Category Archives: Blog

Inequality and death in LA

Pamela J. Prickett
University of Amsterdam
CUSS Newsletter Summer 2022, Vol. 35, No. 2

“I think of the view from a favorite arroyo in the late afternoon, the east slope still bathed in sunlight, the far slope already full of dark shade and lengthening shadows. A cool breeze, as one can look across the plains, out over miles of homes and trees, and hear the faraway hum of traffic on the high-ways and see the golden light filtering through the mist-laden air.”

-Carey McWilliams, Southern California: An Island on the Land

Much has changed about the views across Southern California in the time since McWilliams wrote these words in 1946, but the golden light remains. Sunsets in Southern California are unforgettable. Layers of tangerine, fuchsia, and violet light the sky. The sun may rise in the east, where ASA more often meets, but it sets in the west, and in this way SoCal does not disappoint. For those of you embarking on Los Angeles for this year’s annual meeting, do yourself a favor and try to make it to a hilltop or beachside to take in the cornucopia of colors at dusk (just don’t skip the CUSS reception on Sunday).

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Conference Feature: The Creation of an Elite Civil Society: Civil Society Organization Formation in Los Angeles, 1880-1900

by Simon Yamawaki Shachter, University of Chicago

CUSS Newsletter Summer 2022, Vol. 35, No. 2

On the United State’s West Coast, in the second half of the 19th century, four small towns grew into large cities: Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; San Francisco, California; and Los Angeles, California. Despite sharing similar political, economic, and demographic environments, Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco developed notably pluralistic and prolific civil societies while Los Angeles’s became relatively smaller and more elite. Through a historical analysis of Los Angeles’s initial growth, I ask the question, why did Los Angeles develop the unique civil society that we still see today?

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Spotlight on Annual Meeting Location: Los Angeles, the Showplace Global City and its Creative Destructive Impulses

By Jan Lin, Occidental College

CUSS Newsletter Summer 2022, Vol. 35, No. 2

The area of Los Angeles that is made up of the Los Angeles Convention Center, its adjacent Crypto.com Arena (previously Staples Center), and LA Live is a vibrant tourism, sports, and entertainment showplace that exports “showtime” NBA basketball and Hollywood film and music culture to the U.S. and the rest of the world. Culture industries are leading sectors in Los Angeles just as finance/Wall Street is a leading sector in New York City. Luxury hotels and condominium towers have sprouted in the neighborhood in the last 15 years, some involving transnational Chinese investor visas or corporate capital including the JW Marriott hotel, the 4-towered Metropolis complex, and the 3-towered Oceanwide Plaza. Further north on Figueroa Street is the Wilshire Grand Center, which was financed by Hanjin/Korean Airlines and in 2017 took claim as the tallest building (including its spire) west of Chicago. Look at the top at night for the neon red and blue yin-yang Korean Air logo which alternates with the “I” brand logo of the on-site InterContinental Hotel.

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Interview w/ Addams Award Winners Josh Pacewicz and John N. Robinson III

The 2021 Jane Addams Article Award was awarded to Josh Pacewicz and John N. Robinson III for their article “Pocketbook Policing: How Race Shapes Municipal Reliance on Punitive Fines and Fees in the Chicago Suburbs.” Published in Socio-Economic Review in 2021, this article draws on both quantitative and qualitative methods to show how municipal reliance on fines and fees varies across race and class lines in the Chicago suburbs. Josh Pacewicz is Associate Professor of Sociology at Brown University, John N. Robinson III is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Princeton University. Andrew Messamore and Benny Witkovsky reached out to John and Josh to discuss their article and an abridged version of that discussion is below. Thanks to John and Josh for participating in our interview series!

Let’s start by talking about this paper. What did you seek to find? What did you ultimately find?

Robinson: We originally wanted to take an exploratory look at the problem of fines and fees, which had become a big topic of dialogue in the aftermath of Ferguson. Once we got into the data, we saw that these monetary punishments were concentrated in many Black suburbs, and especially relatively affluent ones. For context, the financial penalties that we found in these communities (mostly traffic fines, but also things like fines for overgrown weeds) differed from those we would find in much poorer areas (see, for example, Alexes Harris’ pathbreaking work, which focuses on the penalties associated with criminal prosecution). The racialized effect of fines and fees in the lives of poor households and communities is more dramatic and impactful over the long-term. But our findings on these relatively affluent Black areas show that these communities are in some ways more like poorer Black communities than their affluent white counterparts. Importantly, we also found that the places dealing with these penalties also suffered a range of other issues that white affluent communities didn’t, including exorbitantly high property taxes, exploitative tax incentive schemes, deficient public services, etc.

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Conference Feature: The Armenian Ethnic Enclave of L.A.

Inna Mirzoyan
Michigan State University
CUSS Newsletter Summer 2022, Vol. 35, No. 2

During one of my first weeks as a 2021 Fulbright researcher in Yerevan, Armenia, I explored the capital city’s oldest district, Kond. The Kond district and its ruins have been revitalized with street art and graffiti to attract locals and tourists alike. Immediately, the multiple references to Los Angeles stood out to me. Specifically, one large wall that I photographed reflected the transnational experience of the Armenian Diaspora with large text that read “Yerevan to L.A.” and “Little Armenia.” Six months later, in 2022, I traveled for my second phase of fieldwork in L.A. and saw a similar global conversation happening between diasporans and locals.

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Understanding Housing Informality in Los Angeles

by Steven Schmidt, University of California Irvine
CUSS Newsletter, 2021 Summer, Vol 34, No 2

During a warm summer evening in Los Angeles, I interviewed Mabel on the sideline of her son’s baseball practice. A single mom from Guatemala, Mabel lives with her three kids in an apartment bedroom that she rents under the table from an older woman. Mabel sees the rented room as a stepping stone to owning a home: “I want to grow, to eventually have my own house. But for now with my situation, I have to wait a little longer to be able to do it.”[i] Later that year, I met Lisa, a middle-income white woman who rents a home about five minutes away from Mabel. Although her lease does not allow sublets, Lisa usually rents out one of her three bedrooms. I asked what she looks for in a roommate: “We don’t cook animal products, we eat organic, so a health-conscious person. We didn’t want more kids, that was just too much.” Sharing a home is relatively common in Los Angeles, where an estimated 47% of families live doubled-up, or with another adult who is not a romantic partner (Bretz, 2017). While many doubled-up renters live in multigenerational homes, Mabel and Lisa live with non-family members. How do renters find opportunities to rent spaces in other households, and how do families decide who they will allow to live with them?

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Interview w/ Jackelyn Hwang: 2020 Addams Award for Best Article

Jackelyn Hwang, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Stanford University, was the winner of the 2020 Jane Addams Award for best article. Jackelyn’s innovative research agenda examines the relationship between how neighborhoods change and the persistence of neighborhood inequality by race and class in US cities. We reached out to ask her to discuss her research, and we’re including her responses below. Thanks to Jackelyn for participating in our interview series!

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2020 Park Award: Sites Unseen

The winner of the 2020 Robert E. Park Award is Sites Unseen: Uncovering Hidden Hazards in American Cities.  New York: Russell Sage Foundation by Scott Frickel  & James R. Elliott. It is part of the American Sociological Association’s Rose Series in Sociology. Below is a discussion with the winners on industrial waste and its legacy in the urban landscape.

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Teaching Urban Sociology in a Time of Mass Uprisings for Racial Justice and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Colleen E. Wynn
Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of Indianapolis
2021 Winter, Vol. 34, No.1 

According to the US Census Bureau, the majority of Americans live in urban areas. And, as urban sociologists, we’ve known cities matter for a long time, but more and more we’re seeing the rest of society take note. Cities played a major role as the location and backdrop for the mass uprisings for racial justice we saw earlier this year, especially mid-sized cities in the South and Midwest that are often included but not highlighted in our scholarly work. George Floyd’s brutal murder by police in Minneapolis helped to spark the mass uprisings we saw earlier this year and the current civil rights movement, as did Breonna Taylor’s murder in her home by Louisville Metro Police in my hometown of Louisville. In Indianapolis, where I live and teach, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police shot and killed Dreasjon Reed and McHale Rose, two incidents which have not received as much national attention but have locally mobilized many activists. These are, of course, only a few cases. Activists and organizers across the country mobilized around these cases, as well as many others that have not received nearly as much national attention. 

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