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Interview with Amy Adamczyk, Professor of Sociology
Ahead of the upcoming publication of her book, Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality: Examining Attitudes across the Globe, Research Operations Assistant Laura Lutgen took the opportunity to interview Professor Amy Adamczyk. Don't forget to also check out her November 2016 blog on Trump and Homosexuality.
Laura Lutgen (LL): I was told by another doctoral student that you worked in fashion prior to academia. Is that true? What brought you into sociology? What brought you to John Jay?
Amy Adamczyk (AA): Yes, it is true. My first degree is an ASS in Fashion Design. As a kid, I dreamed of moving to the city and becoming a designer. My mom taught me how to sew and I eventually found myself studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. After obtaining my associate’s degree I worked for a few years in the fashion industry, but it was nothing like what I expected (i.e., Devil Wears Prada). I therefore decided to go back to school and since I was living in NYC I selected one of the local colleges –Hunter College. While I was there I fell in love with sociology and my professors encouraged me to consider graduate school. From there I got a MA from the University of Chicago. I then enrolled in the Graduate Center’s (GC) Ph.D. Program in Sociology. However, I was interested in the sociology of religion and there were few professors doing that work at the time. After obtaining an en-route MA degree from the GC I transferred to Pennsylvania State University where I worked closely with Roger Finke, who is a sociologist of religion. After graduating with my doctorate my first job was at Wayne State University in Detroit. When I was at the Graduate Center I had grown fond of NYC. While I was at Wayne State I decided to see if I could get a position in NYC. That year John Jay College was hiring a lot of assistant professors and in 2007 I came here.
LL: It seems like you’ve done a vast amount of research on religion, sexuality, and terrorism/extremism (not always intertwined, of course). Where did it all begin? How has your earlier work influenced your current work and your next chapter (no pun intended)?
AA: My first subarea of interest was the sociology of religion. I grew up in rural Wisconsin on a dairy farm (my parents were part of the back-to-the-land movement). My parents were very religious, but politically liberal. There was a lot of life and death on the farm and as a kid I thought a lot about the cycle of life. This was supplemented with ideas from our conservative Protestant faith. I was always interested in how religion shapes people’s attitudes and behaviors, so it is fitting that this became one of my major areas of study.
As I have studied religion I have become increasingly interested in how it shapes people’s deviant attitudes and behaviors. Religion often limits minor deviant acts and illegal behaviors and similarly shapes people’s views on issues like homosexuality, abortion, minor substance use, and premarital sex. I typically study attitudes and behaviors that are on the edge of being illegal. Terrorism too can be similar to these other issues. In some places behaviors that might otherwise be described as “terrorism”, may be seen as political protest or freedom fighting. It can depend on the context. I am curious about how the larger social, economic, national, and historical context shapes the way these behaviors (e.g., political protest, same-sex sexual relations, abortion, etc.,) get viewed and the characteristics influencing the likelihood that people will engage in them.
LL: Tell us about your book, Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality. What sparked your motivation for such a project, both in terms of the subject matter and methodology but also in terms of taking on such a large endeavor? Have you always seen yourself as wanting to write a book? What are you most exited about and what are some of the key take-aways?
AA: Public opinion about homosexuality varies substantially around the world. While residents in some nations have embraced gay rights as human rights, people in many other countries find homosexuality unacceptable. In the book I use survey data from almost ninety societies, case studies of various countries, content analysis of newspaper articles, and in-depth interviews to examine how individual and country characteristics influence acceptance of homosexuality. The survey data show that cross-national differences in opinion can be explained by three primary factors -the strength of democratic institutions, the level of economic development, and the religious context of the places where people live. The world’s poorest, least democratic and most religious countries are more likely to have laws that punish same-sex sexual behaviors and have a high proportion of residents who disapprove of homosexuality. While the United States has high levels of economic development and a strong democracy, it has been slower to change its laws and attitudes about homosexuality than some of its European counterparts, in part, because the US is a more religious country.
While some books have been published on the factors shaping attitudes about homosexuality in the US, I do not know of any book-length study that examines the factors shaping attitudes across nations. I published a journal article on this issue several years ago in Social Science Research (Adamczyk and Pitt 2009) and it remains one of the most cited articles in the journal and is the most cited article I have written. That helped give me the confidence to move forward. I also got some grants and fellowships that made doing the research feasible, especially the fieldwork in Taiwan and content analysis of 800 newspaper articles, where the help of doctoral student coders was needed.
Disciplines vary in the extent to which researchers write books versus academic articles. The humanities publish the most books and the natural sciences mostly focus on journal articles. The social sciences are in the middle. Until now almost all of my research has been published in peer-reviewed journal articles (35) and reports (10). I wanted to write a book because I thought I could offer hundreds of pages of insight on this topic and I wanted to reach people outside of academia. I also got a lot of encouragement from my colleagues, editor, and friends.
LL: You’ve traveled quite extensively – Europe, Asia, Africa. Tell us about these experiences. What was your most rewarding experience, both professionally and personally?
AA: I have been fortunate to have a lot of opportunities for international travel. Over the last five years I have spent time in Europe (e.g., Italy, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands), Africa (Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, etc.), and Asia (e.g., Taiwan, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, etc.). A lot of this travel is related to my research. For example, one of the chapters in my book focuses on Taiwan. I spent a couple of months there doing research for the book which entailed talking with journalists, religious leaders, academics, activists, and political leaders about how they thought the Taiwanese viewed homosexuality. I really learned a lot and made several friends. The research assistant (Angel Liao) that I hired to help me is now working on her doctorate in sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center.
In addition to some trips where I really got to know residents, I have had some fun adventures. About five years ago I participated in a workshop in Uganda where I also had a chance to go white water rafting on the Nile which at the time had some 5-grade rapids. I still have dreams/nightmares about that experience.
LL: As a doctoral student, what advice as a senior professor would you give someone at my level? Any tips/tricks you’ve come across? What are some things we can do now that will benefit us throughout our academic career and, especially, in preparing and taking on the academic job market?
AA: My areas of research are really intriguing to me and I am genuinely curious about the research questions I investigate. I would urge students to find something about which they are passionate since there are aspects of this job that are really boring. Being genuinely curious will help you get through the less exciting parts.
I think it is important to also remember that everyone gets rejected and that a big part of this job is getting grants and papers rejected. Nevertheless, you have to keep submitting, as every now and then something hits, and over time you get better at both handling the rejection and developing successful projects. Having good collaborators also helps.
Finally, the job market for professors is tight. If doctoral students want to study something that is a little esoteric (e.g., sociology of religion) it would be a good idea to pair that interest with a more popular area of study like criminology. In the end you want to be able to enjoy what you do and get paid for it, so it is a good to be at least somewhat practical.
The Coming Storm: Meeting the Challenge of a New Deportation Regime
Our latest blog entry comes from Dan Stageman, Director of Research Operations for the Office for the Advancement of Research at John Jay College.
By: Dan Stageman, 11/15/16
On the morning of Wednesday November 9th, I shook off the cobwebs of a thoroughly sleepless night to drive my partner and children to John Jay College and successfully defend my dissertation with them looking on. I had even prepared for the proud moment by reprinting my business cards in anticipation of my success; what I hadn’t prepared for was to present the accumulated insights of seven years’ work on the deportation of American immigrants the day after the most shocking presidential election result of my lifetime.
I had no illusion that the study of deportation could ever be a dry academic exercise; nothing that so profoundly affects the lives of so many Americans ever could be. I was, however, expecting to approach my work as scholarship first and foremost: a well-earned break until the New Year, followed by redoubled efforts to submit parts of my dissertation for publication in academic journals, and revise others into a book with a reputable university press.
These plans are now on hold. The implications of my work for immigrant communities across the US insist upon a different approach, and a more immediate kind of discussion. Most importantly, I believe that many of the predictions and expectations I have read since the election have the wrong idea about the incoming administration’s approach to fulfilling the President-Elect’s recent pronouncements on deportation. Specifically, in widely reported comments during his interview for the November 13 edition of 60 Minutes, the President-Elect had the following to say about his administration’s immediate deportation plans:
What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, we have a lot of these people, probably two million, it could be even three million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate. But we’re getting them out of our country, they’re here illegally.
Leaving aside the reality that there aren’t two million undocumented immigrants with criminal records for Trump to deport, National Immigration Forum Executive Director Ali Noorani notes in an interview with USA Today that the President-Elect “would need congressional approval to hire more […] Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents” – an expansion of federal bureaucracy that might be a hard sell to a congress that has vowed to slash government spending – but “doesn’t need any new money to change the focus of the immigration agents who are already in place.”
While it is heartening to see immigration advocates like Mr. Noorani treating the President-Elect’s campaign rhetoric about a national 'deportation force' with rational circumspection, his continued focus on ICE enforcement activity misses an important consideration: the necessary tools are already in place to effect a massive ramp up of deportations by relying on local law enforcement agencies to take the lead on apprehension - and potentially contribute to the resulting need for increased detention capacity as well. Not only are these tools already in place, but so is a pre-existing incentive structure to encourage local law enforcement agencies to put them to use.
My research focuses on these pre-existing federal-local immigration enforcement partnerships, and the incentive structures that give local governments, and the people who run them, self-interested justifications to apprehend and detain undocumented immigrants in their communities and set them on the road to deportation. I found that, of the approximately 1.5 million deportations carried out during the Obama administration’s first term (2009-12), at least a third (500 thousand) began with a local law enforcement agency apprehension. Two programs – the 287g program, and Secure Communities – made this level of local law enforcement participation possible.
What are the incentives for local governments to participate in these programs? There are many. County Sheriffs enter into these agreements for political gain, pursuing nativist votes by tapping into anti-immigrant sentiment. New Jersey’s current Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno launched her political career by running for Monmouth County Sheriff – a campaign that she won on a promise (later fulfilled) to enter the county into a 287g agreement if elected. Others, like former Hall County (Georgia) Sheriff Steve Cronic, combined political motivations with financial ones: a contract with the Corrections Corporation of America provided the ostensible economic benefits of siting the North Georgia Detention Center within the heart of the county, while a 287g agreement provided the means to fill its beds with immigrant detainees.
These federal-local partnership enforcement programs are not going away, and the incentives for local governments to enter into them will only become stronger under the Trump administration. Calls like that of National Day Laborer Organizing Network Executive Director Pablo Alvarado for President Obama to use his remaining time in office to “sever the link between police and ICE that his administration created” are unlikely to have the intended effect of “innoculat[ing] against a domestic human rights crisis[.]” While it is true that the Obama administration relied heavily on these programs to ramp up US deportations to their highest ever levels during his first term in office, the law that makes them possible dates to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) passed by Congress in 1996.
I believe that it is this law and its possible interpretations that will allow the incoming administration a wide latitude to involve local law enforcement in the promised mass deportation effort. Section 287(g) begins with the following language:
[ICE] may enter into a written agreement with a State, or any political subdivision of a State, pursuant to which an officer or employee of the State or subdivision, who is determined by [ICE] to be qualified to perform a function of an immigration officer in relation to the investigation, apprehension, or detention of aliens in the United States (including the transportation of such aliens across State lines to detention centers), may carry out such function at the expense of the State or political subdivision and to the extent consistent with State and local law.
The parameters of such agreements, or the training that local law enforcement officers require under them, are left ambiguous. Notwithstanding the established practice of ICE under the Obama administration (or the GW Bush administration prior to that), it is certainly conceivable that a Trump administration could severely reduce the rigor of established training requirements, along with the strictures laid out in ICE’s current Memorandum of Agreement template, leaving a loose and undemanding structure to induce local law enforcement agencies to join. The new administration could further incentivize these agreements through the use of Intergovernmental Service Agreements (IGSAs) that reimburse local jails and related facilities for detaining immigrants – a situation that looks likely to lead to an explosion of new management contracts for the Correctional Corporation of America and its competitors in the private/for-profit prison industry.
I’ve found in my research that it’s possible to make empirical predictions about the places where the incentive for local governments to enter into immigration enforcement agreements is highest – and consequently, where the most vulnerable immigrant communities are located. The first places where we should expect to see local enforcement ramping up in support of the Trump administration’s deportation efforts are small-towns and rural areas where undocumented immigrants are visible, visibly working, and just beginning to put down roots. These are places where nativism commonly runs strong, fueled not only by anxieties about immigrant domination of local labor markets, but also by ill-founded concerns about non-laboring immigrant dependents 'stealing' taxpayer supported government services.
For the policy and advocacy organizations tasked with supporting immigrant communities, the challenges presented by local enforcement are manifold. Effective legal challenges will be hampered at many levels and in many areas by a judicial system that appears likely to tilt in favor of the incoming administration. Shaming or otherwise shedding an unfavorable light on participating jurisdictions will be ineffective where nativist voters represent an electoral majority. Under the circumstances, the most promising strategies are likely to be those that focus on the direct and practical organization of immigrant communities themselves. Education efforts that help immigrants to know their rights when faced with imminent enforcement actions are one example. Efforts that help immigrant communities avoid common patterns of local enforcement are another, recognizing that roadblocks and other forms of traffic enforcement are a common approach.
Finally, a focus on local enforcement allows advocates and allies to organize counter-efforts in jurisdictions where governments and law enforcement agencies value close working relationships with immigrant communities in their efforts to prevent and respond to crime. The movement by immigrant supporting jurisdictions to refuse ICE detainer requests based on the 4th Amendment interpretation laid out in Miranda-Olivares v. Clackamas County has only grown since that case was determined in 2014. While we should realistically expect this movement to come under sustained legal assault by the new administration, recent statements like that of LAPD Chief Charlie Beck that his department is “not going to work in conjunction with Homeland Security on deportation efforts” offer some reassurance that such efforts are antithetical to contemporary professionalism in police leadership.
Advocates should not, however, simply take law enforcement executives’ word for it. By most accounts, Charlie Beck is a dedicated law enforcement officer and a decent human being (see e.g. Joe Domanick's recent history of LAPD reform Blue); nevertheless, his word remains that of a public figure on an issue of momentarily intense media scrutiny. As such, no individual or organization with a vested interest should operate under the assumption that it represents immutable LAPD policy. Advocacy organizations need to hold Beck and other law enforcement leaders to these non-cooperation pledges with every tool at their disposal. Verifying that they represent official departmental policy and are incorporated into department manuals and standard operating procedures is a good start, and, along with mandated formal training, the first step toward ensuring they are incorporated into departmental culture in meaningful, lasting ways.
For myself, I will continue writing and presenting on the Trump administration’s likely approach to fulfilling candidate Trump’s deportation campaign promises, and supporting efforts to organize immigrant communities to face the coming storm. I was lucky enough to arise last Wednesday morning with a clear mission laid out before me, a signal to cut through the noise of a thousand progressive policy goals being forcibly dismantled in the bleak years to come. Now is the time to decide what we believe in and focus our time and energy on protecting it. I believe that the United States must remain a nation of immigrants.
Trump and Homosexuality: Differences in Public Opinion
Ahead of the February 2017 release of her book, "Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality: Examining Attitudes across the Globe," our latest blog entry comes from Amy Adamczyk, Professor of Sociology at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of CUNY. This entry was originally posted on the University of California Press Blog.
By: Amy Adamczyk, 11/11/16
Like many academics, I was surprised at how well Donald Trump did early in the presidential election, securing the Republican nomination and at times rivaling Hillary Clinton in the polls. Part of the reason I was so surprised is because almost everyone I know and spend time with is a staunch democrat, socialist, or even communist. For many academics most of our friends are very liberal left-leaning highly educated people. For me it is even more extreme because I am childless and live in Manhattan. So the thought of millions of Trump enthusiasts has been hard to fathom.
That a social scientist like myself, trained to avoid generalizing from personal experience, is nonetheless taken aback by the Trump phenomenon is a testament to the power of context. Simply put, those with whom we interact have a powerful role in shaping our views. And our friendship groups tend not to be very diverse, so it’s easy to find ourselves in an echo chamber soundproofed from the voices of the outside world. This is especially true for people at opposite ends of the educational spectrum, whose friendship networks tend to be particularly homogeneous.
The media coverage of the presidential election provides repeated reminders of the deep cultural divides within our country. When we regularly see our fellow citizens cheering on a candidate who we find outrageous or worse, it is easy to forget all the subjects on which most of us agree, and how this agreement is fostered by the cultural and structural context we share as residents of the United States. For example, the issue of gay rights, a wedge issue in past elections, has faded from view in the current election. Opposition to same-sex marriage has narrowed over the last two decades and this year Republicans nominated someone who appears only now to oppose same-sex marriage out of political expediency. Meanwhile, there are nations where a person can be put to death for being gay. As great as the cultural differences among our fellow citizens, the differences between nations are vaster still, especially on key issues like gay rights.
In my forthcoming book, Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality: Examining Attitudes across the Globe, I show just how vast the differences are across nations on this important issue. What accounts for such dramatic differences across nations? The book shows that much of the variation in attitudes about homosexuality can be traced back to differences in the degree of economic development, democratic governance and religious fervor. The book also shows how these factors interact in complex ways with a nation’s unique history and geographic location to produce divergent cultural and structural climates.
The interesting thing about contextual forces, whether they are operating within friendship groups, regions, or nations, is that we often do not know they are there. It takes something like a divisive national election or stories about the denial of civil rights to remind us of the different worlds in which we live.
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