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October 2016 Newsletter


Imprisoned scholar, Professor Ilham Tothi


Save the dates for the upcoming events on the Social Research and Center for Public Scholarship calendars:

October 27: Social Research back issue sale. 66 W.12th Street, NY, NY

October 31:Social Research back issue sale. 66 W.12th Street, NY, NY

November 8: Social Research back issue sale. 6 E. 16th Street, NY, NY November 18: Continuing Threats to Academic Freedom, an Endangered Scholars Worldwide program December 1: Public Voices 10 - Obama, Race, and Politics.

More information via the Center for Public Scholarship online.

Migrants entering Hungary under the unfinished Hungary-Serbia border barrier, August 2015. Photo source: Wikimedia commons


Border crises and migrant deaths are increasingly the norm. And with these come the most pressing questions from our latest issue of Social Research: How—and whom—do we mourn as thousands of migrant deaths go unnamed and invisible? Our latest issue, "Borders and the Politics of Mourning," guest edited by Alexandra Délano Alonso and Benjamin Nienass, addresses this urgency. When identifying bodies can take days, and may not ever be possible due to lack of documentation or difficulties communicating with family members in conflict zones, how do we honor the dead? And does the unclaimed or unnamed status make these victims "ungrievable?"

The response to migration crises has largely been tighter borders and military intervention—often in the name of "humanitarianism." Such language, author Miriam Ticktin argues, has the effect of restricting aid only to those who are seen as "good victims"—those who stir compassion. Marina Kaneti and Mariana Prandini Assis suggest governments strategically refer to "borders" and "humanitarianism" to absolve their ethical responsibilities toward migrants. Are they more responsive to dead bodies over live humans?

When the dead are unidentified and unclaimed, local communities on both sides of the border find new ways to grieve with creative mourning practices. Anthropologists Erdem Evren and Alice von Bieberstein describe the artistic initiative "The Dead are Coming," which brought the bodies of Syrian migrants to Berlin for proper burial. In Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, the invisible departed are commemorated—and hence made grievable—with unofficial public memorials in the form of graffiti and handicrafts, as well as official memorials, including that of Villas de Salvarcar, detailed in the issue by photographer and Latin American Studies scholar Corrie Boudreaux.

Renowned activist and forensic anthropologist Mercedes Dorettipoints points out that "mourning gets into a kind of frozen stage" for the relatives of deceased or missing migrants. Yet the papers compiled in this issue indicate there may also be a public, political grief, in which we all are implicated outside the private sphere, the limits of humanitarianism or national identity, beyond borders.

"Borders and the Politics of Mourning" is available in print through Johns Hopkins University Press and online through ProjectMUSE.

Mexican immigrants march for their rights in San Jose, 2006. Photo source: Wikimedia commons.


"Borders and the Politics of Mourning," builds on the work of our Spring 2010 issue, "Migration Politics." Comparing these two issues, we can see that in the six intervening years, migration issues have taken on a new urgency. On the international arena, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) earlier this year said that migrant deaths are now the "new normal" as the flood of those trying to get to Europe and other places of relative safety has reached the level of a "global crisis." Domestically, in the United States, immigration issues have become one of the most bitterly polarized aspects of this year's election contest.

Who is "The Other"? And who defines "The Other"? These questions are at the core of social sciences, particularly migration politics, as Riva Kastoryano notes in her paper, "Codes of Otherness." Mary C. Waters and Philip Kasinitz, in their article on "Discrimination, Race Relations, and the Second Generation," point out that discrimination is not a singular experience. Highlighting that while the African American experience of discrimination has been harsher than that of other groups, they note that "the civil rights struggles have also provided a heroic model for opposing discrimination," even as other, more privileged groups are ironically better placed to make use of this model than African Americans.

"Migration Politics" addresses themes of discrimination, social inequality, integration, and the role of the state. Many authors in the issue focus on how these factors operate together, especially in democracies in a post-9/11 climate. The problems they sought to address are still with us, six years on, and it is obvious that no “quick fix” solutions exist.

Professor Zolberg passed away in 2013. The work of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility continues today. "Migration Politics" is available in print through Johns Hopkins University Press and online through ProjectMUSE.

Protesters against PRISM in Berlin, Germany wearing Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden masks (June 19, 2013). Photo source: Wikimedia commons.


Edward Snowden, a global symbol of the struggle between national security and the sharing of information in democracy, is back in the news. An Oliver Stone biopic, an Intelligence Committee Report, and now the arrest of another NSA contractor charged with stealing highly classified information beg for the analysis provided in Volume 77.3 of Social Research "Limiting Knowledge in a Democracy" on the subject.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, in their unclassified "Executive Summary of Review," is eager to classify Snowden as the perpetrator of the “largest and most damaging public release of classified information in US intelligence history.”

The reality remains, however, that not enough information is available for the American public to be informed on this matter, as in so many others concerning the US government. Daniel Ellsberg in his article "Secrecy and National Security Whistleblowing," writes in the special issue that "in the national security area of the government … there is less whistleblowing than in other departments of the executive branch or in private corporations. This despite the frequency of misguided practices and policies within these particular agencies that are both better concealed and more catastrophic than elsewhere, and thus even more needful of unauthorized exposure.”

When information is not shared, the public is expected to trust in officials and not to think for themselves. But without the full picture, how can they? As James E. Miller states in his “Introduction: Recurrence of Limits on Knowledge," “[for] those who work in politics and the media it is surprisingly easy to forget about the other key group in this ongoing democratic drama: namely, the public. For ordinary citizens, when roused from their customary lethargy, remain the backbone of modern American democracy, at least in theory.”

Can the people effectively rule themselves with limited knowledge? The debate that Edward Snowden sparked surrounding national security, big data, and what it will mean for democracy, is part of an ongoing conversation that is not likely to end any time soon.”

"Limiting Knowledge in a Democracy" is available in print through Johns Hopkins University Press and online through ProjectMUSE.

Front cover of Social Research's "Politics and Comedy" 79(1) issue from Spring 2012.


Did you hear the one about the upcoming election? Of all the sentiments being expressed in old and new media about this wild campaign season, it is in comedy that we can often find the most cutting and insightful comments. In 2012, in the lead up to the last presidential election, Social Research issue Vol. 79, No.1 took a look at "Politics and Comedy." Since then, comedy has only become more relevant, more nuanced, and more immediate, as both internet usage has increased and the election antics have become ever more unlikely in 2016.

In place of Aristophanes, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, or George Orwell, in 2012 we had Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Tina Fey. In the four years since, some of these contemporary commentators have withdrawn from the spotlight, ushering in the likes of John Oliver, Samantha Bee, and Trevor Noah.

Angelique Haugerud reminds us that "humor reflects a profound human quest to make sense of the world" in herarticle on "Satire and Dissent in the Age of Billionaires." Though comedians' goal is entertainment, they are increasingly looked to for commentary on public affairs. In "Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert Go to Washington," Jeffery Jones, Geoffrey Baym, and Amber Day reflect on Stephen Colbert's creation of a Super PAC "Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow" to highlight through satire the influence that unlimited and anonymous money can have on the electoral process. They also discuss Jon Stewart's use of episodes of The Daily Show to draw attention to legislative inaction over provision of health care for 9/11 rescue workers. "Despite the months-long legislative logjam, the Senate passed the bill less than a week after the episode aired.” Both Stewart and Colbert have been dubbed "important political actors" by such publications as Time and New York magazine. As comedians step into the political realm themselves, the lines between political commentator and political actor become blurred.

With the increase in digital content, audiences have shifted from passive consumers of political entertainment to active users, "increasingly transforming satirical television content into resources for real world political action," according to Jones, Baym, and Day in their article. In February 2016, John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight, devoted a segment to lampooning Donald Trump, urging viewers to refer to Trump as "Drumpf," his forebears' name. Oliver launched the slogan "Make Donald Drumpf again", a play on Trump’s "Make America Great Again" and a jab at Trump’s mocking of Jon Stewart by referring to him as his birth name "Jonathan Leibowitz." By "Super Tuesday" on March 1, Google searches for "Donald Drumpf" were beating those for "Ted Cruz" and "Marco Rubio.""

Humor has a long tradition of acting as a democratic safety valve, a subversion, a way to understand politics, or to commiserate over it. In line with other emerging non-traditional methods of activism and advocacy, in the age of "truthiness" (coined by Stephen Colbert himself) comedy may also be playing a role in shaping political outcomes.

"Politics and Comedy" is available in print through Johns Hopkins University Press and online through ProjectMUSE.

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