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A Volume in the American Sociological Association’s Rose Series in Sociology

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A Volume in the American Sociological Association’s Rose Series in Sociology

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American Memories

Atrocities and the Law

In the long history of warfare and cultural and ethnic violence, the twentieth century was exceptional for producing institutions charged with seeking accountability or redress for violent offenses and human rights abuses across the globe, often forcing nations to confront the consequences of past atrocities. The Holocaust ended with trials at Nuremberg, apartheid in South Africa concluded with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Gacaca courts continue to strive for closure in the wake of the Rwandan genocide. Despite this global trend toward accountability, American collective memory appears distinct in that it tends to glorify the nation’s past, celebrating triumphs while eliding darker episodes in its history. In American Memories, sociologists Joachim Savelsberg and Ryan King rigorously examine how the United States remembers its own and others’ atrocities and how institutional responses to such crimes, including trials and tribunals, may help shape memories and perhaps impede future violence. American Memories uses historical and media accounts, court records, and survey research to examine a number of atrocities from the nation’s past, including the massacres of civilians by U.S. military in My Lai, Vietnam, and Haditha, Iraq. The book shows that when states initiate responses to such violence—via criminal trials, tribunals, or reconciliation hearings—they lay important groundwork for how such atrocities are viewed in the future. Trials can serve to delegitimize violence—even by a nation’s military— by creating a public record of grave offenses. But the law is filtered by and must also compete with other institutions, such as the media and historical texts, in shaping American memory. Savelsberg and King show, for example, how the My Lai slayings of women, children, and elderly men by U.S. soldiers have been largely eliminated from or misrepresented in American textbooks, and the army’s reputation survived the episode untarnished. The American media nevertheless evoked the killings at My Lai in response to the murder of twenty-four civilian Iraqis in Haditha, during the war in Iraq. Since only one conviction was obtained for the My Lai massacre, and convictions for the killings in Haditha seem increasingly unlikely, Savelsberg and King argue that Haditha in the near past is now bound inextricably to My Lai in the distant past. With virtually no criminal convictions, and none of higher ranks for either massacre, both events will continue to be misrepresented in American memory. In contrast, the book examines American representations of atrocities committed by foreign powers during the Balkan wars, which entailed the prosecution of ranking military and political leaders. The authors analyze news accounts of the war’s events and show how articles based on diplomatic sources initially cast Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in a less negative light, but court-based accounts increasingly portrayed Milosevic as a criminal, solidifying his image for the public record. American Memories provocatively suggests that a nation’s memories don’t just develop as a rejoinder to events—they are largely shaped by institutions. In the wake of atrocities, how a state responds has an enduring effect and provides a moral framework for whether and how we remember violent transgressions. Savelsberg and King deftly show that such responses can be instructive for how to deal with large-scale violence in the future, and hopefully how to deter it.

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Good Jobs, Bad Jobs

The Rise of Polarized and Precarious Employment Systems in the United States, 1970s-2000s

Good Jobs, Bad Jobs provides an insightful analysis of how and why precarious employment is gaining ground in the labor market and the role these developments have played in the decline of the middle class. Kalleberg shows that by the 1970s, government deregulation, global competition, and the rise of the service sector gained traction, while institutional protections for workers—such as unions and minimum-wage legislation—weakened. Together, these forces marked the end of postwar security for American workers. The composition of the labor force also changed significantly; the number of dual-earner families increased, as did the share of the workforce comprised of women, non-white, and immigrant workers. Of these groups, blacks, Latinos, and immigrants remain concentrated in the most precarious and low-quality jobs, with educational attainment being the leading indicator of who will earn the highest wages and experience the most job security and highest levels of autonomy and control over their jobs and schedules. Kalleberg demonstrates, however, that building a better safety net—increasing government responsibility for worker health care and retirement, as well as strengthening unions—can go a long way toward redressing the effects of today’s volatile labor market. There is every reason to expect that the growth of precarious jobs—which already make up a significant share of the American job market—will continue. Good Jobs, Bad Jobs deftly shows that the decline in U.S. job quality is not the result of fluctuations in the business cycle, but rather the result of economic restructuring and the disappearance of institutional protections for workers. Only government, employers and labor working together on long-term strategies—including an expanded safety net, strengthened legal protections, and better training opportunities—can help reverse this trend.

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Nurturing Dads

Fatherhood Initiatives Beyond the Wallet

American fathers are a highly diverse group, but the breadwinning, live-in, biological dad prevails as the fatherhood ideal. Consequently, policymakers continue to emphasize marriage and residency over initiatives that might help foster healthy father-child relationships and creative co-parenting regardless of marital or residential status. In Nurturing Dads, William Marsiglio and Kevin Roy explore the ways new initiatives can address the social, cultural, and economic challenges men face in contemporary families and foster more meaningful engagement between many different kinds of fathers and their children. What makes a good father? The firsthand accounts in Nurturing Dads show that the answer to this question varies widely and in ways that counter the mainstream “provide and reside” model of fatherhood. Marsiglio and Roy document the personal experiences of more than 300 men from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and diverse settings, including fathers-to-be, young adult fathers, middleclass dads, stepfathers, men with multiple children in separate families, and fathers in correctional facilities. They find that most dads express the desire to have strong, close relationships with their children and to develop the nurturing skills to maintain these bonds. But they also find that disadvantaged fathers, including young dads and those in constrained financial and personal circumstances, confront myriad structural obstacles, such as poverty, inadequate education, and poor job opportunities. Nurturing Dads asserts that society should help fathers become more committed and attentive caregivers and that federal and state agencies, work sites, grassroots advocacy groups, and the media all have roles to play. Recent efforts to introduce state-initiated paternity leave should be coupled with social programs that encourage fathers to develop unconditional commitments to children, to co-parent with mothers, to establish partnerships with their children’s other caregivers, and to develop parenting skills and resources before becoming fathers via activities like volunteering and mentoring kids. Ultimately, Marsiglio and Roy argue, such combined strategies would not only change the policy landscape to promote engaged fathering but also change the cultural landscape to view nurturance as a fundamental aspect of good fathering. Care is a human experience—not just a woman’s responsibility—and this core idea behind Nurturing Dads holds important implications for how society supports its families and defines manhood. The book promotes the progressive notion that fathers should provide more than financial support and, in the process, bring about a better start in life for their children.

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They Say Cutback, We Say Fight back!

Welfare Activism in an Era of Retrenchment

In 1996, President Bill Clinton hailed the “end of welfare as we know it” when he signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act. The law effectively transformed the nation’s welfare system from an entitlement to a work-based one, instituting new time limits on welfare payments and restrictions on public assistance for legal immigrants. In They Say Cutback, We Say Fight Back, Ellen Reese offers a timely review of welfare reform and its controversial design, now sorely tested in the aftermath of the Great Recession. The book also chronicles the largely untold story of a new grassroots coalition that opposed the law and continues to challenge and reshape its legacy. While most accounts of welfare policy highlight themes of race, class and gender, They Say Cutback examines how welfare recipients and their allies contested welfare reform from the bottom-up. Using in-depth case studies of campaigns in Wisconsin and California, Reese argues that a crucial phase in policymaking unfolded after the bill’s passage. As counties and states set out to redesign their welfare programs, activists scored significant victories by lobbying officials at different levels of American government through media outreach, protests and organizing. Such efforts tended to enjoy more success when based on broad coalitions that cut across race and class, drawing together a shifting alliance of immigrants, public sector unions, feminists, and the poor. The book tracks the tensions and strategies of this unwieldy group brought together inadvertently by their opposition to four major aspects of welfare reform: immigrants’ benefits, welfare-to-work policies, privatization of welfare agencies, and child care services. Success in scoring reversals was uneven and subject to local demographic, political and institutional factors. In California, for example, workfare policies created a large and concentrated pool of new workers that public sector unions could organize in campaigns to change policies. In Wisconsin, by contrast, such workers were scattered and largely placed in private sector jobs, leaving unions at a disadvantage. Large Latino and Asian immigrant populations in California successfully lobbied to restore access to public assistance programs, while mobilization in Wisconsin remained more limited. On the other hand, the unionization of child care providers succeeded in Wisconsin – but failed in California – because of contrasting gubernatorial politics. With vivid descriptions of the new players and alliances in each of these campaigns, Reese paints a nuanced and complex portrait of the modern American welfare state. At a time when more than 40 million Americans live in poverty, They Say Cutback offers a sobering assessment of the nation’s safety net. As policymakers confront budget deficits and a new era of austerity, this book provides an authoritative guide for both scholars and activists looking for lessons to direct future efforts to change welfare policy.

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Tiny Publics

A Theory of Group Action and Culture

If all politics is local, then so is almost everything else, argues sociologist Gary Alan Fine. We organize our lives by relying on those closest to us—family members, friends, work colleagues, team mates, and other intimates—to create meaning and order. In this thoughtful and wide-ranging new book, Fine argues that the basic building blocks of society itself are forged within the boundaries of such small groups, the “tiny publics” necessary for a robust, functioning social order at all levels. Action, meaning, authority, inequality, organization, and institutions all have their roots in small groups. Yet for the past twenty-five years social scientists have tended to ignore the power of groups in favor of an emphasis on organizations, societies, or individuals. Based on over thirty-five years of Fine’s own ethnographic research across an array of small groups, Tiny Publics presents a compelling new theory of the pivotal role of small groups in organizing social life. No social system can thrive without flourishing small groups. They provide havens in an impersonal world, where faceless organizations become humanized. Taking examples from such diverse worlds as Little League baseball teams, restaurant workers, high school debate teams, weather forecasters, and political volunteers, Fine demonstrates how each group has its own unique culture, or idioculture—the system of knowledge, beliefs, behavior, and customs that define and hold a group together. With their dense network of relationships, groups serve as important sources of social and cultural capital for their members. The apparently innocuous jokes, rituals, and nicknames prevalent within Little League baseball teams help establish how teams function internally and how they compete with other teams. Small groups also provide a platform for their members to engage in broader social discourse and a supportive environment to begin effecting change in larger institutions. In his studies of mushroom collectors and high school debate teams, Fine demonstrates the importance of stories that group members tell each other about their successes and frustrations in fostering a strong sense of social cohesion. And Fine shows how the personal commitment political volunteers bring to their efforts is reinforced by the close-knit nature of their work, which in turn has the power to change larger groups and institutions. In this way, the actions and debates begun in small groups can eventually radiate outward to affect every level of society. Fine convincingly demonstrates how small groups provide fertile ground for the seeds of civic engagement. Outcomes often attributed to large-scale social forces originate within such small-scale domains. Employing rich insights from both sociology and social psychology, as well as vivid examples from a revealing array of real-world groups, Tiny Publics provides a compelling examination of the importance of small groups and of the rich vitality they bring to social life.

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