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All posts copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le.
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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

October 12, 2011

Written by C.N.

Occupy Wall Street Movement: Real Deal or Just a Fad?

By now, I presume that you have heard of the Occupy Wall Street protests that began about a month ago, in which a small but fast-growing group of Americans camped outside of the large financial buildings in the Wall Street area of lower Manhattan to protest, among other things, the rising social inequality in U.S. society. The protests have since spread to numerous cities around the country (and apparently around the world) and at present, seem to be growing in popularity and media coverage.

Occupy Wall Street participant © Julie Dermansky/Corbis

One angle to look at is how the Occupy Wall Street movement may be the Left’s version of the Tea Party movement. While I have not looked into this particular aspect in detail, at first glance I think it is very interesting and even ironic that although this Occupy Wall Street movement shares much in common — at least philosophically — with the Tea Party movement, many of the latter’s prominent supporters have chosen to criticize the Occupy Wall Street movement. To my casual eye, this only highlights the hypocrisy of the Tea Party and confirms for me that is is less concerned about social change than it is about opposing President Obama and what he represents — namely the changing demographic, racial, and cultural face of U.S. society.

But beyond that, an even more interesting aspect of the Occupy Wall Street movement for me is its intentionally decentralized nature and how its most prominent informal leaders have specifically said that they do not feel that it is necessary or useful to articulate an overarching, single goal or unifying message for the movement. Below is a video clip from CBS News that discusses the movement’s reluctance to articulate a unified, central message.

Conventional sociological theory generally states that for a social movement to survive and have a realistic chance at achieving success, it needs to move beyond a single event and become more like a formal organization in terms of having a unifying message, clear leadership and personnel coordination, and well-developed administrative functions and capabilities. In other words, the early stages of a mass movement generally involve a sense of unrest or agitation, one or perhaps a series of events, a broad articulation of grievances, and an initial mobilization of collective action, media attention, and inevitably, some form of resistance or opposition.

But unless a movement can then develop strong leadership, mobilize resources, and sustain collective action, it is at this point where most social movements die. The Civil Rights Movement is often used as a model of how collective grievances eventually turned into a successful and sustained social movement through formalization, resource mobilization, organized division of labor, and political institutionalization. In fact, one of the most widely used books in the Sociology of Social Movements is Aldon Morris’ The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement that details how it evolved from collective grievances into arguably the most significant social movement in modern human history.

As applied to the Occupy Wall Street movement, conventional thinking dictates that it is eventually going to reach the point where it will either become more formalized, or it will flame out and pass into history. In this sense, the Occupy Wall Street movement’s choice to purposely remain unstructured and informal does not give me much confidence that it will be successfully sustained.

On the other hand, something also tells me that times have changed since the 1960s and that much like the rest of U.S. society, the cultural and technological landscape has evolved rather dramatically in the last 50 years or so. Obviously, back then resources such as cell phones, digital cameras, the internet, Twitter, and Facebook did not exist. Back then, communication and dissemination of information were slower, more crude, and more prone to confusion. If anything, knowing these limitations that existed 50 or so years ago makes the success of the Civil Rights Movement even more awe-inspiring.

In fact, scholars have described these types of social movements before and have called them New Social Movements (unfortunately creativity in naming things is not always a strong suit for academics). These New Social Movements tend to have decentralized leadership and organizational structures and instead relying on networks of groups that are affiliated or support their cause. They also tend to engage in nontraditional tactics — conventional protests but also TV ads, billboards, and extensive use of information technology and the internet. Some prominent examples of New Social Movements in recent history include the environmental, animal rights, anti-globalization, and peace/anti-war movements.

Today, with the widespread advent and dispersion of technological resources such as cell phones, digital imaging, and the internet, mass communication is infinitely quicker and more direct. Sociologists have started to write about just how much modern technology has affected and changed how human beings interact with each other on a daily basis. As applied to social movements, undoubtedly technology has made it much easier, quicker, and more effective to coordinate activities and disseminate all types of information.

In that sense, the Occupy Wall Street movement may not need to become formalized and organized into a hierarchy or bureaucracy in order to survive and become successful. The difference and advantage that they have today over their predecessors of 50 years ago is technology and the multitude of ways to dissemination information and to coordinate activities.

While technology itself cannot sustain a social movement, combined with the determination of participants and the fundamental importance and significance of the core issue of rising social inequality, the Occupy Wall Street movement may just be the right movement at the right time.

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Bonus: Check out this collection of some great protest posters of the Occupy Wall Street movement.


August 2, 2010

Written by C.N.

Invented by Asians: Technology That Originated in Asia

The following is guest post by Kyle Simpson. His post summarizes several important inventions and technology that originated in Asia. It’s a good reminder that many Asian cultures are several thousands of years old and through the years, have accumulated much history and innovation.

The Asian continent has a long and storied history of grand dynasties and bustling metropolitan areas that predate similar Western civilizations by a long shot. As a result, they seem to have been ahead of the curve on technological advancements (especially those that benefit all mankind) for a lot longer than you may imagine.

Did you really think Europeans invented warships? Or man-made tools? Or that they were the first to discover the world was round? All of these advancements occurred in one part of Asia or another long before they trickled into Western civilization. And it has to be said, they hit on many of the sciences long before Westerners.

In fact, many conveniences that we depend on and take for granted in our modern life had origins in different parts of Asia, from plumbing and municipal planning to the paper we use without a thought to where it came from. Here are a few of the big ones you might not know about.

1. Gunpowder
China was the first to discover the combination of elements needed to produce gunpowder. In an attempt to create an elixir that would bring about immortality (through the use of chemistry), they found that mixing sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate produced an explosive black powder. This definitely dates back at least as early as the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE), since it was used at that time to create bombs and other explosives used in wars. However, historians have found veiled textual references as far back as 850 BCE.

Chinese dragon and firecracker

2. Guns
Closely following the arrival of gunpowder, it’s no surprise that weapons meant for targeted use came next. What is interesting is that it wasn’t the Chinese who created the technology. In fact, Arabs are credited with introducing the first firearm in the early 14th century CE after gunpowder made its way over from China.

3. Sewage Systems
The ruined city of Mohenjo-Daro in India, which existed around from about 3000-1500 BCE has unveiled many secrets about early civilization. The city was not only laid out in a clearly planned grid system with homes two or more stories high, but the layout included complex waste-control measures. Both human waste and trash were carried out of houses through chutes that connected to underground sewers, all of which led to a central sewage system.

4. Water Control
Systems of canals, waterworks, and even some hydraulics and a man-made lake were used in and around the areas of Cambodia and Vietnam (then the kingdom of Funan) to control flooding and transport water as early as the 3rd to 6th century CE.

5. Paper
The Chinese were the first to develop a process for making paper and they did so during the Tang dynasty. As the production and use of paper spread, Asians also began to dabble in moveable type (at least as early as the 13th century CE, and possibly sooner). Although the Chinese were doing wood-block printing about 200 years before that, it was Korea that implemented the use of moveable metal type for printing.

Kyle Simpson writes for Medical Coding Certification website where you can find information on a career in medical billing and coding industry.