Author Archives: justpublics365

Open Access and Ethnography

Wendy Hsu

Wendy Hsu, Scholar of Sound

I started a blog when I began my dissertation research in 2007. YellowBuzz was meant to share my field notes from observing and participating in the indie rock music scenes first with my research associates and by extension the broader public online. These public field notes were written in the style of performance and album reviews accessible for a general audience outside of academic ethnomusicology. I took the voice of a field correspondent and committed to a fast no-more-than-a-couple-of-week turnaround. Through highlighting these unusual performances and connecting them to theories of identity formation and community building, my blog lived in a liminal space in which it served both as a part of the process and a product of my research. My participation as a blogger in these music scenes gave Internet-visibility to the Asian American musicians that I came to know in my fieldwork. At a high point, my blog became a hub for readers interested in all things related to Asian and Asian American indie music scenes, and was subsequently cited in two Wikipedia articles. My blog and related presence on Twitter (@wendyfhsu) generated a social and discursive space that takes seriously these minority musicians’ below-the-radar cultural production within the public domain. The observations I made as a blogger led me to explore a series of inquiries related to musicians’ digital sociality and theorize the formation of digital media diasporas in the context of post-9/11 racial and geopolitics.

Blogging and academic writing are two modes of knowledge production. They are framed differently – short vs. long, informal vs. formal, impermanent vs. permanent – and for these reasons, they yield different rhetorical consequences. Their audiences might overlap, but for the most part don’t. In my own work, I find and leverage the productive tension between these two modes of communication, where one ends drives the beginning of the other. The continuum between blogging and research writing generates a set of reflexive dynamics that can deconstruct the notion of the “field” (Kisliuk 1997). Sharing bits of field findings live as the research is undergoing can question the subject-object binary in ethnographic research. Tricia Wang suggests that live fieldnoting makes visible meaning-making, a process that’s critical to ethnographic work, but is often not made transparent until the publication of a monograph or a peer-reviewed journal article (2012). The multi-year arc of a print-based scholarly publication project for academic ethnographies present a dissonance with the principle of participatory engagement. Conducive to fast and creative reuse of content, digital and online media can contribute to changing modes of scholarly communication. Elements such as media synchronicity; networked, iterative structure; and efficiency make digital media a great vehicle to open access to scholarly materials. These digital affordances can drive the transformation toward an ethos of openness. For those of us engaged in ethnographic work, this means a wider and more open ethnographic feedback circle – from fieldwork to publication and impact in and around the field.

In the space below, I offer two stories about how I conceptualize openness in my own scholarly communication practices, with a bit of commentary on the politics and economics around scholarly transparency from the perspective of a young non-tenure-track scholar. I also hope that these stories serve to illustrate the possibility of a generative relationship between blogging and journal article publication.

Seven years later after I started Yellowbuzz, I’m still blogging about my research. I have experienced a few arcs from the time of field research to peer-reviewed journal article publications through my research project lifecycles. A blog post I wrote in 2007 marks the beginning of my field engagement with the band Hsu-nami. I presented a paper about the religious imagery in the band’s music at SEM in 2008 and developed this paper into a full chapter in my dissertation which was completed in 2011. An article-length version of this chapter became published in a peer-reviewed journal in 2013, seven years after my initial research interaction with the band. My second peer-reviewed journal article publication followed a similar arc.

Both of these publication arcs concluded with a less than ideal closeness. My research associates, among them professional journalists, tried and failed to access the article about their music. What does this say about the informational and epistemological politics? Both journals that I published in are non-open-access with fairly strict copyright terms. As a young scholar, I don’t have the luxury of time to negotiate to retain my rights as an author. In the case of Asian Journal of Communication, a journal under the Taylor and Francis Group, I was given the “option” of paying $2950 to make my article open access. This option appeared to be a non-option for me, a postdoc fellow in a double-contingency trap: her contingent job situation as a non-renewable researcher in a higher education institution; the contingency of her job prospect on her publishing successes. To me, an “open access” option that requires an exorbitant amount of money in order to administer what is proclaimed to be an open, unrestrictive process itself is a contradiction. Like other neoliberal models, this framework equates the labor and production of academic knowledge with its consumption, and outsources the financial responsibility to deliver products to the content producer. Taylor and Francis’s ostensibly open access option capitalizes on openness, a value that is increasingly important to the scholarly community. In more than one way, it defies the tenants of the actual open access movement. So I tweeted my stance resoundingly:

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A more open and efficient research publication arc I experienced was with my project on digital ethnography. Throughout this project lifecycle, I experimented on various digital platforms to play with the content and form of my research expressions. In these experimentations, I iterated my research in an open form as a post on a blog associated with my graduate fellowship program at University of Virginia; then as I developed my work within a postdoctoral context, I began publishing it on my personal site. Two years ago, an editor-at-large of DH Nowand by extension Journal of Digital Humanities spotted my work on blog and contacted me to explore an interest in developing the blog post (on my personal site) into a full-length journal article. Around the same time, the editor of theEthnography Matters blog invited me to serialize my research on digital ethnography. I thought I would take this set of opportunities to develop my blog post series, staging it as an open forum to invite feedback on my work. This helped me polish the writing for the eventual manuscript submission for theJournal of Digital Humanities. More than just an open access journal, DH transforms the peer-review process by leveraging the open web protocols to source and distribute scholarly content. The editorial and review process begins with an identification of a likely submission based on blog feedback, comments and social media metrics. Then the journal provides “three additional layers of evaluation, review, and editing to the pieces.”

Writing within a network of peers and colleagues makes the process of ideation deeper, more productive than writing in isolation. The evaluation and review process with JDH, for the reasons above, felt so human to me. Each touchpoint was encouraging and yielded constructive insights to further the development and refinement of the paper. When the paper was published in this past spring, I felt confident about the timeliness and relevance of my work. Through its lifecycle, this research project published content in various lengths, types, and formats. This multiplicity of form and content reached a wide network of readers, ranging from academic to applied ethnographers, digital humanities scholars, and geographers.

The technological affordances of these publication platforms allowed me to engage with complex layers of content and voices across disciplinary and social perspectives. Kim Fortun and Mike Fortun compares the scholarly community to a village, a “community of practice [that] cannot prosper if all it encounters is judged with established concepts of what is proper and valuable; the village should not be taken out of history. Instead, we must deliberate and figure out how to respond to changes in the landscape, new problems, new technologies, and new connectivities” (2012).

Publishing, to me, in its simplistic sense, is to make something public. If our public precludes those who have been our research associates, or individuals without institutional affiliations or access to scholarly journals, then we should rethink how we communicate our scholarship. Lastly, I return to the question of research impact, an inquiry central to the ethnographic perspective and a critical step of the ethnographic feedback loop. The issue of transparency can set the course of impact of our research. Having an open and transparent channel of communication is the beginning of a meaningful dialogue we ethnomusicologists can foster with the public. Informational openness, however, is a complex discourse that requires further contextualization and its discussion would not complete without a full consideration of access, ethics, and responsibility (Christen 2012). We’re living in a moment where the value of scarcity associated with industrial mode of production (Suoranta and Vadén 2008:131) is being challenged by the dispersed openness afforded by digital media. The scholarly publishing industry itself is a cultural field with policies and infrastructures driven by commercial values (Miller 2012) that mostly defy public interests. We should maintain our critical viewpoints as we engage with our own scholarly communication practices.

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Works Cited

Christen, Kim. 2012. “Does Information Really Want to be Free? Indigenous Knowledge Systems and the Question of Openness.” International Journal of Commuincation 6:2870-2893.

Fortun, Kim and Mike Fortun. 2012. “Separate But Entangled: Peer Reviewed But Not Conservative,” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2 (1): 385-411.

Kisliuk, Michelle. 1997. “Un(doing) Fieldwork: Sharing Songs, Sharing Lives.”Shadows in the Field: New Perspectives for Fieldwork in Ethnomusicology, edited by Gregory F. Barz and Timothy J. Colley. New York: Oxford University Press.

Miller, Daniel. 2012. “Open Access, Scholarship, and Digital Anthropology.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2(1):385-411.

Suoranta, Juha and Tere Vadén. 2008. Wikiworld: Political Economy of Digital Literacy, and the Promise of Participatory Media. Paulo Freire Research Center, Finland (http://paulofreirefinland.org) and Open Source Research Group, (http://www.uta.fi/hyper/projektit/opensource/), Hypermedialab, University of Tampere, Finland.

Wang, Tricia. 2012. “Writing Live Fieldnotes: Towards a More Open Ethnography,” Ethnography Matters, [retrieved from http://ethnographymatters.net/blog/2012/08/02/writing-live-fieldnotes-towards-a-more-open-ethnography/] (accessed on September 27, 2014).

~ This post was written by guest blogger Wendy Hsu and was originally published at The Ethnomusicology Review (October 21, 2014).

Wendy Hsu is an ethnographer, musician, and community arts organizer who engages with multimodal research and performance practices informed by music from continental to diasporic Asia. She has published on Taqwacore, Asian American indie rock, Yoko Ono, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Bollywood, and digital ethnography. Her postdoctoral work engages with Nakashi (那卡西) street music-culture in postcolonial Taiwan and practices of music and mobility of Taipei’s urban underclass. Hsu received her PhD in the Critical and Comparative Studies in Music program at the University of Virginia. As an ACLS Public Fellow, Hsu currently works with the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. She recently completed Mellon Digital Scholarship Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Center of Digital Learning + Research at Occidental College where she researched and taught ethnographic methodology, digital pedagogy, digital sound studies, and community-based participatory research. An active performer, Hsu is a founding member of ethnographic ghost pop band Bitter Party, vintage Asian rock band Dzian!, improvised music trio Pinko Communoids, and Yoko-Ono-inspired noise duo Grapefruit Experiment. She also co-founded engaged innovations collective Movable Parts and experimental music group HzCollective.

From Scholarly Research to Crafting an Op-Ed: A How To for Academics

When your area of scholarly expertise becomes part of a news cycle, you have a chance to jump in and add your perspective to the conversation. You may be burning to refute an argument or clarify a popular opinion or, more ambitiously, change the direction of a longer conversation. However, it can be hard to know how to do just that. Here are a few simple tips to help you get started.

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An excellent way to bring your work and perspective to a broader audience and inform public opinion is to write Op-Eds for mainstream publications. In this post, I’ll give some basic guidelines for writing Op-Eds that effectively present your academic work and link it to the topic of the moment (or longer!).

The challenge for many academics is striking a balance between the complexities of a subject and making it accessible to an intelligent public. Academics are fluent in the language of expertise. We often define this in terms of our discipline, sub-discipline, and methodological practices. But even smart, informed readers cannot be expected to know disciplinary ins-and-outs, (and they may not care).

For example, labor experts who focus on intersectionality may have significance among our tribe, but that can mean very little to readers of the Washington Post. However, if that labor expert can link her specific niche to broader issues of public concern, it will have far more meaning to the average reader. For example, her scholarship can inform issues about gender wage gaps, criminal background checks on hiring practices, and the decline of the black middle class. Those are all issues generally understood and hotly debated in the media.

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Whichever media outlet you pitch a piece to or its subject matter, an Op-Ed should: 1) establish your credibility 2) argue for a compelling point-of-view and 3) consider counter-perspectives.

It should also follow a general structure. The one presented here is recommended by The Op-Ed Project, a great organization that seeks to increase the range of voices and quality of ideas we hear in the world, especially from women. An Op-Ed should have:

  1. Lede: Establishes why and for what this Op-Ed matters, and it needs to be pegged to a news hook;
  2. Thesis: Statement of your argument, either explicit or implied;
  3. Argument: Based on evidence, such as stats, news, reports from credible organizations, expert quotes, scholarship, history, first-hand experience;
  4. “To Be Sure” Paragraph: In which you pre-empt potential critics by acknowledging any obvious counter-arguments;
  5. Conclusion: Have a clear ending, and if you can, circle back to your lede.

Your lede should be brief, to-the-point, and make the connection to the news hook clear. If you are a labor sociologist, it is clear how your argument relates to that a news story on disparities in earnings. At other times, the connection can be less clear, but no less compelling. For example, a labor sociologist could just as easily use a popular movie like The Wolf of Wall Street to discuss gender, sexism and financialization during the 1980s.

In either case, your lede should establish who you are, why you are talking about this topic, and how it relates to a news item of interest. To present who you are and why you are talking to this subject, you should establish your credibility very early on. One way to do this is to lead with your baubles. Consider every title, position, and publication you hold and highlight the ones that best represent you and the relevance for the topic. Each of these signal to editors and a general audience that you are expert. This is analogous to using citations efficiently in an academic article.The primary difference is that general audiences generally do not want a literature review or bibliography. Instead, they need to trust that you know the literature. To establish that; speak to who you are rather than what you know.

The thesis, argument, counter-argument, and conclusion are more self-evident. Just remember to stick to one point, make the connections between each piece of evidence clear for your audience, and do not rely on jargon. A well-crafted Op-Ed, written by an expert who can translate relevant research for a broad public audience is both attractive to a media outlet and a valuable contribution to public intellectual life.

tressie-mcmillan-cottom-bio-headshot~ This blog post was written by Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd),a PhD Candidate in Sociology at Emory University and a PhD Intern at the Microsoft Social Media Collective in Cambridge, MA. She has written Op-Eds for the New York Times (here and here) and is a regular columnist for Slate Magazine. More of her writing can be found on her website here.   

 

Dipping into Analytics: Maximizing and Measuring the Reach of Your Online Scholarly Content

Being a scholar means keeping track of your productivity – all those articles, conference presentations and books we work so hard to create. With the proliferation of digital technologies, scholars can have an impact in lots of ways and there are new ways to track this impact, but it can be confusing and overwhelming at first.

In this post we’re going to offer you a brief introduction to the mechanics of maximizing the impact of the kinds of digital media tools we’ve already covered in this series, like Twitter, blogging and podcasting.

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An important part of taking your scholarly identity online is minding the details. When we create print documents, we routinely perform familiar tasks that make the work appear more polished and professional, like formatting the cover page or setting the margins. Yet the online equivalents of these activities are too often brushed aside for expediency. Who has time to add tags and tinker with all those settings?

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Take the time. Simple actions like using thoughtful titles and headers in your blog posts, assigning tags or keywords, and summarizing your posts into 2-3 sentence abstracts can enhance the visibility of your content in search engines and improve the look of your posts when they are shared on social media. If you use WordPress for your blog, many of these functions are provided by easy-to-use plugins, so you don’t have to become a web designer or metadata expert to benefit from these techniques. But there are some basic principles to remember as you create content on the web to help you connect with your audience—and ensure that they can find you.

What is SEO and what does it have to do with academic blogging?

SEO stands for search engine optimization, and the basic premise is that understanding how search engines index and retrieve materials on the web allows us to structure our work so that it has a better chance of showing up in search results.

If you’re blogging on a self-hosted WordPress site, I highly recommend using the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin, which installs a simple set of menus on your dashboard so you can easily customize the most important components of your post’s metadata (the data about the post that helps web crawlers identify the main topics of your post). Regardless of what platform you choose, the following tips will help you flag the most important keywords to search engines and improve your chances of getting your posts included in search results.

  • Choose your title carefully. We all love being creative, but if your post is about unsafe working conditions, include those words in the title. It helps in search engine retrieval and in social media sharing.
  • Use html headers (h2, h3, etc.) when breaking up blog posts and make them meaningful. Descriptive headers allow readers to scan through quickly, and search engines will place greater weight on the keywords used there when indexing your post.
  • Get to know your meta tags. Meta tags include descriptive information about your web page. You know that snippet that appears in Google’s search results? That’s controlled by your site’s meta tags, so it pays to pay attention to them.

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Optimize your posts for sharing on Twitter and Facebook

If you use Twitter to share links, as many academics do, you’ve likely noticed that some websites include a preview of the content directly within the tweet. Likewise, Facebook includes an image and summary content whenever a link is shared. As authors on the web, we have control over what is displayed in these areas, but it means taking a few minutes to check the details of our posts.

Librarian Eric Phetteplace has written an excellent introduction to using Twitter Cards and Facebook’s OpenGraph Metadata Protocol to enhance the way a site appears when it is shared on these platforms. Facebook’s OpenGraph Debugger tool provides a preview of what a link will look like when it’s shared on someone’s timeline, and will flag any errors in the metadata for that site.

Measuring your reach with analytics

To see how visitors to your blog are interacting with your posts, most platforms provide basic data and will distinguish between page views and unique visitors. Many will also tell you what search terms brought people to your post, and what site or social media service linked, or referred, them to your site.

To drill further down into detailed metrics, Google Analytics stands alone for in-depth analysis, but it can get rather complicated quickly. Google offers free resources (online courses and tutorials) for learning and implementing Google Analytics on your website, including a Setup Checklist that goes over the details for getting started with the service.

Altmetrics tools like Impact Story and Plum Analytics can capture the reach of work outside the traditional formats of academic articles and books, including blog posts, datasets, and slides, and will measure stats from social media sites as well.

Bottom line: don’t let the immediacy of digital publishing platforms lead you to neglect the mundane tasks that lead to polished publications. Your audience depends on it.

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This post was written by Roxanne Shirazi (@RoxanneShiraziMaster of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) student and an adjunct librarian at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is also a Founding Editor of the dh+lib blog.

A Guide to Blogging for Academics

Blogging can be a great way to find a broader audience for your academic research. Moving research out of the ivory tower and into the public sphere has the potential to address some of the most pressing social problems.  In the words Patrick Dunleavy and Chris Gilson of the London School of Economics, “Blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now.”

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                               Image by Chris Lysy FreshSpectrum

On the fourth anniversary of my blog,  Sociology Source, I want to share some of what I’ve learned about making research in my field of sociology accessible to a broad, public audience. Throughout my teaching, my work on Sociology In Focus, and the one-off projects like the “Doing Nothing” video, I’ve been developing my skills at communicating highly complex ideas using language that most people without specialized training in sociology could easily understand. The guidelines that follow are designed to help your scholarly work find it’s largest audience.

1. Talk to Me: Acknowledge the Reader.

EXAMPLE: Many scholars today argue that when sharing your ideas with your audience the use of the third grammatical person places distance between the two parties whereas employing the first and second person delivers a reading experience that is superior in it’s intimacy with the reader.

  • Write as if your reader is in the room with you.
  • Show don’t tell. Don’t be afraid to slip into a narrative to allow your reader to experience the event first hand.

2. Just Say It: Don’t lead with a disclaimer or qualifier.

EXAMPLE: I don’t want you to read this and think I am trying to be mean. I’m also not trying to say that this applies to all forms of writing. As I said above, these are just my opinions.

  • Your first sentence exists to entice the reader to read the second sentence. Your first paragraph’s job is to intrigue your reader so they are compelled to read the second. And so on and so on.

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3. K.I.S.S. : Keep it Simple Scholar

EXAMPLE: Academic writers who use jargon and esoteric language are often preoccupied with communicating their cultural capital to their peers and because of this they sacrifice what could be a learning opportunity for a lay audience.

  • Mercilessly destroy jargon. If you absolutely have to use a piece of jargon, don’t just define the term. Introduce the term to your reader using an anecdote or other illustrative tool.
  • The greater the pre-requisite amount of education a reader must have to understand your reading, the smaller your audience will be and the smaller your impact will be.

4. Get in & Get Out.

  • Keep it succinct. If possible, keep any blog post to less than 500 words.
  • Oh the hypocrisy! This blog post is 790 words long!

5. No, It’s Not All Important

  • Only present the reader with information that is essential for them to understand your larger points. “Kill your darlings” as the saying goes. Delete non-essential information.
  • As an academic, you have an expert’s mind, so to you it’s all essential. Try to remember back to when you were a novice to your subject and how you saw your subject as a beginner. Then, write to answer the questions of the reader with a beginners mind.

6. If You Have Something to Say, Say It

  • Say something compelling, intriguing, challenging, inspiring, evocative, poignant, or otherwise interesting.
  • If what you write is something that you sincerely believe and something that empirical research can back up, then take the risk and hit publish.

7. Don’t Let Perfection Be The Enemy of The Good

  • Focus on clearly communicating your ideas. It’s more important that you share your ideas with the world than it is to make sure your writing is 100% error free. Get in the public arena and mix it up with people.
  • Your writing isn’t etched in stone. Remember that unlike print, you can immediately change errors as your readers point them out to you.

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8. Scholarly Writing vs. Public Writing

Not every scholarly publication needs to be written so that a the general public can read it. There is value in scholars writing for peers in academic journals in ways that are highly technical and complex. However, as academics we need to cultivate a community of scholars that are highly skilled in communicating esoteric research into texts that can be read by a general audience.

You can download my full Guide to Writing Online here. For more tips on academic blogging (and some terrific drawings), see the Illustrated Blogging Advice for Researchers, created by Chris Lysy.

Happy blogging!

PalmerPic_350-331~ This post was written by Nathan Palmer, a sociologist at Georgia Southern University and founder of the blog SociologySource.org. You can follow him on Twitter @SociologySource.

 

Drug Policy Reform Symposium May 1-2

In his research, CUNY Professor Harry Levine documents the racial pattern in marijuana use and arrest rates. The data tell a story that whites use marijuana at higher rates, yet blacks and Latinos in neighborhoods like East Harlem are arrested for marijuana at much higher rates.

MJ Use and Arrests

 (Image source)

Marijuana policy is not a new issue to New York City nor to East Harlem.

In 1939—on the heels of the national 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, which established federal marijuana prohibition—New York City Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia called upon The New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) in East Harlem to produce a report about marijuana.

Mayor LaGuardia(Image source)

The La Guardia Committee Report: The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York was published in 1944 as one of the nation’s first systematic studies addressing many of the myths about marijuana, including: the alleged connection to “madness;” addictive potential; supposed role as a ‘gateway’ to other drug use; usage patterns; and potential relationship to crime and violence. The LaGuardia report concluded that “the sociological, psychological, and medical ills commonly attributed to marihuana have been found to be exaggerated.”

To mark the 70th anniversary of the LaGuardia Report, The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and The New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM)  are hosting a symposium to look back on the LaGuardia Report in order to inform a rich discussion of contemporary drug policy reform efforts, both nationally and in New York. The symposium brings together scholars, activists, journalists and elected officials from East Harlem to explore the historical context and the ongoing public debates and actions about marijuana and drug policy reform.

Marijuana & Drug Policy Reform
in New York—The LaGuardia Report at 70

May 1, 6-8 PM
May 2, 10 AM – 5 PM

A symposium hosted by
The New York Academy of Medicine and the Drug Policy Alliance

Program highlights include

Thursday, May 1

6:00 PM — The John K. Lattimer Lecture: Richard Bonnie, University of Virginia.

Friday, May 2

10:00 AM — Melissa Mark-Viverito, Speaker, New York City Council

Panel Discussion: Drug Wars Past & Present.

Moderator: Paul Theerman, Ph.D., The New York Academy of Medicine
Jeffrion Aubrey, Speaker Pro Tempore, New York State Assembly
Jason Glenn, Ph.D., University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston
Sam Roberts, Ph.D., Columbia University
Deborah Small, J.D., Executive Director, Break the Chains
Bobby Tolbert, Community Leader and Board Member, VOCAL-NY

1:00 PM — Panel Discussion: The Contemporary Research Agenda for Drug Use & Abuse

Moderator: Julie Netherland, Ph.D., Drug Policy Alliance
Helena Hansen, Ph.D., M.D., New York University
Julie Holland, M.D., psychiatrist and author
Amanda Reiman, Ph.D., Drug Policy Alliance, San Francisco
Maia Szalavitz, journalist

3:00 PM — Panel Discussion: New York Marijuana Policy Reform in 2014

Moderator: Kassandra Frederique, M.S.W., Drug Policy Alliance
Richard Gottfried, New York State Assembly, 75th District
Hakeem Jeffries, United States Congress, 8th District
Harry Levine, Ph.D., Queens University
Art Way, J.D., Drug Policy Alliance, Denver

4:30 PM — Closing Presentation: Dr. David T. Courtwright, University of North Florida

5:00 PM – Final Remarks: gabriel sayegh, Drug Policy Alliance

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This event is FREE but registration is required for both days. To register for this event (required), click here (Thursday evening lecture) and here (Friday). The symposium takes place at the New York Academy of Medicine, located at 1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street.  You can also follow along on the hashtag #LGA70.

For more background on this important topic, see our “From Punishment to Public Health,” available as an eBook and a PDF.

 

Queer Internet Studies Workshop, April 4th

On April 4, JustPublics@365 is co-sponsoring the Queer Internet Studies Workshop, which we (Jessa Lingel and Jack Gieseking) are organizing. The workshop (other co-sponsors includeThe Brown Institute for Media Innovation and Microsoft Research), is aligned with the vision of JustPublics@365 in that it brings together academics, activists and artists around a particular topic. The focus of our workshop will be on the topic of technology and queerness."Los Mismos Derechos" Gay Rights march, Latin America

(Image source: Queer Legislation in Latin America)

Why technology and queerness?

Prefixes like inter-cross- and trans- are deeply familiar to people in queer and feminist communities. In our own research about Internet technologies, we constantly struggle to capture both the benefits and drawbacks of using these same technologies in everyday life.

On the one hand, online technologies are an important tool for historically marginalized groups (like LGBTQ people) to connect across geographic distances, to share resources and to work for social change.

On the other, there are many examples of terrible harm caused by online interactions, ranging from the ability to make anonymous threats to policing images of bodies. Here again, queer folks are frequently the targets of such attacks.

Given that queer folks (like other marginalized groups) can both benefit from and be harmed by online technologies, it’s productive and politically important to think through issues of ethical design, the activist potential of online platforms and opportunities for making queer lives better.

Social network visualization of queer friendship networks(Image: The interwoven and interdependent connections between the 7,855 members of the Facebook group, Queer Exchange, as of December 1st, 2013. Source:  Jack Gieseking CC BY-NC.)

With the QIS workshop, we want to create a space where artists and activists can share their work with each other, where academics can reach across disciplinary boundaries and make connections, were people can learn about institutional resources, technologies and tools that can support their existing projects and foster new ones.  In order to come up with topics of conversation, we asked some of the folks who’ve signed up to attend the workshop to share their key questions about how online technologies both help and hinder queer lives.  Here’s a selection of what they think are the pressing issues in thinking about technology and queerness:

  • Thinking about databases, data mining, subjectivity and normativity, particularly as it relates to surveillance
  • Broadening our understanding of queer politics to include class- and race-conscious politics that prioritize social and economic justice
  • Getting away from the academic practice of identifying communities on the Internet solely to prove that they’re there to an academic audience
  • Thinking about the use of mobile technologies by homeless LGBTQ youth
  • Using the lived experience of LGBTQ people to rethink tech policy

We’re excited about the range of ideas that have surfaced so far, and those that are bound to come up on April 4th. For more details, check out our website.

Hope to see you in April!

~ This post was co-authored by Jessa Lingel and jack Gieseking. Jessa Lingel is a post doctoral research fellow at Microsoft Research, you can learn more about her work here

 Jack Gieseking is Postdoctoral Fellow in the Digital and Computational Studies Initiative at Bowdoin College, and co-editor of The People, Place, and Space Reader (Routledge 2014).

Journalism as Activism for Families Separated by Incarceration

After years writing technology articles for The New York Times and the Internet-only upstart News.com, I felt constrained as a journalist. I yearned to rekindle the inspiration that drew me to the field: covering marginalized communities and exploring new ways to report and share their stories.

Then in 2007, I met Alison Coleman, a woman who had struggled to support her two children while her husband served a 25-years to life sentence in a New York state prison for petty theft under the harsh Rockefeller-era drug laws. She told me that for years she had had nowhere to turn for social or emotional help. Her parents only said, “We told you so” for marrying a black man. She kept to herself at church fearing her congregation would reject her family.

While statistics and political attitudes about incarceration rates in America are closely tracked, the human stories of prisoner families—like Ms. Coleman’s—are virtually unknown to mainstream Americans because this exploding yet unaccounted population is viewed with suspicion and rejected as guilty by association.

I decided to launch a media project to create a geographic and digital community for prisoner families even as social stigma and iron bars conspired to keep them fragmented and fearful.

I came at this as a journalist with a perspective–to show Americans the social cost of imprisonment beyond the political or “get tough on crime” perspective.

I explored and shaped the contours of crowdsourcing (having the community you cover help you cover themselves) and collaboration. Before it became standard practice, I trained people to produce video and audio columns about their experiences. One 22-year-old woman shot a powerful video about spending her first Mother’s Day with her mother outside of prison. As she prepares a special dinner, the mother-daughter banter slowly turns into a tense exchange about the daughter’s feelings of abandonment. The video captures a moment in the fragility of their relationship.

Another novel concept I used was to post a Skype phone number and asked people to leave voicemail with their questions and experiences. I posted these on the site as audio clips. We hear one woman, for example, describe her struggle to care for a loved one as he undergoes cancer treatment in prison. Years later, newsrooms began to use the same technique to engage their audiences.

In all I’ve published nearly 150 multimedia pieces, which when viewed as a whole reveal the financial, social and emotional toll on prisoner families like no other news coverage has.

I’ve produced live Web radio shows–with a community member as co-host–on topics as diverse as finding a job after incarceration and coping with separation during the holiday season when a family member is imprisoned. I’ve posted finely edited videos, each delving into a discrete corner of people’s experiences. In one video, for example, a 14-year-old boy describes the difficulty of having a “perfect moment” with his father when a guard is always standing a few feet away, and his need for a strong father-son bond.

The project’s most pivotal success, however, relied on a fundamental aspect of reporting: persuading sources who feared stigma and worse to speak publicly about their situation. “Our words have been distorted so many times to fit sensational or superficial pieces on TV and in newspapers,” Coleman, wrote about Family Life Behind Bars. “But we came to trust you because you let us share our voices with each other and the world.”

As the project gained momentum, its work resonated with the community. Coleman, who founded Prison Families of New York, a networking group in upstate New York, said the site brings “together a mosaic of voices that let us learn from each other’s challenges and small emotional victories.

~ This post was written by guest blogger Sandeep Junnarkar, Associate Professor, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. You can follow him on Twitter @sandeep_NYC.

Guns and Suicide: A Public Health Crisis

Guns, the most lethal means of committing suicide, represent a public health crisis.

Most imagery conjured up by the idea of gun violence in the national debate involves on one end, a bad person with a gun, and on the other end, another person scared senseless by the bad person with the gun, waiting for the cavalry.

But the numbers paint a different picture – one that continues to prove difficult to digest for folks on both side of the debate .  In fact, suicide is the leading type of firearm death, and teenagers, young adults, and males aged 75 and older are currently at the highest risk for this type of death. According to the CDC, suicide is now the third-leading cause of death for teenagers.

Of the 100 people who take their own lives every day in America  – that’s almost – 40,000 deaths a year –  most use a firearm.  More people choose a firearm over all other intentional means combined, including hanging, poisoning or overdose, jumping, or cutting. But Americans are not more suicidal than the citizens of other comparable countries (populous, wealthy). They just have more access to the most lethal means of committing suicide. A gunshot is an irreversible response to what is often a passing crisis – possibly worsened by the temporary depressive fog of alcohol. Suicidal individuals who take pills or inhale car exhaust or use razors have time to reconsider their actions or summon help, but gunshots are merciless game-changers.

prviate guns public health

According to the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, the states with the three highest suicide rates (Wyoming, Montana and Alaska) are also the top gun-owning states, and researchers agree that bringing a gun into the home not only increases the risk of gun-related accidents, but also the risk of suicide. Specifically, that research finds:

“Gun owners and their families are much more likely to kill themselves than are non-gun-owners. A 2008 study by Miller and David Hemenway, HICRC director and author of the book Private Guns, Public Health, found that rates of firearm suicides in states with the highest rates of gun ownership are 3.7 times higher for men and 7.9 times higher for women, compared with states with the lowest gun ownership—though the rates of non-firearm suicides are about the same. A gun in the home raises the suicide risk for everyone: gun owner, spouse and children alike.”

It is perhaps time, then, to abandon the myopic view that those who would take their own life are not influenced by the availability of suicide methods, and accept that whether or not they survive is dictated primarily by how they choose to go about it. About 85 percent of suicide attempts with a firearm end in death (drug overdose, the most widely used method in suicide attempts, is fatal in less than 3 percent of cases.)

Research on suicide by the Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center has also shown that one of the biggest myths is that suicides are typically the result of careful advance planning. While this may be the case — individuals who attempt suicide often succumb to a complex series of problems — empirical evidence suggests that they act impulsively in a moment of heightened vulnerability.

While the recent enactment of the Mental Health Parity Rule (which will guarantee that most insurance coverage offers access to mental health services on par with physical health coverage) brings hope to many whose lives would be vastly improved by access to mental health services, the collection and study of gun-related data has been severely undermined in the past two decades, and with it a crucial means of pushing forward sensible gun policies.

Despite President Obama’s reversal earlier this year of the NRA-sponsored amendment that barred the CDC from studying the causes and prevention of gun violence, researchers are still unable to answer many key questions such as the number and distribution of weapons across the country – slowing down prospects for life-saving policy reform. So much grief could be softened, if not avoided, by addressing the public health crisis of guns and suicide.

~ This guest blog post was written by Alice Cini is a social justice advocate and Social Work Fellow at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s From Punishment to Public Health Initiative. You can follow her on Twitter @CinikAl.

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This post is part of the Monthly Social Justice Topic Series on From Punishment To Public Health (P2PH). If you have any questions, research that you would like to share related to P2PH or are interested in being interviewed for the series, please contact Morgane Richardson at justpublics365@gmail.com with the subject line, “P2PH Series.”

Data on Gun Ownership: Hard to Find

Good data on gun ownership is hard to come by.

Anytime you hear claims about the prevalence of firearms from advocates on either side of the gun regulation debates, you should be skeptical of those statistical claims.

The fact is, there is no national registry of gun ownership.  A few states, such as California, do have registries. The lack of any national gun registry or any system for reporting when guns change ownership means that we can only estimate numbers of firearms owned and distributed.  Each firearm generates a paper trail which, theoretically, could be connected  to its date of manufacture or importation.  While recording manufacture or importation of a gun is required at the federal level, there is no central database of these reports, nor are they widely available so that they could be collected into a database.

Federal Firearms License(Federal Firearms License)

There are lots of problems with the gun-paper-trail.  The law does not require people to keep documentation of private sales (with some variation by state) and as a result the paper trail linking every firearm from manufacturer or importer to current holder can be broken.  Because every firearm can later be sold or gifted, statistics would have to track the chain of transfers from Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to assure that the same gun is not counted multiple times as a “new” sale, or significant overcounts of the prevalence of firearms would result.

However, even if there are multiple undocumented private transfers, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and  Explosives – known as the ATF – can usually trace a gun to its last transfer from an FFL. This is widely referred to as trace data.
There is much misunderstanding about what’s legal in terms of gun sales and transfers. Here are two key facts:

  • it is illegal to sell guns across state lines.
  • it is illegal to sell a gun to anyone who is prohibited by law from owning a firearm.

There are obvious weaknesses in enforcing these prohibitions.  As just one example, many of these peer-to-peer transfers involve relatives and close friends. Even if a means of checking backgrounds existed, the information would probably be ignored. These difficulties in tracking gun transfers also highlight some of the problems with collecting and maintaining reliable data on gun ownership.

Gun Show guns(Image from PBS Newshour:
Is Gun Violence a Matter of Public Health?)

In short, knowing how many guns are available in the USA today, where they are located, and who own them is practically impossible under current law.  The best we can do in estimating data on gun ownership is to take data from individual states and cities that require every sale or gift of a gun to be recorded, and aggregate these datasets.  At best, these describe local conditions only, not national patterns.

However, statistics about the origin of each firearm before it is distributed are robust.  The ATF trace data can usually trace a gun to the last FFL that sold that particular gun. So researchers can look at the ATF data to get a rough idea of where the guns recovered by police (after use in crime) originated.  But the question of source, rather than subsequent ownership or illegal importation numbers or use of various firearms, is the only issue that can be addressed accurately with these data.

Nevertheless, ATF trace data can be analyzed to produce subsets of particular types of gun usage.  ATF trace data is primarily a collection, almost exclusively, of guns recovered from crimes. So the population is “crime guns” which is a distinct subset (rather than a simple sample) of the total number of firearms in the US.

The simplest example is: most guns owned in the USA are long guns (shotguns and rifles,) but most crime guns are handguns.  Using ATF trace data and narrowing the subset even further, only guns that have been actually physically recovered can be traced, so the statistical population becomes:  “Guns Used in Crime which Have Been Recovered by Law Enforcement.” However, even these are undercounted because each law enforcement agency has its own rules about when to request a trace from the ATF. Some agencies have a policy of ‘always request a trace,’ but it is doubtful that all crime guns are actually traced, even from these agencies. Others request a trace only if the firearm looks new, where the trace would help the investigation. If the weapon is a handgun from the 1960s, for example, tracing it to the last FFL transfer will probably be unhelpful for linking the gun to potential criminal suspects, because the gun has likely had multiple private owners over the years. Additionally, many crime guns are stolen from legal owners and transferred among prohibited owners, making traces even less likely to be helpful from a law enforcement perspective. So, in practice, ATF trace data can accurately depict only a subset of gun prevalence, which can be described as:  “the population of guns recovered in crimes for which a particular law enforcement agency requested a trace from the ATF.”  This limited subset of cases is not very helpful for estimating prevalence, distribution, or use of firearms in the USA.

Considering how limited the official reporting of guns sold and licensed in the USA can be, researchers must look to other sources of data about gun ownership and usage.  Statistics from public health sources can help.  Mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is very useful because it includes almost all fatalities involving firearms, both suicides and homicides. However, it does not count gunshots in which wounds resulted, nor shots in which nobody is hit even if the gun is discharged. A large amount of data about misuse of firearms is therefore missing. CDC mortality data does not record any specifics about the type of firearm used, either.  In some cases, local medical examiners record detailed information about shootings (including approximate range of the gun to the decedent, type of gun, caliber,) but this data is not centralized or easily accessible. CDC data entails significant restrictions due to privacy concerns, but does often include a description of where the body the decedent was shot.

State and local police report data can also provide data. Any time the police respond to a firearm crime, someone will file a report. An incident may initially be filed by the police as a homicide but later determined by the medical examiner to be a suicide, or vice versa. Therefore we have to expect some differences in mortality data and police data. Additionally, there most people involved in altercations with firearms give conflicting accounts of what happened. Consequently, witness statements and officer determinations are more questionable in these cases than they are in others, to say nothing of the incidents in which witnesses refuse even to speak to the police, or conversely in which a gun discharge is reported but no corroborating evidence found.

Another police-related source of data is analysis of the firearms a given law enforcement agency actually confiscates.  But law enforcement agencies’ policies can differ. Policies for confiscations, policies for storage of the confiscated firearms, policies about granting researchers access, policies regarding recording and releasing statistics from these confiscations – all are idiosyncratic to the particular law enforcement agency. There is not a centralized data source covering firearms confiscated by police.  And, citing my own personal example in which I sought information about what kinds of guns and how many guns (as opposed to all weapons) have been confiscated in New York under that city’s aggressive stop-and-frisk policy, such information is not made available to the public.

When statistics describing particular phenomena are not widely available or are likely to be inaccurate, researchers often fall back on surveys in which people are asked how often they engage in particular behaviors (such as owning a firearm, or using it, and for what.)  The General Social Survey (GSS) is the most frequently used data sources to study firearms because it is one of the few nationally representative samples in which subjects are asked about firearm ownership. Of course, bias is possible here, too. Some have made convincing arguments that the GSS undercounts firearm ownership because many gun owners are suspicious of authorities asking about their guns, and that there are gendered and regional differences in likelihood of being willing to report a firearm in the house.  Still, it remains valuable resource for collecting gun ownership data.

gun culture(Image source)

Survey and interview data in general about firearms must be treated with care. Firearms are powerful symbols with multiple – and conflicting – meanings. As a result, survey answers about firearms are likely to be less than accurate.

Phillip Cook has produced a formula for estimation, using CDC and police data about homicide and suicide, to estimate use of guns. For now, Cook’s Index is the closest thing scholars studying firearms have agreed is the best measure – though scarcely a perfect one — for estimating firearm use in causing human deaths, though not the prevalence of gun ownership or usage generally.   His formula utilizes the overall numbers of homicide and suicides and determines the percentage of each committed with a firearm.  Local telephone surveys asking people about firearm ownership confirm that Cook’s Index correlates closely with firearm availability. It is expected that there are variations cross-nationally with this estimate, and over time.

Right now, the it is impossible to say with any precision how many guns are currently in use of guns in the US.  By piecing together data from a variety of law enforcement, federal statistics about gun origins, and public health sources, a rough picture can emerge.  Improving these databases is the next goal for researchers.

~ This guest blog was written by Candace McCoy Professor, John Jay College and The Graduate Center, CUNY.

 

Women in Prison: Twice as Likely to Have History of Abuse

The rate of women who are incarcerated, whether in prison or jail, is increasing. According to the ACLU, more than 200,000 women are currently in jail or prison, and another 1 million are under the control of the probation and parole system.

women in prison(Image source)

While many of the demographics for women in prison parallel those of men – that is, they are disproportionately black and poor – a closer look reveals another story.  Women bring a gendered life experience with them to incarceration.  And, being gendered ‘woman’ in this society often means a series of difficult life circumstances and hardships, like physical or sexual abuse in childhood or as an adult.  Incarceration places the additional burdens of isolation, humiliation, and systemic marginalization to these gendered life experiences.

It is precisely because of their gendered life experiences prior to incarceration that women need gender-based interventions in order to re-enter their communities and rejoin their families.

National Profile of Women Offenders
A profile based on national data (NICIC.gov: “Gender-Responsive Strategies”) for women offenders reveals the following characteristics:

  • Disproportionately women of color.
  • In their early to mid-30s.
  • Most likely to have been convicted of a drug-related offense.
  • From fragmented families that include other family members who also have been involved with the criminal justice system.
  • Survivors of physical and/or sexual abuse as children and adults.
  • Individuals with significant substance abuse problems.
  • Individuals with multiple physical and mental health problems.
  • Unmarried mothers of minor children.
  • Individuals with a high school or general equivalency diploma (GED) but limited vocational training and sporadic work histories.

One in three
One can hardly talk (intelligently) about women in prison without talking about childhood trauma and physical and sexual abuse.

Earlier this year, the Correctional Association of New York – a 170-year-old advocacy organization that leads efforts to protect and advance the rights of incarcerated women and their families – published the following facts about women and the criminal justice system:

  • At least one in three girls in the United States is sexually abused by the time they reach the age of 18.
  • Women in prison are twice as likely as women in the general public to report childhood histories of physical or sexual abuse.
  • Nationally, more than 37% of women in state prisons have been raped before incarceration.
  • 90% of women incarcerated at Bedford Hills reported suffering physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes.
  • 82% of women at Bedford Hills reported having a childhood history of severe physical and/or sexual abuse.

Yet another casualty of the war on drugs, most women are behind bars because of non-violent drug-related offenses. Much of their substance abuse is generally understood as “self-medication”, a device to help them cope with the aftershocks of traumatic childhood experiences – such as, in many cases, parental incarceration. In addition, the flood of crack cocaine that hit urban areas in the 1980s increased women’s experience of another kind of sexual trauma, street-level prostitution – a mainstay survival strategy for women addicts along with low-level drug dealing and petty property crimes.

free marissa signs(Image source)

The recent case of Marissa Alexander, sentenced to 20 years in a Florida prison for firing warning shots into the ceiling in an attempt to fend off her abusive husband, brought the national spotlight to the fate of many women who dare defend themselves and their children from their abusers.  Marissa’s appeal was successful and she has been granted a new trial – although she has been incarcerated since 2010. The Correctional Association has been spearheading the campaign to pass the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, which would change New York State laws that require long, harsh sentences for survivors who protect themselves from an abuser’s violence.

Impact of Incarceration on Children, Families
Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent declaration that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason” has drawn public attention to the issue of mass incarceration.  One area that still needs even greater attention is the impact that incarceration has on children and families.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 1.14.53 PMClick image to enlarge.

(Sources: Christopher Wildeman, “Parental Imprisonment, the Prison Boom, and the Concentration of Childhood Disadvantage,” Demography, May, 2009;  and The New York Times, July 4, 2009)

Over 2.3 million children in the United States currently have a parent who is incarcerated in the jail or prison system and over 10 million children have experienced parental incarceration in their lifetime.  The social and health risks and outcomes that parental incarceration has on children include increased stress, family disruption, feelings of abandonment, traumatic separation, loneliness, stigma, unstable childcare arrangements, strained parenting, reduced care giving abilities upon reunification, and home, school, and neighborhood moves.

Visitation with children in prison is not an option for most mothers in prison for the duration of their time behind bars and, on average, the children of incarcerated mothers will live with at least two different caregivers during the period of their incarceration.  More than half will experience separation from their siblings.

Upon release from incarceration, reuniting with the incarcerated parent with his or her children is often desirable; however, the actual impact of the reunification process on children and families merits further investigation.  Reunions often causes stress to both parent and children because for better or for worse it constitutes a disruption of the status quo, and as such demands that both adults and children adapt to new household dynamics, especially if children had previously been placed in foster care. Bonds broken by incarceration are not easily mended, and children may experience difficulty in forming meaningful attachments for the rest of their lives.

Generally lacking adequate job skills, most women have trouble supporting a family upon their release from prison, and the communities to which they return are unprepared to receive them. And after serving their time, a woman’s criminal record may bar them, through law or practice, from accessing vital resources, such as employment; public housing; welfare benefits; food stamps; financial assistance for education. These post-conviction penalties constitute an ongoing and self-perpetuating additional layer of punishment that endures far beyond their prison sentence.

Designing programs for impact
According to the Women’s Prison Association, programs aimed at supporting women returning from prison must take account of the family responsibilities women bear.  Programs should be designed with the understanding that women and their families are often burdened with conflicting and inflexible requirements of multiple agencies.  Criminal justice, welfare and child welfare agencies may set competing or conflicting goals and conditions for women, while limiting or denying access to essential services needed to stabilize and maintain the family unit.

Family reunion(Image credit: Michael Kirby for The New York Times)

Family-focused Alternative to Incarceration (ATI) programs such as Drew House in Brooklyn, NY, have been successful at providing selected women charged with felonies and their children with the tools and the chance to strengthen these families without compromising public safety. However, the need to collect and coherently use women-centered data when addressing incarcerated women remains crucial for the relevance and success of any intervention.

~This post was co-authored by Alice Cini and Stephanie Hubbard.  Alice Cini is a social justice advocate and Social Work Fellow at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s From Punishment to Public Health Initiative. You can follow her on Twitter @CinikAl. Stephanie Hubbard is a public health professional and advocate for youth and humans rights at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

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This post is part of the Monthly Social Justice Topic Series on From Punishment To Public Health (P2PH). If you have any questions, research that you would like to share related to P2PH or are interested in being interviewed for the series, please contact Morgane Richardson at justpublics365@gmail.com with the subject line, “P2PH Series.”