Black History Month: “Toxic Communities” are still prevalent

—Dorceta E. Taylor

It is Black History Month and I am reflecting on the significant strides we have made on issues of racial justice, social equity, and human rights. However, I have also been thinking of the long and difficult road ahead before we can say everyone has true equality in this country. Nowhere is this more evident than in the environmental arena. While some are content to see environment as untarnished hills and glens and others work hard to protect it, what is often missing from such discourses are the social class and racial inequities that arise in environmental practices and decision making.

In The Environment and the People in American Cities, 1600s-1900s: Disorder, Inequality, and Social Change (Duke University Press, 2009), I chronicled the rise of American cities and the environmental problems they confronted in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As part of the narrative, I documented how environmental racism resulted in the placement of African American communities in the most hazard-prone areas of cities. I also chronicled industrial incursion into and the pollution of Black neighborhoods, the destruction of Black communities and displacement of African Americans to make way for the construction of parks, water systems, and other public works.

Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility (NYU Press, 2014) examines similar themes in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. These same patterns are evident—some to a greater extent than existed in earlier times. In Toxic Communities, I examine African American and other communities of color that are inundated with pollutants emanating from hulking industrial facilities. The air, ground, and water are tainted and residents live in fear of explosions or toxic releases from these facilities.

The challenges do not stop there. Black communities have been systematically been destroyed in the name of urban renewal and that highways could be built to connect the cities and suburbs.  While segregated White communities were built in the suburbs and financed by federal funds, Black communities were redlined and denied such funding. Rampant housing discrimination continues today in the form of discriminatory financing methods, racial steering, and other obstacles Blacks face when they seek housing. Consequently, African Americans still live in some of the most toxic and hazard prone communities in the country.

The book challenges us to develop a better understanding how these inequalities arise. We have to make connections with seemingly unrelated events, policies, and processes. We need more effective research as well as community organizing to hold responsible parties accountable.

Dorceta E. Taylor is the Field of Studies Coordinator for Environmental Justice at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. She is the author of Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility (NYU Press, 2014).

Fethullah Gülen and the new Turkey

—Joshua D. Hendrick

On November 13, 2013, Turkey’s most widely circulated newspaper, Zaman Gazetesi published the details of a leaked bill proposal authored by the governing Justice and Development Party (known as the AKP), outlining a significant reform to Turkey’s education system. The document under scrutiny planned to eliminate the private marketplace of Turkish supplemental examination preparation.

Known in Turkey as dershaneler (lesson houses), exam prep schools have long provided an additional resource for students studying for Turkey’s centralized high school and university placement exams. Following the leak, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan employed his hallmark brand of conservative populism to defend his party’s efforts: “You take students who have been educated in public schools, give them a little test technique teaching and then [claim the student’s success] when he wins a university place. Why can’t the poor go to these lessons? All those who benefit from them are the children of the rich” (Hürriyet Daily News, 11/21/2013).

When the story broke, the next several weeks of the Turkish news cycle were dominated by competing stories about the Prime Minister’s true intentions, and about the ways in which supporters and opponents believed such a reform would affect the processes of Turkish democratization.

What made this event so newsworthy?  The answer lies underneath what became known as “Turkey’s prep school row,” and the implications that the transformation of this aspect of Turkish education would have for the interest groups most affected. Among these groups is a social and economic faith network whose affiliates collectively self-refer as Hizmet (“service”).

More commonly known as “the Gülen Movement” (GM), Hizmet constitutes a communitarian social organization whose multi-sector activities are mobilized in accordance with the teachings and charisma of Turkey’s most influential, and most divisive, religious personality: M. Fethullah Gülen.

Who is Fethullah Gülen?

Muhammad Fethullah Gülen is a Turkish charismatic faith community leader, orator, and writer who emerged from humble beginnings in the late 1960s, and who today lives in a rural community in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania (USA). Known by many names, the “Gülen Movement” first emerged as a social network of young men who were inspired by Gülen’s ability to intellectually link an applied understanding of the teachings of a preceding Turkish faith-community leader, Bediüzzaman Said Nursi (1877–1960) with the challenges of late-industrial Turkey.

Motivated by his impressive oratory skills, passion, and projected wisdom, Gülen’s admirers (predominantly young males) referred to him as hocaeffendi (“hodja –effen-dee,” esteemed teacher), as the inspirer of Turks of all stripes—and, more recently, world peoples of all stripes—to lead a faithful life dedicated toward cultivating selfless volunteerism, tolerance, and dialogue with all of humanity. Citing that there was no inherent contradiction between modern scientific inquiry and the teachings of the Qu’ran, Gülen instructed his followers to educate themselves in modern science and mathematics, computers, business, and trade. Beyond that, he contended, they should help others achieve these goals by becoming teachers and by investing in schools.

To this end, Gülen first encouraged his followers to mobilize their efforts in dormitories, summer camps, and afterschool programs in the 1970s, and later in private primary, secondary, and supplemental exam prep education in the 1980s. In the 1990s, “Gülen-inspired schools” (GISs) moved beyond Turkey to countries throughout Central, South, and Southeast Asia, Russia, Western Europe, and Africa. In the 2000s, the network expanded its reach to Latin America and the United States—and now constitutes a worldwide network of private schools that span well over 100 countries. In the United States, the opportunity of the “school choice” created a situation wherein the GM took advantage of public dollars to open approximately 150 publicly privately-managed, publicly funded charter schools in twenty-six states making the country host to more GISs than any other outside Turkey.

In addition to the schools, the GM network now includes a large media conglomerate (Feza Gazetecilik), a widely influential policy-oriented non-profit organization (The Journalists and Writers Foundation), Turkey’s largest “Islamic” bank (Bank Aysa), as well as dozens of affiliated outreach organizations, chambers of commerce, and private companies in various sectors around the world.

Coalition and Conspiracy

The coming to power of the AKP in 2002 coincided with the GM’s global expansion. Despite its grassroots mobilization as a market-based social organization, in the AKP the GM found a useful partner in Turkish politics. Although constituting two different poles in Turkey’s Islamic movement, both collectives overlapped in their desires to reform the Turkish military’s governmental oversight, in the continued liberalization of the Turkish economy, and in the slow reform of Turkey’s “secular” public sphere in favor of piety and social conservatism.  It was thus in the 2000s, that the GM’s ability to influence Turkish social change increased dramatically.

Since the early 1980s, critics of the GM have often declared that Gülen’s real aims were to slowly and patiently initiate an “Islamic” overhaul of the “secular” Turkish Republic. Many have long-asserted that GISs function as institutions for brainwashing Turkey’s youth in accordance with what they insist to be the teachings of a fundamentalist Islamist preacher. Critics have also long-contended that Gülen chose to focus on education because in order to achieve his aims, he requires loyalists to “infiltrate” the Turkish military, the Istanbul police force, the Ministry of Education, and other strategic institutions of state. Gülen has long refuted this notion. Citing modern categories associated with liberal participation, rather than traditional categories associated with Islam, he has continuously expressed that a citizen of any democratic country should be free to pursue his career objectives however he sees fit. Regardless of how it is framed, however, it is not much of a secret that GM affiliates have become influential players in high levels of various Turkish state institutions.

Fethullah Gülen has long been associated with allegations of conspiracy in Turkey. For instance, some believe that it was no coincidence in 1998, when Gülen cited health reasons and fled to the United States, that this was just days before he was indicted by an Ankara criminal court for allegedly leading a clandestine organization intent to overthrow the Turkish Republic. The conspiratorial charge was that Gülen was tipped off about his pending arrest from a leak inside the prosecutor’s office, and subsequently made his way out of the country. Regardless of one’s opinion about the validity of this claim, in 2006, Gülen was acquitted of all charges, a verdict that was reaffirmed by Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals in June 2008.

Despite legal vindication, however, Gülen remained in the United States, eventually settling down in the Pocono foothills in Pennsylvania. In 2001, he began to actively seek permanent U.S. residency. In November 2008, a federal judge in Pennsylvania overturned a decision of denial made by U.S. Immigration Services regarding his application for permanent residency—a legal status he has enjoyed ever since.

When responding to those who long for his return to Turkey, Gülen contends that such a move would stir up unnecessary tension, and would be counterproductive for the continued success of his “community of volunteers.” Analytically, however, it is also the case that his self-imposed exile passively legitimizes his extraordinary personage.  As a charismatic recluse, Gülen has become near-legend in Turkey. He communicates directly only with a small group of tight-knit followers, an inner community (cemaat) whose members either live with him in Pennsylvania, or who pay him regular visits from affiliated institutions around the world. Although he permits the occasional interview, he prefers to respond to outsiders through written correspondence. For Turkish language speakers attracted to his message, Gülen offers a regular ders (lesson) on matters of faith and spirituality through an intra-community web forum; and for years, interested Turkish Muslims have learned about Gülen’s brand of Islam by reading published essays in compiled books, and as lead articles in GM-affiliated magazines and journals. As one of Turkey’s most influential public voices, Fethullah Gülen earns greater legitimacy the more removed he appears to be from the movement that bears his name.

Battle for Position

Approximately three weeks after the emergence of Turkey’s “prep school row,” the Turkish police force went public with a yearlong investigation of high level corruption and graft by arresting three AKP minsters in Prime Minister Erdoğan’s cabinet. As of January 2014, the AKP government, Erdoğan specifically, finds itself under intense scrutiny for alleged bribery and widespread corruption that implicates one of Turkey’s largest public banks, numerous high level AKP minsters, and ostensibly, the office of the Prime Minster.

Dominating national and international news cycles are regular stories not merely on the graft probe itself, or on the proposal to abolish the dershane education system, but on the battle of position that has been revealed by these two incidents. Indeed, what many Turks have suspected for some time, and of which most Turks are now certain, is that the “new Turkey coalition” between the civil society-mobilized movement of Fethullah Gülen and the partisan-mobilized conservative political movement of the Erdoğan-led AKP government is over.

Joshua D. Hendrick is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Global Studies at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore. He is the author of Gülen: The Ambiguous Politics of Market Islam in Turkey and the World (NYU Press, 2013).

Marriage? Meh.

—Karen M. Dunak

In the aftermath of DOMA’s overturning and state after state legalizing same sex unions, there have been a flurry of articles to suggest the wedding industry has struck gold with the impending rush of gay and lesbian weddings. Maybe. But the New York Times suggests the onslaught may not be what vendors within the “wedding-industrial complex” have hoped for. Many gay men and women will look at the opportunity to marry, be happy for the move toward marriage equality and extension of citizenship rights, and then go about their daily lives.

To some degree, I think the best part of this article is that it uncovers the assumption that those who share a single element of identity are one community. In fact, there is never really just one community but rather multiple communities to consider. When teaching women’s history, I have to remind my students over and over that we can’t say “women” and imagine it’s a catchall term. Differences in race, class, region, religion, political affiliation, and so on make the population impossible to lump as one uniform group. So, too, with gay men and women.

As the Times article notes, “For some, marriage is an outdated institution, one that forces same-sex couples into the mainstream. For others, marriage imposes financial burdens and legal entanglements. Still others see marriage not as a fairy tale but as a potentially painful chapter that ends in divorce.” Exactly. Straight society’s elevation of the married relationship – with all its flaws – above all other relationships is just one area where homosexuals are glad to emphasize their difference from a problematic heterosexist value system.

It’s interesting to consider what influence homosexuals’ negotiation of newfound marriage rights will yield. Even as they existed outside the mainstream, gay relationship styles have been largely influential. In the 1960s and 1970s, as homosexual relationship became increasingly visible, many couples were happy with to live together outside the bonds of matrimony (and for many of the reasons outlined above). In fact, many historians (myself included) argue that gays’ rejection of marriage and celebration of the cohabitation alternative ultimately influenced the straight world, where cohabitation went from almost a non-existent occurrence in the early 1960s to one that was fairly common by the end of the 1970s. Likewise, an emphasis on egalitarianism within gay partnerships influenced a move toward greater equity in straight relationships.

I wonder if it’s possible that the younger generation – the one the Times describes as post-marriage – will wield a similar kind of power and influence. Those in their early twenties, disillusioned by a world in which expectations of marital success are fairly low and divorce is common, may celebrate the acquisition of the right to marry but likewise embrace the right to not marry. It’s possible that marriage equality will stand as a hallmark of sexual civil rights, but the reality of how people live their lives and organize their relationships will remain flexible. Here we may see a community of those committed to marriage alternatives, a community that may be influential but is likely to remain outside the mainstream. And it may well be a community linked not by sexual preference but by age and experience.

Karen M. Dunak is Assistant Professor of History at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio. She is the author of As Long as We Both Shall Love: The White Wedding in Postwar America (NYU Press, 2013).

[This piece originally appeared on the author's blog here.]

Bullying, teasing and the gender trap

—Emily W. Kane

With National Bullying Prevention Month underway and a focus this year on the sponsoring organization’s tagline, “The End of Bullying Begins with Me,” I find myself thinking back to what I heard from parents of three- to five-year-old children during interviews for my book, The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls.

I talked to parents from all social backgrounds and all family types, and found that quite a few wanted to give their kids the freedom to pick activities, toys, colors, and approaches that were not strictly determined by gender. But even those parents who wanted to encourage a moderately more fluid approach to gender, expressed fear and anxiety about how their children might be treated if they didn’t conform to typical gender expectations.

I heard reports of an everyday world teeming with social pressures, judgments from friends, relatives, their children’s peers and even strangers if their kids didn’t stick to a pretty narrowly gendered path. These parents were very much conscious of the social costs their children might face and, consistent with decades of scholarship in gender studies, these costs and anxieties loomed larger in relation to boys. With frequent mention of phrases liked “picked on” and “ostracized,” parents expressed the fear that their sons would be bullied by other children if they wandered even a little bit off that socially-dictated path.

The trap of parents pushing children toward traditionally-gendered outcomes is sometimes baited by beliefs about biology, personal preferences, and unconscious actions. Even when it isn’t, though, the everyday judgments of friends, relatives, and teachers can bait that same trap. Gender nonconformity is much too often met with bullying behavior, and if adults are not vigilant about responding to that bullying and responding to the more minor policing of gender expectations (which parents in my study labeled as teasing), many parents will enforce gendered constraints they don’t even agree with out of fear for what their children might face.

Individual parents can try to create a less constraining world for their children, but only if the rest of us suspend our judgments, applaud their efforts, and seek to interrupt the everyday teasing and more significant bullying that are too often ignored in children’s daily worlds. Suspending our judgments, offering that applause, and executing those interruptions are all ways that the end of bullying can indeed begin with each of us.

Emily W. Kane is a Professor of Sociology at Bates College and the author of The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls (NYU Press, 2012).

Vaginal birth for twins as safe as c-section delivery

—Theresa Morris

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) on October 3rd examines what is safer for the delivery of twins: planned vaginal or planned cesarean section? A summary of the study was written by the Associated Press and distributed widely through many news outlets, including National Public Radio. The title of the AP article—“Most Twins Can Be Born Without a C-Section”—gets at the major finding of the study. The authors randomly assigned women with twin pregnancies between 32 weeks 0 days gestation and 38 weeks 6 days gestation and with the first twin in a head-down (cephalic) position to planned cesarean section (1398 women) or planned vaginal delivery (1406 women). There was no significant difference in outcomes between these two groups. That is, a planned vaginal twin delivery posed no greater risk to women and babies than a planned cesarean section twin delivery.

This study is notable. As the authors of the NEJM study observe, the rate of vaginal twin delivery has plummeted in recent years. There is no doubt that part of this decrease is due to publication of findings from The Term Breech Trial, which discovered worse outcomes for babies presenting in breech (head up) position who were delivered vaginally. Although in a follow-up study published in 2004 the outcomes at age 2 of the babies born vaginally were no different from the outcomes at age 2 of babies born by c-section, planned vaginal breech delivery had already been greatly curtailed worldwide.

The Term Breech Trial affected twin deliveries because many second twins (i.e. the twin that is delivered second) present in a breech position. Although the Term Breech Trial only included singleton pregnancies, maternity clinicians I interviewed for the research in my book indicated that many obstetricians stopped offering vaginal twin deliveries when the second twin was presenting in a breech presentation because, with the publication of findings from the Term Breech Trial, if there were to be a bad outcome, they believed they would be sued for malpractice. The NEJM study published on October 3rd, which includes five of the authors of the Term Breech Trial publications, is a good redress to obstetricians’ defensive practice of delivering most twins by c-section.

This study is good news for women pregnant with twins. If vaginal delivery is not being presented to them as an option, they should bring this publicly available article to their next prenatal appointment.

Theresa Morris is Professor of Sociology at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. She is the author of Cut It Out: The C-Section Epidemic in America (NYU Press, October 2013).

Obamacare and women’s access to reproductive care

—Theresa Morris

In a recent opinion piece for the Washington Post, Joann Weiner shares her thoughts on the ways in which Obamacare will affect women. Though the title of her article is “Women win some, lose some under Obamacare,” Weiner makes clear in her analysis that women gain more than they lose under the Affordable Health Care Act. Probably the most significant gain for women is in the area of reproductive health. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, women with private insurance have gained expanded preventative services with no co-pays for well-woman visits, mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, prenatal care, gestational diabetes screening, breastfeeding supplies, and contraceptive services.

Beginning in 2014, insurance companies will no longer be able to charge higher premiums to women. Companies charge these higher premiums with the justification that women use health care more than men do. Surprisingly, some insurance companies charge higher rates to women even when the plan excludes maternity care. Gender disparity in insurance premiums especially affects women with prior c-section deliveries, who are often charged higher premiums unless they are sterilized or past their childbearing years. The Affordable Care Act forbids using gender in computing insurance premiums. Further, 18.6 million uninsured women will gain access to health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace and preventative reproductive healthcare will be guaranteed to these women (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

It is hard not to see the House Republicans’ 42 attempts to defund Obamacare as part of the Republican Party’s War on Women. This can be seen, especially, in the September 29th House vote to fund a stopgap spending measure to prevent an October 1st government shutdown by tacking on a “conscience clause,” which would delay an Obamacare requirement that employers provide health insurance that covers contraceptive care.

The holes in the Affordable Healthcare Act that will most affect women are holes that have plagued women with private health insurance for years. First, health insurance providers in the health exchange systems will not cover all hospitals and providers. I advise women to always seek intervention rates (e.g. rates of labor induction, epidural use, labor augmentation) and c-section rates of hospitals and providers in deciding on a care provider and place for birth. Because rates vary drastically by provider and hospital, women should be given choice in this matter to lower their likelihood of an unnecessary c-section. Second, for the most part, Obamacare does little to help abortion access and probably hurts access if the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which forbids government funding of abortion except in the cases of rape or incest or when the mother’s life is in danger, is not overturned. This amendment has a more far-reaching effect than does the current Hyde Amendment, 1976 legislation that does not allow federal Medicaid dollars to be spent on abortion except in the cases listed above, because The Stupak-Pitts Amendment affects health insurance policies offered by the health insurance exchange systems and is, thus, more broad in its reach.

On the whole, Obamacare addresses many women’s reproductive health issues, but continues to leave women a lack of choice in health providers and hospitals and a lack of coverage of abortion care.

Theresa Morris is Professor of Sociology at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. She is the author of Cut It Out: The C-Section Epidemic in America (NYU Press, October 2013).

Have things gotten worse for working women?

—Rachel Dempsey

[This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post on September 18, 2013.]

Earlier this week, I was in a meeting with a professor when the issue of women’s advancement in the professional world came up. I was in the process of making some vague, general statement when she suddenly asked: “Have things gotten worse?”

It turned out that she had recently spoken with a student who was worried she wouldn’t be able to get her career off the ground in time to have children. The professor said the young woman’s concern had taken her aback: the student was an undergraduate, and didn’t yet have either children or a career. In her generation, my professor said, women just assumed it would all work out.

To me, though, the concern made perfect sense. From Sheryl Sandberg’s advice to young women to lean in to this recent New Yorker article about why women should think twice before getting an M.B.A., it’s hard for me not to feel a sense of impending doom when I think about the obstacle course-type maneuvering I’ll have to pull off in order to be a successful professional and a successful mother.

The math is simple, even if the choices it leaves me with are not. I’m 26 and I’m still in school. By the time I graduate, I’ll be 28. If I head straight to law practice and stay there, that would give me about seven years to make partner before I’m 35. At that point I could start to think about getting pregnant without having to worry quite so much about being derailed from the fast track. That’s a tight schedule even if everything goes perfectly in both my personal and professional life. And what if I take a clerkship? What if I decide to do public interest and live off fellowships for a few years until I can get a paid permanent job?

A lot of women my age and in my position who want to have children – or even, like me, think maybe they’ll want to someday – have a similar schedule in the back of their minds. I have more than one friend whose mother has hinted that she should think about freezing her eggs. I know the many people who tell young women to plan the timing of their pregnancies carefully mean well. But I resent it.

Not only is it stressful to feel like I’m in a race for success against my own body, but it also reinforces the very gender dynamics that put professional women in such a tough spot. Telling women – and only women – that they need to start planning for their families 10 years in advance assumes the current structure of the workplace as a given and lets men off the hook. Things really will get worse if we keep telling ambitious women about how hard their future will be at the same time that we leave the underlying gender dynamics and cultural expectations that make things so hard unexamined.

I understand why women in the generation before me felt betrayed. They were told they could have everything and then found that they were expected to do everything. But I really hope the best solution to that problem isn’t just to warn young women to gird themselves against the upcoming battle. It’s discouraging, and it risks sidelining women long before they face any concrete challenges. Maybe it’s because I’m young, but I’m still optimistic that we can find an alternative solution in strengthening men’s stake in work-family issues and developing a realistic model of professional commitment. While men may not have the same biological constraints as me, many of them love women who do. It’s not fair to expect young women to deal with the weight of this issue on our own, and it’s frankly unrealistic to expect that we can do so and also compete on equal footing with men.

There’s hope that things are, in fact, getting better. Purely anecdotally, I know a lot of men who are thinking about their career options in terms of work/life balance –perhaps as many as women, although they tend not to frame it strictly as a family issue. We need to actively include these men and others in the conversation, so that we can all aspire not just to triage a deeply embedded conflict between work and family, but rather to live a balanced and coherent life.

Rachel Dempsey is a writer and student at Yale University’s School of Law. With her mother, Professor Joan C. Williams, she is the co-author of the upcoming book What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know (NYU Press, 2014).

Q&A with authors Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut: Part 2

September is National Honey Month! In celebration, we’re featuring the second half of a Q&A with Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut, authors of Buzz: Urban Beekeeping and the Power of the Bee (read the first half here). In part two, Moore and Kosut talk about their experience in the field with bees, the truth about the sting, and bees as the new cause célèbre.

Question: What was it like to be in the field with the bees?

Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut: The first few times with the bees was intense. We weren’t even paying attention to the beekeepers – it was all about being in the space of the bee and moving slowly and deliberately and respecting their airspace.  We realized if they just sit on your body and you aren’t freaking out, they won’t sting you. We had to get over all the ways we have been socialized by media messages that bees are bad and could attack at any moment.  Bees are actually mostly docile and if you are just smart and contemplative you will be okay. But of course, humans make mistakes.

Beekeeping is also a sensual experience. First is the sound of the bees. The hum can be kind of meditative. It is almost like water in a stream – bees can cause people to really calm down and be in the present. Also, in terms of the embodiment of beekeeping, the hive gives off this extraordinary smell and one of the beekeepers we interviewed, talked about this smell being like truffle oil. She talked about it as being like a “good, heady sex smell” – sort of like the pheromones of sex across species. And we smelled that smell.

When people go and open up the hive, they will sit and watch the bees come and go. These are the intimate embodied relationships people have with the bee.

Q: What about the sting?

LJM and MK: In Buzz, we discuss the sting a lot. There are these affective relationships with bees where fear and anxiety is in involved in the practice. So there is something about the wildness and danger that is attractive to people in New York City in particular. Because beekeeping had been illegal in New York City until a couple years ago because of the fact that they sting, we found beekeepers that actually liked the illegality – it was living on the edge and exciting.

The unpredictability of the bees is also a thrill. There are thousands of them flying in the air and they are making all this noise and it is a little bit intimidating, because they can sting you. People deal with the dangers differently – some beekeepers work without prophylactics. We interviewed this one guy who does beekeeping barefoot. There is a little bit of machoness to it – to quote one of our beekeepers, there’s a “bad-ass-ness” about it. It is kind of a flirtation with wild nature, but not too wild. It is not like keeping a tiger in the city.

Getting stung – being able to say you lived through it and you are going in again – we think that is attractive to people. Because getting stung hurts. The bees die after they get stung, so they actually don’t want to sting you. They do all these warning things to avoid stinging – they release pheromones to signal threat, they change their pitch to show they are angry, they also do this thing called bonking. They fly in and basically hit you on the forehead with their bodies to warn you and make you back off.

Bees die when they sting you because their bottom half falls off. So it is very sacrificial for them – they are sacrificing their life for the security of the hive. The whole is more important than the individual – we as sociologists are very attracted to that idea.

Humans theorize about the bees, comparing the hive to a democracy where all these individuals are working together for the greater good. In Buzz, we discuss how bees are basically this model insect because they are so easily anthropomorphized and a template for how humans are supposed to behave. Historically people have been attracted to bees.

Q: Do killer bees make honey?

LJM and MK: Killer bees are sort of a misnomer – or misnamed.  Basically these are bees taken from Africa and studied in South America – mostly Brazil, where they have been studied for certain characteristics. As they are smaller than European honeybees, they reproduce more quickly. But bees are an unpredictable species. They are domesticated, but they don’t always follow what humans want. So some escaped.

They have the capacity to supplant other European hives with their own queen. Once they install their own queen, a hive can turn over to being Africanized. This has been moving up the borders across the U.S.-Mexico border as far north as about Southern Georgia – maybe a bit further. This is tracked by the USDA and other agencies because of the presumed threat of Africanized bees.

They don’t have more venom in their sting – but if they are provoked, they will go farther and longer to sting. The fact that they nest inside buildings and underneath the ground means that humans’ actions sometimes disrupt those bees more than European honeybees because of their nesting patterns. So in Buzz, we talk about that threat of the Africanized bees and how it has been sort of managed through existing tropes of race and racism. Bees have become another way to express anxiety about the border and race and ethnicity. Bees that are out of control are not paying attention to all the rules about entering the country. They are more robust and heartier and that trait is capitalized on and used in a pejorative sense to make us fearful.

Q: What are some of the surprising findings about bees and urban beekeeping?

LJM and MK: One of the things we found so interesting in looking at bees and urban beekeepers and colony collapse disorder (CCD) is that simultaneously, while it is probably a panoply of causes that lead to bees dying, but primarily neonicotinoid – there is also this movement at the same time to save the bees. We liken this to the 1970s save the whales movement.

Bees have become this new mascot or cause célèbre for people to root for or rally behind and this has effects in the urban beekeeping landscape and also for larger corporations like Haagen Dazs or other companies who make saving the bees part of their way of engaging with consumers. It is a pitch to get us concerned by the environment. Bees are seen as so wholesome and so threatened that we need to help them. This is a far cry from when we grew up and were taught to run from bees due to “The Swarm” and other killer bee movies.

In a short time, we have been taught to be concerned about the bees, to worry for them, to want to care for them, to want to buy products that protect them. There is a real shift in how we have seen bees as a real threat to how we seem them now as completely threatened.  And this becomes part of our own desire in how to participate to try and help them.

Fall books available on NetGalley

We’ve got quite a few gems in our NetGalley catalog this fall, all available for advance review now. Book reviewers, journalists, bloggers, librarians, professors, and booksellerswe welcome you to submit a request!

Not familiar with NetGalley? Learn more about how it works.

 
Buzz: Urban Beekeeping and the Power of the Bee by Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut (September 27, 2013)

We think Booklist said it best: “In this fascinating blend of sociology, ecology, ethnographic research, and personal memoir, the authors range through all of the aspects of the human relationship with the honeybee.”

Ever thought of honeybees as sexy? You might after watching Mary Kosut discuss the sensual nature of beekeeping.

 

Cut It Out: The C-Section Epidemic in America by Theresa Morris (October 7, 2013)

In Cut It Out, Theresa Morris offers a riveting and comprehensive look at this little-known epidemic, as well as concrete solutions “that deserve the attention of policymakers” (Publishers Weekly starred review).

C-sections are just as safe as vaginal births, right? Not true, says Theresa Morris. Watch her discusses this and other misconceptions on our YouTube channel.

 

Hanukkah in America: A History by Dianne Ashton (October 14, 2013)

Hanukkah will fall on Thanksgiving this year for the first time ever—and the last time for another 70,000 years. Brush up on your knowledge of the holiday in time to celebrate the once-in-an-eternity event. Publishers Weekly, in another starred review, promises a “scholarly but accessible guide to the evolution of the Festival of Lights in America.”

Stay tuned for our interview with the author!

 
Browse all of our e-galleys available for review on NetGalley.

Q&A with authors Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut: Part 1

Did you know… September is National Honey Month? We didn’t either. So it’s particularly fitting that our book, Buzz: Urban Beekeeping and the Power of the Bee by Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut is coming out this month. What a beautiful coincidence! 

Today we have the first half of a Q&A with Moore and Kosut, in which the two authors discuss the origins of their book, look at urban beekeeping practices in New York City, and give a convincing case for why we all should care about the fate of bees. Stay tuned for part two later this month!

Question: What got you interested in studying urban beekeeping?

Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut: We got interested in studying urban beekeeping because it seems as if the bee is the animal of the moment. Lisa Jean said, doesn’t it seem like bees are popping up everywhere? In farmer’s markets, at city fairs, people are taking beekeeping classes, and essentially it was a question of the fascination with bees in New York City.

We were also interested in the DIY movement that is very popular in many urban centers in the United States and in particular Brooklyn, where we live. The ways in which the DIY movement cleaves with urban homesteading. Urban homesteading is where people take some of the country into the city and do things like bake bread, make beer, knit, and raise chickens. Or have fermentation parties – there is connection between fermentation parties and bees – making mead. (And apparently bees are also the gateway drug to chickens.)

As professors, we were also interested in the trends regarding what students do the years after college. It used to be that students would take the year off and go get a Eurail pass and travel around Europe.  But we find now that our students are traveling around to different urban farms, or even rural farms, and doing organic farming – or Woofing – where you stay on organic farms and work in exchange for your room and board. We were fascinated by this need for the return to the land and how it has been modified from the 1970s to be in urban spaces.

Like the green-roof – the Eagle Street Rooftop Farms in Greenpoint, Brooklyn where they have an extensive rooftop farm with all sorts of vegetables, bunnies, chickens and bees. One of the many places in the city that is bringing nature into the urban as part of greening initiatives. Dropping out while staying in. Having all the luxuries of urban life while at the same time having this alternative identity and practice it.  Bees are part of that practice.

We were also interested in people making things, people getting involved. So in Buzz we talk about how there are these generations of old and young beekeepers who really enjoy both the interaction with the bee but also the collaboration with the bee to do things like make honey and harvest it, making beeswax and beeswax candles. And also in a sense of making something larger – what we would call the pollination of NYC which creates vast opportunities for the flora and fauna of NYC – the urban ecology.

Q: Isn’t Beekeeping in NYC illegal?

LJM and MK: Until recently, a couple of years ago, keeping bees in NYC was illegal. Under Rudy Giuliani, in 1999 beekeeping became illegal. It was a nuisance crime. The local authorities didn’t really go after people that kept bees unless some neighbor turned them in because they felt fearful of bees being in their space.  Fearful that bees would attack or swarm. This is a common misperception about swarming – it is not dangerous. It is just bees moving to find more space because they are such a healthy colony and want to grow. It is a spectacular thing to see a swarm – our informants talk about seeing a swarm live as a lightning strike or a shooting star. Where nature overcomes you.

Q: Has beekeeping been growing in popularity?

LJM and MK: Yes, definitely. When we started taking urban beekeeping classes at the Central Park Arsenal (which is a free six-month course run by New York City Beekeeping), there were probably about 200 – 300 in the room—and by the time we left, there were about 2,000 members… and it keeps growing. Once a week, we pick up the paper and there is a story about beekeeping in there – it is expanding as a hobby.

Part of that is because last year was a terrible year for the bees. In 2012, fifty percent of the bee population was lost. So colony collapse disorder (CCD) is not going away or being solved. It is difficult to keep up on the CCD crisis and how people are trying to fix it – while at the same time more and more people are cultivating bees. More classes are being offered – they are an urban animal now.

Q: Why should people care about bees?

LJM and MK: People should care about bees primarily because they are a native pollinator – not native to the United States, but brought here in the 17th Century. But they are a pollinator that can be domesticated through animal husbandry practices and trained to pollinate certain crops. Pollination is responsible for at least one third of food production and reproduction – both industrial and backyard food production.

And since 2006 bees have been suffering from colony collapse disorder, which we talk about extensively in Buzz. It seems to us that since they have been gone from the disorder, people care about them more. This shows how enmeshed with are with bees as this other species and how we co-mingle in all of these ways that are becoming more obvious to us now.

In Buzz we examine CCD through media studies. Different agencies, scientists, look at it from different angles. Some people write about it as being caused by pesticides, or mono-cropping, or the decimation of local ecologies; other people liken CCD to invader species being brought by urbanization and the movement of mites from different locations to attack bees. Ultimately CCD is caused by a host of factors which are human interventions into the landscape. It is highly politicized – if it is linked to pesticides. There are billions of dollars at stake.

Part two of this Q&A will appear on this blog on September 20th, 2013. 

Does money motivate doctors to do more c-sections?

—Theresa Morris

On August 30th, NPR reported on a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper that suggested physicians perform c-sections in order to maximize their pay. The NBER authors state this assumption and then go on to use it to explain why physician-patients are less likely than non-physician-patients to have a c-section birth in non-HMO hospitals. They argue that the different likelihood of c-section is due to physician-patients’ having information necessary to avoid unnecessary c-sections (that are due to physicians’ maximizing their incomes).

In my book, Cut It Out: The C-Section Epidemic in America, I argue that making assumptions about individual motivations is very problematic if one has not talked to the individuals being analyzed. The question, “Do physicians perform c-sections to make more money?” is not explored. Further, to argue that financial incentives are at the root of the c-section epidemic in America, one would have to delve into how physicians are paid for deliveries. Health insurance companies typically pay a global fee for prenatal care and delivery. This fee is a few hundred dollars higher for c-sections, but how the fee is divided among obstetricians in a practice (and few obstetricians practice in solo practices) is complex. Many obstetricians are not paid simply for the births they attend. Rather the global fees are aggregated and then paid to physicians according to the number of call hours they complete. Thus, it is hard to see how physicians have much of a financial incentive to perform a c-section because the increase in pay is not direct and is likely split among obstetricians in the practice.

My research, based on fifty in-depth interviews with maternity clinicians, suggests that a viable competing explanation for the NBER finding is that physicians often have a low threshold for performing c-sections during the course of labor because of liability concerns. Physician-patients may have the information necessary to negotiate with physicians to allow them to continue to try to deliver vaginally and/or physicians may not be as concerned that physician-patients will sue them in the case of a bad outcome and, thus, give physician-patients more latitude during labor.

Also problematic is that that NPR report focused on the assumption of the NBER paper that physicians perform c-sections due to economic incentives, rather than the main empirical finding of the NBER paper. The main empirical finding of the NBER paper is that physician-patients have a different likelihood of c-section than non-physician-patients. The authors focus their conclusion on the finding that “physician-mothers are approximately ten percent less likely to have a C-section.” They conclude, “This paper demonstrates that 10 percent of C-sections represent overuse of healthcare, and that this overuse is not only costly but may have an adverse impact on patients.”

The title of the NPR story—“Money May be Motivating Doctors to Do More C-sections”—and its focus is something that sounds exciting and leads to blaming physicians for the high c-section rate. This is an easy claim to make because it seems to have some kind of intuitive appeal. However, it is has no basis in empirical data analyzed in the NBER paper.

Theresa Morris is Professor of Sociology at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. She is the author of Cut It Out: The C-Section Epidemic in America (NYU Press, October 2013).

 

De-extinction: Reinventing the wheel?

The April 2013 cover of National Geographic.

—Carrie Friese

De-extinction has recently emerged as a hot topic in the press, with prominent figures like Stuart Brand giving TED talks on reviving extinct species earlier this year, National Geographic’s recent cover story, and academic conferences on the topic being held with greater than usual press coverage. The debates over de-extinction are largely represented as entirely novel and new. However, what is striking is the extent to which these debates parallel and map on to the debates over using assisted reproductive technologies ranging from in vitro fertilization (IVF) and cloning with endangered animals. Indeed, many key actors – such as Robert Lanza from Advanced Cell Technology – have been involved in and acted as spokespersons for both ventures.

The debates on cloning both endangered and extinct animals have focused on the problems of technological hype for conservation, the practical limits of technology where wild animals are concerned, the ontology of ‘wild’ animals made by humans through technological means, and the quality of the lives these animals are made to live. Participants in de-extinction could therefore learn much by looking at the lessons learned by those involved in cloning endangered animals, where many of these debates have already been addressed.

In particular, de-extinction advocates could learn a lot by looking at how scientists involved in cloning endangered animals have responded to the politics of their work. In my book Cloning Wild Life, I note that some scientists responded to concerns about cloning endangered animals by changing their scientific practices. Different kinds of animals and cells were used in order to make cloned endangered animals fit the concerns of a wider range of actors involved in species preservation. This represents an important difference between de-extinction and cloning endangered animals.

Locating the debates over de-extinction between optimistic scientists seeking to intervene in nature and depressed environmentalists seeking to preserve nature relies upon staid and unproductive clichés. Cloning endangered animals shows that it is far more productive to engage with one’s critics and their concerns, and can even result in a better science.

Carrie Friese is Lecturer in Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is the author of Cloning Wild Life: Zoos, Captivity and the Future of Endangered Animals (NYU Press, 2013). She is currently writing on de-extinction with Claire Marris.