Sunday, January 27, 2013

world's wealthiest individuals

Visualize the world's 100 richest people via this new interactive graphic available at, allowing drill-down to wealth estimate, place, industry, source (self-made/inherited), age, and sex. Graphic is a useful complement to annual World's Richest compilations provided by Forbes (latest edition includes a "25th anniversary" timeline, encouraging users to reflect on the changing fortunes of world's wealthiest over past quarter century). See also latest edition of Forbes 400, The Richest People in America.

Friday, January 25, 2013

migration is beautiful!

Voice of Art is putting together a series of videos about the importance of art for driving social justice action. In this video, Favianna Rodriguez discusses her artwork in behalf of those workers and families without visas being persecuted by government and media (see related parts two and three). Provocative work by other artists is also available at VOA site.

Favianna is also founder of CultureStr/ke, an initiative " produce visual, written, video and other works to educate the public about the devastating effects of our nation’s policies toward immigrants, while mobilizing communities to fight discriminatory immigration laws nationwide." Voice of Art and Favianna's work was brought to my attention in this CultureStr/ke article.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

stratification on the dance floor

This is a slightly edited version of a post written by Stephanie Medley-Rath that appeared recently in Sociology in Focus.

As well as being big business, prom night also holds important meaning for both individual participants and American culture overall. This rite-of-passage makes regular appearances on film. Consider the importance of prom in Grease, Carrie, American Pie, and more recently, Prom.

In my own life, I devoted the night before taking my ACT, not to preparing or resting for the exam, but instead had a friend over who practiced styling my hair for the big night.

We can think of prom night as a fun, expensive evening in formal wear, but this is not the only way to think about it. As sociologists we can see much more going on; and most clearly we can see a lot of stratification.

In the book Prom Night (2000), sociologist Amy Best points out how racial divides are recreated through decisions made regarding the music played during the dance and in more extreme cases, by holding racially segregated proms. More recently, Morgan Freeman paid for a Mississippi high school's first racially integrated prom as documented in the film Prom Night in Mississippi (view above).

For gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (GLBTQ) students, attendance at prom with a same-sex date may prompt the school to cancel the prom altogether. In 2012, a student body president was removed because he proposed allowing gay and lesbian students to compete for prom king and queen, while other schools have elected gay and lesbian king and queens. Straight students may stress out over who they might ask to the big dance, but GLBTQ students face the additional difficulty of wondering whether their schools will allow them to attend with their date of choice.

For many high school students, prom is a rite-of-passage. For others, prom is a rite-of-passage fraught with obstacles. Will they be allowed to attend the dance? Will they be selected to royalty? Will they be able to dance with their date? Will the event itself reflect their cultural practices?
  1. Did you attend prom or another school dance? Describe what it was like. Does it conform to popular portrayals? How? Consider how the dance was stratified based on race and sexual identity. Describe.
  2. For other students, religious beliefs may prevent them from attending their school’s prom. Read about an all-girl prom that took place in Michigan in 2012.
  3. Due to the expenses related to prom, how is prom stratified by social class?
  4. What changes, if any, would you suggest to make prom less stratified and more inclusive of all students? Explain why you believe these changes should be made.

Monday, January 21, 2013

MLK and class

Today offers an appropriate moment to reflect on Martin Luther King within the context of a class analysis, and provides just that. The interview with Anthony Monteiro of Temple University holds that King had grown beyond racial politics near the end of his life to embrace a much larger, penetrating critique of America as a capitalist / imperialist nation. In the second interview, Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report argues that the successes sowed by King and the civil rights movement were effectively subverted by the black upper class to their own narrow interests. Both interviews suggest that if still alive, King would not likely be celebrating Obama's inauguration today, but at the forefront of protest against many administration policies.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Economic reorganization may go a long way in promoting upward social mobility. This Visual News post features, Rags2Riches, a Philippines project that has purportedly lifted hundreds of poor Manila women out of poverty. According to the post, "Reese Fernandez, a 27-year-old humanitarian woman figured out a way to take women who were used to living in a garbage dump into nice apartments for their entire families and salaries that are comparable to those of nurses... Before Rags2Riches, middle men were exploiting the poor women of Manila, taking the scraps from the factories, then paying the women the equivalent of 2 cents per rug, and taking the rest of the profits. Fernandez cut out the middle men and brought the income back to the women who deserved it, so that they could feel pride from their work and care for their families." The video clip shown above was recently released on YouTube by Journeyman Pictures.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Django won't tell you (nor will Lincoln)

Although two movies centered around American slavery were nominated today for "best picture" Oscars, neither will give you the "big picture" about that system. Imara Jones alludes to what Django Unchained "won't tell you" in her recent Colorlines article, but her observations quoted below equally apply to Lincoln.

1) Slavery laid the foundation for the modern international economic system.
2) Africans’ economic skills were a leading reason for their enslavement.
3) African know-how transformed slave economies into some of the wealthiest on the planet.
4) Until it was destroyed by the Civil War, slavery made the American South the richest and most powerful region in America.
5) Defense of slavery, more than taxes, was pivotal to America’s declaration of independence.
6) The brutalization and psychological torture of slaves was designed to ensure that plantations stayed in the black financially.
7) The economic success of former slaves during Reconstruction led to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. 
8) The desire to maintain economic oppression is why the South was one of the most anti-tax regions of the nation. 
9) Many firms on Wall Street made fortunes from funding the slave trade.
10) The wealth gap between whites and blacks, the result of slavery, has yet to be closed.

Monday, January 7, 2013

you know you're wealthy when...

Talk over the past year or so about the "1%" and increasing taxes on high-income earners has generated considerable public interest in defining who is wealthy. See, hear, and read responses from various Americans to the prompt "You know you're wealthy when..." in this recent article in Marketplace's Wealth & Poverty blog. See also this related piece addressing if the objectively rich perceive themselves as being wealthy.

food stamp nation

Visualize the magnitude of food-stamp program (SNAP) participation and expense through this series of information graphics. See this and other government-policy relevant graphics at

Saturday, January 5, 2013

the price of inequality

Visualize a cross-national comparison of economic inequality and various social problems (e.g., teen pregnancy, murder, infant mortality) with this information graphic. For discussion about why rich nations with the greatest inequality (such as U.S.) generally fare worse in terms of the general well-being of their citizens, view this interview with Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett as they discuss their book, The Spirit Level.