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Degradation rituals are a suggested socio-cultural universal found in tribal to modern societies. In the 1950s and 60s North American sociologists Erving Goffman and Harold Garfinkel illustrated what they called degradation rituals and ceremonies in modern institutions like prisons, mental hospitals, and courts.

They described these ceremonies and rituals as public acts, designed to transform the public identities of people to bring them down a peg or two, shame them and ultimately—if the denunciation were successful enough—to expel them from their status position in the group. 

To be most effective, the accusers in a degradation ceremony need to demonstrate, among other things, that the accused has done damage to the community and that the accuser has the righteous weight of the community behind them. As Garfinkel described it: a degradation ritual is a communicative production, “whereby the public identity of an actor is transformed into something looked on as lower in the local scheme of social types.”

In anthropology, a ritual is understood as central to the creation and maintenance of social integration. By publicly identifying a person as negative—not just in their behaviour but also in the motivations behind that behaviour—degradation rituals provoke moral indignation that can enhance wider social cohesion and group solidarity. 

In a similar way to rites of passage designed to mark positive personal changes—like a graduation, or two individuals becoming a married couple—degradation rituals can bestow negativity onto a person’s identity that brings people together too. For example, in prisons a strip search is a degradation ritual because it is designed to humiliate the prisoner and socially integrate the prison guards as superior. 

And in a court of law a criminal prosecution is designed to not simply punish criminal activity but also to publicly shame the criminal and restore social order.

Another field where degradation rituals are common is politics. In fact there are days when one might assume politics has nothing to do with negotiation and service to the public but rather is all about who can discredit and degrade their opponent best. In politics one available degradation ritual is a motion of no confidence. 

It is an opportunity to redefine the moral character of the accused. It is a chance to do this where all can see. And to publicly chastise a government and its members for not acting in the best interest of the social good or maintaining appropriate professional conduct. Now one of the things about degradation rituals is they are not always successful. Alongside the performance of accusation and denunciation, the ritual often provides a space for the accused to face up to their denouncers.

So when Dr Rowley went after the Government with “e-mailgate,” his job was only half done. Yes, he made his denunciation in the name of the public, which, in a ritual of public accountability, is what drives the power of the degradation ceremony. And yes, this sense of righteousness and proper conduct in office also worked to create social cohesion and solidarity among many members of the public.

We might even dare to say that on the Monday his accusation seemed to transform the character of the Government. Because for an afternoon, the Government wasn’t just accused of unacceptable behaviour; in the public court of moral opinion it seemed to stick as moral indignation swept social media and everyday conversations. It was almost as though many people all at once were nodding, “I told you so.”

Yet the accusation and speaking in the public’s name is only a part of the ritual performance. For the moral indignation to stick and for the public identity of the people accused to be transformed and discredited, the accused cannot be allowed to repair the perceived breach. In this sense Dr Rowley failed in making the degradation ritual effective.

By Tuesday morning he seemed to be losing the cohesiveness of public opinion which, like him and some of his colleagues who were now absent from Parliament, didn’t look like returning (although maybe he has more evidence). And by Wednesday afternoon, when he walked out of Parliament with his party in tow, Dr Rowley was no longer speaking righteously for the public as things had fallen back into partisan politics. 

As a study in the culture of politics he had lost the moral high ground and with it the degradation ritual fell apart. The public was no longer whole in its moral offence and it might even be said that the Government fought effectively to turn the degradation ceremony back on its author. We wait to see.

• Dr Dylan Kerrigan is an anthropologist at UWI, St Augustine

"Universities and institutions of higher education across the globe are being impacted by structural change, guided by principles of the entrepreneurial university. The imposition of New Public Management principles means that universities are increasingly being managed like private enterprises. Resources are being allocated according to performance records and target agreements. Academic capitalism has entered Germany, and its main instruments are university department rankings and league tables. The downside is an academic routine biased towards quantitative performance indicators (research funding, number of doctorates and graduates) and a neglect of qualitative criteria. Work in academia has changed fundamentally in both design and content. Teaching and research are increasingly being obstructed by the growth of administrative responsibilities. There is a logic of escalation inherent in performance measurement exercises (“more and more and never enough”), resulting in work intensification, stress, and overload amongst all groups of the academic workforce. Negative effects on the quality of research and teaching are increasingly being felt."

One of the reasons we fail to understand business crime is because we put crime into a category that is separate from normal business. Much crime does not fit into a separate category. It is primarily a business activity…
This suggests a very different view of what economic agents are actually like, and thus emerges Homo reciprocans. As Bowles puts it in an essay with his long-time collaborator and fellow U-Mass economist Herbert Gintis: “Homo reciprocans comes to new social situations with a propensity to cooperate and share, responds to cooperative behavior by maintaining or increasing his level of cooperation, and responds to selfish, free-riding behavior on the part of others by retaliating against the offenders, even at a cost to himself, and even when he could not reasonably expect future personal gains from such retaliation.” This is certainly in line with empirical observations: people do produce public goods, they do observe normative restraints on the pursuit of self-interest (even when there is nobody watching), and they will put themselves to a lot of trouble to hurt rulebreakers.

I realized that they had never understood that women produce the whole labor force and that that work is not acknowledged and not even considered as work. It’s like, “What did you do all day?” was a very popular way that men would greet women when they came home from “real” work.

And so, we then, you know, talked about the unwaged work that women were doing. That is, you got some payment, you got your food and board, if you were a housewife, but you didn’t have the autonomy of money, which ensured that everybody knew you were working and which gave you the independence of having money of your own. But that was really only the beginning, because then we began to understand that most of the world had no wages, that we—that the subsistence farming in Africa—you know, 80 percent of the food that is eaten in Africa is grown by women, unwaged—you know, no money, nothing, just very, very hard work—and that all of this work, the volunteer work, you know, the reproduction of the human race, really, that women do, not merely, you know, in giving birth, which is quite important, not merely in giving children the food that they want and that they need, which is breast milk, but just caring for everyone and fighting for everyone. You know, it’s women who fight to get justice for their children and for men. You know, we have a slogan in London: “Mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, fighting for our loved ones’ lives.” And that’s not a Romantic view of women’s work that—women’s justice work. That is the reality. That’s who does it. That’s who’s on the line in front of the prison where men and women are held unjustly. It’s women who are doing this work. And it’s an extension of the caring work that we have always done.

Now, I want to make it absolutely clear: we do this work, and we are civilized by this work, we women, and have a much greater understanding of human beings, because that’s what we’re dealing with all the time. But we don’t want to be the only ones to do it. Men need to do this work, because men need to be civilized by this work as we have been. Men don’t—we don’t want them to be doing this work for capitalism and not doing this work for ourselves, for each other, you know, for the society generally. Men have to start making society, along with women, not to help—I’m not talking about men helping. Sometimes we have to fight so that they give us a little help, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about that being the aim and purpose of our lives, to be with others, to care for others, and to, as I say, to make society with us.

[W]omen of all ages are swooning over this guy and misreading his obsessive, cruel behavior as evidence of love and romance. Part of the reason for this is that his wealth acts as a kind of up-market cleansing cream for his abuse, and his pathological attachment to Anastasia is reframed as devotion, since he showers luxury items on her. This is a very retrograde and dangerous world for our daughters to buy into, and speaks to the appalling lack of any public consciousness as to the reality of violence against women.

Why are Women Devouring Fifty Shades of Grey? - Gail Dines, professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston. (via mehreenkasana)

Having not read it that helps me to understand this craze a lot better

nice blend/picture of gender, power (wealth, violence, structure), patriarchy and popular culture 

(via brasssnuggles-deactivated201306)

The subject told informant that MILLS had informed her that he would publish a booklet entitled, ‘Sociological Imagination’ about 15 May, 1959. He added, however, that his work is not progressing because American foundations are not generous with their money. Subject stated MILLS claimed that since he published his book, ‘Power Elite,’ the foundation people did not like him.

-¿Cómo vamos a salir de esta?

-Hasta que no creemos esta superestructura, no vamos a ser capaces de controlar todo esto. Quizá solo la solidaridad nos pueda salvar. La avaricia de los ricos nos ha traído hasta aquí. Tenemos que aprender esa lección y revisar los principios en los que está basada nuestra democracia; esa es la clave, hay que mirar a nuestros cimientos y crear una identidad nueva. Y hay que procurar por las clases más desfavorecidas, a las que hoy por hoy no se les permite decidir.

In each of us, in varying proportions, there is part of yesterday’s man; it is yesterday’s man who inevitably predominates in us, since the present amounts to little compared with the long past in the course of which we were formed and from which we result. Yet we do not sense this man of the past, because he is inveterate in us; he makes up the unconscious part of ourselves. Consequently we are led to take no account of him, any more than we take account of his legitimate demands. Conversely, we are very much aware of the most recent attainments of civilization, because, being recent, they have not yet had time to settle into our subconscious.
Emile Durkheim (via gardant)


Online video is being used by sociology instructors at the University of Maryland to teach basic concepts and accompany lectures in a concept called The Sociological Cinema.

This clip shows comedian Anita Renfroe condensing the phrases a typical mother says to her children in the course of a day to the duration of the William Tell Overture. In the classroom, sociology students can first list role expectations of mothers, and then discuss the roles mothers have and also focus on gender role expectations of fathers.

- Video: Sociology Cinema Gathers Videoclips for Lecture Topics

I think that anthropology (and the other social sciences) are the ideological arms of sociopolitical arrangements. I use ideology here not in the narrow sense of propaganda, but in the sense of pervasive idea system making up a world view that both reflects and molds certain social arrangements. In general, scholarship reflects and molds the sociopolitical system called a university, and universities are not independent from our social order, but are paid and organized to perpetuate and legitimize it.
Esther Newton (1940~), Mother Camp (via literary-ethnography)
“The owner of the biggest art gallery in St. Louis has far less influence on American artistic taste than the owner of the biggest gallery in Los Angeles; the president of Chad has far less power over global environmental policy than the president of Russia. Structures, in short, empower agents differentially, which also implies that they embody the desires, intentions, and knowledge of agents differentially as well. Structures, and the human agencies they endow, are laden with differences in power.” (Sewell 1992, 21)

A Theory of Structure: Duality, Agency, and Transformation

William H. Sewell, Jr.

The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 98, No. 1. (Jul., 1992), pp. 1-29. 

(via massadaydone)

Sociology asks what happens to men [sic] and by what rules they behave, not in so far as they unfold their understandable individual existences in their totalities, but in so far as they form groups and are determined by their group existence because of interaction.
Georg Simmel (1858-1918), The Sociology of Georg Simmel (via socim)

(via thepovertyoftheory)

The unequal distribution of global wealth by individuals (not countries) should give us pause. Even the Wall Street Journal is impressed:

Here’s another stat that the Occupy Wall Streeters can hoist on their placards: The world’s millionaires and billionaires now control 38.5% of the world’s wealth.

How do we know? Because Credit Suisse has just published the second edition of its Global Wealth Report, in which they calculate the distribution of the world’s total wealth.

As readers can see above, the figures for mid-2011 indicate that 29.7 million adults, about 1/2 of one percent of the world’s population, own more than one third of global household wealth. Of this group, they estimate that 85,000 individuals are worth more than $50 million, 29,000 are worth more than $100 million, and 2,700 have assets above $500 million. Compare this to the bottom of the pyramid: 3.054 billion people, 67.6 percent of the world’s population, with assets of less than $10,000, who own a mere 3.3 percent of the world’s wealth. Add another billion people with assets between $10,000 and $100,000 and we have 91.2 percent of the world’s population that owns something on the order of 17.8 percent of total world wealth.

Clearly, global capitalism has enriched a tiny minority while leaving the vast majority at the bottom of the global wealth pyramid.


In criminology as in economics there is scarcely a more powerful word than ‘capital’. In the former discipline it denotes death; in the latter it has designated the ‘substance’ or the ‘stock’ of life: apparently opposite meanings. Just why the same word, ‘capital’, has come to mean both crimes punishable by death and the accumulation of wealth founded on the produce of previous (or dead) labour might be left etymologists were not the association so striking, so contradictory and so exact in expressing the theme of this book. For this book explores the relationship between, the organised death of living labour (capital punishment) and oppression of the living by dead labour (the punishment of capital).
Peter Linebaugh (pg xv, The London Hanged)