Living With Difference

by Adam B. Seligman, author of Living With Difference

This guest post is published in advance of the American Sociological Association conference in Seattle. Check back every week for new posts through the end of the conference on August 23rd.

Christmas Day, which in 2015 was also a Friday and the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad to boot, found me at the Jingjue Mosque in central Nanjing, a city of 8 million inhabitants with a Muslim population of about 100,000. There were about 900 people in attendance filling the mosque and the surrounding courtyards, which stretched out on both sides of the mosque and in front of it. What struck me right away was the great range of the congregants’ backgrounds: Han Chinese (converts to Islam), Uighurs from Xianjiang Province, Indonesians, Pakistanis, Central Asians, Indonesians, Arabs, North Africans, Africans from both East and West Africa, as well as Caucasians. There were students and old folk, men dressed in jeans and flowing robes, some with hip­ hop hats and Uzbek (and Kyrgyz) headgear, some bearded and others clean­ shaven (and everything in between, as befits some stylish young trends), some with socks and many without–all despite the thermometer being in the low 40s. New migrants from the northwest of the country added to the existing Muslim presence, now sadly depleted—only four mosques are left in a city where there were once dozens.

What I noticed next was the diversity within unity, the distinct and palpable individuality and uniqueness of each and every man bent in prayer. A religion that emphasizes practice, rather than belief alone, allows for, even requires, a fractile field of differences; people do not hold their hands in exactly the same position, maintain the self­same posture, or prostrate themselves in an identical manner, even if they are all striving for exactly the same prescribed positions.

I was suddenly reminded of a colleague, an expert on religion in Europe, who once remarked that in his view Islam is a religion inherently hostile to individualism, because Muslims pray “all bunched up together, not like people in a church or synagogue.” His comment seems to me to represent, in the kindest of readings, a strictly secular and perhaps sociological perspective, which sees and possibly structures reality for one lense only: the observer looking in from outside. Yet from the perspective of the believers, the men and women actually praying in that space, of course they are individuals—how else should they approach God? The view from outside looking in, especially the view trained in one reality and one way of looking at the world, by its nature imposes a certain unity, if not homogeneity, on what it finds strange and unsettling. Those gathered for Friday prayer do not in fact lack individuality; rather, the Western, Christian, and post-­Christian eyes are just not trained to see it. To make sense out of what we find both foreign and, especially in these times, threatening, we lose “granularity”–we lose the specifics. We abstract, generalize, lump together, and homogenize—and in the process we see not individuals, but only an undifferentiated mass. But what we see is not necessarily the reality.

During my stay I spent a good deal of time in different mosques, and meeting with different Muslim communities and individuals in and around Nanjing. I was visiting China to explore setting up a summer school on how to live with religious and ethnic difference, based on the blueprint developed by CEDAR. For a while now, China has been experiencing massive population transfers, generally from the north and west to the southeast. These economic migrants face prejudice and social ostracism, as their very presence challenges established boundaries of community, religious practice, and ethnic identity. Engaging with difference is therefore an important mandate, in today’s China as in many other parts of the world.

China today is also struggling with its policies and often outdated laws affecting Muslims and adherents of other religions among its citizens. Should group prayer on university campuses be permitted? Who can be a prayer leader? Where may donations to religious organizations originate? The government seems to be searching for a manageable, middle­-of-­the-­road policy that would allow religious expression, without also opening the floodgates of religious and ethnic separatism —all the while, to be sure, taking care not to do anything that will lead to a greater sense of disenfranchisement and grievance. As in so many other places in the world, policymakers—indeed, all of us—are having to learn to see the world a bit differently and shift our focus as we view the other and the unfamiliar.

As for myself, at the end of Juma I joined the congregants at lunch, forgoing the meat soup and eating only hard­-boiled eggs and bread. And outside the mosque I bought some wonderful sweet rolls for my own Shabbat, which began at sundown that evening.

Adam B. Seligman is Director of CEDAR and Professor of Religion at Boston University.

Brexiteers and the Sheer Cliff into the Unknown

This post was originally featured in Social AnthropologyAnthropologie Sociale, the journal for the European Association of Social Anthropologists, and has been reblogged with the permission of the author and Social Anthropology.”

by Ruben Andersson, author of Illegality, Inc.: Clandestine Migration and the Business of Bordering Europe

Amid Brexit hysteria, the academic temptation may be to hide behind the ‘expert’ mask so derided by the nasty Leave campaign. But besides their dismissiveness, there’s a bigger problem looming for UK-based scholars: our deep personal involvement. As an ‘EU migrant’ studying migration, I’m also caught up in the free fall of Brexit – comically depicted by the New Yorker in the shape of John Cleese silly-walking off the white cliffs of Dover, yet frightening all the same as the world around seems consumed in panic.


Instead of offering ‘expert analysis’ on migration, then, I’d rather write about the emotional charge of this political moment. Let’s start with anger: at the prime minister and his selfish, simplistic referendum; at the mendacity of Brexiteer politicians now covering their tracks; and at UK newspapers that have spouted hatred of migrants and Europe for years only now to cash in on the turmoil. Next follows a rather continental Schadenfreude. Gloat at the dimwits! Look what you just did! However, chuckling at the madness on Twitter does not protect against another emotion – anxiety, roiled into fear. Which other countries may jump off the cliff towards the 1930s-style mayhem on the rocks below? And where do I stand in this migrant-bashing season as a white northern European? The Murdoch-owned Sun publishes pictures of East European shops while Polish migrants are attacked and called ‘vermin’; research colleagues receive hate mail while ‘foreign-looking’ people are abused in the street. Meanwhile, employers (including my own) assure ‘non-UK staff’ that they remain valued. I have lived in London longer than I care to remember yet never before have I felt that invisible line drawn between my colleagues and myself. A chill wind sets in – this is visceral and real in a way that I until now have experienced vicariously, through the undocumented African migrants among whom I have worked.

This emotional dislocation mirrors that of my enfranchised neighbours. Set aside the racism fanned by the media and politicians, and it is clear that both sides’ anger, gloating, anxiety and fear keep feeding off one another. One Twitter meme reads: ‘Of course foreigners steal your job. But maybe if someone without contacts, money, or speaking the language steals your job, you’re shit.’ In this callous rejection, repeated everyday in myriad forms in class-divided Britain, fear can easily be whipped into hatred.

Yet as we’re all buffeted by political emotions, social science remains curiously underinvested in exploring them. This includes ‘migration studies’, where academics including myself often veer towards the bigger picture, assuaging fear by numbers or offering detailed critiques of migration policy. This is all fine, but we also need a broader lens. Not in the least, we need to craft a better ethnographic understanding of how anger, anxiety, fear and hatred blow through communities, of who fans the flames and who reaps the whirlwind. We need deeper analyses of how destructive emotions globalise and propagate, and how they attach to objects and people: be they refugees, borders, ‘EU migrants’ or Brexiteers stepping over that sheer cliff into the unknown.

Ruben Andersson is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of International Development, London School of Economics and Political Science, and an associated researcher at the Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University.

101st Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

Author Joachim Savelsberg was invited by the President of the Republic of Armenia to present a talk on the occasion of the 101st anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Savelsberg delivered his lecture on April 23, 2016, at the Global Forum against the Crime of Genocide in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. The event was introduced by a speech by President Serzh Sargsyan and concluded with an address by Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Eduard Nalbandian. Other speakers included genocide survivors, several ambassadors, other scholars and activist-actor George Clooney. Savelsberg’s lecture addressed the relationship between human rights and humanitarian aid in the context of genocide. It was based on materials from his recent book Representing Mass Violence: Conflicting Responses to Human Rights Violations in Darfur, available as open access online. Savelsberg also participated in the official wreath laying ceremony at the Armenian Genocide Memorial on April 24, the official day of commemoration, and at the inaugural award ceremony for the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity. Upon his return Savelsberg reported about his experiences to the Armenian community of Minnesota.

Don’t Make A Mystic into a Martyr: Fethullah Gülen as Peacebuilder

This guest post is by Jon Pahl, Ph.D, the Peter Paul and Elizabeth Hagan Professor in the History of Christianity at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia

I can’t speak to the causes of the recent failed military coup in Turkey—although there is certainly precedent for coups in the history of the Turkish Republic (1960, 1971, 1980). But I can speak to the accusations by journalist Mustafa Akyol and the Turkish government that an imam living an ascetic life of prayer and teaching in a Pennsylvania retreat center was somehow “behind” the most recent military uprising: they’re preposterous.

For the past four years, I’ve been researching a biography that focuses on Fethullah Gülen’s life and theology. I’ve been to the impoverished rural village in Northeastern Turkey where he was born. I’ve visited the mosques across Turkey where he preached and taught—in Edirne, Izmir, and Istanbul. I’ve spoken with hundreds of people inspired by him, and some who simply hate him. And I’ve read nearly everything he’s written that’s been translated into English (over two dozen books, and countless sermons), and I know the vast literature for and against him.

My conclusion? He’s a mystic in the Sufi tradition of Islam. And like other famous mystics in history—notably Gandhi, or Rumi—from whom Gülen draws deeply, Fethullah Gülen is a peacebuilder. And history teaches us that peacebuilders are likely to be misunderstood, vilified, and targeted. It would be tragic if once again historical forces conspire to turn a mystic into a martyr.

In fact, Gülen has previously been the victim of military coups in Turkey. Despite being an advocate for the compatibility of Islam and democracy, he was imprisoned in the 1971 and 1980 military takeovers in Turkey. Having lived through the chaos of such times, he has written against “unbridled force.” “The Prophet [Muhammad] defined true Muslims,” Gülen writes in his most accessible work, Toward a Global Civilization of Love and Tolerance, “as those who harm no one with their words and actions.” Indeed, “there is no difference between a physical and a verbal violation,” Gülen goes on. This sensitivity to even subtle violence plants Gülen quite clearly in the mystic camp—and about as far from the instigator of a military coup as one can imagine. This sensitivity to violence—call it engaged empathy, is also likely to be badly misunderstood by outsiders.

One of the features of especially Sufi Islam is what is called fana—an Arabic term which means (in rough translation) the cessation of ego. Many Americans are familiar with the whirling dervishes—who in their ecstatic dance demonstrate this Sufi loss of ego in the whirl of life and in submission to God (every step of a dervish is in fact a prayer). So Sufis often speak of themselves in terms that minimize their individuality—which makes them easy targets for demagogues. Gülen is very much in this tradition.

Even more—there is ample evidence throughout Gülen’s extensive writing and public speaking that points away from military force and toward a very different kind of power. Like Gandhi, who practiced satyagraha—or “truth-force,” Gülen teaches that “power depends upon truth.” Like Rumi, Gülen teaches that “love is the most essential element of every being, and it is the most radiant light, and it is the greatest power.” And for Gülen, love, in politics, means a commitment to the democratic practices of persuasion. One of Gülen’s favorite phrases—drawn from another Sufi teacher, the poet and philosopher Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, is that: “among civilized persons victory is won by persuasion.”

At the heart of what Gülen has taught throughout his life is the Turkish ideal of hizmet (service). This ideal of Hizmet has motivated thousands of volunteers around the globe to build schools (mostly math and science academies), to develop social enterprises (e.g., newspapers and publishing houses) and other businesses to support these schools (many recently confiscated illegally by the Turkish government—a process underway before the failed coup), and to sponsor interreligious dialogues. As Graham Fuller recently put it in a cogent article, this movement is not a “cult” with political ambitions driven by “shadowy” leaders and furtive “followers.” It is one of the most encouraging faces of Islam today.

In contrast to this long history of teaching peace (and inspiring a global movement of peacebuilding volunteers), there’s the history of Turkish politicians finding Gülen a convenient scapegoat against whom to secure their own political ambitions—again, in 1971, 1980, and in all likelihood today. It’s as if Western media (and especially the New York Times) cannot conceive of an apolitical Muslim leader actually dedicated to good causes. The Turkish government then reinforces this Islamophobia in a convenient feedback loop, which of course serves its purposes (Erdogan began his career as an Islamist—recall).

In any event, such scapegoating of a Sufi mystic serves primarily to reinforce the authoritarian ambitions of the current political regime; a regime that has all but shut down the free press; imprisoned thousands of rivals and intellectuals; allegedly engaged in torture—according to Amnesty International; and built for its President a place of such grandiose proportions as to make the White House look like a shack.

So the scapegoating of Fethullah Gülen and those inspired by him ought to be read with utter suspicion until, as Secretary of State John Kerry put it well—credible evidence to the contrary is provided. I don’t expect to see any. An accusation is not evidence. Let’s not turn a mystic into a martyr: there have been enough of those already in the distant and recent past.

For more on Fethuallah Gülen and Hizmet, read Hizmet Means Service: Perspectives on an Alternate Path Within Islam, edited by Martin E. Marty

Hizmet Means Service

Jon Pahl is the Peter Paul and Elizabeth Hagan Professor of History at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. He can be reached at

Global Latin America: Into the Twenty-First Century

by Jeffrey Lesser, editor of Global Latin America: Into the Twenty-First Century

This guest post is published in advance of the American Sociological Association conference in Seattle. Check back every week for new posts through the end of the conference on August 23rd.

How did your own research influence the decision to co-edit Global Latin America with Matthew Gutmann?

Lesser:  Many scholars of Latin America based in the United States (myself included) have traditionally presented Latin America as a recipient (and often victim) of outside influences. Yet over the years, Matt and I have been in numerous circumstances where it became clear that Latin America is the influencer.

In my own recent research on health and migration in a single neighborhood of São Paulo, Brazil, I regularly see how multi-directional the influences can be. For example the media in the United States often suggests, correctly, that the explosion of the Zika Virus in Brazil is related to a series of policy errors by Brazilian politicians. The media also gives great play to debates in the United State Congress over how to fund the Center for Disease Control that is often presented as the only solution to worldwide public health problems. In other words, those who do not know much about Latin America might get the impression that public health problems in Brazil will be resolved primarily by the big brother from the north.

Much of my current research involves observing physicians, nurses, and community health and sanitation agents who are employed by the Brazilian Unified Health System (known as SUS – Sistema Único de Saúde in Portuguese). This publicly funded health care program was created in 1990 and has already been critical in providing models for the rest of the world in areas like AIDS prevention and in ways to work with (and sometimes against) pharmaceutical companies to lower costs. It has also shown that health systems focused on the majority (which in Brazil means those with very modest incomes) can work in capitalist countries.

As I conduct my research I constantly imagine the ways that public health in the United States would be improved by learning from Brazil. My focus is in Bom Retiro, a traditional neighborhood for immigrants working in the garment industry that sits in the public imagination as an Eastern European Jewish space. Today most of the store and factory owners are Korean or Brazilians of Korean descent (with Chinese immigrants entering in increasing numbers). The garment workers are generally undocumented immigrants from Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay and increasingly, different African countries, generally working (and often living) in tiny, precarious, and unregistered factories.

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 4.00.07 PM
Neighborhood health center

Each community health worker in Bom Retiro is responsible for one or two streets, often the ones they themselves live on. They visit every family on the street at least once a month and since SUS policy that health is a right based on residence, not citizenship, gives health agents have broad access to everyone in the neighborhood, including the many people who live in non-formal residences constructed within abandoned buildings. The neighborhood health center looks like the neighborhood, with people of different citizenships, religions, ages, and class backgrounds. What a difference from the approach in my home state of Georgia, where police routinely stop residents to ask for proof of citizenship and seek to deport those who do not have it – including parents of U.S. citizen children.

Global Latin America is a volume about the many ways that Latin America and its peoples have influenced the rest of the world, from agricultural methods to cultural styles. It reminds readers that Latin America and its people have and will create policies, programs, and cultural forms that will lead the world in the twenty-first century.

Jeffrey Lesser is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of History and Chair of the Department of History at Emory University.

A Comic-Con Reading List

Whether you’ll be joining the feverish thousands in person or not, in honor of Day 1 of Comic-Con 2016, we’ve rounded up some suggested reading for our pop culture fans, comic book lovers, and monster and other creature geeks.

Funnybooks: The Improbable Glories of the Best American Comic Books

Attendees will have two chances to hear author Michael Barrier speak this year. Join a discussion on ‘Walt Kelly and POGO’ from 12:30–1:30 PM on Friday or go to the ‘Spotlight on Michael Barrier’ on Friday evening where he will talk about the challenges and rewards of pursuing an interest in comic books that bypasses superheroes in favor of artists like Carl Barks, Walt Kelly, and John Stanley. Randy Duncan (author of The Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture) will moderate this Q&A session, which will followed by an autograph session from 5:30–6:30 PM in the Sails Pavilion.

Hellboy’s World: Comics and Monsters on the Margins

Despite Mike Mingola’s recent release of the final issue of Hellboy, you can still immerse yourself in the aesthetic world and “adventure of reading” with Scott Bukatman‘s delightfully beautiful volume. With positive reviews from Henry Jenkins on ‘Confessions of an Aca-Fan‘, The Comics Journal, and Junot Díaz, you don’t have to just take our word for how great this book is.

Star Trek and American Television

With a foreword by Sir Patrick Stewart, and taking their cue from the words of the program’s first captain, William Shatner, in an interview with the authors: “It’s a television show.”, this book returns to the heart of one of the most successful transmedia franchises of all time: the initially unsuccessful 1960s television production, Star Trek: The Original Series.

Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic over Role-Playing Games Says about Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds

Listen to author Joseph Laycock talk about ‘The Satanic Panic & Role Playing Games’ on an episode of MonsterTalk, then jump into his book which makes “a much-needed contribution to the understanding of the human need and capacity for creating and inhabiting multiple realities.”

Pixar and the Aesthetic Imagination: Animation, Storytelling, and Digital Culture

Eric Herhuth draws upon film theory, animation theory, and philosophy to examine modes of animation storytelling that address aesthetic experience within contexts of technological, environmental, and socio-cultural change. This forthcoming book considers Pixar’s artificial worlds and transformational stories as opportunities for thinking through aesthetics as a contested domain committed to newness and innovation, as well as criticism and pluralistic thought.

Krazy!: The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art

“What’s interesting about Krazy! is that it explores these art forms and presents them in a way in that forces the reader to never look at anime, manga, or video games in the same way again. . . . With bold, beautiful full-colored pictures. . . . Embrace the kraziness.”—Pop Matters

Stop by the on-site Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore at Comic-Con, or save 30% on all UC Press Animation titles with discount code 16M4197 (enter code at checkout).

Black Elephants in the Room

by Corey D. Fields, author of Black Elephants in the Room: The Unexpected Politics of African American Republicans

This guest post is published in advance of the American Sociological Association conference in Seattle. Check back every week for new posts through the end of the conference on August 23rd.

What were some of your reasons for writing this book?

When people hear that I am writing a book about African American Republicans, they often assume that I am a lifelong political junkie who feeds off the latest news about polling data and follows the intricacies of intra-party politics with an obsessive passion. They are often disappointed to find out that although I have always had an interest in politics, I was not particularly “into” politics before embarking on this project. (And, honestly, now that it is done, I am probably going to take a little break from all my politics-related Google alerts!)

I began this project because I was interested in unexpectedness – instances where people are doing things you do not expect them to do. It was the unexpected behavior of African American Republicans that struck me as compelling. Nobody expects a black person to be a Republican. Yet, there are a lot of people who do it. So while only a small percentage of black people identify as Republican, the absolute number is nothing to sneeze at. But even if there were only a handful of African American Republicans, they would still be interesting because, in many ways, they (and our responses to them) represent the tension between an ever-expanding horizon of possibilities available to any individual and the constraining expectations that come along with social identities. African American Republicans are a great illustration of how, no matter what you do, the groups you belong to shape how you are perceived and how you move through the world.

So it was not politics, per se, that drew my initial interest. That said, it would have been impossible to write the book without getting a little obsessive about politics. To do this book well required that I ground it in a broader political context.

How were you perceived by the people you were observing and interacting with through the course of your research? 

On balance, people were skeptical, but open. There is this perception among African American Republicans that they are treated unfairly, especially in regards to their image in the media. But the sense of unfair treatment is not limited to media images. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a more skeptical group of people than African American Republicans. At the start, they were a little wary of me and my research. To do the project successfully, it was critical to overcome this hesitance. Initially, some people thought I was out to make fun of them, and the book would be a hatchet job. Others were convinced that I was a Republican myself and the book would just be a puff piece.

Because of this reaction, it was really important to me that the people I was observing knew that I was not working on a partisan book. So, I started out engaging with people in a very “scientific” sort of way. I was vocally agnostic about their politics and tried to withhold judgment even when what they were saying went against my own political beliefs. I think I was pretty successful at that, and I could earn their trust over the course of an interview. As the project progressed, I became closer to some key informants and I was able to challenge their beliefs and express some skepticism about some of their statements. Fortunately for me, there are not a lot of African American Republican activists. So if I was able to convince some key people to trust me, they were able to get me pretty connected to the networks.

Others were incredibly difficult to win over. There were a few people who would only engage in email exchanges and others who refused all my requests for interviews. I am incredibly grateful to all the people who opened up to me to talk about politics and life.

What were some of the most interesting findings you came across during your research? Did you find any commonly-held beliefs about black Republicans to be misconceptions? 

There were definitely some surprising aspects to the African American Republican experience. Like most people, most of my exposure to them came from people like Clarence Thomas, Herman Cain, and even celebrities like Stacy Dash. These high-profile African American Republicans shape a lot of the broader perceptions of them. Based on that, I went into the project expecting enthusiastic support for the GOP and a rejection of what is derided as “identity politics.”

The reality turned out to be more complicated. Contrary to perception, all African American Republicans express high levels of racial identification. They see themselves as linked to a broader community and see their fates as linked to other African Americans. However, there is a sharp divide in how important they think racial identity should be. African American Republicans are divided into two groups with different perspectives on the centrality of race to their worldview: color blind and race conscious. Both groups see the Republican Party as offering the best policy program to meet the needs of black communities, but for very different reasons. These two groups also have very different experiences within the party. I was struck by how intense the divisions between the two groups could become.

Also, given the very limited racial diversity within the GOP, I thought the Republican Party would be happy to have any black person hand raising on behalf of the party. That’s not consistent with the experiences of the people I talked to. African American Republicans who embrace the color blind worldview consistent with the leadership of the GOP find themselves welcomed into networks of power, while those committed to racial uplift find themselves marginalized and fighting for a seat at the Republican table. So, for some African American Republicans race acts as a resource, but for others race operates as a constraint.

What do these findings mean for the current presidential election?

A major shift in black support for the Republican Party this fall seems very unlikely. Based on my findings, the GOP has to reconsider how it incorporates black Republicans into the party if it has any real interest in appealing to black voters. It is not enough to incorporate blackness on terms that are comfortable to white leaders. Party leaders’ hesitance to disavow the racism that has fueled the Trump campaign is a perfect illustration of the failure to take the concerns of minority voters (and a number of white Republicans!) seriously.

At a minimum, the party must do a better job of listening to the diverse perspectives among African American Republicans. I think this applies to the entire range of “multicultural” conservatives. Otherwise, outreach efforts to blacks – along with additional “othered” groups in the GOP like Latino, Asian, women, and LGBT voters – seem less than genuine. The success of a candidate like Trump raises questions about who Republican diversity efforts are really aimed at. Is the goal to increase minority participation in the party? Or is the purpose to have minorities around to provide cover to the more unsavory racial conservatism that has taken root within the GOP? My findings suggest the former.

Corey D. Fields is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Faculty Affiliate at the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity at Stanford University.

Launching from the Bottom Rung: Grit and Hope and Reality Changers

By Barbara Davenport, author of Grit and Hope: A Year with Five Latino Students and the Program That Helped Them Aim for College

This guest post is published in advance of the American Sociological Association conference in Seattle. Check back every week for new posts through the end of the conference on August 23rd.

In the midst of the worst recession in eighty years, five Latino students are writing their college applications. Robert lives with his grandmother and his uncle in a garage without a bathroom. They don’t eat breakfast, because they don’t have enough food. Dinner most nights is baloney and tortillas; some nights it’s just tortillas. Jesse’s single mother supports him and his younger brother on $9000 a year cleaning houses. For most of her junior year, Suzie waitressed forty hours a week, 3:30 to 11 pm, 2 am on Fridays and Saturdays, her salary and tips the only income for her family of four. Her guidance counselor advised her not to apply to four-year universities, because “people like you should go to community college.” Daniel, who swims on his school’s varsity swim team and takes AP English Lit and AP physiology, is undocumented, ineligible for state or federal scholarship assistance. He needs to get into a private college that can provide a full ride scholarship. Jorge’s girlfriend is expecting their child, and her family is pressuring him to quit school and get a job. He doesn’t know how he’ll finish high school and support his new baby, much less go to college.

Grit and Hope: A Year with Five Latino Students and the Program that Helped Them Aim for College tells their stories. The program is Reality Changers, a college readiness program that, over the last fifteen years, has changed the game for disadvantaged youth in San Diego. Its students come from the city’s poorest, most violent neighborhoods. They are immigrants or the children of immigrants. Some are citizens; some are undocumented. Their parents are hotel maids and fry cooks and landscapers. They aren’t cherry-picked high achievers; some enter the program as academic underperformers, chronic truants, gang affiliated or homeless.

Christopher Yanov was twenty-three, substitute teaching at a middle school where the students spoke twelve languages, and gang wannabe’s ruled the courtyard, when he founded Reality Changers in 2001. He saw that many of his students had as much innate ability and determination as the middle-class kids he’d grown up with. What they lacked was the scaffolding of family and social supports that middle class students take for granted: an ambitious vision of what they could accomplish and a milieu of peers and adults who validated their ambitions and helped them reach their goals. He founded Reality Changers to provide that scaffolding. Reality Changers now serves more than five hundred students a year. Its alumni attend all the University of California undergraduate campuses and many of the Cal States, as well as Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth, Northwestern, Duke, Stanford, and Princeton.

I wrote Grit and Hope because I’m interested in launching, the era when teenagers navigate from the circle of family and high school to find their place in the adult world. Launching’s a critical period; the strengths and weaknesses people bring to this life passage, what they aim for, the roads they take and those not taken will shape the rest of their lives. It’s hard work for all adolescents, significantly harder for those who start from a the bottom rungs of the social and economic ladder. As inequalities in income and opportunity America have become increasingly stark, I’ve grown concerned about what it’s like for youth growing up on the have-not side of the gap. How do the brutal inequalities of their lives skew their efforts to launch?

I figured best the way to answer that question was to listen to youth who were doing it—launching themselves from those bottom rungs—and tell their stories. I found them at Reality Changers. I followed Reality Changers for five years, talking with students and their parents, with Yanov, his staff and the volunteer tutors.

Grit and Hope reveals their personal struggles: a student’s undocumented status that loomed over every decision he made, whether to ride the trolley, whether to have a girlfriend. A firstborn daughter’s conflict between helping her younger siblings when a parent was unable to function or going to college for herself. A mother with a diagnosis of Stage IV cancer. An outstanding student plagued by gnawing doubts about whether she belonged in college.

Their stories need to be told. Statistics and research can alert us to problems and document their scope, but stories help us see the people who are living in the problem: their courage, their pain,and the costs of their dreams. Seeing the people is the beginning of change.

This is a gritty book. Not all the stories are about successes. There are setbacks and derailments and painful losses.

The stories in Grit and Hope also highlight some of the most urgent issues facing the country: immigration reform, especially the status of the Dreamers, integrating immigrant and minority youth into our democracy and our economy, and a particularly brutal inequality, inadequate funding for urban schools, where students who need the best teachers and the most resources get neither. How we address these issues, or fail to address them, will shape our society for decades to come.

On a winter night in 2002, Christopher Yanov sat with a handful of eighth graders and college-student tutors in the Iglesia Presbiteriana Hispana. The one-story cinderblock building in Golden Hill, near San Diego’s downtown, looked more like a fortress than a church. Iron grillwork covered the windows; the door was a slab of hardened steel.

Yanov and the tutors and students sat on folding chairs around two tables in a room facing the street. The kids settled into their homework, and the room was quiet, punctuated with occasional murmured consultations.

Reality Changers was eight months old, with a census of twelve, six boys and six girls he’d recruited at Ray A. Kroc Middle School, where he was a substitute teacher. Students were expected to come every week, but attendance was spotty. Tonight just six kids showed up. He didn’t know whether Reality Changers was going to fly.

            A rock clattered against the bars. Heads snapped up from books. Another rock crashed on the bars, and rattled the glass. Salvo after salvo of pebbles followed, clanging against steel and glass.

Then the shouts.

“Kiss-ass schoolboys! Little pussies!

            “How come we’re out here and not in there!”

            “Hey, Chris! You forgotten your friends?”

A brown face pushed between the bars and pressed against the glass. “Chris! You only talking to the smart kids now?”

            The tutors looked at Yanov, eyes wide. They were freshmen from UC San Diego, worlds away from the Iglesia; they hadn’t bargained for this. The kids shot sidelong looks at each other and tried to look cool. Perla Garcia knew the guys outside; she wished they’d just go home. Jorge Narvaez pretended to read, and hoped they’d be gone by the time he had to walk to the bus stop.

Just ignore it and keep on working, Yanov told them. They’ll get bored and quit.

“Losers! Wait’ll you get out here. We’ll fix your asses!”

The rocks kept clattering. The shouts got louder. Kids stopped even pretending to study.

           Yanov rolled his eyes and exhaled with exasperation. He stood up and walked out the front door in his shirtsleeves. The night was cold; in the light from the street lamp he could see his breath. He stood a shade under six feet, shoulders squared, chin high, dark hair and beard cropped close.

A dozen eighth and ninth graders stood under the street lamp. All of them lived in the neighborhood and most went to Kroc. Their heads were shaved and they wore the cholo uniform of baggy jeans and oversize black nylon jackets. He’d invited every one of them to join Reality Changers.

They’d have to bring their grades up to a 3.0. Come to meetings every week for academic help and lessons on values and life skills. Instead of a gang, be part of a group where everyone was aiming for college, and kids helped each other. He guaranteed that if they stayed with the program through high school, they’d get into college, and they’d have the scholarships they needed.

He’d worked especially hard on Jonny, who lived across the street from him, a few blocks east of the Iglesia. He was a sweet, soft-looking boy with a shy smile and lush, dark hair that fell over his forehead. His notebooks overflowed with drawings of cars and characters from video games and words in bulging, kinetic letters. Yanov knew Jonny from subbing in his honors algebra class, but lately he’d seen him in the courtyard at Kroc, where the guys from Lomas26 hung out by the coral tree. The Lomas26 gang ran the streets in Golden Hill, and they were leaning on Jonny to join. Last fall he’d shaved his head and started to dress like them. Yanov knew that if he didn’t get to Jonny soon, Lomas26 would.

Now here was Jonny, throwing rocks. “Hey Chris, no fair,” he yelled. “You didn’t let us in!”

“You guys know you’re invited,” he said. “You just got to get your grades up.”

“Aw-w, man.”

“Kids inside did.”

“We know you better. You’re our guy. You should just let us in.”

“When you get your 3.0, we’ll be glad to have you. Tonight’s not a ‘no,’ it’s a ‘not yet.’ See you around.” He waved and walked back into the church.

Rocks rang the bars like chimes. The kids and tutors were rattled. Not much homework got done that night, and the tutors chalked up the meeting as a loss.

Yanov couldn’t stop grinning. Those guys wanted in. He knew he had something.

Barbara Davenport is a writer and psychotherapist in San Diego, & the author, as Barbara Davenport, of The Worst Loss, How Families Heal from the Death of a Child.

Jacked Up and Unjust

By Katherine Irwin and Karen Umemoto, author of Jacked Up and Unjust: Pacific Islander Teens Confront Violent Legacies

This guest post is published in advance of the American Sociological Association conference in Seattle. Check back every week for new posts through the end of the conference on August 23rd.

On June 11, 2016, the nation was rocked by a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Florida, leaving 49 people dead and another 53 injured. Within a month, more fatal violence erupted. Two separate incidents of deadly police force against black men – one in Baton Rouge, LA and the other in Falcon Heights, MN – were quickly followed on July 7th by a mass shooting in Dallas, Texas, where five police officers were killed. Given these hate-filled, violent incidents, few can argue that racial, religious, and sexual politics are trivial matters in the United States.

Unfortunately, much of the public discourse and the policy solutions responding to these killings promise greater fissures, more hatred, and a continuing cycle of violence. Media reports covering mass shooters pique public concerns about deranged, would-be killers lurking within our communities. In turn, policy makers respond with a familiar tool at their disposal, namely stiffer criminal justice penalties for violent offenders.

I examine the topics of racism, harsh criminal justice punishments, and the use of violence to enact vengeance in my co-authored book Jacked Up and Unjust: Pacific Islander Teens Confront Violent Legacies. Teens in this study spoke of the U.S. as an inherently racist country—a place where the police, teachers, and school administrators are out to punish them and where they have few chances to thrive. As Keith, a teen in the study, summed up, “The States is jacked up, the whole United States system itself is jacked up and if you cannot see that, you’re dumb and you’re stupid.” The fact that most of the teens who acted violently in this study had at least one family member who had been incarcerated reinforced the idea that the “U.S. system” was much more likely to target than to help them.

The story that teens shared during the nine years I spent researching violence in public high schools in Hawaii taught me some lessons about using harsh criminal justice sanctions to solve deep-seated problems in the U.S. As we know, America’s reliance on harsh criminal justice sanctions over the past few decades has made us the most incarcerating nation in the world and has led to the pronounced racial disproportionality in our arrest and incarceration rates. What I learned during this study with Pacific Islander teens is that the punitive turn in the U.S. has also left a lasting legacy in the psyche of many young people. Not only did these teens feel the sting of poverty, racism, and political neglect, but they also came to avoid adults and adult institutions in fear of punishment. If they had a problem or needed assistance, the youth believed that they needed to rely on themselves to get by. Violence was a common solution when teens faced challenges on their own.

However, there is good news revealed in Jacked Up and Unjust. High school staff and community leaders provided extensive support services to youth. Kids who started out their school careers as tough fighters, willing to “throw down” at the slightest provocation, eventually became less violent and more engaged in school. The teens attended voluntary weekly support group sessions and had foster parents, therapists, and other adults who listened, counseled, and offered steadfast support. Alika, who went from being incarcerated for assault to earning straight As,in high school described what helped him: “I stressed out so many workers who tried to help me. The only one who did not give up was the school counselor, my therapist. I gave him hell. But, I find out he loved me. He just kept working and didn’t give up.”

The takeaway lesson from Jacked Up and Unjust is that young people who behave violently are not heading for a lifetime of pathology, hate, and brutality. Marshaling support services and providing spaces for youth to feel connected, cared for, and listened to can change lives. Given these findings, I wonder where is the national conversation about providing more violence prevention programming rather than more punishment.

For more information about the book, see


Katherine Irwin is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa. She is the co-author with Meda Chesney-Lind of Beyond Bad Girls: Gender, Violence, and Hype.

Karen Umemoto is Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa. She is the author of The Truce: Lessons from an LA Gang War.

Migration and Development in the Twenty-First Century

The following is excerpted from the introduction to a new special issue published by Sociology of Development on “Migration and Development in the Twenty-First Century” (Vol. 2, No. 2). The introduction is written by the issue’s guest-editor, Matthew R. Sanderson. Enjoy free access to the entire special issue on from now through the end of 2016.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 11.04.43 AMDisplacements from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, sustained flows from Central America, and dislocations in North Africa and Southeast Asia—migration continues to grab headlines as the third decade of the twenty-first century approaches. Media in host countries cover the day-to-day realities in the form of interviews with migrants in camps along the Greece-Macedonia border, politicians’ stump speeches warning of flood tides of humans, and reactionary right-wing militia movements. The work is worthy, of course. Much can be learned from only a short conversation with a person stranded on a border in squalor and legal limbo. Often lost, however, in the granular, one-off stories is social context, especially the cross-national relations and social structures that motivate migrations and shape the contexts that receive migrants.

For in the migrants’ stories, the politicians’ narratives, and the militia members’ diatribes are the lived experiences of social transformation. Migration is an intrinsic aspect of social change (Castles 2010). The movement of people across national boundaries produces economic, political, and cultural changes within both host and origin countries. Migration thus raises questions about development—about human living standards and qualities of life. Migrations that cross national boundaries expose inequalities, often vast, in living standards demarcated by national boundaries, raising questions about development and underdevelopment and the relations between the two…

…What is the role of migration in fomenting, or inhibiting, development in origins and destinations? How does migration reveal underlying structures and dynamics associated with development? The issue [of Sociology of Development] considers multiple dimensions of the migration-development nexus, from multiple vantage points, across a diverse array of world regions. Together, the articles encourage a retrospective review, present a wide cross section of current research, stimulate innovative paths for sociological scholarship on migration and development, and ultimately, contribute to the emergence of a more humane, just, equitable, and sustainable world.

Special Issue Table of Contents:

Migration and Development in the Twenty-First Century
Matthew R. Sanderson

International Migration and National Development: From Orthodox Equilibrium to Transnationalism
Alejandro Portes

The Changing Nature of Return Migration to Mexico, 1990–2010: Implications for Labor Market Incorporation and Development
Emilio A. Parrado, Edith Y. Gutierrez

Economic Shock and Migration: Differential Economics Effects, Migrant Responses, and Migrant Cumulative Causation in Thailand
Sara R. Curran, Jacqueline Meijer-Irons, Filiz Garip

Cross-space Consumption among Undocumented Chinese Immigrants in the United States
Min Zhou, Xiangyi Li

Beyond Remittances: Knowledge Transfer among Highly Educated Latvian Youth Abroad
Russell King, Aija Lulle, Laura Buzinska

A Massive Loss of Habitat: New Drivers for Migration
Saskia Sassen