Relational Sociology and Dynamic Networks

“Transactional thinking contests the intrinsically reified nature of all categories: it shows how they ‘totalize’ identities that are in fact often multidimensional and contradictory; prescribe modes of thought and action against which alternatives can only be labeled ‘deviant’; naturalize rigid distinctions that suppress possibilities for creation (self-) transformation; and, most generally, accept rather than contest the historically variable relational matrices that serve to constitute invidious distinctions and categorizations in the first place” (Somers and Gibson 1994, pp.55-57). 


In this paragraph, Somers and GIbson show how substantive thinking can prevent adaptation and change by nailing down concrete definitions of adversity. While establishing such definitions may help in identifying them in society and bringing them to discussion (for policy’s sake, for purposes of activism and outreach), the act discourages the very change it seeks. In my opinion, awareness of assumptions must precede their abandonment – only by identifying the patterns that marginalize those populations can we then choose to actively change them. From the above quote, it can be seen that the most effective way to change is to create an environment that simulates a vacuum, where negative patterns were exhibited before. When given this vacuum, self-organizing systems will emerge with the most efficient solution. (More) egalitarian power distribution will ensure that this efficiency is beneficial to all, or at least to a higher portion of the population than the previous social arrangement. 


Globalization and the Banana Industry

“Banana Split” (2002) is an intense documentary that analyzes the social and economic forces that drive the banana industry.  It presents an in-depth look the production and shipping stages of the fruit, and the filmmakers successfully contextualize the impact of globalization with footage from Central America. Honduras for example was affected first by the generous arrival of the banana plantations and then by their exit that impoverished local communities. The impact on workers’ health was also documented,  presenting not only the realities of low wage labour workers but also the effects of cost-saving mechanisms – workers who interact with pesticides were discovered to have blue-ish organs.

With great qualitative interviews with the workers, this movie really puts this industry into perspective.

A Social Networking Site You’ve Never Heard Of

Chinese equivalents to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have been well covered  by Western journalists, but one site that’s missing is, China’s version of YouTube. Despite having a userbase “larger than Google+ and Pinterest combined”, has been largely ignored by non-Chinese media.

One major difference between and YouTube is that the Chinese counterpart gives users the opportunity to apply entrepreneurism skills and monetize their skills directly through contributions from other users. Those with talents in karaoke or photoshop are able to receive ‘gifts’ from fans, gifts that can then be turned into non-virtual cash. One student reportedly made over $180k in a year off of her online Photoshop lessons. According to this article, the reason for this lack of media attention may be the result of the socioeconomic divide in Chinese. Users of are largely lower income workers. and Chinese media is more likely to cover sites that cater to the rising middle class.  This is an interesting study in internet communities, and challenges the notion that the internet is a free marketplace where innovation wins out over pre-existing ‘real-world’ social strata. Despite it’s online success, was unable to break through institutional barriers in publicity in the stringent Chinese media machine.

First World Problems

“I don’t like this expression ‘First World problems.’ It is false and it is condescending. Yes, Nigerians struggle with floods or infant mortality. But these same Nigerians also deal with mundane and seemingly luxurious hassles. Connectivity issues on your BlackBerry, cost of car repair, how to sync your iPad, what brand of noodles to buy: Third World problems. All the silly stuff of life doesn’t disappear just because you’re black and live in a poorer country. People in the richer nations need a more robust sense of the lives being lived in the darker nations. Here’s a First World problem: the inability to see that others are as fully complex and as keen on technology and pleasure as you are.”

” Older Americans Are Actually OPTIMISTIC About The Future”

According to this article older Americans are not worried about their future – they believe they can maintain their health and live independently as they get older. That’s the intended message.  Interestingly enough, the article then lists off some stats about financial security (1/3rd of those surveyed say they won’t be able to afford long-term care) and health (72% of those with an income below $30,000 live with a chronic illness) which paints a picture of uncertainty and insecurity. The message from their stats seems to be: older Americans are actually optimistic about being taken care of.

Optimism is good, but is it realistic? “More than 25% of the people in their 60’s were not confident there would be resources and facilities in their communities to allow them to live independently”. Sure, let’s forget about caretaking responsibilities of the family for a second, there’s still the problem of funding for such community organizations. The seniors’ expectations to be cared for are not met with equal political or financial support for facilities that provide such care, especially for low income seniors. What are the consequences? Political support for more subsidized public services? Staying in the labour force later to afford to ‘buy better care’? Or the most likely long term outcome – overcrowded, understaffed nursing homes for those who can’t afford private care?

Canada’s well established healthcare system, multicultural makeup (encouraging familialist norms and mixed generation households), and more government subsidized community organizations targeting seniors makes us better off than our southern neighbours. We’ll still feel the growing pains, but we’re ready for them.