Communication as Perspective (part 2 of 2)

face2Michael Kennedy

Brown University

This is the second part of an interview with Michael Kennedy conducted by Labinot Kunushevci as part of the series of conversations with sociologists for the forthcoming volume Communication as Perspective: Interviews with Contemporary Sociologists.

We thank Labinot Kunushevci for permission to share this excerpt.

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Communication as Perspective: an interview with Michael Kennedy

face2Michael Kennedy
Brown University

We are at risk of seeing more dimensions of knowledge lose their status as a public good, and rather become more and more a source of power and privilege.”

What follows is an excerpt from an interview with Michael Kennedy conducted by Labinot Kunushevci, graduate student in sociology – University of Prishtina (1/13/2016). Conducted as part of a series of conversations for a volume entitled Communication as Perspective: Interviews with Contemporary Sociologists, in prep, ed. Labinot Kunushevci. Other interviewees include Anthony Giddens, George Ritzer, Patricia Hill Collins, Liah Greenfeld, Hayriye Erbaş, Jasminka Lažnjak, Raewyn Connell, Chua Beng Huat, Barry Wellman, Margaret Abraham, and John Holloway.

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What will Trump do about NAFTA?

malcolmMalcolm Fairbrother
University of Bristol
15 December 2016

As the Trump Administration comes into being and defines its priorities, one of the less interesting things to watch will be its actions on NAFTA.

Why less? At first glance, this might seem a fascinating and important question—given that earlier this year Donald Trump called the North American Free Trade Agreement the “worst trade deal ever,” and promised to pull the U.S. out unless Mexico and Canada agreed to renegotiate it. The prosaic reality however is that Trump won’t touch NAFTA, except maybe in the most superficial of ways.

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Making Sense of Neoliberalism under the Trump Administration

14560057_10100345869476981_6430778352779005552_oTimothy M. Gill
Tulane University

In the wake of the Republican electoral victory an autopsy of the Democratic Party has ensued, and neoliberal economic policies have recurrently factored into these discussion. Several individuals, including Naomi Klein and Bernie Sanders, have noted that the Democratic Party requires a more substantive economic message than what Hillary Clinton offered to voters. In particular, Klein has castigated the Democratic Party for its embrace of neoliberal economic policies and pointed out that it must relinquish this relationship lest it continue to lose elections.

What is more, some have understood Trump’s victory as signifying the death of neoliberalism in the U.S. Cornel West, for instance, has argued that “the age of Obama was the last gasp of neoliberalism.” With the election of Trump, he says, “neoliberalism in the United States ended with a neofascist bang … [as his] lethal fusion of economic insecurity and cultural scapegoating brought neoliberalism to its knees.”

Trump might have condemned trade liberalization, but his administration is – on all other accounts – ready to implement an intensive, neoliberal agenda.

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The Case for Block Grants

McCabeJosh McCabe
Wellesley College

When the new Congress meets in January, unified Republican control suggests that a shift toward the use of block grants is likely to take place. Under Paul Ryan, the House has proposed consolidating federal funding for both healthcare and social assistance into two block grants. Conservatives see this as fostering fiscally responsible innovation. Liberals see it as part of a nefarious plot to gut programs for the poor.

While American pundits and policymakers often discuss the historical shift to block grants during welfare reform, they rarely bring in comparative analysis to this debate. This is a mistake. Canada offers a fuller picture of the promises and pitfalls of block grants. In contrast to the U.S., where block grants make up a mere 1.5% of the federal budget, they account for about 25% of the federal budget in Canada – a country many hold up as a model for U.S. social policy. Moreover, the majority of these blocks grants are for the same functions Ryan has proposed – healthcare and social assistance. This leaves us with a puzzle: Why do block grants seem to work so well in Canada but not here?

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What’s the matter with Iowa?

Josh_Pacewicz_2Josh Pacewicz
Brown University


It took Democrats decades to lose the Rust Belt. Reclaiming it won’t be easy.

Given that Trump’s won overwhelming support from white, blue-collar voters, his sweep of the Rust Belt may appear inevitable, but it is historically unprecedented—a subject with which I’m familiar as I have recently written a book about politics in two Rust Belt Iowa cities.

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What Will and Won’t Constrain Trump

LachmannRichard Lachmann

Trump’s unexpected election victory has been explained by many commentators as a combination of bigotry and economic despair. While this picture has more than a little truth, it ignores some of the most salient factors: First, Trump got slightly fewer votes than Romney did in 2012, so there was not an upwelling of previously unengaged citizens. Second, Hillary Clinton got 6 million fewer votes than Obama did in 2012 and 10 million fewer than Obama received in 2008, pointing to a loss of enthusiasm among Democrats. Third, Trump’s voters earn more than the median income; they are the sort of Americans who vote in most elections.

The real questions are these: why didn’t Obama’s achievements bring his voters back to the polls for Hillary Clinton? Why are relatively well-off Americans so angry as to vote for a man who freely deploys racist invective and offers completely incoherent policy proposals? What did Trump’s voters think they were getting from him? And what did potential Democratic voters find so lacking in Hillary’s presidency that they chose not to vote?

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Transformational Solidarity in the Time of Trump

face2Michael Kennedy
Brown University

November 11, 2016

Three sensibilities of solidarity sweep America, but we need a fourth.

Solidarity as Electoral Democracy is apparent in the graciousness of Secretary Clinton’s concession speech, President Obama’s report on his conversation with President-Elect Trump, and in the peaceful transfer of power. It’s heard in calls to give Trump a chance to become presidential, with the difference between his tweets last night and this morning to evidence that he might honor his pledge to be President of all Americans.

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How to influence the election… legally

Daniel LaurisonDaniel Laurison
Swarthmore College

So you want to influence the outcome of the election?

Many of us have been glued to election coverage, wondering and worrying about who will be our next President. The news features pundits and journalists speculating endlessly about the key “moments” of the campaign: who “won” or “lost” a debate, the effect of Clinton’s comments about the “basket of deplorables,” or how many potential Trump voters might be turned off by his Access Hollywood bus “hot mic” bragging about sexually assaulting women.

But despite what the horse race coverage of the election might lead you to believe, after the conventions there’s rarely a strong relationship between what happens in the back-and-forth of a general election campaign and the ultimate outcome of an election[i].

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A rightward shift, but not quite a shock: Municipal elections in Brazil and South Africa

bejamin-bradlowBenjamin Bradlow
Brown University

In both Brazil and South Africa a pall of crisis hangs over domestic politics. In Brazil, the recent impeachment of elected president Dilma Rouseff for questionable cause triggered allegations of a parliamentary “coup”. In South Africa, persistent accusations of “state capture” go straight to President Jacob Zuma and his suspicious relationship with a group of elites doing business with state-owned enterprises. Two recent nation-wide municipal elections (South Africa: August 3; Brazil: October 2) tell us a lot about not only where both countries might be heading in the future, but also how we arrived at the current conjuncture.

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Are we witnessing a political realignment?

Josh_Pacewicz_2Josh Pacewicz
Brown University

There’s no denying that this election is unusual, but does it have the makings of a re-alignment—shifts in the demographic groups that disproportionately support each party? Donald Trump appears to have staked his electoral prospects on this possibility. Although many of Trump’s policies favor affluent Americans, he has focused his strategy on the Rust Belt, rails against corrupt elites, and even self-identifies as a blue-collar worker. Hillary Clinton promises tax hikes for the 1%, but also courts affluent voters with billionaire endorsements. One might therefore wonder if the relationship between Americans’ earnings and their political preferences is changing. Are Republicans winning over the poor? Are Democrats winning the rich? The answer may surprise you.

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In Defense of Billion Dollar Tax Write-Offs

McCabeJosh McCabe
Wellesley College

Recent revelations that presidential candidate Donald Trump may have been able to avoid paying income taxes for two decades has piqued the public’s interest in taxes. Critics have accused Trump, who is no stranger to controversy and doesn’t hide his aversion to paying taxes, of engaging in strategic tax avoidance. While there is still much more we need to know in order to judge these accusations (the leaked tax returns were only partial and covered one year but Trump seemed to admit extensively using tax write-offs during the second debate), fiscal sociology offers at least a partial defense of Trump’s tax return based on what we know at this point. Criticisms of shady practices hinge on two concepts unknown to most of the public before the story broke: income averaging and net operating losses. In order to understand why the real story isn’t about taxes, we need to understand how these two practices work. Continue reading “In Defense of Billion Dollar Tax Write-Offs”

Was Republican Opposition to Obama Racism? The Coming Natural Experiment

Richard Lachmann

Republicans opposed almost every policy initiative of the Obama Administration, forcing President Obama to rely on close to unanimous support from Congressional Democrats in his first two years, and since then on using his executive powers to advance his agenda. Journalists have shown that the Republicans’ Senate majority has confirmed fewer Obama judicial nominees in 2015-16 than Democrats did for President Bush in 2007-08. Technical fixes to the Affordable Care Act, of the sort Congresses routinely enacted for legislation, major and minor, passed during previous administrations, Republican and Democratic, have been blocked, creating confusion and hardship for those who depend on Obamacare for their insurance. Why such steadfast Republican opposition? Continue reading “Was Republican Opposition to Obama Racism? The Coming Natural Experiment”

Marianne Musulmane: Burkini-Gate and French National Identity

Meghan TinsleyMeghan Tinsley
Boston University

Among the most viral images of the summer was a beach scene on the French Riviera. In the photo, an unknown woman sits on the sand, surrounded by bikini-clad fellow sunbathers. At least four armed municipal policemen stand over her, watching as she removes a turquoise tunic. This incident and its aftermath marked the culmination of “Burkini-Gate”, which began on July 26th, when the mayor of Cannes instituted the nation’s first burkini ban and quickly grew to encompass nearly thirty French towns. It ended, for the time being, one month later, when the Council of State, the nation’s highest administrative court, overturned a Villeneuve-Loubet ordinance banning the burkini and set the stage for a reversal of the policy elsewhere.

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Policy and Sociology in Context (Part 2)

face1 face2Linda Gusia
University of Prishtina

Michael Kennedy
Brown University

In part 1 of this essay, we discussed the varieties of policy work and sociology shaping previous debates about how comparative, historical and ethnographic sociology can engage policy work, as well as how that debate looks different in transition culture. In this part, we return to those debates to mark another layer of difference, but also to consider how it might be transformed by focusing our sociology and policy work on justice. Continue reading “Policy and Sociology in Context (Part 2)”

Policy and Sociology in Context (Part 1)

face1face2Linda Gusia
University of Prishtina

Michael Kennedy
Brown University

We might clarify recent debates in these pages about the relationship between comparative historical sociology and policy if we were to consider both the variety of sociologies and policy engagements discussed as well as the contexts of their address. In part 1 of our contribution, we focus on the variety of sociologies and policy engagements invoked; in part 2, we will focus our remarks on the contexts in which these policies are discussed and the publics that might be engaged.

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Putting Welfare Reform in (Comparative) Perspective

McCabeJosh McCabe 
Wellesley College

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, or what is popularly known as welfare reform in the United States. The reform took the country’s primary social assistance program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), and transformed it into Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). It remains a lightning rod for controversy two decades later. Scott Winship argues it was a success. Jordan Weissman argues it was a failure. NPR finds mixed results. Continue reading “Putting Welfare Reform in (Comparative) Perspective”

Policy Brief: International Pressure Can Resolve the Polish Constitutional Crisis

Iga Kozlovska
Northwestern University

In early 2016, the Polish Law and Justice Party (PiS) paralyzed the country’s constitutional court with a number of political moves, endangering the tripartite separation of powers. This was a vivid example of the attack on liberal democratic values that is taking place across Europe. PiS is just one of several right-wing, populist parties (such as the UK Independent Party, the Alternative for Germany, and Fidesz in Hungary) whose resurgence Europe has experienced in recent years. In Central Europe, Orbán’s Fidesz party and Szydło’s PiS have concentrated their power by limiting independent media and crippling the judiciary using their majorities in parliament and ethno-nationalist, euro-skeptic rhetoric. The Polish constitutional crisis has elicited critical reactions everywhere from Warsaw to Brussels and even from Washington DC. However, more international pressure is needed to convince the Polish government to restore the independent and efficient functioning of the Constitutional Court.
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Can Saving the World Save Comparative Historical Sociology?

Monica PrasadMonica Prasad
Northwestern University

After a year of discussions on the issue, the main conclusion I’ve drawn is that many scholars do want to conduct comparative historical research that is more relevant to contemporary concerns, but they see a distinction between policy- relevant work and “the kind of stuff that gets in the journals.” They therefore develop strategies of separating their policy work and their academic work, or plan to devote themselves to policy only after tenure.

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Trump and the Republican Party. Who needs whom more?

Josh_Pacewicz_2Josh Pacewicz
Brown University

This election has brought much speculation about tension between Donald Trump and the Republican party, a closely watched issue with this week’s Republican convention in Cleveland. A person might reasonably wonder what is at stake in apparent presidential candidate-political party conflicts, and ultimately which side—the candidate or the party—stands to lose more from them.
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Brexit and Migration: A Disastrous Vote that Accomplishes Nothing

Adam Luedtke
City University of New York

The long-term ramifications of the Brexit vote remain unclear. There is no historical analog for a country withdrawing from a supranational federation as deeply and multi-dimensionally integrated as the European Union (EU). Legally, EU treaties will cease to apply to the United Kingdom (UK) two years from when it announces its intention to leave, unless a formal Withdrawal Agreement has been negotiated. However, the legal ambiguity that would result from eventual withdrawal ensure that, de facto, Brexit will take decades.
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What is New with the Iranian Contentious Politics? European Rightists and Trump are on the rise, but Iran’s radical right is increasingly marginalized

Amirhossein Teimouri
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Rightist movements in Europe are on the rise, and Donald Trump has astoundingly hijacked the American conservatives’ platform. Yet at the same time thousands of miles farther in Iran, the radical right has had a hard time reaching out to the Iranian people. The irony is that while rightist politics has gained momentum in different parts of the world, the Iranian brand of right, especially since the last parliamentary elections in February and April of 2016 has lost its influence.
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Trump got it half-right on Brexit

de_Leon-1Cedric de Leon 
Providence College

Donald Trump got something right for once. In the immediate aftermath of the UK’s historic vote to leave the European Union, he observed “a big parallel” between American and British politics. That parallel is not that we want to take our borders back, as he would have us believe, but rather that we are witnessing a shared political and economic crisis so deep that even overt xenophobia qualifies as a plausible political alternative.
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Before Brexit: Britain and its Others

Meghan TinsleyMeghan Tinsley
Boston University

On Friday morning, Britons awoke to the realization—either devastating or exhilarating, but certainly shocking—that their country had voted to leave the European Union. Pervading the speeches of politicians and commentators on both sides was a sense that the decision was unforeseen and the consequences unknown. The nation’s understanding of itself had been upended. As an editorial in the Guardian put it, “Britain’s place in the world must now be rethought. . . Once again, the country’s very idea of itself will have to be reimagined too.” Yet the Brexit vote was consistent with a long pattern in the British national idea. Continue reading “Before Brexit: Britain and its Others”

Après le Brexit: Insights from Comparative Historical Sociology

Frédéric Mérand 
Université de Montréal

On June 23, 51,9% of British voters decided to leave the European Union, crowning Europe’s annus horribilis. Between fears of European disintegration and the dream of a federal restart, it is too early to tell how things will unfold for the UK and for the continent. Apart from analyzing electoral behavior and commenting the political drama, what can sociologists tell us about the most important political event in British history since the end of the empire?
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Can Comparative Historical Sociology Save the World?

Trajectories_Spring2016With ASA just two months away, the time is ripe to register for this year’s mini-conference, scheduled for August 19th, 2016 at the University of Washington, Seattle. Titled Can Comparative Historical Sociology Save the World? the conference explores how scholars might use the tools of comparative and historical sociology to engage issues of public concern. Featuring an opening plenary discussion with Peter Evans, Fatma Müge Göçek, Ebenezer Obadare, Fabio Rojas and Monica Prasad, and papers covering topics such as gun control, U.S. imperialism, sexual violence, and climate change, this conference promises to spark lively and thought-provoking debate. The conference will be followed by a joint reception with the Economic Sociology section, which is also hosting a mini-conference at the University of Washington.  

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Radical authenticity, or how not to do cultural policy

Fiona Rose-Greenland
University of Chicago

In case you’re not breathlessly following recent developments in American cultural policy, here’s an update: on May 9 President Obama signed the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act, which would outlaw the importation of almost all Syrian archaeological artifacts into the US. The rationale is simple: stop the flow of antiquities to lucrative western markets and you’ve shut off an important source of revenue for the Islamic State. As far as policy motives go, it’s a good one. It promises both to undermine ISIS’s horrific program of terrorism and despotic rule, and to protect historic sites and objects for the people of Syria and the elusive “universal” cultural constituency. I support the act—it’s a step in the right direction—but it does have me thinking about some of the unintended consequences of cultural policy, particularly the intersection between local and global interests. Since the ISIS situation is still unfolding and we don’t yet have outcomes to study, let’s look at an older but related case: the Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan.

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Whose Democracy? The Class Divide in Political Participation in the United States

Daniel LaurisonDaniel Laurison
London School of Economics

While there are no longer legal restrictions on voting for most[i] disadvantaged people in this country, there is nonetheless a steep class gradient in participation in American democracy: people who have less, vote less. As we watch the process of the 2016 Presidential election unfold, it is worth remembering that the voters whose poll responses are pored over by pundits, and who will elect the next President and congress of the United States, are better-off, on average, than the citizenry of the country as a whole. Continue reading “Whose Democracy? The Class Divide in Political Participation in the United States”

Taxing the Rich

McCabeJosh McCabe 
Wellesley College

When and why do countries tax the rich? That’s the question at the center of Kenneth Scheve and David Stasavage’s aptly titled book, Taxing the Rich. The authors challenge a number of convention explanations for the rise and decline of taxes on the rich, including democracy, inequality, and the triumph of economic arguments. Instead, they argue that it can be explained by ideas about fairness: Countries tend to tax the rich when people believe that the state has privileged them in some way and taxes are seen as the best way to compensate for it. Specifically, they trace it to mass mobilization for WWI and WWII. In order to compensate for the burden placed on the masses by the military conscription of men, policymakers saw taxing the rich as the fair “conscription of wealth” for the same purpose. Continue reading “Taxing the Rich”

Who’s Not Gridlocked?

LachmannRichard Lachmann
SUNY- Albany

American politics, at least since the Republicans took control of the House in 2010, has been gridlocked. It appears likely that even if the Republicans suffer a massive defeat this year under a ticket headed by Trump or Cruz, they will continue to control the House. Who then is able to get policies and benefits out of the Federal government, and who appears likely to benefit under the next Administration? Continue reading “Who’s Not Gridlocked?”