A participant ethnography of the Ed Sullivan Fellows program

Note: I refer to mentors by their real names, and to participants by pseudonyms

Ed Sullivan Fellows (ESF) is a mentorship and artist development program run by the NYU Steinhardt Music Experience Design Lab. It came about by a combination of happenstances. I had a private music production student named Rob Precht, who had found my blog via a Google search. He and I usually held our lessons in the lab’s office space. Over the course of a few months, Rob met people from the lab and heard about our projects. He found us sufficiently inspiring that he approached us with an idea. He wanted to give us a grant to start a program that would help young people from under-resourced communities get a start in the music industry. He asked us to name it after his grandfather, Ed Sullivan, whose show had been crucial to launching the careers of Elvis, the Beatles, and the Jackson 5. While Rob’s initial idea had been to work with refugees who had relocated to New York, we agreed to shift the focus to native New York City residents, since our connections and competencies were stronger there.

Ed Sullivan Fellows

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American Apartheid

Denton, N. A., & Massey, D. (1993). American apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass.

American Apartheid

The question endlessly debated by sociologists: is the black underclass the result of a) racism b) a culture of poverty c) welfare d) structural economic change or e) residential segregation? Denton and Massey say it’s choice e). “Residential segregation is the institutional apparatus that supports other racially discriminatory processes and binds them together into a coherent and uniquely effective system of racial subordination” (8). Without residential segregation, structural economic changes wouldn’t have been so devastating. Middle-class migration out of black neighborhoods contributed, but wasn’t the main factor.

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Marked

Note-taking for Principles of Empirical Research with Catherine Voulgarides

Pager, Devah. (2007). MARKED: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Page 21 of Pager’s book includes this chart, showing annual prison admissions for drugs by race in the United States. In the 1980s, we imprisoned roughly the same numbers of black and white people for drugs. There are about six times as many white people as black people in the population generally, so unless you believe that black people do drugs at six times the rate white people do, there would appear to have been some racism at work.

Pager 2007 p 21

Then in the late 80s, there was an incredible jump in the number of black prisoners, leading to the present situation, where there are between two and three times as many black people in prison for drugs as white people. While America has become less racist in some respects, this statistic tells us that we are not making as much progress as we like to imagine. These facts also have implications for the history of hip-hop. You can see the rise of both gangsta and overtly socially conscious rap in large part as a response to the devastating effect of this sentencing disparity.

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Ain’t No Makin’ It

Assignment for Approaches to Qualitative Inquiry with Colleen Larson

If you’re looking for a gripping and highly readable (though depressing) sociological study, I strongly recommend this one.

Ain't No Makin' It

The purpose of MacLeod’s study is to understand how class inequality reproduces itself, using the example of two groups of young men living in a housing project. He asks how these young people reconcile America’s dominant ideology of individual achievement, where success is based on merit, and economic inequality is due to differences in ambition and ability, with the reality of the participants’ own limited choices and opportunities. In particular, MacLeod addresses the question of whether education ensures equality of opportunity as it is purported to do.

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Music in a capitalist culture

Midterm paper for Learning of Culture with Lisa Stulberg

Max Weber locates the roots of capitalism in vestigial puritanical Protestantism. Émile Durkheim, in turn, gives a theory of how that Protestantism arose in the first place. In this paper, I ask two questions. First: can Weber’s and Durkheim’s theories of religion be extended to explain culture generally? Second, and more specifically: can their theories explain music?

Music is a valuable lens for examining cultures, because while every world culture includes it, the particular form and function varies considerably from one culture to another. Contemporary America contains a variety of musical subcultures and countercultures that overlap and conflict with one another. We might follow Weber’s example and say that America’s culture has capitalism as its single defining feature. And we might say that America’s commercial pop mainstream defines our musical culture. But those two generalizations conceal roiling masses of unresolved conflict.

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The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Note-taking for Learning of Culture with Lisa Stulberg

Our first reading was Ta-Nehisi Coates. The second one is Max Weber. The transition between their prose styles is like gliding downhill on a bike into a brick wall. Nick Seaver calls it “the 1-2 relatable-canonical punch.”

Max Weber

David Foster Wallace likes to tell this parable:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

In America, the water is capitalism. A capitalist enterprise has two necessary ingredients: a disciplined labor force, and an owner class that re-invests its capital. These things are so familiar to us in modern America that it’s startling to be reminded how culturally specific they are.

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