Taking a “Rashomon” approach to studying Pacific Rim politics

1980_regIn this blog entry, Christian Collet, co-editor (with Pei-te Lien) of The Transnational Politics of Asian Americans, describes his approach to understanding contemporary dynamics of racial and ethnic politics.

Gaining perspective is perhaps the biggest challenge of writing — trying to find a point in time and a place in space in which one has enough clarity, confidence and judgment to articulate an idea.  As Akira Kurosawa’s brilliant Rashomon reminds us, even the simplest of events can have completely different meanings.  “Facts” are often dependent, literally, on where one is sitting.

I draw upon the experience of living in Saigon and near Little Saigon in Orange County, and the questions I have asked myself as an American political scientist living in the Asian Pacific, as a way to introduce the challenges of understanding the contemporary dynamics of racial and ethnic politics.  Pei-te Lien and I designed The Transnational Politics of Asian Americans not only to exorcise our own nagging questions, but to inspire others, particularly in political science, to think more about these problems of method – and how we can come to grips with the excitement and uncertainty of globalization.  Our concern is to not only shed light on the “foreign acts” we see in the news, but to put them in perspective – and bring students closer to them through perspectives that they may have yet to experience.

The challenge, as we describe in the introductory chapter, comes not just from being able to perceive transnational politics, but to capture it accurately and, once contained, to interpret its significance – to think about why it matters and the role it may be playing in Asian American incorporation.  That the volume attempts to marry 20th century history to 21st century anthropology, area studies to ethnic studies, surveys to participant observation should, if nothing else, convey our sense that politics is, in essence, a dynamic, Rashomon-like puzzle. Democracy in the Pacific Rim, we believe, may be open to many interpretations, but Asian Americans remain central players in the unfolding drama.

For more information about The Transnational Politics of Asian Americans, visit http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/1980_reg.html

Sandra Hanson provides testimony as an expert witness at a House Subcommittee

1904_regIn this blog entry, Sandra Hanson, author of Swimming Against the Tide: African American Girls and Science Education, describes her research providing testimony at the House Subcommittee on “Encouraging the Participation of Females Students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Fields.”

Statistics on degrees and jobs in science published by the National Science Foundation show progress for women and minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). However they also show that a gap remains, especially in science occupations. I am optimistic about the gains, but we must still work on making science more inclusive.

These young women love science. However, when they go into the science classroom, one girl suggests that teachers “look at us like we are not supposed to be scientists.” What do these young girls say about changing the science classroom? They want, for example: better preparation in STEM in the early years and access to advanced STEM tracks in the later years, changes that make science more accessible, better trained and motivated teachers, smaller classes, more work in groups (cooperative learning), more hands-on experiences (and an active laboratory component), more gender and race diversity in science teachers and curriculum (especially text books), high expectations for all students, special programs to encourage women and minorities in science, and more access to mentoring and networking. My research and other research supported by the National Science Foundation suggest that these changes in STEM education would benefit all youth. In the Q and A after the testimony Representative Fudge (D-OH) asked about access to science for girls (and boys) in inner-city schools. I noted in my response a need to equalize resources across school districts. Children unlucky enough to be born in a lower-income school district should not have to deal with science classrooms that lack good teachers, textbooks and equipment.

The committee inquired about other things that might be done to reduce the gender gap in science. I noted some of my research on girls and sport in my testimony. My research shows that sport provides an important resource in enhancing young women’s science access and achievement. It encourages independence, teamwork, and competition – the same traits that tend to be associated with women’s success in the male domain of science. Female athletes have an advantage in science over non-athletes. Young girls who are given an early opportunity to be involved in sport may well be less intimated and more prepared for the culture of science classrooms and work settings. It was encouraging to hear Representatives Ehlers (R-MI) and Fudge (D-OH) as well as Cheryl Thomas (one of the experts providing testimony at the hearing who is President and Founder of Ardmore Associates, LLC) express interest and support for this notion.

When second grade girls and boys are asked to draw a picture of a scientist they often draw a white male who is alone and ominous looking. This is not an attractive image for boys or girls. We need to change the image of science for all youth and importantly we need to make science available to all. If we are to be economically competitive in an age of global markets we need diverse strategies, skills, and competence in STEM. Students in the U.S. (male and female) score behind students from many other countries on math and science exams. We need to improve the quality of our science education system. We know what works. The new practice guide by the National Center for Education Research (“Encouraging Girls in Math and Science”) offers five recommendations for schools and teachers for increasing girls’ participation and interest in science. Guides such as this one need to be integrated in a routine way into U.S. STEM programs.

For more information on Sandra Hanson’s Swimming Against the Tide, visit: http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/1904_reg.html

Gay rights as a classic case of subconstituency politics

1996_regIn this blog entry, Ben Bishin, author of Tyranny of the Minority shows how gay rights issues result from the interplay of intense groups.

The last few months have seen an increased interest in the civil rights of members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered community. Most recently, this question has centered around President Obama’s unfulfilled promise to eliminate the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy that allows only closeted members of this community to serve in the armed forces. Other similar questions of civil rights are seen in the discussion of states granting rights to marriage and civil unions.

One reason that civil rights for gays is of such interest is because political conditions seem ripe for change. Polls demonstrate that the public is increasingly supportive of granting the gay community equal rights as, for instance, a June CBS poll shows that only about a third of citizens think that gays deserve “no legal recognition” of their partnership status. Similarly, a May USA Today/Gallup poll shows that over 69% think that gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military. Moreover, the last three years have seen a dramatic shift from a federal government unified in Republican hands to one of unified Democratic control.

Despite these major shifts, progress has been slow at best. The federal prohibition of same sex marriage (DOMA) remains the law of the land. Most of the states where gay marriage has been allowed, it has been initiated by the rulings of state courts which have implicitly granted these rights by striking down laws that ban gay unions. President Obama’s very limited order providing spousal benefits to same sex employees of the federal government represents perhaps the only tangible progress on this score. When taken in combination, the absence of change despite strong popular support and Democratic control of the federal government have left many wondering: what will it take for members of this community to gain equal rights?

Some, like UC Irvine professor Charles Anthony Smith, suggest that the gay community is captured by the Democrats and thus they don’t have to provide policy because the community has no alternative as Republicans are worse on the issue than are Democrats (i.e., Smith 2007). The case of gay rights strikes me, however, as a classic case of subconstituency politics—where political outcomes are dominated not by the public’s will (i.e., majority opinion) as classic democratic theory suggests, but rather result from the interplay of intense groups. Politicians acquiesce to, and work for, the preferences of subconstituencies because they provide them disproportionate resources (e.g., votes, contributions, manpower, endorsements). By offering bundles of positions across issues, politicians develop platforms of positions designed to appeal to members of these intense groups.

Historically, the LGBT movement has been disadvantaged by subconstituency politics; while they are passionate about their cause, and very active, they are opposed by an equally intense group, (i.e., fundamentalist Christians) that exists in larger numbers across a wider range of political jurisdictions (e.g. counties, congressional districts, states, etc.). While the size of the LGBT community varies dramatically across these jurisdictions, the fundamentalist community is always larger. In the congressional district representing San Francisco (CA 9), which has the largest adult gay population of any district in the country, for instance, the community of people identifying as fundamentalist Christians is about 2 points larger—a fact that provides their staunchest opponents a tremendous advantage because they are not opposed in those jurisdictions where the LGBT community is small or not vocal. In short, in most places, Republican politicians tend to be opposed to such policy while the Democrats are split, depending on the nature of their districts.

Understanding how these groups are distributed is central to describing political outcomes on this issue because, in places where one group is not represented, politicians have no incentive to reflect the views of the LGBT population. Both Democrats and Republicans will advocate the preferences of the intense group—in this case fundamentalist Christians. In contrast, in places where both fundamentalist and LGBT groups are active, politicians of different parties have the incentive to take opposing positions on the issue. Democrats tend to support gay rights in these districts while Republicans tend to oppose them. Consequently the distribution of groups across states and districts helps to explain why and where we are most likely to see advances in, and higher levels of support for, gay rights.

It also suggests however, that in order for gay rights to be recognized, confederate groups who strongly support gay rights may be needed to pressure politicians in areas where gay populations are small or inactive (or simply not vocal). Fortunately, other groups, especially the young and the well educated, see this civil rights issue as an important question of basic fairness. To the extent that politicians can bring these groups together, when these factions are combined, they provide a more potent alliance of groups. The challenge to those who advocate equal rights is figuring out how to bring these groups together toward their common goal.

Ben Bishin is the author of Tyranny of the Minority: The Subconstituency Politics Theory of Representation. http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/1996_reg.html

Rethinking theories of sex work and sex tourism

1965_regIn this blog entry, Amalia Cabezas, author of Economies of Desire: Sex and Tourism in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, discloses why she studied the topic of sex tourism.

Looking back, I didn’t realize when I set out to research the new manifestations of sex work in post-Soviet Cuba that I would end up in the Dominican Republic as well. I thought that I would be investigating sex work: simple sex-for-money exchanges between local women and foreign men.

But the universe I encountered was far more complex and intriguing. The eroticization of labor in Caribbean beachfront resorts, spiritual divination, violence against women, a budding sex  worker movement that sought to confront and redefine the relationship of sex workers to the nation state and wider society, and love, a lot of love.

These are some of the topics and issues that I encountered and which I write about in Economies of Desire, a book that challenged me to rethink theories of sex work and sex tourism.

Sex, money, romance, reciprocity, solidarity, and affective exchanges are intermingled as tourists and locals rework identities and meanings crafting relationships to preserve integrity and dignity in what is an otherwise crushing system of local and global inequalities.

For more information about Economies of Desire by Amalia Cabezas, visit: http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/1965_reg.html

Michael Jackson’s posthumous influence on the Electronic Dance Music scene

2002_regTammy L. Anderson, author of Rave Culture, reflects on how Michael Jackson’s death can breathe life back into both the pop culture mainstream and underground music scenes.

Michael Jackson’s recent death has spawned new interest in the pop star’s music and will likely inspire the production of new cultural products well into the future. Presently, Americans and citizens from across the globe are purchasing his music at a feverish pace. However, those sales are likely to expand dramatically as artists and DJs “remix” Jackson’s work into new tracks targeted to both fresh audiences as well as loyalists of localized music scenes. Currently, you can log onto pop music websites and see that some DJs have already reworked Michael Jackson’s music into new tracks with unique sounds. Such remixes have been a central part of rave culture and continue to stay in rotation during live DJ sets at contemporary nightclubs. To date, many DJs have sped up Jackson’s song, trimmed his vocals, and added heavy basslines, multiple drum sequences or synthesized melodies to turn his R & B classic “Billie Jean” into a contemporary house, techno or break beat track.

This renewed interest in Jackson’s work, following his unfortunate death, will breathe life back into both the pop culture mainstream and underground music scenes. The EDM DJ’s remix work, with artists like Jackson, Madonna, Rhianna, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, and Kanye West, not only helps expand the artists’ legacies, it also introduces people to other styles of music to which they may become loyal fans. Such reinterpretation and cultural expansion allows all of us to get more closely involved with music and to connect more intimately with others where the music is played.

In investigating a music scene’s transformation over time, Rave Culture discusses the cultural value of the remix, the EDM DJs work in the past and present, and the subsequent gratifying experiences people get when consuming a DJs’ work. The book may help us foresee an expanding legacy for Michael Jackson; as one of the few people who has the ability to breathe new life into a music scene by inspiring music production and the development of new tastes and interests as well as connections to others.

Tammy L. Anderson is the author of Rave Culture: The Alteration and Decline of a Philadelphia Music Scene  http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/2002_reg.html

Examining the environmental breast cancer prevention movement in print and film

2027_regIn this blog entry, Temple University Press author Sabrina McCormick (Mobilizing Science) talks about her award-winning film,  No Family History, which, like her book, examines the environmental breast cancer prevention movement.

Last week, my film, No Family History, won Best Real Time Documentary at the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival. I started making the film about a woman on Long Island, New York as I was writing my book Mobilizing Science. The research for that book had taken me to Long Island for years, researching activism there. It is one place in the United States with heightened rates of breast cancer where researchers were trying to figure out the causes of the disease. Is it exposures in the water? The air?

Researchers had been given support to ask these questions after a group of women in the area instigated the passage of a Congressional bill that mandated the study of breast cancer in the area. Robin, the main character in my film, had gotten breast cancer while I was there doing research. When I met her, I knew her experience deserved a film.

Robin is honest and forthright with the camera. She is unafraid. This is also how she approached battling breast cancer. She did not hesitate, but walked into her double mastectomy with her head held high, and came out the other side smiling, even when in pain. Like millions of other women who have gotten the disease, she asked why? She had exercised, eaten right and had no family history of the disease. No one could give her answers about what had caused the pain and suffering she was forced to endure for several years, and may face again.

Scientists have been looking for a cure for breast cancer since Nixon declared the war on cancer in 1971. In the early 1990s, activists in Long Island, then across the nation pushed a new agenda – looking for the causes of the disease that could be prevented, hence averting the dire struggle Robin and others have faced. These teams of activists and researchers have worked together, finding new exposures, learning that the younger we are when we are exposed to a carcinogen, the more extreme that exposure seems to our bodies. They are reshaping science, and with it, what we do about breast cancer.

For more information about No Family History, visit: www.nofamilyhistory.com

For more information about Mobilzing Science: Movements, Participation, and the Remaking of Knowledge, visit: http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/2027_reg.html

Talking about Toilets

1992_regOlga Gershenson and Barbara Penner, editors of Ladies and Gents: Public Toilets and Gender, discuss their motivations behind their new book, which looks at the culture, meaning, history, and ideology of  public toilets.

Olga and Barbara, what is your fascination with toilets?

Barbara Penner: I stumbled onto the subject in 1995 as a graduate student of architectural history in England. I was in search of a space that demonstrated how architecture shaped women’s experience of cities. Finally, I found it. On a walking tour through Camden Town, the tour guide stopped before an unassuming and (truth be told) somewhat grubby Edwardian female toilet at the intersection of several main roads. “This,” she pronounced with a flourish, “was the only monument George Bernard Shaw ever wanted to his service as a local councilman.” I was struck by this image of Shaw as a proud champion of female public toilets. I was sure there was a story there. But the story turned out to be about much more than Shaw’s efforts to have this one public toilet for women built: it was a window onto the ongoing struggles of women to have access to and to move comfortably through London’s city streets as a legitimate part of the “public.”

Olga Gershenson: Well, for me the subject of toilet was a complete accident (no pun intended). I was teaching a course on gender, and in the process of my preparation bumped into a totally unexpected subject—toilet accessibility for folks who are transgender, gender-variant, or just plainly don’t look their sex. I was stunned that for all these people using a public bathroom—that I took for granted—was a hurdle and a risk. It seemed particularly unfair that most people, like myself, just don’t think about it. So, I tried to do more research on the subject, couldn’t find much material, and realized that there is a need in a book about toilets and gender. Five years later—here we are.

And now with the publication of Ladies and Gents, what are your thoughts on toilets, and/or how have they changed?

Olga Gershenson: To be honest, now my preoccupation with toilets is different. For the last few months I’ve been living in Moscow, doing research for my new project. And the public restrooms in Russia are still—how should I put it?—a work in progress… But seriously, I am really happy that Ladies and Gents is being printed as we speak—it was a long process and sometimes it looked like it might never happen. I am particularly happy that the book talks not only about social justice issues—that are really important—but also about art, film, theater, and literature, in short, about the realms of representations. It was crucial to us to show how this both ordinary and taboo subject is perceived, imagined, and reflected. I think we succeed: the great Peter Greenaway (director of The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and her Lover) wrote an afterward to our book.

Barbara Penner: The subject is finally being taken more seriously and hopefully this book will help shift things further. But we’d be naïve to think that a book on toilets won’t still shock and offend in some quarters (amuse is okay!). In 2005, when we sent around a Call for Papers for this book, we were accused of triviality, immorality and worse. Although there’s a noble lineage of people who use toilets or scatological humor to deliberately provoke from Jonathan Swift to Marcel Duchamp, this was never our intention. But toilets offend anyway because they threaten to transgress so many well-established boundaries and reveal the way in space, society, etiquette, and academe work to keep certain things in their place. This is something that the archest provocateur of all, George Bernard Shaw, understood full well. And with his keen eye for human foibles, he wouldn’t have been surprised at toilets continuing ability to upset in the noughties. Despite the importance of very real practical issues in toilet design, the discussion of public toilets rarely turns on such issues. It is shaped precisely by those things that we can’t see or touch – social ideas about decency and cleanliness and attitudes towards the body and sexuality – and is a powerful index of status and of belonging (or not). This is why questions about toilet provision, design, and representation continue to be important for those interested in the creation of dignified and genuinely inclusive cities, now more than ever.

For more information on Ladies and Gents: Public Toilets and Gender edited by Olga Gershenson and Barbara Penner visit: http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/1992_reg.html

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