Category Archives: Announcements

From the Protestant Ethic to the ‘Creditocracy’?

Credit cards

Weber described the “Protestant ethic” as the view that it is a person’s duty to work hard and save.  By accumulating wealth, yet refraining from spending it, one would be “saved.”  As Weber noted, these religiously sanctioned beliefs and practices helped lay the foundation for capitalism in Northern Europe in the 16th century.  Five hundred years later, most US households are in debt.  No doubt Americans work hard — when they are fortunate enough to be employed — yet most are unable to save.   This has less to do with lax morality than with stagnating wages and the spiraling costs of basic goods such as housing, healthcare, and education.

According to Andrew Ross, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU, we now live in a “creditocracy,” where debts are not supposed to be paid off entirely.  Ross writes in the Guardian:

Wage conflict was the great strife of the industrial era, but the struggle over debt is shaping up to be the frontline conflict of the years to come. Not because wage conflict is over (it never will be) but because debts, for most people, are the wages of the future, to which creditors lay claim far in advance. Each new surrender of a part of our lives to private debt-financing further consumes the fruit of labor we have not yet performed, in the form of compensation we have not yet earned. That is why, to put it bluntly, many household debts are a thinly disguised form of wage theft.

In stark contrast to the Protestant ethic, Ross suggests that “it may be more moral to refuse some of our obligations to creditors than honor them all. The alternative is a failed democracy.”  What do you think?  Do our changed social conditions call for a rethinking of conventional standards of morality?


On ‘The Power of Money in Bourgeois Society’

By possessing the property of buying everything, by possessing the property of appropriating all objects, money is thus the object of eminent possession.  The universality of its property is the omnipotence of its being.  It therefore functions as the almighty being.  Money is the pimp between man’s need and the object, between his life and his means of life. XXXXXXXXXXX         -Marx, ‘The Power of Money in Bourgeois Society’

In this piece from The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Marx describes the miraculous power of money under capitalism — a “visible divinity” and a “common whore, the common pimp of people and nations.”

The lust for money as expressed in popular culture would therefore come as no surprise to Marx.  “Everything You Wanted to Know about Marx but Were Afraid  to Ask Gucci Mane,” a multi-part series in Jacobin magazine by Malcolm Harris is an excellent exploration of this theme in Gucci Mane’s 2010 album “The Appeal.”  As Harris notes, in the album’s 5th track, “Making Love to The Money,” the “conditioned need to accumulate has turned to an erotic drive.”

See more here: On Gucci Mane and Capital Part I: “Feeling Brand New”

On Gucci Mane and Capital Part II: “She’ll Go to War with Anybody”

WordPress Basics

Some WordPress basics:

In order to add posts, you will need to create and activate a WordPress account.

Posts are created on what’s called the dashboard.  It’s basically the “back end,” of the site, and only assigned users can see it. The “front end” is what the outside world sees when they visit You can access both parts of the blog any time.

Once you have an account, you can use the toolbar at the top of the screen for quick access to your blog’s dashboard while you’re signed in:

Click here for more info on the dashboard.

Posts versus Pages

So what’s the difference between posts and pages?

Posts are what makes a blog a blog — they’re servings of content, similar to journal entries, listed in reverse chronological order.  By default, all posts will appear on the blog’s front page,

Pages, on the other hand, are best suited for more timeless content that you want visitors to be able to easily access, like the Schedule/Content  sections.

Add a Post

Log in to your dashboard, and head to Posts > Add New.

First, write a title for the post in the small box at the top.

Below the title you’ll see the visual editor, which allows you to easily create, edit, and format the content of your post, similar to the way you would with a word processor.  When you’re finished, click Publish.

For more helpful background and tips, go to Learn

Intro to *dialectics*

The German Ideology presents Marx’s theory of history: dialectical materialism or historical materialism.  Inspired by the German philosopher, Hegel, Marx sees history as a dialectical process driven by opposing forces.  The video below, “Intro to Dialectics from the film, Half Nelson (2006),” does a wonderful job of bringing this very abstract notion down to earth (and it features Ryan Gosling;)).

But Marx departs from Hegel in an important way.  Whereas Hegel saw ideas as the driving force of history, Marx sees material experience – namely, the social relations of production – as pivotal.  He claims it is experience that determines consciousness, not the other way around, as Hegel saw it.  This leads to Marx’s famous proclamation that “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas.”  As you read, think about this statement in relation to the ideas of freedom and equality that prevail in our time.  To what extent do they serve the interests of the “ruling class,” as Marx suggests?

Welcome to Foundations of Sociological Theory!

You can find the schedule of assigned readings on the Schedule/Content page above.  Here’s the line-up for the first week, with links to PDFs:

January 27 – Course overview & introduction: What is sociological theory? How can we navigate it?

Ch. 1, Introduction, pp. 1-16. [PDF: pp. 10-16, Metatheoretical map]

* Recommended (text): Charles Lemert, “Social Theory: Its Uses and Pleasures,” pp. 1-20. (Ch. 1,Social Theory: the Multicultural and Classic Readings, Westview Press, 1993.)

Wednesday, January 29 – Marx

Intro to The German Ideology, pp. 31-33; From The German Ideology, pp. 33-41. Intro to Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, pp. 41-42; From Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, pp. 42-51. [PDF: The German Ideology & Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts]

Policing, Race, and Stigma in NYC

The NYPD’s “Stop, Question, and Frisk” policing tactic has been criticized as a form of “racial profiling” and for criminalizing the city’s young men of color.  According to sociologist Loic Wacquant, “Throughout the urban criminal justice system, the formula ‘Young + Black + Male’ is now openly equated with ‘probable cause’ justifying the arrest, questioning, bodily search and detention of millions of African-American males every year.”  Wacquant describes the criminal justice system as a “race-making institution”:

“When ‘to be a man of color of a certain economic class and milieu is equivalent in the public eye to being a criminal’, being processed by the penal system is tantamount to being made black, and ‘doing time’ behind bars is at the same time ‘marking race’” (p. 57).
The video below, based on a secret audio recording of a stop-and-frisk in action, sheds unprecedented light on a practice that has put the city’s young people of color in the NYPD’s crosshairs

And here’s a link to the radio documentary on NYPD whistleblower, Adrian Schoolcraft, “Right to Remain Silent,” from the program, This American Life.

For 17 months, New York police officer Adrian Schoolcraft recorded himself and his fellow officers on the job, including their supervisors ordering them to do all sorts of things that police aren’t supposed to do. For example, downgrading real crimes into lesser ones, so they wouldn’t show up in the crime statistics and make their precinct look bad. Adrian’s story first appeared as a five part series in the Village Voice, written by Graham Rayman. Schoolcraft’s website looking for other cops to come forward is here. (41 minutes)

Countering Stigma

In Goffman‘s conceptualization, stigma is an attribute that is deeply discrediting for members of a particular social category.  It’s a particular kind of relationship between attribute and stereotype.  Below is another social media campaign aimed at countering stigma (i.e., destigmatization).  Below, individuals address assumptions made about them based on their various virtual social identities, or how they tend to be categorized by others who don’t actually know them.