Works of sexual expression are often considered taboo, in common parlance. In academia, pornography remains a topic of research that…
The creation of, and responses to, Bogotá’s Center of Memory, Peace, and Reconciliation is one example that makes clear the fraught relationship of Colombia’s violent past to its urban future. Federico Pérez shows how city governments, developers, and ordinary people continue to assert their interests—symbolic, historical, and financial—over space in the Colombian capital, whether its demolishing a cemetery or fighting to preserve a working-class neighborhood. These conflicts put in sharp relief the connection between unresolved legacies of civil war and violence and urban space and renewal.
As cities are gentrified by developers and new residents, their work is often cast as saving the city and repopulating an empty city in crisis, despite the fact that those spaces are occupied by longtime residents and workers. This is not a race-neutral discourse. Jessi Quizar’s research on Detroit shows the connection between the discourse around “urban pioneers” to Detroit and settler colonialism. And while Quizar’s work makes this connection eminently clear about white gentrifiers in a majority–African American Detroit, her work forces us to consider the language around gentrification more broadly: who is made visible and who is erased in policies about and discussions of urban development?
The SSRC’s Committee on New York City (1985–1991) aimed to study the social, cultural, political, and economic interactions that happen in urban settings, as well as how these intersections then reverberate beyond it. In this 1986 report, Ira Katznelson explains the Committee’s goals and key themes. He discusses how focusing on New York City would provide an ideal place through which to study different urban dynamics through a range of disciplines. Through its three working groups —The Built Environment, The Dual City, and Metropolitan Dominance—the Committee sought to investigate how cultural, economic, and political forces shape New York City and society at large, from the nineteenth through twentieth centuries.
Do the words we use matter? Christine Labuski argues they do, in particular the words we use to describe our sexual organs. For our “Sexuality & Gender Studies Now” series, she challenges society’s unwillingness to use the correct terminology when describing women’s sexual body parts, using “vagina” as a catch-all term. Through her research, Labuski calls attention to how detrimental to women it can be to not use the more precise term “vulva.” Additionally, she emphasizes the need for more interdisciplinary research on the vulva—beyond the medical—that critically engages with gender, sexuality, the cultural, and the political aspects of a woman’s body.
Over the last 30 years, party polarization has increased, making bipartisan compromise less attainable. In this essay, Lynda Powell identifies the electoral and institutional factors influential in determining the extent to which individual legislators spend time forming cross-party rather than within-party coalitions to pass legislation. Focusing her analysis on individual legislator behavior, she introduces a new measure of legislative activity—coalition building bipartisanship—defined as the difference in time legislators devote to cross-party versus within-party coalition building to pass legislation. Overall, Powell finds that in state capitols as well as Congress, as time goes on, legislators spend more time building within-party coalitions, rather than bipartisan coalitions.
As he waged his fight for civil rights for Black Americans in the US South, Martin Luther King Jr. paid attention to American social science work on race. King was critical of this work, especially the notions of “social pathology” used to describe and explain the social conditions of African Americans. Many liberals, particularly in the US North, while critical of Southern racism, used this theory to justify their own neglect and discriminatory actions. Building on her presentation at the SSRC’s event on Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma, Jeanne Theoharis draws attention to Myrdal’s blind spot for Northern liberals and how the broader social sciences’ language of pathology and culture were employed by Northern elites. King, she explains, challenged these concepts and argued that Black precarity was rooted in inequality and racism.
Over the course of nearly 50 years, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has developed many strategies and negotiating tools to become an effective organization in Congress. Here, Mamie Locke explores how the CBC has grown from its original 13 members from relatively homogeneous districts to a caucus reflecting greater geographic and demographic diversity. She argues these changes in membership allow the CBC to more readily engage in deliberative negotiation and strategic partnerships to meet its mission of empowering marginalized communities. The CBC has leveraged its collective power to animate a policy agenda determined to move minority communities forward. Despite facing an increasingly polarized environment for the past 20 years, CBC members have formed alliances and worked in a bipartisan way to achieve successful legislative outcomes.
Monica Heller, curator of Items’ “Sociolinguistic Frontiers,” concludes the series with a reflection on the ways in which the field has both advanced and obscured understandings of how linguistic inequality is related to broader hierarchies of power. The great accomplishment of sociolinguistics—its liberal and scientific claims that all languages are equal in value—did little to engage how inequalities between different groups of speakers were reproduced. Heller argues that the scholarly techniques for measurement and commensuration that allowed the formal comparison of language has neglected to ask how language “continues to serve as a terrain for the making of social difference and social inequality.” She concludes with thoughts for how future sociolinguistics agendas might address this gap.
The SSRC’s Committee on Sociolinguistics was committed to furthering attention to language, and linguistic difference, as an “unexploited kind of sociological data” in ethnographic and survey research. The committee convened a conference in 1968 to better understand the intersection of social and linguistic factors, summarized here by Allen D. Grimshaw. The group focused on four topics: the ethnography of asking questions; the meaning of words; the ways in which interviews themselves are “a part of the data” and “don’t know” responses are revealing answers to questions; and improving scholars’ training in framing questions and eliciting answers related to language and communication.