Intimate Inequalities

Sociologist Ken Plummer coined the phrase “intimate inequalities” to capture the ways disparities of power and income invade even the most personal aspects of our lives: how we structure our families, how we experience our diverse sexualities, and how we live in and use our bodies.

Several features in this issue focus on the ways in which intimate life choices and experiences are shaped by economics and power. In our cover story, Sharmila Rudrappa follows women in Bangalore as they transition from the brutal conditions of work in the garment industry to another form of assembly line production: baby making. For these women, the intimate use of the body as a means of earning a living is not only a more lucrative form of labor, it is also at times more lucrative form of labor, it is also at times more self-fulfilling. Julia A. Ericksen explores bodily intimacy in an entirely different milieu, the world of Latin dance. The “body project” these dancers engage in demonstrates the interplay Irvine reports on a recent survey of sexuality researchers and their experiences with Institutional Review Boards. Her evidence suggests troubling trends in the ways that IRBs evaluate the ethics of sexuality research based on uninformed and negative stereotypes of sexuality and the body. Each of these feature articles invites further discussion on the shifting role of bodies and intimacy as forms of self-awareness and social capital.

The Viewpoints symposium in this issue continues the theme of intimate inequalities with a focus on Occupy Wall Street. In this dynamic movement, activists are literally using their bodies as a vehicle of protest as they move onto the sites of occupation. We asked several well-known social analysts to comment on this innovative form of embodied social protest and to speculate on its implications.

Pedagogies editor Gary K. Perry reflects on the disruption of intimate lives that occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He interviews Michael Mizell-Nelson, founder of the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank. The survival experiences stored in the HDMB began as a way for concerned friends and families to communicate with one another in the days immediately following the hurricane, and now serve as powerful reminders of the scope of this disaster and its impact on the everyday lives of the socio-economically disadvantaged. This theme is also evident in Mediations and Trends, which include commentary on the stark distinction between media images of “the help” and the lived experiences of domestic workers; the sexualization of pre-teens in contemporary media; sleeping on the couches of strangers as a popular new mode of travel; and the contested role of animal testing in medical research. Finally, our photo essay explores the nooks and crannies of the infamous military prison at Guantanamo Bay. These pictures provide a behind-the-scenes look into the environment in which the inhabitants spend their days.

This issue provides fresh perspectives and new insights for deciphering intimate inequalities as they occur locally, nationally and globally, in contexts of survival, pleasure, research, imprisonment and more. We invite you delve in for a deeper, richer understanding of social issues — the hallmark of Contexts.