Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More about Language

In class over the past couple weeks we've been having some discussions about how we use language. I presented some ideas given by George Lakoff in "The Political Mind" and then this week we had two fantastic presentations about the concept of poverty and how we think about poverty and wealth. A graduate student of mine is interested in some of this linguistic analysis of issues (social linguistics), and she has made a list of books available in the UIS library she is recommending.

I think a good social worker will typically be interested in language whether they are doing macro or micro work. The therapist or social worker who helps individuals gains something by having a keen sense of the meaning of words that a client is using. If you ask yourself why a client used a particular word you can often guess at some answers that may reveal more about the client's inner state. And of course, in macro practice, we know that how we frame an issue and how we talk about an issue will also shape how we feel about it, and what sort of solutions will appeal to us.

Here are the books the graduate student suggested with the call numbers (they're on the fourth floor of Brookens):

Artful mind: cognitive science and the riddle of human creativity (2006).
edited by Mark Turner. N71 .A762 2006

Meaning and mental representations (1988).
edited by Umberto Eco, Marco Santambrogio, & Patrizia Violi. P325 .M381988

Metaphors we live by (1980).
George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. P106 .L235

Language war (2000).
by Robin Tolmach Lakoff. P40.45.U5 L35 2000

Language and woman's place: text and commentaries (2004). (originally 1975).
by Robin Tolmach Lakoff and Mary Bucholtz. HQ1206 .L36 2004

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Dozen Organizing Websites

Here are some websites related to community organizing and policy analysis. Looking at these web sites and seeing what these groups do will help you have a better understanding of advocacy and community organizing.
  1. For labor organizing, you can see what the AFL-CIO is saying and promoting.
  2. On issues of racial justice the Applied Research Center can help through research, advocacy, and journalism.
  3. The Center for Community Change tries to support leaders in grassroots community organizations in low-income or minority communities.
  4. If you're interested in economic growth and methods of organizing centered on helping the manufacturing sector of a local economy you might find help from the Center for Labor and Community Research.
  5. If you want to know who is donating what amounts of money to which political campaigns, you can find out by looking up public information about campaign contributions made available at the Open Secrets website from the Center for Responsive Politics.
  6. Citizens for Tax Justice is an organization that says it is dedicated to fair taxation.
  7. Families USA is a voice for health care consumers.
  8. The Midwest Academy offers training for community organizers.
  9. Boardsource is a group that tries to help non-profit corporations improve their advisory boards.
  10. The National Organizers Alliance is a sort of professional organization for community organizers.
  11. If you're interested in housing issues, you should be familiar with the National Housing Institute.
  12. If you're concerned about wealth and income inequalities, you should be paying attention to UFE (United for a Fair Economy).

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Where to find good information

When you try to find information about the economy or policy and you search on the Internet you'll need to be cautious about your sources.

Interest groups keep a strong presence on the internet. Interest groups usually have a strong bias, and they are good sources for one side of an argument or one particular view of an issue. One way to demonstrate the degree of bias in interest groups is to look at how candidates are rated by them on particular issues. In class this week we looked up Illinois Senator Dick Durbin in the non-partisan Project Vote Smart web page, and when we examined the interest group ratings we found that on some issues all the interest groups either give Durbin a 100% or a 0% rating. In family and children issues, for example, the Children's Defense Fund and the American Family Voices interest group recently gave him 100% ratings while the Family Research Council and the American Family Association gave him 0% ratings. Both sets of interest groups claim to be interested in children and families, but they have different ideologies, and this influences how they rate Durbin.

When it comes to "think-tanks" and scholarly institutes the bias isn't always so obvious as it can be with interest groups. In the 1980s and 1990s some wealthy conservatives decided they would support the creation of several think-tanks and scholarly institutes to give intellectual validity to various positions favored by the donors (e.g., that government should be small, taxes low, military spending with lucrative contracts for private industry should be high, Evangelical Christian understandings of the Bible should inform government policy, etc.) There are also think-tanks that have an openly liberal bias (favoring regulation of the economy, programs to transfer wealth from the wealthiest to the poorest, and so forth). Then there are think-tanks that try to be fairly neutral, and hire scholars of all ideological positions. It so happens that among scholars and technocrats there may be more of a tendency toward so-called "liberal" thinking (liberals may think this is because rational people who are well-informed and intelligent will converge with similar opinions that happen to be moderate-to-liberal), and so conservatives and conservative intellectuals point out liberal biase in the "neutral" think tanks. Radical intellectuals also attack the neutral think-tanks. So, even the think-tanks and scholarly institutes that try to reduce bias and provide information that is simply technically accurate still trigger dissatisfaction and complaint.

Here are some of the liberal think-tanks and interest groups:
The Economic Policy Institute.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The Center for Law and Social Policy.
The Century Foundation.
The Open Society Institute.

Here are some of the moderate or neutral think tanks and interest groups:
The Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The Rand Corporation.
The Brookings Institution.
The Pew Charitable Trusts ("the power of knowledge to solve today's most challening problems").
The Woodrow Wilson Center and its program and project publications.
The Center for International Policy.
The Council on Foreign Relations.
The World Policy Institute.

Here are some of the conservative and libertarian think tanks and interest groups:
The Hoover Institution (this could also be considered non-partisan)
The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (more moderate)
The Cato Institute.
The Heritage Foundation.
Atlas Economic Research Foundation.
The Concerned Women for America's Beverly LaHaye Institute.
The New Coalition for Economic and Social Change.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Following the Economy

In Macro Practice and in the Policy course I encourage the participants in the classes to keep an eye out for significant news and important events going on in the nation. For the past few weeks we've been talking a bit about the economy. I'm recommending some of these sources:

The Planet Money blog at National Public Radio is a good source of information.

This article by Jacki Zehner on Credit Default Swaps is worthwhile.

Back in January of 2008, George Soros explained in The Financial Times why he believed the financial crisis was going to be of historic proportions.

I think Bill Gross has a nice little explanation of the situation worth reading.

You might also enjoy the naked capitalism website and its late June (2008) coverage of a report of the Bank of International Settlements.

These sources give you some interesting perspectives on what is going on in the world. The economy always has a strong influence on our lives and the lives of our clients and communities, so it's worthwhile to have some understanding of what is going on.