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Fall 2016

 Wednesday, September 21 | 4:00-5:30 pm

"The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream"

Steve Viscelli, Ph.D., Lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania

Long-haul trucks have been described as sweatshops on wheels. The typical long-haul trucker works the equivalent of two full-time jobs, often for little more than minimum wage. But it wasn’t always this way. Trucking used to be one of the best working-class jobs in the United States.  Deregulation and collective action by employers transformed trucking’s labor markets--once dominated by the largest and most powerful union in US history--into an important example of the costs of contemporary labor markets for workers and the general public.

This talk will explain how this massive degradation in the quality of work occurred, and how companies achieve a compliant and dedicated workforce despite it.  It is based on more than 100 in-depth interviews and years of extensive observation, including six months spent training and working as a long-haul trucker.  

Wildavsky Conference Room, ISSI, 2538 Channing Way

Co-sponsored by Center for Labor Research and Education


Thursday, September 29 I 4:00-5:30pm

"The Neighborhood Has Its Own Rules: Latinos and African Americans in South Los Angeles"

Cid Martinez, Assistant Professor, Sociology, University of San Diego

South Los Angeles is often seen as ground zero for inter-racial conflict and violence in the United States. Since the 1940s, South LA has been predominantly a low-income African American neighborhood, and yet since the early 1990s Latino immigrants—mostly from Mexico and many undocumented—have moved in record numbers to the area. Given that more than a quarter million people live in South LA and that poverty rates exceed 30 percent, inter-racial conflict and violence surprises no one. The real question is: why hasn't there been more? Through vivid stories and interviews, The Neighborhood Has Its Own Rules provides an answer to this question.  

The talk highlights two key ideas from the book.  First, urban America can no longer be viewed in terms of black-white.   An alternative framework is introduced to begin to understand black and Latino interracial relations in urban poor neighborhoods.  Second, in the face of weak ties to the state (i.e., law enforcement and local government), alternative governance has arisen in black and Latino South Los Angeles in the response to high levels of violence.

Based on in-depth ethnographic field work collected when the author, Cid Martinez, lived and worked in schools in South Central, this study reveals the day-to-day ways in which vibrant social institutions in South LA— its churches, its local politicians, and even its gangs—have reduced conflict and kept violence to a level that is manageable for its residents. Martinez argues that inter-racial conflict has not been managed through any coalition between different groups, but rather that these institutions have allowed established African Americans and newcomer Latinos to co-exist through avoidance—an under-appreciated strategy for managing conflict that plays a crucial role in America's low-income communities. Ultimately, this book proposes a different understanding of how neighborhood institutions are able to mitigate conflict and violence through several community dimensions of informal social controls.

Wildavsky Conference Room, ISSI, 2538 Channing Way

Co-sponsored by the Department of Sociology  

Fall 2015

 Wednesday, October 14, 2015

"Motel Ethnography Revisited"

Ann Swidler, Professor of Sociology, UC Berkeley

The usual ideal for ethnographers is deep immersion for a long period in one place – a village, neighborhood, or street corner. In stories and pictures, I describe the advantages of a more fluid, accidental set of encounters, following deepening ties over years of shorter interludes, staying in motels, not villages. Motels in rural Malawi were an ideal location for understanding the encounters of AIDS NGOs with those they sought to transform through workshops and trainings. But the “motel” is also a metaphor for a certain way of doing ethnography, revisiting people and places over many years, seeing lives unfold in surprising ways. I also highlight what one learns when one is more than a neutral observer. Analysis focuses on the aid industry, local experiences of the AIDS epidemic, the role of malice and mistrust (as well as “miracles”) in Africans’ lives, and the pervasive role of patron-client ties in sub-Saharan African societies.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

"Using Visual Methods to Learn about Human Rights Violations under Dictatorship"

Jacqueline Adams, Senior Researcher, Institute for the Study of Societal Issues

Researchers can use a number of visual methods, in conjunction with other qualitative methods, to yield fruitful data and findings about human rights violations under dictatorship. This paper employs a case study to demonstrate how this may be done, focusing on research that formed the basis of two books on shantytown mothers’ experiences of state violence, exacerbated poverty, human rights activism, and collective, income-earning strategies during the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile (Surviving Dictatorship: A Work of Visual Sociology, Routledge, 2012, and Art against Dictatorship, University of Texas Press, 2013). The methods discussed include the analysis of drawings and text in ephemera produced by shantytown inhabitants (flyers dropped in the street, posters advertising resistance-oriented cultural events, and the bulletins produced by groups formed to cope with poverty); the collection and analysis of photographs from human rights organization bulletins, exile organization newsletters, left-leaning magazines, memoirs, and academic books and articles; the photographing and analysis of dissident art works produced by shantytown women, relatives of the disappeared, political prisoners, and Chilean exiles; photo elicitation (interviews based on photographs); and “art elicitation” (asking research subjects to talk about art works). These five visual methods, together with semi-structured interviews and participant observation, produced rich data about shantytown experiences of state violence, impoverishment, human rights activism, and collective income-earning, as well as about transnational activism involving refugees and sympathizers abroad.