Three Studies from CUNY Sociologists

Dominicans in the U.S.
Ramona Hernández is pleased that her recent study, The Mobility of Workers under Advanced Capitalism: Dominican Migration to the U.S. (Columbia), was in New York City’s El Diario La Prensa and Hoy, but she was especially happy that it caught the attention of El Caribe, the newspaper equivalent of the New York Times for the Dominican Republic.

This is because Hernández, a professor of sociology at City College, also happens to be the director of the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute, which is based at CCNY and is the only such collegiate research institute of its kind in the U.S., and Dominican studies have been at the heart of the research. Hernández is also the co-author, along with Silvio Torres-Saillant (a former director of the Institute), of The Dominican Americans, which appeared in 1998.

 

In The Mobility of Workers, which was named an “Outstanding Academic Title” by Choice magazine in 2002, Hernández challenges the assumption that the supply of workers in a given region and the demand for them in another account for patterns of immigration. Using the substantial Dominican labor force in New York City as a case study, she contends that the traditional correlation between migration and economic progress does not always hold true.

In her introduction, Hernández notes that there “exists a serious lack of data concerning Dominicans who are involved in daily tasks and multiple responsibilities in the society where they now live.” On the positive side, she notes perspectives on Dominican migration are now “being captured by emerging diasporic voices, such as those of the young Dominican writers Junot Díaz and Juleyka Lantigua.”

Noting that half of the Dominicans in the U.S. reside in New York City, Hernández has chosen the most populous Dominican neighborhood, Washington Heights-Inwood, as the focus of her study. The Mobility of Workers begins with “the great exodus,” which began with
the death in 1961of the dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, who had ruled the Dominican Republic since 1930.

Michael Laguerre, of the Berkeley Center for Globalization and Information Technology, writes that Hernández “documents and examines in depth the labyrinthine social contours of Dominican immigration…This is the most…insightful explanation I have encountered so far in the literature on international migrations.”


The U.S.A.—
In a Class by Itself

 

Stanley Aronowitz is a Distinguished Professor of sociology at the Graduate Center, but he is more widely known around New York City as a veteran political activist, social reformer, and educational theorist. He even ran for governor in 2002 on the Green Party line.
In his writing, Aronowitz has always shown a taste for focusing on terrain where the tectonic plates of American society grind together, creating disconcerting political and economic tensions. His False Promises examined how working-class consciousness is shaped; From the Ashes of the Old analyzed the labor movement; and his recent Knowledge Factory critiqued the corporatization of higher education in the last few decades.

Aronowitz’s latest book, How Class Works: Power and Social Movement, just out from Yale University Press, plunges directly into controversy, as he states at the beginning of his introduction. “When I tell friends that I have written a book on class, especially class in the United States, the news is received with either incredulity or cheerleading. The ‘posts’—liberals and postmodernists—question whether the concept is still useful.” The other response, he says, “is gratitude that someone is (finally) going to blast the myth of American classlessness and its contemporary displacement, stratification.

“Stratification designates distinction without conflict,” Aronowitz explains. Critics who divide society into strata rather than classes, he believes, “deny that society is propelled by social struggles; for the stratification theorists, people are arranged along a social grid by occupation or income.”

How Class Works, then, is a concerted reaction to what he calls the “marginalization of class in contemporary political and theoretical conversation.” However, he also warns in his introduction that his book “may give little comfort to those who defend the received wisdom about class and class struggles”—that is, the unreconstructed Marxists who still see class as “a relation of social groups to ownership and control of the means of material production.”

Many passages in How Class Works reveal Aronowitz as a fearless polemicist at heart. For example, answering the rhetorical question, “‘Corporate Greed’ or Class Rule?” he writes, “That evidence of class and class struggle should come up against a wall of denial reflects America’s general penchant for social amnesia. Perhaps no other people have a fainter sense of their own history, for the condition of their well-known practice of perpetual self-reinvention is that they not be burdened by the past.”

A central chapter of the book also answers a question: “Does the U.S. have a Ruling Class?” The answer is “yes,” but it is not the ruling class of the Founding Fathers or the ruling class of Edith Wharton. Aronowitz helpfully offers a definition of the concept: “The term ruling class signifies the power bloc that at any given historical period exercises economic and political dominance and ideological hegemony over the society as a whole and over the class within which it functions.

“The word bloc,” he adds, “indicates that power is almost always constituted by struggles that lead to the formation of alliances.” The ruling class in liberal democratic countries, he asserts, “must be an alliance.”

Among the important players in the formation of such an alliance, Aronowitz says, are major university campuses: “The top research universities—including most Ivy League schools, elite private colleges, MIT, major public research universities, and some quasi-public research universities such as Cornell and Penn State—constitute important institutions of ruling class formation.”

Other chapters in How Class Works address the subjects of Time and Space in Class Theory, History and Class Theory, National and International Blocs, The New Social Movements and Class, Ecology and Class, and Utopia on Hold.


Women and Criminal Justice
Twenty-five years ago, Barbara Raffel Price and Natalie J. Sokoloff met as John Jay College colleagues and found they shared a concern about the issues of women, crime, and justice. The result has been a long and productive collaboration that resulted, in 1982, in the first edition of their anthology/textbook, The Criminal Justice System and Women: Offenders, Prisoners, Victims, and Workers.

 

Price (now retired from her position as John Jay Dean of Graduate Studies and professor) and Sokoloff (a professor of sociology at the college and also at the Graduate Center) have just published the third edition of The Criminal Justice System and Women (McGraw-Hill). Largely because, as they write in their preface, “there has been an enormous growth in research on and activism around women offenders and prisoners,” a large majority of the essays included in the third edition are new.

The editors cite a remarkable number of factors that are responsible for the growth in the incarceration of women: “increased poverty of women exacerbated by globalization…; an increase in income inequality in the U.S. not seen since the 1920s; selective enforcement of drug law violations targeted toward the poor and people of color; a more punitive set of societal attitudes that has produced a criminal justice system more inclined to incarceration of first-time offenders…; the perpetuation of sentencing guidelines and a concomitant decline in judicial discretion; an increase in drug use and addiction among women; a political swing to the right in which criminality is often judged to be amoral, evil self-will; and forces largely ignored by mainstream politicians and leaders, such as racism and sexism, homophobia, and a crushing class bias.”

The latest edition includes a new section on women in prison, “prompted by the significant growth in this population.” Among the essays in this section are “Mothers in Prison and
Their Children,” “Women of Color, Globalization, and the Politics of Incarceration,” and “Women and Imprisonment in the U.S.: The Gendered Consequences of the U.S. Imprisonment Binge.”

Other major sections of the collection are Theories and Facts About Women Offenders, Women Victims and Survivors of Crime, and Women Workers in the Criminal Justice System

 

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