Tag Archives: education&research

Inequality: research and web sources

22 Nov

Relevant to Sociology (the UvA Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research AISSR has both a Programme Group, Institutions, Inequalities and Life courses IIL, and an interdisciplinary Research centre, the Amsterdam Centre for Inequality Studies AMCIS, working on the topic) and of everlasting interest for us all, inequality makes it to the headlines worldwide almost on a daily basis under the present financial/economical crisis.

Here follows some of my recent random encounters with the topic.

Growing Inequalities Impacts GINI is an international (Australia, EU, Japan and North America) and interdisciplinary (economics, political science, sociology) project which focuses on «inequalities in income/wealth and education and their social, political and cultural impacts […] the implications for policy and institutions […] potential effects of individual distributional positions and increasing inequality for a host of ‘bad outcomes’ (both societal and individual)». Country Reports are full-text available on the GINI-website. The above mentioned AMCIS and the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced labour Studies AIAS belong to GINI’s core research teams.

Wealth inequality in America

“Wealth inequality in America” is a Youtube video that went viral after its publication in November 2012, and that represents a textbook case of evaluating web sources, no matter how alarming the video contents might be. Whereas the video provides some references (see screenshot above), its author’s identity remains mysterious: all we seem to know about Youtube user Politizane is that he is a Texas freelance filmmaker, as reported in an article at MotherJones, «a nonprofit news organization that specializes in investigative, political, and social justice reporting». As you might have noticed, MotherJones belongs also to the sources mentioned in the video, together with:
– a 2011 peer reviewed article by Michael I. Norton (Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School) and Dan Ariely (Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University), Building a Better America—One Wealth Quintile at a Time;
– a 2011 post at ThinkProgress, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, which is «an independent nonpartisan education and advocacy organization dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through ideas and action».
– a 2012 post at CNNMoney, the CNN business website.

MotherJones, ThinkProgress and CNNMoney all belong to the category of news, and as such they will make suitable information sources depending on what our research question is. Let’s focus on Mother Jones and ThinkProgress: their respective ‘About’ pages, ThinkProgress’ affiliation to the Center for American Progress Action Fund (whose President is a member of the Democratic Party) and the way they address news topics all indicate a liberal to left-wing political agenda. A likely candidate for a research question requiring the use of both websites could therefore be how progressive online media and/or “think tanks” report on inequality, both in the US and abroad (see The Rules for a worldwide take on the topic).

Who rules AmericaCredit Suisse Research Institute

– as far as inequality and evaluating web sources are concerned, two other interesting test cases are the following: Distinguished Professor Emeritus (University of California Santa Cruz) William Domhoff’s website Who Rules America, and the Global Wealth Report 2013, released in october by the Credit Suisse Research Institute. The two sources agree in reporting high levels of inequality (in the US and worldwide alike), yet how to assess the value of research methodologies as different as those likely to be expected from an academic and a financial setting? What sort of bias, if any, could possibly be present in each of the sources?

Peter Nicholson InterestingAustralian cartoonist Peter Nicolson‘s “gap tween rich and poor” may be twelve years old but is still just as topical today as it was back then.


Abbreviations, the revenge: Nepal, Shakespeare and online sharing

4 Sep

sherpa_little_girl_bA while ago, posting on Sakai and the UvA in the context of research data management (RDM) gave me the opportunity to discuss my unease with abbreviations.

A topic which is not only just as relevant as RDM in present-day academic life, but seems to be somehow affected by the same ‘abbreviation fever’ as well, is online sharing of scholarly publications, i.e.: what can scholars do online with their papers and articles?

The (excellent, to prevent any misunderstanding :-)) University of Notthingham’s SHERPA/RoMEO project helps answering the above question. Just go to the project website, search the journal title or ISSN where you have published, and get “a summary of permissions that are normally given as part of each publisher’s copyright transfer agreement”.
By the way: SHERPA stands for “Securing a Hybrid Environment for Research Preservation and Access”, and RoMEO for “Rights MEtadata for Open archiving”.

As for the illustrations: the “very happy little Sherpa girl” belongs to a webpage by Pete Poston at Western Oregon University, while Shakespeare’s title page comes from EEBO Early English Books Online, a database containing “digital facsimile page images of virtually every work printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and British North America and works in English printed elsewhere from 1473-1700”.

Summer break (and readings)

10 Jul

On the eve of my summer leave, here follows two quotes (relevant for topics I addressed earlier on this blog) from books that might be worth taking in your luggage.

Milan Kundera, The book of laughter and forgetting
«The bloody massacre in Bangladesh quickly covered over the memory of the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, the assassination of Allende drowned out the groans of Bangladesh, the war in the Sinai Desert made people forget Allende, the Cambodian massacre made people forget Sinai and so on and so forth until ultimately everyone lets everything be forgotten. In times when history still moved slowly, events were few and far between and easily committed to memory. They formed a commonly accepted backdrop for thrilling scenes of adventure in private life. Nowadays, history moves at a brisk clip. A historical event, though soon forgotten, sparkles the morning after with the dew of novelty. No longer a backdrop, it is now the adventure itself, an adventure enacted before the backdrop of the commonly accepted banality of private life». (pp. 7-8 of Penguin’s 1983 edition).

Communication overkill in the mass media: does this necessarily reduce news to a product, ever changing in order to provide the thrill of adventure to the ‘banality of private life’? Or can there still be – nowadays even more than at the time (1979) of Kundera’s book – mass media as a source of information to build knowledge from? Are periodicals such as Le Monde Diplomatique and Die Zeit examples of informative mass media?

newsPhoto from the News & events page of King’s College, London.

Marc Bloch, The historian’s craft
«What is it, exactly, that constitutes the legitimacy of an intellectual endeavor? No one today, I believe, would dare to say, with the orthodox positivists, that the value of a line of research is to be measured by its ability to promote action. Experience has surely taught us that it is impossible to decide in advance whether even the most abstract speculations may not eventually prove extraordinarily helpful in practice. It would inflict a strange mutilation upon humanity to deny it a right to appease its intellectual appetites apart from all consideration of its material welfare. Even were history obliged to be eternally indifferent to homo faber or to homo politicus, it would be sufficiently justified by its necessity for the full flowering of homo sapiens». (pp. 9-10 of Manchester University Press’ 1954 edition)

marc blochAs far as higher education and democracy are concerned, I think that few people better than French historian Marc Bloch embody the idea of critical thinking as essential to political freedom (and courage) and a healthy democracy. In case you don’t know: despite age and his position at the Sorbonne, Bloch not only volunteered for the French army at the outbreak of World War II, but also joined the Resistance in 1942. He was arrested, tortured and killed by the Nazis in 1944. Bloch was also a Jew «if not by religion, which I do not practise, no more than any other, at least by birth. […] I never claim my origins, with one exception: when facing an anti-Semite» (English translation – from Bloch’s L’Étrange défaite. Témoignage écrit en 1940 – is mine; original French text available online at the website of the Université du Québec à Quicoutimi).

Marc Bloch’s photo from the website of the Association Marc Bloch.

To measure, for profit (1): education and democracy

19 Jun

“The numbers tell the tale”: this inveterate saying, which I addressed last year on this blog and whose practical consequences I sometimes come across in working life, it’s not irrelevant to philosopher Martha Nussbaum‘s arguments in her thrilling book Not for profit: why democracy needs the humanities.

Dont’be fooled by the book’s subtitle nor by my own academic background in, and partiality to the Humanities: Nussbaum’s passionate plea for a much broader commitment to higher education concerns not only social sciences as well, but university as a whole. «The pressure for economic growth has led many political leaders in Europe to recast the entirety of university education – both teaching and research – along growth-oriented lines, asking about the contribution of each discipline and each researcher to the economy» (p. 127). Just think about the times you have heard politicians’ speeches or have read ‘authoritative’ newspapers’ editorials bragging about the university curricula which can be regarded as economically relevant, and therefore worth the investment of (public) funds.

nussbaum2011Photo from Nussbaum’s personal page at the University of Chicago.

One thing for which I am most grateful to my university studies is that they helped me open up my mind and develop as a critical thinker: critical thinking and broad-mindedness being not exclusive to specific disciplines (no matter how lucrative these might be) but a key rationale of higher education. «Distracted by the pursuit of wealth, we increasingly ask our schools to turn out useful profit-makers rather than thoughtful citizens. Under pressure to cut costs, we prune away just those parts of the educational endeavor that are crucial to preserving a healthy society. What will we have, if these trends continue? Nations of technically trained people who do not kwow how to criticize authority, useful profit-makers with obtuse imaginations» (pp. 141-142).

critical-thinking-deficitPhoto from www.about.com Political humor page.

As with most good books, and all the more so if you are a reference citations-addicted librarian, Not for profit provided also a good starting point for further readings: while I am still waiting to read one of Johann Gottfried von Herder‘s Briefe zu Beförderung der Humanität (English translation is currently on loan at the UvA-library; more in a forthcoming post), and while Christopher R. Browning‘s Ordinary men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the final solution in Poland gave me additional insight on the relationships between the perpetrators of crimes against humanity and their inconspicuously normal social background and life, it is with a 2009 New York Times article by Harvard University President’s Drew Gilpin Faust’s that I wish to end appropriately:

«Higher education is not about results in the next quarter but about discoveries that may take — and last — decades or even centuries. Neither the abiding questions of humanistic inquiry nor the winding path of scientific research that leads ultimately to innovation and discovery can be neatly fitted within a predictable budget and timetable. […] Higher learning can offer individuals and societies a depth and breadth of vision absent from the inevitably myopic present. Human beings need meaning, understanding and perspective as well as jobs. The question should not be whether we can afford to believe in such purposes in these times, but whether we can afford not to».

P.S.: it is by sheer chance that professor Nussbaum is giving a lecture this coming Saturday in Amsterdam. The Dutch translation of her book The new religious intolerance: overcoming the politics of fear in an anxious age will be presented on juni 22nd at 8pm at De Nieuwe Liefde.

Once upon a time (1) : communication overkill

22 May

Isherwood«What a mania for communication! A notice of the least important committee meeting on the most trivial of subjects will be run off and distributed in hundreds of copies. Everybody is informed of everything. George glances through them all and then tosses the lot into the waste-basket…»

‘George’, an Englishman living in California and working as professor of English at a local college, is George Falconer, the main fictional character of Christopher Isherwood’s masterly novel A single man, published in 1964, a date which implies that present-day overloaded mailboxes and social media tools had in George’s case still the form of «a pigeon-hole […] stuffed with papers»

Impossible to resist the temptation offered by the above passage, when reading the book a couple of weeks ago… 🙂pigeon-hole

P.S.: pigeon-hole’s photo is from the Department of Chemistry’s website at the University of York. Christopher Isherwood’s belongs to the authors’ pages at Vintage Books, from whose edition of ‘A single man’ (p. 30) I took the quote.

Researching social media: twitter and homophobia

11 Dec

It’s some time now since I last posted about twitter and therefore, when reading about Nohomophobes last friday in the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera, I thought it would be a suitable choice for a post addressing both a Communication topic (twitter) and a Sociological one (homophobia).

nohomophobes alltimeAn initiative of the ISMSS Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, Nohomophobes keeps track of how often Tweets include the words ‘faggot’, ‘dyke’, ‘so gay’ and ‘no homo’, and is therefore «designed as a social mirror to show the prevalence of casual homophobia in our society. Words and phrases like “faggot,” “dyke,” “no homo,” and “so gay” are used casually in everyday language, despite promoting the continued alienation, isolation and — in some tragic cases — suicide of sexual and gender minority (LGBTQ) youth. We no longer tolerate racist language, we’re getting better at dealing with sexist language, but sadly we’re still not actively addressing homophobic and transphobic language in our society».

Whether we truly are getting better at dealing with racist and sexist language, I dare not say (and I’m not exclusively thinking of my native country), and yet it’s just such academic initiatives as Nohomophobes that, even if ‘only’ by making us conscious of our casual discriminatory language, can help individuals and societies getting better.

As far as (discriminatory) language is concerned: should you want to know more about the origins, meanings and use of such terms as dyke, faggot and gay, take a look at the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, freely accessible at Berlin Humboldt-University‘s site.

RefWorks to pickup artists (PUAs)

5 Dec

Dealing with young people and their (intellectual) expectations and development, and considering the sheer variety of the world of knowledge are among the most important reasons that make a (library) job at the University so exciting.

jitse schuurmansWhile discussing a RefWorks question some time ago with UvA-anthropologist Jitse Schuurmans I not only came to know of the existence of pickup artists and who they are, but also that Schuurmans – who recently started his PhD on the subject at the AISSR research group Dynamics of Citizenship and Culture – had already written a (Dutch) book on the subject in 2010, De versierkunstenaars.

Should the meaning of ‘pickup’ («a casual encounter with a stranger with a view to having sexual intercourse», Oxford English Dictionaries) be not enough of a clue, the following from the University of Pittsburgh Women’s Studies wiki might prove clarifying: «The seduction community is a transnational male subculture with its origins in the U.S. It consists of pickup artists (PUAs) who systematically work to get better at approaching and attracting women».

This being said, and apart from Schuurmans’ book and ongoing research, are there any scholarly publications on the topic? Searching for ‘pickup artists’ in both the ProQuest-databases and Web of Science (online available through the UvA-Library: restrictions may apply outside the UvA-network) retrieves one relevant peer reviewed article (Hall, J. & Canterberry, M. (2011). Sexism and assertive courtship strategies. Sex Roles, 65 840-853) and several reviews of Neil Strauss’ book The game: penetrating the secret society of pickup artists.

fragonardGiven both Strauss’ and the more recent Confessions of a pickup artist chaser: long interviews with hideous men, released this year by Clarisse Thorn, aren’t scholarly publications, and while waiting for Schuurmans’ research output, a valuable exercise – so far information literacy is concerned – is to go through Hall and Canterberry’s references and to note the keywords the databases provide for their article and for Strauss’ reviews: (ProQuest) sexism‎, prediction‎, males‎, internet‎, females‎, courtship‎, “college students‎”, artists‎; (Web of Science) “ambivalent sexism”, “assertive behaviors”, courtship, “relationship initiation”, sociosexuality, “nice guy stereotype”, “chat-up lines”, “benevolent sexism”, “hostile sexism”, women, gender, men, personality.

How to use such terms in a systematic search for more relevant literature has been the topic of last week’s post. How such notions as ‘sexism’ and ‘courtship’ can possibly lead to the most diverse research areas is aptly illustrated by my immediately thinking of Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s The Swing as significative example of (18th Century) man/woman relationship.

Photo’s: Jitse Schuurmans’ is found on TEDxYouth@Amsterdam, to whose team the UvA-researcher belong. Fragonard’s painting and image belong to the London Wallace Collection.