Exciting Fall Quarter Simpson Center Events

Biological Futures in a Globalized World

Emerging Issues in Biological Futures: A Panel Discussion

When: Monday, Oct 10, 2011 – 4:00 PM Where: Communications 202

Biological Futures in a Globalized World brings together scholars across the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences to explore the current and future impact of bio-technology on human affairs. This inaugural colloquium, moderated by Alison Wylie (Philosophy), features Matthew Sparke (Geography) on global health and South Lake Union as a hub for biotechnology; Leah Ceccarelli (Communication) on the metaphor of the frontier in debates about research priorities in the biological sciences; and Gaymon Bennett (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center) on ethics and the practice of synthetic biology. Part of the 2011-12 Biological Futures Colloquium series.

Posthegemony and Affect

Friday, Oct 14, 2011 – 1:00 PM Communications 202

Beasley Murray is author of Posthegemony: Political Theory and Latin America (2010).

Indigenous Peoples and the Idea of Reconciliation

When: Thursday, Oct 20, 2011 – 4:00 PM Where: Communications 12

In this presentation, Dale Turner, author of This is not a peace pipe: Towards a Critical Indigenous Philosophy (2006), will discuss the evolving idea of Indigenous reconciliation in the context of the recently ratified United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Love Live Shame! The Good Side of Nations and Nationalism

When: Tuesday, Nov 8, 2011 – 6:30 PM Where: Kane 120

Benedict Anderson (Emeritus, International and Government Studies, Cornell University).
This talk by the author of the landmark book Imagined Communities, addresses the origins of political shame and the value that should be attached to it. What creates the visceral attachment people feel for their country? Before which spectators is the emotion aroused? What understanding of “nation” is necessary? Can political shame is progressive and emancipating?

Friday, October 14

The Weakness of One: Devolution, Responsibilisation, and Citizenship in Neoliberal Rationality

When: Thursday, Nov 17, 2011 – 6:00 PM Where: Communications 120

In this talk, Wendy Brown, author of Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (2010) and Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire (2006) among many other books, offers a theoretical analysis tracing how neoliberalism shapes agency and how that impacts political possibilities for leftist projects.

Welcome to the Simpson Center | Simpson Center for the Humanities.

Marketing Responses to US’s Shrinking Middle Class & Growing Inequality,

A recent Wall Street Journal article on how US corporations are adjusting to a shrinking middle class, Ellen Byron writes:

In the wake of the worst recession in 50 years, there’s little doubt that the American middle class—the 40% of households with annual incomes between $50,000 and $140,000 a year—is in distress. Even before the recession, incomes of American middle-class families weren’t keeping up with inflation, especially with the rising costs of what are considered the essential ingredients of middle-class life—college education, health care and housing. In 2009, the income of the median family, the one smack in the middle of the middle, was lower, adjusted for inflation, than in 1998, the Census Bureau says.

The slumping stock market and collapse in housing prices have also hit middle-class Americans. At the end of March, Americans had $6.1 trillion in equity in their houses—the value of the house minus mortgages—half the 2006 level, according to the Federal Reserve. Economist Edward Wolff of New York University estimates that the net worth—household assets minus debts—of the middle fifth of American households grew by 2.4% a year between 2001 and 2007 and plunged by 26.2% in the following two years.

To monitor the evolving American consumer market, P&G executives study the Gini index, a widely accepted measure of income inequality that ranges from zero, when everyone earns the same amount, to one, when all income goes to only one person. In 2009, the most recent calculation available, the Gini coefficient totaled 0.468, a 20% rise in income disparity over the past 40 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“We now have a Gini index similar to the Philippines and Mexico—you’d never have imagined that,” says Phyllis Jackson, P&G’s vice president of consumer market knowledge for North America. “I don’t think we’ve typically thought about America as a country with big income gaps to this extent.”

Over the past two years, P&G has accelerated its research, product-development and marketing approach to target the newly divided American market.

Commenting on corporate responses to widening US income inequality, Chrystia Freeland  recently remarked in The New York Times:

We know one thing for sure: the gap between rich and poor in the United States has widened in the past 30 years. In 2007 the top 1 percent of earners took home 18.3 percent of national income — that is more than two and a half times their level in 1973, when their share was 7.7 percent. Those at the top haven’t enjoyed such a big slice of the national pie since 1929. The middle-class dominated nation that the Greatest Generation inhabited has become as polarized as the plutocracies of Latin America or as America itself was during its fevered Gilded Age.

The 2008 financial crisis and the prolonged economic downturn has eviscerated the consumption defense as ruthlessly as it has burst the credit bubble that allowed the middle class to feel richer than it was. Income inequality is today a fact of life, as essential to doing business as the rate of inflation: Proctor & Gamble executives study the Gini co-efficient, a technical measure of income inequality, to divine what is happening to their erstwhile middle-class consumer base, and have decided the best strategy is to give up on the center and to market instead to the top and the bottom.

Citigroup advises investors to design their portfolios around income inequality. It calls this strategy the “Consumer Hourglass Portfolio” and has created an index of companies that serve the rich and the poor while avoiding the vanishing middle.

Once income inequality has become a tool for marketing executives and stock pickers it becomes pretty hard to deny. But we can still argue over what is causing it.

Income also continues to dip in Washington state, according to a Sept. 22 Seattle Times article

Household income — in Washington state and across the country — declined in 2010, while the percentage of people living in poverty increased, as did the numbers of people without health insurance, according to data being released Thursday by the Census Bureau.

Results from the American Community Survey, successor to the census long form, detail a troubled economy, showing a downward trend that began in 2008 or earlier has continued or worsened in many larger cities and counties.

Children have been particularly affected. In Washington state last year, 13.4 percent of the overall population, including 18.2 percent of those under 18, were in households with incomes below the national poverty level.

Another sign of tough times for kids: Statewide, more than 47 percent of single mothers with children under 5 were living in poverty.

The percentage of Washington residents without health insurance rose from 13.4 percent to 14.2 percent last year. And the percentage of state households receiving food stamps rose from 11.1 percent in 2009 to 13.3 percent last year.

The survey showed Washington’s median income fell 3.1 percent in 2010 to $55,631, after a 1.8 percent drop the previous year.

Of the 19 Washington counties in the report, King County had the highest median income in 2010, at $66,174. But that was nearly a 4 percent drop from its median income in 2009.

Lewis County, in the southwest part of the state, had the lowest median income of the Washington counties reported, at $38,643 — more than a 10 percent drop from 2009.

Among those same counties, Yakima County had the highest percentage of residents under the poverty level in 2010, 24.3 percent, while Island County had the lowest, 9.4 percent.

via As Middle Class Shrinks, P&G Marketing Aims High and Low – WSJ.com.

Is China’s Economic Development Less than Meets the Eye?

UW Geography Professor Kam Wing Chan’s online commentaries on contemporary Chinese urbanization, educational attainment, transportation, and internal migration issues have attracted  international attention. He has debunked the widely-celebrated phenomenon of China’s hyper development by showing 1) how Chinese students aren’t actually doing better on standardized tests than US students (showing how skewed the sample of  reported Chinese  test-takers actually is); 2) how Chinese bullet train project is ill-conceived, penalizes the poor, and is a potential disaster of corruption and shoddy workmanship (a fear of Chan’s that, sadly, has turned out to be quite true),  3) how prospects of Chinese urban prosperity are overblown by half because so many urban dwellers have second-class citizenship and are barely living above subsistence conditions, and, most recently in the Guardian, arguing that the rural poor are being being increasingly economically abandoned in China’s headlong rush into mega-urbanization.

A recent Wall Street Journal “Heard on the Street” column (“Bright Lights, Big Questions About China’s Urban Legends”, August 1, 2011), cites Chan’s work in this context:

“Urbanization is a cornerstone of China’s development strategy. But the relationship between a growing urban population and a sustainable growth path isn’t as straightforward as many investors believe.

China’s urbanization, and its beneficial effect on growth, is taken as an article of faith.

Concerned about a Japan-style collapse in China’s property sector? Don’t worry, a growing urban population underpins demand for apartments. Worried about China’s overreliance on investment as a driver of growth? Fear not, a growing army of city slickers will have higher incomes and consume more.

The trend in the official data appears clear enough. China’s urban population has grown from 19% of the total in 1980 to 50% in 2010. That is still some way off an urbanization ratio above 70% in many developed countries, so there is more to come. Urban per capita disposable income in 2010 was more than three times income in rural areas, and 86% of retail sales came from urban areas, so the transition to city life should support higher levels of consumption.

But as is often the case with China’s data, not all is what it seems. The crucial point is that rural residents can move to the city, but without an urban residence permit—known as an urban hukou—they are confined to the margins of city life. According to Professor Kam Wing Chan, an expert on China’s urbanization at the University of Washington, the share of China’s population that has urban residence rights is around 35%, substantially below the 50% of the population that live in the cities.

The 171 million migrant workers who fall into that hole have an average wage of around $3,600 a year, compared with an average of $5,700 for registered urban workers. That is more than they earned in the countryside. But although they might have built China’s glittering new residential compounds, living in dormitories in twilight zones on the edges of the city they are hardly likely to buy an apartment in one of them.”

Heard on the Street: Beware China’s Urban Legends – WSJ.com.


Professor Chan’s online webcast about Chinese economic growth and the growing economic gap between rural and urban populations

MOHAI, A Museum of Everyday Geography, Moving to South Lake Union

Scale model of MOHAI’s new South Lake Union facility, opening in November, 2012

The UW Daily recently wrote about how a favorite field trip destination for Kim England’s Geography of Cities course (Geog 277)–Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI)– is moving next year from its current Montlake location to South Lake Union

Professor England says has sent her “Geography of Cities” class of 150 students to MOHAI for the past ten years because the museum tells “the people’s history and everyday geography,” combining art, technology, industry and commerce with the personal narratives of those in Seattle’s past.

MOHAI has provided the class an ideal visual history to make concepts of urban historical development come alive.

As a student in England’s class last year, Junior Tiffany Oh visited MOHAI for the very first time. Before her visit, Oh said that she was somewhat unfamiliar with the museum.

Yet on that visit she particularly remembers being wowed by the “Boomtown” exhibit, a town of buildings displaying facets of Seattle’s history beginning from the end of the 19th century. She also retained some interesting tidbits about Seattle’s history, like learning the names of the first African American and Chinese American who lived in Seattle.

There are a lot of things in Seattle’s past that I didn’t know about before,” she said. “It’s an important history museum, stuff you don’t get to see at [places like] the Pacific Science Center and the EMP.”

Experiences like Oh’s are what England hopes for when she assigns her students field assignments for the course, like visiting MOHAI.

I want them to come away thinking that the city is not something that is neutral in terms of a built environment,” England said. “Most of the time, there are reasons why some things in the city look the way they do, why some buildings look the way they do. By having them go do this,  I want to give them a sense of how it looked previously. I’m trying to give them different ways of thinking about a city.”