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Books Examine Aspects of Inequality and Security

IPR faculty tackle key issues around policing, race, and digital access

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For those of us constantly tethered to our devices, it is hard to imagine not being constantly connected, but the book shows that a significant number of people struggle with the needed access and skills to take advantage of all that digital media have to offer.”

Eszter Hargittai
IPR faculty adjunct

Police et Société en France (Policing in France) 

Edited by Jacques de Maillard and Wesley G. Skogan  

Presses de Science Po, 2023 

In France, the security management system is centralized and state controlled. However, many other actors are involved in what is now known as "the coproduction of security" alongside the police nationale and gendarmerie, the two French national police forces. 

In their book Police et Société en France (Presses de Science Po, 2023) which also appeared in English, political scientists IPR fellow emeritus Wesley Skogan and Jacques de Maillard of the University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin unveil a collection of 20 original essays that provide a compelling examination of the French police system and its role in the 21st century.  

Over the last 30 years, France has undergone a social and political sea change—immigration and a more diverse population, for example, have brought new opportunities and challenges. Administrative and political decentralization has reemphasized the role of local authorities in public security policies. The private security industry has grown significantly, and new kinds of governing models, based on arrangements such as contracts for service provision, have emerged. Additionally, police organizations are increasingly driven by performance indicators and must grapple with change and consolidation. These include integrating the gendarmerie, a force with military connections operating in smaller cities, exurbs, and more rural areas, into the Ministry of Interior, under which the police nationale, a civil force operating mainly in France’s urban centers, already operates administratively. 

Written by many of the world’s leading and emerging scholars who focus on French policing, the collection examines the security challenges posed by terrorist threats and the scope of community policing initiatives required to address public security needs. The essays address the policing of urban slums and illustrate the merging of contradictory police goals, police violence, the concentration of poverty, and entrenched opposition to the states’ representatives, among others. They also question policing strategies such as the use of identity checks.  

Race in the Machine: A Novel Account 

By Quincy Thomas Stewart  

Stanford University Press/Redwood Press, 2023 

What is race and how do we explain it? These fundamental social questions are at the heart of a new work of “social science fiction” by sociologist and IPR associate Quincy Thomas Stewart. Race in the Machine: A Novel Account (Stanford University Press/Redwood Press, 2023) is both a novel and a truly novel account of racial inequality, the origins of bias, and more. 

The nameless protagonist of the story is a “social mechanic” or scientist who lives in a world of intelligent machines connected in large networks. The protagonist is also a machine who explores the question, “What is race?” The protagonist confronts this question in the context of an encounter with visitors. Using a mix of computational models and creative riffs reviewing social psychological and structural theory, the social mechanic conducts simulated experiments to learn about racism and similar systems of inequality. 

The social mechanic encounters scholarly antagonists and allies, but the journey also entails stories including monks, saints, and vampires. The narrative suggests that prevailing scientific methodology is inadequate to understand race.  

The novel draws on multiple sources—documented in extensive endnotes—such as classic texts like W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk to science fiction classics like Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, to lyrics by the rapper the Notorious B.I.G. and recent scholarship on race across all social science disciplines. 

Race in the Machine ends with an author’s Q&A that is missing the questions; readers only see the answers. In Stewart’s answers, he compares social scientists’ analyses of “real” data to two-dimensional paintings that portray a multidimensional world. His work “attempts to add depth, artistically filling in the empty space of our theoretical models.”  

Connected in Isolation: Digital Privilege in Unsettled Times  

By Eszter Hargittai 

The MIT Press, 2022 

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns sent millions into isolation in their homes, and the internet became a lifeline that kept people informed, connected, and able to continue working remotely. Yet being online did not mean everyone was equally connected.  

In her book Connected in Isolation: Digital Privilege in Unsettled Times (The MIT Press, 2022), University of Zurich media scholar and IPR faculty adjunct Eszter Hargittai examines Internet use at the beginning of the pandemic and discrepancies in digital access in three Western countries. Between April and May 2020, Hargittai and a team of researchers conducted online surveys of 4,518 American, 983 Italian, and 1,350 Swiss adults about their worries, home life experiences, knowledge about COVID-19, digital skills, social media use, and Internet use, among other topics.   

Across the three countries, Hargittai reveals that those who earned more owned more devices and had more freedom to access the internet, while those with fewer resources had less predictable internet access. Those with higher income and education also possessed more internet and social media skills. Overall, she discovers a link between having digital skills and understanding the risk of COVID-19 and how to prevent it in all three countries.    

Additionally, the surveys show that this “digital inequality”—a term Hargittai coined two decades ago with Paul DiMaggio —had real-life consequences: Those with better information about how to stay safe from the coronavirus were more likely to avoid any unessential activities outside their homes. Hargittai argues that ensuring that people of all backgrounds have the necessary skills to use digital platforms effectively, efficiently, and to their benefit is critical to leveling the digital playing field.  

“For those of us constantly tethered to our devices, it is hard to imagine not being constantly connected, but the book shows that a significant number of people struggle with the needed access and skills to take advantage of all that digital media have to offer,” Hargittai said.  

Wesley G. Skogan is professor of political science and IPR fellow emeritus. Quincy Thomas Stewart is associate professor of sociology and an IPR associate. Eszter Hargittai is an IPR faculty adjunct.

Published: November 6, 2023.