Archive for January, 2006

capitalism triumphs, frankfurt school sighs

There are different forms of power: military, economic, and symbolic. In an article in the Wall Street Journal (hey, I’m not paying to look at it, that’s why I subscribe to Slate’s ‘Today’s Papers‘), talk of dissidence has been quieted–without the tanks this time–thanks to China’s booming economy. The ethic of the ‘ownership society’ has university students more interested in “jobs, fashion, and entertainment” than democracy!
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desparately seeking new growth industry

With the new year comes wonderful new quirks. Right outta the gate comes the fun consequence of an America ‘Almost-Equal-But-Compromise-Makes-A-Monster.’ California’s gay community might not get all the privileges of marriage, but they do get access to all the fun of divorce. The Los Angeles Times says that “Sociologists have suggested that the rights and responsibilities of marriage benefit both partners.” Neat. It’s good news for lawyers. According to a member of one gay couple: “It is very, very confusing. We need lawyers to figure out what to do.” I hope they mean the judicial code. First person to say ‘See, they are ruining marriage’ is going to get my foot up their ass.

President Bush said in a speech last February that that “marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots” without weakening society. The San Francisco Chronicle had a nice discussion around that time, and hopefully, some nice longitudinal studies are on the way–Putting the morals aside, a great chance to see how changes in the social structure might shift the norms and practices of everyday folk.

Within the article, Esther Rothblum, a psychology professor at University of Vermont who is conducting a study on civil unions in Vermont in 2000-2001, said that “Heterosexuals get more socialization to marry. They are much more likely to have children and it’s easier to break up relationships if you don’t want children… Heterosexuals also have legal marriage and up to that point gays and lesbians did not.”

Also: Is anyone else amazed that Montana’s public universities must provide their gay employees with insurance coverage for their domestic partners?

warm, comfortable, global socks

Classical theorists were deeply concerned over the specialization and rationalization of the working class. Famously, Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, looked at the result of capitalism upon the proletariat as taking four colors. Roughly: alienation from the worker’s labor, from his product, from his fellow worker, and from his own ‘species being.’ Just in time to trigger feelings of guilt in the hearts of Wal-Mart holiday (or post-holiday, bargain) shoppers, the New York Times buzzkills yuletide cheer with a Christmas Eve story about ‘Sock City.’ According to the Times, the city of Datang, China “produces an astounding nine billion pairs of socks each year – more than one set for every person on the planet. People here fondly call it Socks City, and its annual socks festival attracts 100,000 buyers from around the world.”

It’s no joke. And it’s not the only ‘commodity town’: To the southeast of Datang there is the necktie capital, to the west is ‘Sweater City,’ and to the south is ‘Underwear City.’ I’m not sure how fun a socks festival can be, but I wonder if it could possibly balance out the alienation of an entire city producing hosiery. Yes, there were, and still are ‘company towns,’ but, is this a logical extension? Is it what geographer Neil Smith called the jumping scale of a particular condition of capitalism?

Evoking Marx, the NYT article continues:

The niche cities reflect China’s ability to form “lump” economies, where clusters or networks of businesses feed off each other, building technologies and enjoying the benefits of concentrated support centers – like the button capital nearby, which furnishes most of the buttons on the world’s shirts, pants and jackets.

David Barboza, author of the Times piece, writes that Marx couldn’t have imagined such developments. But of course he could have. Standing upon Marx’s shoulders, we might theorize a great deal, centering our inquiry around questions like: Is there a communality between the cities? Does the social network at the municipal level translate to a communal tie at the interpersonal level, or does it create a rift? Does the ‘imagined community‘ of the nation get undermined by the segmentation of industry writ large (a la the dissemination and reconfiguration of Germany’s industries post WWII)? Can there be municipal alienation – a kind of blue state-red state disjunction at the city level? Have the forces of ‘centralization’ and ‘concentration,’ so described by Marx (add Saskia Sassen and David Harvey, too) brought about a new wave of ‘commodity town’?

(Looking for more in the realm of Holiday Buzzkill? Don’t miss the story of a California father who sold his kid’s toys on eBay. Also for a great post on the nature of ‘the gift,’ check out PubSociology.


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