Departmental News Archive
- Chris Wellin reviews "Mission Hill and the Miracle of Boston" and other films November 29, 2013
Saving the Children
November 25, 2013
SAVING THE CHILDREN
by John Grady
This photograph is an instance of misery and takes us back to a day in 1909 where, next to a plank house on a rough wooden porch, and somewhere in America, a mother grieved and a baby was being prepared for burial.
SAVING THE CHILDREN
By John Grady
Pictures of a dead child or other family member were common in the late nineteenth and very early twentieth centuries. It was a way of remembering someone who had never been photographed when they were alive. The pictures seem strangely morbid to us today due in part to the obvious efforts made to make the corpse look alive – eyes propped open, sitting, or even standing. Usually, the live people in the photograph dress formally and are emotionally composed.
This photograph of a grieving working class mother and her dead child is quite different. We feel her desolation. We see her exhaustion in the slump of her shoulders, her body, and the left arm and hand dangling helplessly at her side. She has a blank stare, but her eyes are alive with sorrow. Her jaw is clenched. The woman standing directly behind the mother looks at her steadily with a gaze that is both tender and sad. This photograph is not a formal moment fixed in amber, but rather an instance of misery. The woman to the left has just turned toward the scene. The blurred motion is distinct enough to create a double exposure that makes the scene come alive and takes us back to a day in 1909 where, next to a plank house on a rough wooden porch, and somewhere in America, a mother grieved and a baby was being prepared for burial.
When life expectancy improved from forty years to eighty over the course of the twentieth century, it didn’t mean that everyone on average just added another forty years to their lives. There were then, as now, many people who lived well beyond the average life expectancy. Many of us know people in their late eighties and nineties and many did back then. What improved life expectancy really meant is that there was an enormous reduction in child mortality. It was babies and kids getting beyond the hurdles of childhood diseases and infections – and not dying -- that made it possible for many more people to live at all, and in time for a growing number to live quite long lives in good health. In 1900, the infant mortality rate (the number of deaths per one thousand live births for children one and under) was 162 per thousand. As of 2011, it is down to 6 per thousand. In other words, the odds were one out of 6 that a child born in 1900 would not live into a second year. Today, the odds are only one out of 167.
When we factor in the fertility rate (the total number of children on average that women bear during their lifetimes), we summon up an even bleaker tableau. The fertility rate in 1900 was 6 children per woman. Multiply that by the infant mortality rate (162/1000 times 6) and you have 972/1000 or nearly a statistical certainty that in 1900 a women would lose a child under one year of age at some point during her child bearing years. Today women have a fertility rate of 2. Doing the numbers – 6/1000 times 2 – yields 12/1000, which means that the odds of a woman losing a child in 2013 is roughly one out of eighty.
Today, young women -- like young men -- are exhorted to be all that they can be and strive to realize their dreams. What could possibly be wrong with wanting to “have it all”: material rewards, a challenging career, supportive relationships and a loving family with children. But, at the turn of the century mothers and grandmothers would never tell their daughters such a thing and instead reminded them that it was women’s lot to suffer. They weren’t being cruel. It was just that knew that it was certain that someday their daughters would be sitting in a chair like the woman in the photograph, holding a dead child, and drowning in sorrow.
It still happens and when it does the grief is just as deep as it was for this woman whose name we do not know. But the dramatic decline in infant mortality not only ensures that human life is abundant, but also that much of the burden of sorrow for men, and especially women, has been lifted.
by John Grady
Life expectancy could be lowered by war, disease, famine, or a cataclysmic natural event. Conversely, our lives could be extended by improvements in living standards, medical care, and healthier lifestyles. For Americans, the big take away story from this chart is that the good far outweighs the bad.
by John Grady
This is a simple line chart and easy to read. The vertical axis scales one type of information -- in this case, how many years someone born in the US might expect to live -- while the horizontal axis lists when people were born. A point on either line is an estimate based on projecting the death rates prevailing at that date into the future. Projecting a trend in this fashion, however, does not account for what the actual future might bring. Life expectancy in real time could be lowered by war, disease, famine, or a cataclysmic natural event. Conversely, our lives could extend beyond what was predicted at birth by improvements in living standards, medical care, and healthier lifestyles. For Americans, the big take away story from this chart is that the good far outweighs the bad.
Throughout human history, average life expectancy was anywhere from 30 to 40 years at best. Around 250 years ago in Western Europe and the United States, things slowly began to change. There was more food available; public health measures were taken; medical science improved, and housing became more secure and comfortable. By 1900, life expectancy was almost 50 years. What happened during the next century was without precedent in human history. By 2000 life expectancy had nearly doubled and men and women on average lived into their late 70s and early 80s.
Line charts are one of the best ways of visualizing a trend. They show direction: is it going up or down; is it even or uneven; curvilinear or cyclic? They show whether the rate of change is fast, slow, or non-existent. They also can be designed to include more than one line – in this case trends for men and women – and these can be easily compared. With these observations in mind, what does this chart tell us?
• While the growth of life expectancy is a steadily progressive trend over the course of the century, it tends to slow down from the early 1950s on for both men and women;
• Women tend to live longer than men and this discrepancy has generally widened since the beginnings of World War II. There is some evidence of a narrowing of the gender gap during the 1990s, which is probably due to men beginning to quit smoking in the 1960s in significant numbers, while women were just embracing the habit. There is a lag in outcomes for men and women because it takes about 30 years for the negative health effects of smoking to begin to take their toll – and for the positive effects of not smoking to have an impact.
• Before 1945 changes in life expectancy were very volatile. They go up and down by one or two years of life expectancy from year to year. This volatility is most likely due to outbreaks of various infectious diseases. After World War II, mass vaccination and expanded health care probably accounts for how steady the trend becomes for both men and women.
Because of the way that life expectancy is measured, it is very susceptible to being influenced by a dramatic increase in the death rate, even if that jump is limited to a very short period of time. The influenza epidemic of 1919 is considered the most lethal worldwide epidemic in history and killed more than 20 million people, 500,000 of them in the United States alone. This singular event was so massive that the slaughter it records leaves a distinct graphic trace on the chart as a plunging spike.
Charts are one of the best ways of examining social indicators. When done well, they provide us with clear measures of patterns that we might not otherwise be aware. Nevertheless, the care we take in viewing them is only as good as the care that is taken in their preparation and, beyond that, the careful attention that goes into observing and collecting the original information. We can rely on the data that went into making this chart on life expectancy and -- because of our confidence in what it measures – this graph speak volumes about what American civilization accomplished over the last century.
The Passion of Mission Hill
November 15, 2013
“Mission Hill and the Miracle of Boston” recorded the impact of desegregation and urban renewal. Professor Grady’s 1978 controversial documentary was recently featured at the MIT Urban Planning Film Series.
Mission Hill and the Miracle of Boston was featured at the MIT Urban Planning Film Series on November 14, 2014. John Grady led a discussion after the film.
Here is how it was introduced by Karilyn Crockett, Martin Luther King Post-doctoral fellow at MIT:
For anyone who likes Boston or who definitely does not, this film is for you. Boston's recent mayoral election offers a new opportunity to examine some of the city's most enduring problems related to race, place and the postwar economic development of its neighborhoods and downtown. Esteemed documentary filmmakers, Richard Broadman and John Grady conceived "Mission Hill and the Miracle of Boston" (1978) as both snapshot and critique of big business-driven urban renewal. But don't worry this 60-min film is not pumped up policy drivel. First person accounts of residents coupled with raw newsreel reveal the physical and psychological impacts of rapid urban change from the frontline. View this fascinating document of Boston's recent past and learn the backstory of many of the political, economic and racial tensions that continue to inform the city's construction agenda today. It includes in depth consideration of racially segregated public housing developments in the Mission Hill/Heath Street neighborhood as well as the downtown creation of Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market as contested tourist destination, and offers a compelling look at multiple approaches to 20th century U.S. city building.
November 13, 2013
Have you ever wondered why in the world people starting letting cats into the house instead of keeping them outside where they belong?
Have you ever wondered why in the world people starting letting cats into the house instead of keeping them outside where they belong? Well this is the book for you.
John Grady has written the Forward to Arnold Arluke and Lauren Rolfe's The Photographed Cat: Picturing Human-Feline Ties, 1890-1940, published by Syracuse University Press. The book is based on an in-depth study of "real picture postcards" that document many varied aspects of life in thousands of American communities at the beginning of the last century. Arluke -- a sociologist at Northeastern University -- is an eminent student of the sociology of human-animal relations. He and Lauren Rolfe have used hundreds of forgotten images to tell the story of how people let cats into their homes and families and were transformed by the relationships that they built with their animals, who gave up many freedoms by becoming pets.
October 23, 2013
Maya Ennis ’14 wins Gilman award to study in Egypt.
A Global First at Wheaton
September 5, 2013
The silence surrounding sexual violence in marriage was broken when scholars gathered at Wheaton
The Sociology and Anthropology Departments recently sponsored an international, interdisciplinary conference on “Global Perspectives on Sexual Violence in Marriage.” Despite the growing international attention to various forms of violence against women, the issue of marital rape has been ignored by scholars, policy makers and practitioners. The silence surrounding sexual violence in marriage was broken when fourteen scholars from around the world gathered at Wheaton this May. The Wheaton Workshop, supported by a grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, was the first ever to focus on marital rape as a global problem, a startling fact given the social suffering it causes.
Professor of Sociology Kersti Yllo and Associate Professor of Anthropology Gabriela Torres were the organizers of the intensive workshop. Their goal was to bring together anthropologists, sociologists, legal scholars and public health and human rights proponents to develop an approach to this very intimate form of violence that is understood very differently in different cultural contexts. Even the very definition of marital rape is highly contested. Marital rape is legal in much of the world and was criminalized in the US and UK only in the last decades of the twentieth century, even as it is significantly implicated in the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.
The three days of discussion were intense but productive as scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds put forth their views. Sociologists, who work primarily within their own societies, don’t hesitate to label this form of violence a “social problem”, whereas anthropologists take a more cultural relativist approach and cautioned against facile applications of Western theoretical explanations. We debated conceptions of the self, body, gender, consent, and intimacy in the context of rapid global changes in the very nature of marriage. Human Rights and Public Health programs that seek to redress women’s suffering were identified as necessary but also suspect in the extension of US/European conceptions of self, body and sexual autonomy. The role of states in supporting intimate partner sexual violence through judicial structures and social services was also an important focus.
The Wheaton Workshop involved challenging conversations and productive collaborations. The Marital Rape Network , an ongoing scholarly collaboration and listserv, grew out of our meeting and we are already advancing new research on marital rape in several countries. We will be presenting at scholarly conferences as well as collaborating on a book entitled Global Perspectives on Marital Rape. One of the reasons that the conference was so positive and productive was that Wheaton provided a beautiful and relaxing context for our work. The atmosphere, cookouts, lobster dinner, and music by Wheaton’s own Matthew Allen and Julie Searles set the stage for developing a shared commitment to addressing a significant global problem.
Tough Gun Legislation: It’s just a matter of time… but don’t hold your breath
July 3, 2013
By John Grady and Karen McCormack.
After the tragic shooting in Newtown, the issue of regulating gun ownership became a topic of hot debate across the country… at least for a while anyway.
By John Grady and Karen McCormack
After the tragic shooting in Newtown last December that killed twenty children, regulating gun ownership became a topic of hot debate across the country… at least for a while anyway. At the time many commentators predicted that the interests of the gun lobby would prevail over the best efforts of reformers and they appear to have been correct. But a look at trends in gun ownership – and people’s attitudes about guns -- reveals that Americans’ investment in gun ownership is steadily declining. What seems likely, therefore, is that we should expect Congress to consider – and pass -- more encompassing and effective gun regulation within the next several years.
The General Social Survey (GSS) reports that gun ownership in the US has dropped steadily since the early 1970s, from more than a half (54%) of all households to a little over a third (36%) in 2012. This decline in gun ownership over time covers the entire spectrum of the population (whether by sex, race, income, or region).
Moreover, today’s youngest generation owns fewer guns than their elders. Whereas 46% of Baby-Boomers lived in a home with guns when they were 18-29, and 35% of Gen-Xers did, under a quarter (23%) of Millennials – including today’s college students -- do. In fact, the group with the highest rate of gun ownership (54%) over the course of their lives is the Silent Generation, whose youngest members are already in their early seventies. With each passing year, therefore, a slowly growing proportion of Silents is being replaced by Millennials who have little interest in gun ownership. In addition, anywhere from three quarters to four out of five Americans (75-80%) have consistently told the GSS that they favor requiring gun permits and background checks for gun purchases.
One way of imagining the proportion of the total population that is invested in the gun culture is displayed in figure 1. Everything within the perimeter of the largest square represents the total population. Those who participate in the gun culture are to be found represented in Beige (Gun Owners), cross-hatching (hunters), and cells marked HG stand for those gun owners who own handguns. The blank space represents households that neither hunt nor own guns (42%). Numbers like these suggest that it is only a matter of time before the gun lobby will have lost the popular support they rely on to block strong gun legislation.
But if opposition to rational gun legislation’s days are numbered, the GSS also reports that the commitment of those who do own guns may be hardening even as their overall numbers shrink. Handgun ownership, for example, is increasingly concentrated among those who hunt. Even though households who hunt have declined from 32% in 1977 to 20% today, they are far more likely than non-hunting households to possess handguns, which, of course, are not needed for hunting. In fact, in 1977 hunters were only twice as likely as non-hunters to have a pistol or revolver in their house. Today, almost half the hunting population possesses a handgun; four times the rate of the population that doesn’t hunt.
Comparing figures 1 and 2 clearly shows this process. Note that the blank space has grown to three out of five households (60%) but also how prevalent handgun ownership has become within the gun culture.
These changes suggest that those who do own guns are increasingly conflating recreational and economic pursuits with more gut level concerns about self-defense. It should be noted that if possessing handguns is correlated with concern about personal safety then this is a puzzling trend as the last two decades have witnessed a dramatic long-term decline in both crime and personal violence in America.
In the long run increased gun regulations appear to be inevitable. Unfortunately, the debate that pits gun rights against government regulation should become even more rancorous as the gun lobby’s base shrinks and its power wanes. So we should expect a great deal more bitterness before the issue is finally resolved. (Remember the ferocious resistance to the Civil Rights movement!) But, as always, we should not mistake the volume of dissent for the opinion of the majority.