We have a webinar through APA up. Go watch it here.
Faranak Miraftab is a full professor in the Department of Urban & Regional Planning at the University of Illinois. I do not know if I have had the pleasure of meeting of Dr. Miraftab; I do not think so. But I have always very much enjoyed her work, and today I am going to be talking about a recent entry into her very fine record of scholarship found here. I am reading:
Miraftab, F. “Colonial Present: Legacies of the Past in Contemporary Urban Practices in Cape Town, South Africa.” Journal of Planning History. 11(4) 283-307.
The assumption guiding most western understandings of South Africa and its apartheid and post-apartheid regimes concern this idea that neoliberal urban strategies originated in the global north and became applied everywhere else, including post-Apartheid South Africa. Miraftab challenges this idea in Cape Town, where the roots of neoliberal forms of urban development are much deeper. Colonial forms of urban exclusion and control, developed much earlier, created a convenient spatial, zonal logic upon which subsequent waves of power and control become applied to Cape Town’s settlement patterns.
Her history begins roughy at 1840, two years after slavery was abolished the city. The queen paid slave owners for property loss with the decision to abolish the practice, and flush with cash, those large landowners contributed to the fast development of Cape Town’s historic core, and that this historic core remained the focal point for higher levels of services. The second boom comes in 1869 with the discovery of diamonds, which prompted big infrastructure developments, including the port and inland roadways, that positioned Cape Town to benefit from the diamond trade and its supporting industries.
With the increase in wealth and controversies over controlling Cape Town, landowners set themselves up with a sweetheart voting rights law: they allocated votes according to the value of their property: If you had land valued in excess of 1,000 pounds, you got three votes rather than one or two. This strategy predictably created a lock on municipal resources, so that members of the three-vote set were able to add value to their land by adding amenities on the public dime.
Municipal Commissioners during this period looked to Europe for models of urbanization, and those were dominated by narratives around sanitation and hygiene. In Cape Town, those came with a twist. The “Clean Party” was a group of predominately merchant class business owners with UK backgrounds; the “Dirty Party” were landlords and other landed proprietors, mostly Afrikaners and Malay. The creation of sanitation dialogues connected the mercantile class to global capital in ways that didn’t favor the other groups as those became fodder for improvements implemented by large construction firms. The other groups didn’t oppose districting for sanitation; they simply wanted the districts to cover more of Cape Town outside of the mercantile areas. But the assignment of “clean” and “dirty” to particular ethnicities, with UK colonial on top, and what spatial zones they may occupy, continued through racial segregation of Apartheid. Narratives of dirt and disease framed itinerant and often impoverished African and Chinese laborers as health risks, and provided the intellectual rationale for segregating by race.
The clever part of this paper is the comparison across time. Miraftab stops at when Apartheid begins to loom, and then takes up the history again after the regime changes. After Apartheid, urban commercial interests again moved to create special districts; this time out, they are Commercial Investment Districts. Boom! More concentrated public investment, more millions to be made by selected real estate elites…and more exclusionary behavior enacted via securitization of those districts. Race and class structures of exclusion, all enacted without the legal support of the Apartheid rules. There is nothing new under the sun, as my beloved colleague, Martin Krieger, notes.
So Nicolas Kristoff wrote a piece for the NYT entitled Professors, We Need You. The piece set off a lot of reactions from academics, which have ranged from takedowns to critiques. The column is pretty easy to pick apart because it claims to refute anti-intellectualism at the same it reinforces the same lazy tropes always leveled at intellectuals, thereby echoing and reaffirming the status quo of anti-intellectualism: nobody listens to professors, and it’s all the professor’s own fault for clinging to outmoded thinking (secluded monks in an academy) incoherent writing, except for the anointed few like Jill Lepore (because, you know, there’s no competition in writing for the New Yorker and we could all do it if we just tried.) And all those communist lefties in the academy. They are a problem. Economists are ok, though, because the Republicans like them.
As Erik Voeten points out, public intellectuals are actually here, and many of us do work very hard to make our work and our fields accessible to people outside of our field, including voters. Just because Kristof isn’t bothering to read us, it’s not as though we don’t exist.
Moreover, the “blame the academics” approach willfully ignores an important point that Easily Distracted made: it’s not easy for anybody to be heard, let alone heard correctly, in today’s political world :
Kristof might ask–using himself as a test–what exactly is dependent upon this input that he thinks is lacking. If what he means by accessibility is “I want professors who agree with what I already think, and I want them to say so clearly”, that’s very different than saying, “There’s something I don’t understand, something I can’t do, something beyond my knowledge”. The former is just hunting for a few more bits of costume jewelry to burnish the finery of the powerful. The latter would be a welcome invitation, but given that it starts with humility, don’t hold your breath.
Indeed. Why are economists such elevated darlings in the political economy? Because they are really that much more rigorous and objective than a philosopher or historian? Or is it because they promise the powerful access to even more magic beans?
There’s also the fact, as Corey Rubin points out over Crooked Timber, that Kristof’s examples of “good public intellectuals” are two very, very privileged women, Jill Lepore and Ann Slaughter, who come from the most exalted spheres of the academy–Princeton and Harvard. The platform from which they are approaching the media with their material is one helluvalot different than most academics who, by the very numbers, have transformed into a predominantly temporary workforce teaching four to five classes a semester for low pay. These are not the conditions by which people glide into the same level of influence as the Jill Lepores of this world.
Finally, there are exceptional journalists with whom it is a pleasure to talk to. Then there are dolts who, if you ask them to keep two ideas, let alone ideas in tension, in their head at once, their eyes glaze over. Which brings us back to the point from Easily Distracted: if you don’t want complexity, and all you want is a solutions factory from the academy, there are plenty of academics and “independent researchers” who will bludgeon you with their simplistic solutions to schill themselves as celebrities to sell their books. We could probably, in fact, use less, rather than more, of that. Urban decline? Forget the messy and complicated problem of racism, schools, and policing. Lemme tell ya about the magic of bike lanes! That’s the fix you need! And that’s the fix you want because it’s tangible and requires you to change not all if you don’t feel like it. (And remember, I think bike lanes are awesomesauce. By all means. I’ll even the buy the green paint. But Los Angeles strikes me as a city that is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and while I’m sure bike lanes do improve many wonderful things, it’s the not the thin of the wedge there.)
Urban problems, just like most social problems, are unpleasantly complicated and take entirely too much time to explain, let alone address. And not many people seem to really want to hear it. Boil it down. Make it easy. Make it something fixable in three easy steps that don’t require me to pay money, change the way I think, or suggest that me and people like me aren’t wonderful in every way. The problem is fat people and Republicans (or Democrats, depending your Sacred Outlook.)
As Socrates would put it, be a pastry cook.
And that’s the major reason I get impatient with myself and the opportunities of public intellectualism. It’s the basic problem presented in Plato’s Gorgias. Sophists were public intellectuals. Throughout the course of the dialogue, it becomes more and more apparent that Callicles loves the demos, both out of genuine patriotism, but also because he loves fame. He loves the attention of playing to crowd. And playing to the crowd has limits in terms of knowledge creation. It rewards rhetorical trickery of the type that Polus engages in (vivid, emotional, polemic) and in tames intellects, like that of Callicles, because he dare not risk saying something unpopular.
It also has me recalling my Thucycides, which I have been rereading in my spare time. I haven’t read Thucydides since high school, and cracking it open again after reading Josiah Ober’s wonderful discussion in Political Dissent in Democratic Athens has me thinking about the role pretty speech and fame-seeking had in fragmenting the Athenian polis after Pericles.
Nor does it help that ambitious universities want to score the big name who can engage with media on media’s own terms. There are better and worse outlets, and understanding that landscape is yet another communication problem for the contemporary academic to solve, along with the 50+ complicated people who show up twice a week to (I hope) engage with the learning community that academics are meant to foster. The for-profit media is a tough place; the nonprofit media can be a backwater and a choir. You do the math as to what that means for academics with complicated ideas.
Smita Srinivas is an assistant (for now, I think) professor at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia. My topic today is her wonderful book, which I believe was her dissertation project, Market Menagerie.
The motivating question for the book concerns how nations like India, which have flourished economically by moving into new health services and pharmaceutical markets, can move some of that growth into greater health access among impoverished local residents. The research is meticulous, and the subject matter is important to social welfare and social justice. By the end, Srinivas manages to connect the market and institutional themes to urban and regional planning in ways that help enlighten a new approach that guides health and development away from the silos of western planning.
The first chapters of the manuscript start the reader off by helping us understand development as occurring within the complex interplay between markets, states, and institutions. This backdrop then enables a discussion about the evolution of health systems from local health services delivery systems to one in which the nation-state becomes an important player, but only along selected dimensions. The chapters covering the period from 1950 to 1970 discuss federal social policy evolution after independence; the subsequent chapters on the 1970s through the 1980s highlight the private industrial contributions to modernizing medicine within the country. Subsequent to these changes, political upheaval in India allowed for the re-emergence of nonmarket institutions, such as unions, in trying to capture more of the benefits of economic growth for a broader based of Indians.
The late 1980s saw a shift towards globalization. Srinivas refers to this time period as the “second market” environment, where India’s pharma industries began to respond to trade liberalism and regulatory harmonization by entering into global markets. That shift meant an expansion of industrial capacity into markets intended almost exclusively for export.. As Srinivas notes in a key chapter relating the history surrounding vaccines, the result was “health for some” as vaccine manufacturers in India lost out to other producers in the global market, and Indian venture capital found ready markets for other innovations, largely focused on exports that yielded greater returns even as Indian children went without vaccination.
The third market environment for India is one where the industries become both adaptable and flexible in responding to developing niche markets, and where the state has played a tremendous role in providing opportunities for innovation via learning and research.
The final chapters of the book place the ideas in a global, comparative context. I disagree a bit with Srinivas’ read of Polyani in these chapters, but that is a minor point. The latter chapters bridge policy across global, national, and community scales of health services in multiple contexts. I will use the chapter “Health Technologies in Comparative Global Perspective” in my graduate classes in Urban Social Policy and Planning. There are some problems with cohesion in this chapter, but it contains so many interesting and useful points that I think its problems come down to simply having a lot of ideas. I wish more books had this problem.
In particular, there is a comment that made me run out of my office to share it with my colleagues:
An analyst of today’ s mixed economies has no excuse for minimizing the state’s roles by pointing to past errors of centralized socialism. (p. 183)
The final chapter contains another nice contribution, one that I will likely assign in my planning theory class, on cities as mediating sites for health, health access, and health services, and the role of practical utopians in trying to forge a theory of healthy development within international cities.
Come to think of it, I got a goodly bit of my dissertation writing on the train between here and San Luis Obispso. Jessica Gross writes about her experience as a writer on Amtrack. Really, why not? I love the idea.
from Lisa Schweitzer, University of Southern California and Associate Editor, JAPA
I am working on a proposal for a JAPA special issue on Planning Ethics, and we are shooting for a publication date in 2016. The more interest I can demonstrate, the more likely it will be approved. We could use ACSP to develop and work on some of our papers this year. I am also going to send a call out to APA, as practitioners have developed interesting ethics cases just about every year.
If you have a manuscript on ethics you’d like to try to get into the special issue, would you mind emailing it to me and letting me know if you would like to be part of a panel at ACSP? I think we might be to put together a nice group of papers for the planning theory track.
Please email me your abstracts by March 2 (to firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know if you want to be included in a panel. Even if you don’t want to be on a panel, feel free to send an abstract to get it on my radar. If we get the go-ahead from JAPA, I’ll send out a formal call for abstracts later this year with a timeline for paper submission.
Practitioners, students, and new scholars are particularly welcome to submit.
Some example themes may help illustrate what I’m looking for. Potential manuscripts:
—Develop the models, frameworks, and theoretical perspectives under which professionals can assess ethical problems in planning,
—Evaluate emerging ethical trends and controversies in planning, such as ethical uses of media to market projects and ideas and becoming an ally to those fighting social exclusion;
—Identify the scope and power of professional roles within private, nonprofit, and public institutions;
—Track the interdependence between political, social, economic, and technological variables in planning ethics; and
—Analyze or reconsider a significant case that helps scholars and practitioners think differently about ethics in the profession.
Daphne Spain is the James M. Page Professor in the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia, so it’s fair to say that, as this week’s entry into #ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014, Dr. Spain has a big audience already. She is, in general, an urban historian of considerable renown. How Women Saved the City, from 2001, is a major work that highlights how women have contributed to urban development and politics from just after the onset of industrialization to the Progressive Era. It’s been awhile since I read that book (egads, it’s been close to 12 years), but I remember when I finished it, I said: I want to write a book this good someday.
I haven’t but, well, I’m trying.
She has contributed research on segregation, gentrification, and many other urban topics, and she’s a fine writer. But just about every major scholar has a piece of work that really didn’t get the attention it deserves, and for Dr. Spain, she’s got a sleeper of an article named:
Spain, D. “What Happened to Gender Relations on the Way from Chicago to Los Angeles?” City and Community 1 (June 2002):155-167.
It isn’t cited nearly as much as it should be, and the reason is perhaps that all these attempts to name different urban theory into place-based schools has gone out of fashion a bit, which is unfortunate, because it was all jolly fun with the Chicago School social ecology folks and some of the best minds in Los Angeles squaring off. City & Community published Michael Dear’s original essay , which contrasted the concentric, center-oriented model of the city, where, as Dear put it, the center arranges the hinterlands, with the postmodernists in LA who noted that in the polycentric modes of urban development in regions like Los Angeles, the periphery organized the center.
This is a delightful essay which generated a number of wonderful responses from the thinkers like Harvey Molotch (whose response is a like, boom!). The fact that Spain stepped straight into the “my-school-rules-ur-school-drools” academic boys town of urban theory here makes me smile, and her contribution to the discussion deserves to be read. The Chicago School helped us understand the walking city of early industrial American cities; the Los Angeles School epitomized the post-WWII metropolis of cars and urbanizing jobs. Spain notes that the idealized version of white womanhood within the domestic sphere isolated many women; while the constrained status of immigrant and African American women isolated them within the larger workforces. The stand-outs among higher status women in the settlement house movement, Spain notes, get pretty short shrift from Park and Burgess, an influence that they were wrong to overlook. Immigrant women working from Hull House demanded (successfully) better urban services for impoverished communities, organized ethnic festivals, and helped immigrants find housing and educational opportunities. That’s the real work of city making, and it’s not less real just because it falls beneath notice.
As urban models changed, Steven Flusty, Michael Dear, Ed Soja, Manuel Castells, and David Harvey developed their own models and metaphors for urbanism while still overlooking the influence on the city that women had during those decades. In particular, the Los Angeles school ignored the work undertaken by women in Los Angeles, such as Dolores Hayden’s work with HOMES–Homemakers Organization for a More Egalitarian Society–reorganizing single-family spaces in to much more flexible, shared housing and mixed uses. And she also highlights the work of Jacqueline Leavitt at UCLA in examining how women in public housing in LA–some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the US–altered their home places to protect their families.
Daphne’s major contribution notes that Chicago and Los Angeles have more in common than just urban theorists who fail to notice that women affect the city and that women also produce urban scholarship. The cities, though at different time periods, were major destinations for immigrants and for African American migration. They were the locales of violent social protests from African Americans furious at poor treatment of urban institutions, and that those popular protests have become ingrained in the popular imaginary about race and violence. One key difference, however, concerns the status of women at the different times, and that difference is important.
Two key differences led to changing the domestic sphere and dispersing its responsibilities across wider parts of metro regions: widely available birth control and entering the workforce. Here is missed opportunity in the manuscript. Spain notes the effect that domestic labor changes had on households, but as higher status, white and middle-class women left home to find work–changing the geographic logic of where residential households should locate–they also changed the geography for household service work that supported white women’s entry into the workforce, pulling and dispersing their jobs in ways that were likely farther from their own homes and families. Spain doesn’t bring this up, and I wish she would because I think she’d have some insights. As it is, sociologists like Pierrette Hongagnue-Soleto have filled in where Spain didn’t.
In any case, Spain reconstructs some possibilities for urban theory in the last part of her manuscript. First, safety and security–from Mike Davis’s “fortress” metaphor onward–are not gender-neutral ideas in the city. And second, caregiving and family life, though changing, still calls on women’s time and work more heavily than for their male counterparts. Understanding that gender factors in strongly in both the shaping and navigation of urban form leads to better theory.
Attention conservation notice: In loco parentis arguments always come up around colleges, but I very much doubt colleges ever were the innocent places that they are in prelapsarian narratives about higher ed. However, if we aren’t going to see our mission as shaping young lives (I do, but that’s me), then other influences will step in. But: when dealing with risk assessment and privileged young men, why aren’t we confronting that privilege and belief about personal invulnerability just as much as admonitions to universities that they shouldn’t allow students to live off campus?
My own beloved USC has been caught up in this question, as they were sued by the parents of two students fatally shot off campus. The case is heartbreaking, but I keep bumping up hard against the fundamental problem that the murders happened off campus, in my neighborhood, West Adams. If the students had been shot in Venice (it happens), then would USC still be perceived as at fault? USC doesn’t own my house or belong to my neighborhood association. Perhaps they should, but…where would the geographic boundary of their perceived responsibility end?
These students were from China, and I think there is a lot going on culturally as well;as one of my brilliant students pointed out, gun violence in the US really has no analogue anywhere else, and students should know this before coming here.
In our case, it’s particularly confusing because at the same time the parents were suing USC, it was signing very expensive community benefits agreement for a relatively small development north of campus. So the parents were suing the university for…failing to gentrify a neighborhood that was accusing it of gentrifying. When you are big, powerful, relatively wealthy institution, these contradictions form the world, and my heart is not bleeding, really, for anybody but the family and friends who are devastated, but I am having trouble wrapping my head around what USC should do and should have done differently.
I find myself thinking about these issues this morning because I read Caitlin Flanagan’s yucky piece of commentary in The Atlantic Cities on the Dark Power of Fraternities this morning in the Atlantic. Clearly intended to be one of those long forms that everybody fawns over for its insight, it’s incoherent and self-indulgently long, and I almost gave it up at various points. The piece begins with droning on and on for paragraphs about a set of stupid injuries that occurred at a frat party, exploiting exactly the lurid and puerile details that she supposedly wants us to worry over. She claims that fraternities are shaping America’s leaders, which is a point, but there are many issues at play in that, like the self-selection of families who want to send their sons into that and the upbringing/acculturation that occurs before frat life.
In any case, the violence and lawlessness that Flanagan so gleefully relates is not the fault of parents, the fraternal organizations, but universities, their “knock-knee’d overlords” (wtf does that even mean?):
To begin with, the fraternities involved themselves very deeply in the business of student housing, which provided tremendous financial savings to their host institutions, and allowed them to expand the number of students they could admit. Today, one in eight American students at four-year colleges lives in a Greek house, and a conservative estimate of the collective value of these houses across the country is $3 billion. Greek housing constitutes a troubling fact for college administrators (the majority of fraternity-related deaths occur in and around fraternity houses, over which the schools have limited and widely varying levels of operational oversight) and also a great boon to them (saving them untold millions of dollars in the construction and maintenance of campus-owned and -controlled dormitories).
Yes, but, erhm. These are comparatively affluent students, by Flanagan’s own assessment. I’m pretty sure there are developers who would have served the demand for nice off-campus housing.
That said, if the universities annexed those houses and then leased them to the frats, at least the houses would be to university safety standards. Of course, there’s always the chapter getting national permission to buy another house off-campus, but the university could refuse to allow any off-campus house to affiliate with the university.
I do wonder about Flanagan’s perception that on-campus housing is the be-all and end-all. If college is adulthood with training wheels, then living off-campus has a role to play in that. I do understand the point, but we have moved away from company town ideas about institutional responsibility. If a Google employee gets drunk and falls off his balcony in a tony San Francisco apartment complex at a party with other Google employees, is it Google’s fault for not supplying housing on its campus for its workers? She discusses this as a matter of choice:
The answer to this question has been steadily evolving ever since the 1960s, when dramatic changes took place on American campuses, changes that affected both a university’s ability to control student behavior and the status of fraternities in the undergraduate firmament. During this period of student unrest, the fraternities—long the unquestioned leaders in the area of sabotaging or ignoring the patriarchal control of school administrators—became the exact opposite: representatives of the very status quo the new activists sought to overthrow. Suddenly their beer bashes and sorority mixers, their panty raids and obsession with the big game, seemed impossibly reactionary when compared with the mind-altering drugs being sampled in off-campus apartments where sexual liberation was being born and the Little Red Book proved, if nothing else, a fantastic coaster for a leaky bong.
American students sought to wrest themselves entirely from the disciplinary control of their colleges and universities, institutions that had historically operated in loco parentis, carefully monitoring the private behavior of undergraduates. The students of the new era wanted nothing to do with that infantilizing way of existence, and fought to rid themselves of the various curfews, dorm mothers, demerit systems, and other modes of institutional oppression. If they were old enough to die in Vietnam, powerful enough to overthrow a president, groovy enough to expand their minds with LSD and free love, then they certainly didn’t need their own colleges—the very places where they were forming their radical, nation-changing ideas—to treat them like teenyboppers in need of a sock hop and a chaperone. It was a turning point: American colleges began to regard their students not as dependents whose private lives they must shape and monitor, but as adult consumers whose contract was solely for an education, not an upbringing.
Welcome to neoliberalism where all institutions, including public ones, are supposed to be run like businesses.
Another point strikes me as worthy:
Moreover, fraternities tie alumni to their colleges in a powerful and lucrative way. At least one study has affirmed what had long been assumed: that fraternity men tend to be generous to their alma maters. Furthermore, fraternities provide colleges with unlimited social programming of a kind that is highly attractive to legions of potential students, most of whom are not applying to ivy-covered rejection factories, but rather to vast public institutions and obscure private colleges that are desperate for students. When Mom is trying—against all better judgment—to persuade lackluster Joe Jr. to go to college, she gets a huge assist when she drives him over to State and he gets an eyeful of frat row. Joe Jr. may be slow to grasp even the most elemental concepts of math and English (his first two years of expensive college study will largely be spent in remediation of the subjects he should have learned, for free, in high school), but one look at the Fiji house and he gets the message: kids are getting laid here; kids are having fun. Maybe he ought to snuff out the joint and take a second look at that application Mom keeps pushing across the kitchen table.
This is the sort of paragraph that makes me want to send both Flanagan and her editor back to college themselves. The first is an assertion that frat members are generous with alumni donations. She states it confidently. So she must have numbers. Where are those? Why isn’t that a whole paragraph itself? It strikes me as a very important point.
The second is a pretty good, vivid, colorful image that again strikes me as somewhat confused. Let’s dispense with one problem with focus–the digression about what he should have learned in high school. Damn straight–I’m 100 percent with Flanagan there. God how I wish that public schools were teaching for free what they could be, but they can’t because of so many issues it makes my brain catch on fire to think of them. (And many of them unrelated to things that school administrators and teachers can control.)
Then there’s the real point she makes: frats sell college to Stoner Steve. But what does that mean? Stoner Steve is ill prepared for college, lazy, and unmotivated. We get that.Ok. But I’m not sure it’s a terrible idea for him to go to college. I could see his story turning out a lot of ways. He gets in with other stoners and gets worse and sets himself on fire. (Bad.) He gets in with guys whom he respects, and whose approval therefore craves, because they contain all the manly man misogyny he has harbored for years of having a mother tell him what to do while bitches withhold sex he deserves by right, and his peers exert influence on him in ways that his mother and a college prof never could: get drunk and party, but make sure you get an A in intro to marketing or you won’t get into B school and your life of treats, toys, and sex will come to an end. The social mores coming out of that are a problem, but not necessarily for Steve himself. Loathsome, yes, but not entirely bad for Steve himself.
So the college does not admit him because he’s a lazy stoner, and he stays home and gets stoned with the same friends he gets stoned with now, or by himself since that is possible, too?
Should a college town like Iowa City or Blacksburg just give up having a mayor and city council and have their universities just run the whole show? A company town. Why not? It’s not like those universities don’t have, by far, hegemony in local politics anyway.
I’m puzzled, and I don’t know what I think. I do know that I haven’t been persuaded by Flanagan’s mess of an article, which makes me angry largely because I think she had the opportunity to write something important and she went for cheap shots with labored jokes to be all-too-clever instead. Her core point, which is that when people were more controlling of young people, fewer young men set themselves on fire. I suppose that is true. But one does wonder about the state of the world when an institution has to be responsible for dashing the bottle rocket from an 18 to 22 year-old’s hands. Shouldn’t, at some point, his friends and his own sense step in?
Attention conservation notice: We owe both Mr. Allen and Ms. Farrow quite a bit, but none of it involves protecting him the way we are legally obligated to protect the rights of the accused in courts.
The interwebs predictably went into a long discussion over Dylan Farrow’s allegation that Woody Allen molested her, right after he obtained a lifetime achievement award from the Golden Globes. One feminist writer had the nerve-the nerve!–to point out that by staunchly arguing that we should “presume innocence” we, by default, presume Dylan Farrow is lying.
This has inspired lots of shouty ethics posts about what we “owe” Mr. Allen, how ‘we don’t know’ what happened, how women can and do lie about abuse claims, and how sinister psychologists and ex-wives plant memories and yada yada yada freakin’ yada. Yeah, women lie sometimes. Know what? Men do, too. False memories? Sure! I can barely remember what I did yesterday. Sometimes there are even truth-y looking statistics about how often women are lying liar liarpants. But, alas, those don’t help us here now, unless you like to indulge in ecological fallacy.
We have courts for precisely this reason. Because people lie. Because we can’t know about whether an individual actually did something just because other individuals in the group he or she belongs to do that thing sometimes. Courts. They are nifty.
1. Mr. Allen got to post his own (incoherent) rebuttal in the New York Freaking Times. I’d say the power differential between him and Ms. Farrow is well-proved by now, and I’d also say that we’ve heard puh-lenty of his side of the story. One member of this dance is the darling of the movie-going world, the other is merely a fame-adjacent adopted daughter who has inconvenienced us by reminding us of her childhood victimization when we’d rather she shut up so we can enjoy his funny movies with beautiful people and beautiful settings guilt-free.
I know which one I’d rather be.
2. We are not in a criminal court. Did I mention that? I repeat: we are not in a criminal court. We can blather on about the “presumption of innocence” all we want to here, but all we will do is repeat oodles of (extremely good) legal theory that really is not relevant here since we are not in a court. Mr. Allen is not on trial, nor is he likely going to be on trial. No government has taken any action against Mr. Allen as a result of these claims.
He still has his rights to due process (to the extent that the post-911 federal government has left any of us those). He is walking around. In fact, the only thing that appears to have happened is that her allegations rained on his Golden Globe parade, an honor he didn’t even care enough about to show up and pick up his own statue. When I am encumbered on a jury or sworn in as a judge, then I shall owe Mr. Allen what the law requires, and what my duty in those roles requires. Until then, I don’t owe it to him to suspend my personal judgment of his conduct as a member of the society I live in.
If he’s sad he’s not in a court, he can try to sue Farrow (again) for the allegations and probably lose (again). He hasn’t done that because he’s such a swell guy and he loves her so much, according to his NYT piece. Or because he’s tired of paying for Farrow’s legal fees and his very smart lawyers are telling him to just let it ride and go out and make another movie, which is my guess.
And yes, his reputation is at stake, but you know what: Ms. Farrow’s reputation is at stake here as well. We can’t separate these reputations into distinct little boxes now. Yes, it is a terrible thing to have one’s reputation sullied, particularly unjustly. Innuendo is awful. But both accuser and accused have reputations at stake, and innuendo affects both. Yes, he has a wife, children, and friends who will suffer seeing him called a child molester. Still, the Farrow family also has endured quite a bit of name-calling directed at them, as well, and none of it pleasant or easy for young people involved. I’m sure Dylan Farrow could have lived the rest of her life without being a called a deluded liar.
Because we are not in a court with clearly assigned roles, Mr. Allen is owed what is owed via the general social contract. Given that I haven’t picked up my gun to go vigilante on him, nor organized a mob to string him up, I think I’ve done my duty by Mr. Allen and no, I do not presume him innocent. I’ve read a lot of the material. Heck, I watched the credit roll on What’s Up Tiger Lily 35 years ago or so and concluded: ew. But with all the various and sundry evidence out there, I’ve concluded, in my personal opinion, the guy is a skeev at best. Does that make him a child molester? I really don’t know what happened with Dylan Farrow, but I don’t have to. I’m not obligated to base my assessments on criminal legal standards of proof.
3. Neither Mr. Allen nor Ms. Farrow are members of any community I belong to, or my family. If they were, I would have obligations to BOTH him AND her that differ from those of a juror or court officer where the presumption of innocence is clearly owed due to our laws, imperfect as they are. However, he’s an artist and a media persona to the vast majority of people weighing in here….and so? Fellow human traveler he may be, and he may also be a celebrity, but we don’t know him, and he doesn’t know us. He is still simply a fellow American who gets lots of press time but whose rights, as far as I can see, have not been violated by either Ms. Farrow or any government acting under my authority. It’s a shame the press is on his fanny, but he wasn’t objecting to that when it got people to buy tickets to his movies. Double-edged sword, fame.
The only real question in front of us as his audience, which is what we are, is whether the allegations will prompt us to avoid his movies, since he and I are not invited to same cocktail parties, and I’m pretty sure he’s not feeling bad he’s not been invited to my place or that if I see him in the grocery store, I shan’t speak to him. He’s made a great deal of money off his art, and he’s been free to make that art during the 10 years since the original allegations, and he continues to be free to make art that his fans will undoubted keep buying as they did even after he took off with another teenaged daughter of Mia Farrow’s, which is where I personally drew the line despite being shouted at by various Team Allen partisans. Legal-yep. Yucky? More than a little. I’m pretty sure that my desire never to give him another penny of my money will not result in his needing food stamps* even if my personal assessment turns out to have been unjust.
4. Mia Farrow bashing, OMG. Yeah, yeah, I know, we’re all supposed to believe that Farrow has coached and duped Dylan into doing this because she is burning–BURNING–with jealousy and rage because she no longer enjoys the big manly love of Woody Allen. Because it’s so much easier to believe in a bitter old harpy still using her innocent daughter as a pawn during an acrimonious separation that happened a decade ago than to think that a dude might have groped and frightened a little girl who has grown up into a young woman who wants to speak out about it.
Mia Farrow is this young woman’s mother. She’s supporting her daughter as that daughter steps into a shitstorm, no matter how it turns out. Is that really that difficult to understand? Unlike the “she’s using Dylan to get at her ex” narrative, my explanation doesn’t make the dude the most important person in the story, but…a mother supporting a daughter during a difficult time strikes me as pretty easy to believe. Actually much easier to believe than the idea that Ma Farrow still gives a rip about exacting revenge on Allen anymore.
We don’t owe Mr. Allen anything that we don’t also owe either mother or daughter Farrow. Mr. Allen has been tremendously privileged throughout the entire process, and that is unlikely to change even if those nasty feminists get their way and get us to stop pretending that there is a neutral point of view here that requires we extend him grace until something is “proven” to criminal court standards. There isn’t a neutral point of view. Real life requires we deal with the messy interconnections among people, not artificial construct of the legally constructed world of a courtroom. In this context, presuming Mr. Allen innocent sides with the person who, by far, has the most power in the conflict, one who is facing no consequence except that others think poorly of him.
So what do we do? We change the focus. We focus on what we owe Ms. Farrow. I know, I know, once again, focusing on a woman instead of a man–it’s horrible, but just listen. We owe it to her to listen. We owe it to her not to shout over the top of her or call her names. We owe it to her–at least–to step back and think about Allen and what he may have done. We don’t owe it to her to presume him guilty. But we do owe it to her to take her experiences, perceptions, and feelings seriously. He has plenty of opportunity to go forward from here and show that if he ever was that guy, he’s not that guy now and we don’t need to worry about him hurting young women. That should be the discourse–not how we should protect him from having to deal with reputational loss.
* Which is good because apparently we’ve decided that poor children are better off without food, a much bigger problem than whether Mr. Allen is going to end his career on a high note.
….and not be a jerk about it, making the manuscript worse. Go read it.
So many times, reviewers make papers worse. Yep. I know we’re all supposed to walk around and talk about how peer review improves the process, but I have had that happen only once or twice, and it wasn’t the time that one of my reviewers broke anonymity and discussed the process in a high profile piece in an APA platform. I understand why reviewers, like this guy, like to take credit for the contribution. Reviewing is a lot of work, but honestly, the paper did not really improve much: by “improvement” he meant (a) “after round after round of reviews, the paper focussed on an issue I wanted it to instead of what the author wanted to discuss” and (b) “I forced the author to use the method I wanted.” As it is (a) was fine–I published the other material elsewhere, but (b) sucked because I had to torture the data to use his method, and the results are much harder to interpret than if we’d just stuck with a simpler method that accomplished everything it needed to. Why run a multi-level regression to establish correlation? Gaaaah.
I gave in. Why? I needed a paper in JAPA, and it was clear that the reviewers–all of whom were obvious even before the one broke his anonymity—-were in love with their own ideas, had a stranglehold on the paper, and I was doing a hostage negotiation, not a revision.
I’m excited to see how creating a dialogue around a manuscript might work. In a discussion-based format, I probably would have had another methodologist back me up to be able to say to this reviewer: “Hey, she’s right, she’s not doing a causal analysis, she’s just looking for a correlation.” (It was an exposure study; I don’t have to prove what’s causing the exposure, only that there ARE differing levels of exposure.)