to have active, but private, religious lives and they’re much less likely to participate in institutional religion. Moreover, poor teens are more likely to see their faith as important to their daily lives, but its salience comes from personal prayer and scripture reading, rather than attending services, Sunday school, or youth group activities. Finally, poor teens are less likely than non-poor teens to believe in life after death, but are significantly more likely to believe there will be a judgment day for God to reward and punish.

Religious faith can help teens through their confusing adolescent years, and whether or not they live in poverty seems to help explain what that religious experience will look like. S.G.

it’s raining demography, hallelujah

Few social science surveys include questions about sexual orientation, making it difficult to track trends about lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations. And because the Census only captures a subset of the sexual minority population who “out” themselves by indicating they cohabit with a partner of the same sex, single and non-cohabiting sexual minorities aren’t included in such analyses.

Christopher Carpenter and Gary J. Gates (Demography, August 2008) recently made a breakthrough on this front, completing the first systematic analysis of same-sex partnership trends in the United States. They use two representative California public health surveys to compare trends among sexual minorities with regard to who couples up, who cohabits, and who seeks relationship recognition from the state.

They find partnership rates for lesbians are nearly the same as those for straight women, but gay men partner at a much lower rate than comparable heterosexual men. Furthermore, partnered gay men and lesbians tend to be older, are more likely to be white, and more highly educated on average than non-partnered gay men and lesbians.

These demographic differences hold even when comparing same-sex couples who choose to have their relationships recognized by the state to those who don’t.

These results suggest generalizations drawn about sexual minority populations from the 2000 Census paint a rosier picture of the socioeconomic well-being of all sexual minorities than is actually the case. T.O.

jesus and the gang

Pentecostal Christians in Honduras have a little extra security from gang violence, and his name is Jesus.

Based on ethnography and interviews with youth there, Jon Wolseth (Latin American Perspectives, July 2008) found young men have converted in order to deal with the violence that surrounds them.

Pentecostalism offers Honduran men an alternative way of living that gangs respect. Converted men are seen as “domesticated” because their new ethics prohibit drinking, drugs, and dancing. Also, gangs respect “cristianos” because they’re seen as close to God—which means messing with one may result in divine retribution.

Following the path of Christ, then, becomes an opportunity for some men to avoid getting involved in a gang or a valid reason to leave a criminal past behind. It also gives converts newly meaningful lives. By internalizing a new set of values, including a belief in “sanctuary,” they create a protective social space apart from everyday violence.

As long as the adherent continues to demonstrate his religious commitment through action, God will protect him. This belief gives young men a narrative to explain experiences with gang aggression—from narrow escapes to heavenly justice being leveled against perpetrators. R.A.

i do give a damn about my bad reputation

If you’ve ever wondered how high-powered talent agents get their stars to show them the money, Stephen Zafirau has an answer in his recent article on “reputation work” in the Hollywood talent industry (Qualitative Sociology, June 2008).

After spending seven months at a Hollywood talent management company, Zafirau discovered that creating and maintaining a good reputation is a fundamental part of the everyday work of Hollywood agents and managers.

From fine-tuning the layout of their office furniture to practicing a confident and aggressive form of self-presentation, agents spend a great deal of time and energy on seemingly mundane tasks simply in order to meet industry-wide expectations for a “good agent.” How well an agent does these many “little” things, Zafirau’s subjects told him, makes the difference between a successful or mediocre career.

Reputation is important in many industries, of course, but the author argues it’s especially important in fickle and rapidly-changing culture industries, which offer few sure markers of agents’ competency and even fewer guaranteed pathways for client success. Amid this uncertainty, the perception that an agent is competent becomes the surest sign of competency itself and a stabilizing feature in an otherwise volatile business. D.W.

betting on addiction

Millions of dollars have been wagered on whether or not excessive gambling is a problem of neurological proportions. Indeed, drugs like naltrexone—originally used to fight heroin addiction in the 1960s—have become silver bullets for curbing urges to gamble deep inside the brain.

But like any good casino game, things aren’t what they seem. According to Scott Vrecko (Economy and Society, February 2008), irresponsible gambling didn’t become a medical problem until the gaming industry itself stepped up to the table.

With start-up money from the gambling industry, the National Center for Responsible Gambling (NCRG) was established in 1996 to sponsor research on pathological gambling addictions. Since then, researchers funded by the center have churned out hundreds of articles on the subject; at Harvard, NCRG even financed an institute on pathological betting and related disorders.

As more research is conducted on pathological gambling, thinking about gambling in non-medical terms becomes harder. Too many casinos, the lack of will power, and more sociological factors aren’t the problem—it’s the brain. This study reminds us that moral problems can become medical ones when vested interests step in. W.L.

old churches never die

The national mortality rate for U.S. religious congregations—just 1 percent since 1988—is among the lowest ever observed for any type of organization, according to Shawna Anderson and colleagues (Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, June 2008).

Sociologists have long been interested in when and why organizations decline, dissolve, and die. They’ve looked at the demise of everything from volunteer service organizations (which close at a rate of 2.3 percent) and California wineries (5 percent) to peace movements (9 percent) and chapters of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (7 percent). But few studies examine the rate at which congregations close their doors.

Based on data from the 1998 National Congregations Study, Anderson and her colleagues argue religious groups are so resilient because these “minimalist organizations” cost very little to start and maintain, and they remain flexible in the face of obstacles. A congregation doesn’t have to be a thriving, suburban mega-church with a large membership and huge budget to survive. In fact, a small, rural congregation with six members and a volunteer rabbi can also stay alive—and be well—in the American religious landscape. D.W.

good corruption, bad corruption

The bribes and payouts orchestrated by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his cronies were extraordinary, even for Washington.

But while Abramoff’s exploits hinted at a government in disarray, plenty of governments function just fine with high levels of bribery and embezzlement. According to Keith Darden (Politics and Society, March 2008), corruption in the right context can actually build loyalty among officials and uphold public order.

Darden analyzed publicly available (secretly) taped conversations between former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma and his underlings to understand how one of the most corrupt states in the world was still effective at collecting taxes and fighting crime.

When officials used graft to buy compliance from subordinates, it reinforced the established state hierarchy, thus ensuring a high level of performance. Kuchma encouraged officials to take a “second salary” from their own departments, and they complied, recognizing that keeping their job (and avoiding prison) meant obeying Kuchma and keeping his accountants happy.

To some, this was corruption of the worst kind. However, it clearly facilitated governance when the rule of law was weak. Of course, widespread corruption only lasts as long as the general public will take it. As Darden points out, the Orange Revolution in 2004 led to the overthrow of the decade-long Kuchma regime. Perhaps it was too much corruption—even for Ukraine. W.L.

psst, you taking calculus next year?

Even as the differences in math proficiency between the sexes seem to be disappearing, differences between the math courses taken by girls and boys in American high schools remain.

According to Kenneth Frank and his co-authors (American Journal of Sociology, May 2008), we can look to girls’ classmates for clues about why they sign up for more advanced math courses.

Previous research has shown that teenagers are pretty secure in their friendships and therefore peer pressure from friends holds little sway. The authors argue the more relevant group for peer pressure is the kids with whom a teen takes many courses in common.

Because these classmates are a teen’s most likely potential pool of friends, the researchers theorized that their choice of math courses would be influenced by an attempt to fit in with the kids they wanted to be friends with, rather than those who are already their friends.

The results of the study show this peer influence had an effect on girls, but not boys. Although the research couldn’t necessarily explain why this would be so, the result is troublesome for those hoping the gap between girls and boys will continue to narrow. M.K.

foster care not as bad as we thought

Deciphering whether something is the cause of a social problem or its effect is the stuff of good sociology, and despite the prevailing assumption that foster care sets kids up to fare worse during adulthood, a new study challenges whether it’s actually true.

Stephanie Cosner Berzin (Social Service Review, August 2008) argues the social and family environments many foster kids come from, and not foster care itself, are to blame for the poverty, low educational attainment, and high rates of incarceration many foster kids face as adults.

To test this for the first time, Berzin used a sophisticated statistical technique known as propensity score matching to simulate an experiment on a nationally representative sample of young adults. Comparing the transitions of 120 foster kids to a “matched” sample of comparable kids who were never in foster care, Brezin found few differences.

According to the analysis, kids from comparable social backgrounds (in terms of neighborhoods, socioeconomic status, and other factors) fare no better during their transition to adulthood than their counterparts in foster care. Though foster care certainly didn’t improve the outcome, it also didn’t hurt foster kids’ futures, Berzin found. A.B.

risks of the rich and pregnant

Being wealthy and with-child has its own unique dangers, according to a new study in the Journal of Epidemiology (August 2008).

Mélissa Généreux and colleagues took the novel approach of analyzing how indirect exposure to traffic-related pollution may lead to preterm births and/or low birth weight in newborns. They claim that soon-to-be-mothers are impacted differently depending on their socioeconomic status (SES) and the neighborhoods they live in, but not in the expected ways.

In poorer neighborhoods there are no significant birth risks of living within 200 meters of a highway. But in wealthy neighborhoods, this same distance increases the odds of a preterm birth by 58 percent and low birth weight by 81 percent.

Researchers speculate that low SES mothers are exposed to so many other hazards in their environments that living near a highway is mostly irrelevant. Conversely, high SES women significantly undo the health benefits of living a high-SES lifestyle if they live near a highway. A.B.

rolling the dice with capitalist market reform

In a capitalist market, the winners and losers are clearly marked by their financial status, but they may be separated by their stress levels as well. Wei-Hsin Yu (Social Problems, August 2008) uses a nationally representative survey of urban Chinese residents to find out how the transition from a state-organized to a market economy is affecting their mental health.

Yu finds the transition has a positive impact on the psychological well-being of those in provinces that have the highest levels of private employment. However, since this holds true for individuals across a variety of income levels, positive mental health may result not from improvements brought about by a market economy, but rather by a belief in the possibilities such a change brings.

This points to the idea that the higher wages (or possibility thereof) in the private sector offsets the stress brought on by job insecurity. However, those in the formerly collectivized sector, now open to the whims of the market, had significant decreases in their psychological well-being.

It turns out in the craps game of free-market capitalism, winning or losing affects more than just your pocketbook. J.W.

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