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Farm lobby loses sway
The experts weigh in on reviving Baltimore
Cinema, culture, and unrequited love
Tenuous tenure

Farm lobby loses sway

Conventional wisdom has long held that the United States government is institutionally weak, and that private interest groups have sufficient influence to control various sectors of public policy. Political scientists like Theodore J. Lowi and Grant McConnell had looked at agriculture, in particular, as an example of an "iron triangle" in which the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agricultural committees of Congress, and the Farm Bureau (a federation that lobbies on behalf of agricultural interests) determine federal farm policy, with the private interests dictating much of what the public sector did.

Adam Sheingate, a new assistant professor of political science in the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences, sees things differently: "If we compare the U.S. to other countries, we see that actually in France and Japan these farm guys are very powerful, whereas in the U.S. there are obstacles to them influencing policy." Sheingate presents his findings in The Rise of the Agricultural Welfare State (Princeton, 2001).

He compared agricultural policies in the U.S. to those in France and Japan because, compared to the U.S., the latter countries are considered examples of strong central governments. In the U.S., Sheingate found that in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s agricultural lobbies had promoted a regime of price supports, acreage control, and government loan programs. But more recently other interests--such as conservative budget-cutters and environmental and consumer groups--have had the power to successfully oppose what the farm lobby desires, Sheingate says. The orthodox wisdom had dictated that once agricultural "welfare" in various forms was in place, the agriculture lobby would prevent any cuts. But the 1990s in particular saw a retrenchment of farm subsidies as the federal government scaled back its support. The Farm Bureau et al lacked the power to prevent the government from doing so.

Part of what hurt agricultural interests, says Sheingate, was changing demographics. Fewer and fewer members of Congress are dependent on the farm vote to keep them in office: "In this country, we like to think of farmers as deserving certain aid. But there are a lot of politicians who don't need to do anything for an agricultural constituency." --Dale Keiger

The experts weigh in on reviving Baltimore

Consumed by his effort to improve the quality of life for Baltimoreans and spur private investment, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley appeared ecstatic in April to receive a 59-page "road map" to the city's revitalization. The report was put together by urban thinkers from around the world who were International Fellows in Urban Studies at Hopkins's Institute for Policy Studies. Among other suggestions, the scholars advised focusing on improving neighborhoods in the early stages of decline, where limited resources are apt to make the biggest difference, and redeveloping closed industrial sites by linking them to neighborhoods in which factory workers once lived. Said O'Malley, "We will take advantage of all the hard work that went into this report." --Sue De Pasquale

Cinema, culture, and unrequited love

The roles of tradition and modernity in Indian cinema play out in the story of a young lover, Shankar, and the object of his desire: the spirit Kamini. Shankar wants to live in the past, and in many ways Kamini represents an elusive link to Indian tradition.

Veena Das, Hopkins professor of anthropology, analyzes how Indian cinema influences Indian culture and vice versa--by exploring such issues as changing social mores, images of violence and pornography, and gender roles. "I try to look at the manner in which philosophical thinking is done in cinema," says Das, a widely published scholar who joined the Hopkins anthropology department in the fall.

In the language of film and television, she sees some of India's internal struggles with modernization played out, including the exploration of socially taboo subjects such as women's sexual freedom. "Previously, you could not show sexual desire in the heroine," Das notes. "That changed in the 1980s in soap operas. Today, there isn't such a stark difference between the good woman and the bad woman."

The language of film: philosophy on screen In a recent article, "The Making of Modernity: Gender and Time in Indian Cinema," Das explores how male and female roles in Indian film reveal how that post-colonial nation is grappling with the transition from the traditional world to the modern world and the very definition of modernity. To illuminate her arguments, she taps the plot of various classic and well-known films, including Majal (Palace), a Hindi-Urdu film produced in 1949 by Bombay Talkies.

In that film, the protagonist, Shankar, visits an abandoned palace and falls in love with the ghost of a woman who killed herself in grief over a lost lover, the former palace ruler whom Shankar resembles. But the two lovers cannot be together in separate worlds--the present and the past. So the spirit Kamini urges Shankar to kill the gardener's daughter so her spirit can be reborn in the girl's body. He is stopped at the last minute by a friend and leaves the palace. He then tries to forget Kamini, agreeing to a marriage arranged by his family. His wife, however, kills herself when she suspects he loves another. She leaves a note implicating him in her murder.

Through additionally tragic plot twists, the gardener's daughter reveals that she had been masquerading as Kamini and fallen in love with Shankar. Still, Shankar is found guilty of murdering his wife and is sentenced to death by hanging. Through a series of misguided suicide plots reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, Shankar dies, his love unrequited.

Das, who also teaches a course comparing Hollywood and Bombay films, argues that the inability of the male protagonist in Majal to see the woman as real, and not just a nostalgic fantasy from the past, reveals the unresolved wish of the modern Indian male to claim the past as his own--partly a desire to solidify the Indian identity. The woman's inability to speak out about who she is exemplifies the difficulty Indian women have in making their place in modern Indian society, and her disappearance from Shankar's life reflects the modern male's loss of his "feminine" voice.

Such studies are tandem to Das's ongoing research on the nature of collective violence and its repercussions in South Asian societies. In recent years, her anthropological studies have also focused on public health issues and bioethical dilemmas now being faced by a modernizing Indian society, including the widespread overuse of antibiotics that has added to continued high rates of illness and early deaths. --Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson

Tenuous tenure

"As for expertise, it is no longer sufficient to be good or average; you have to be a superstar. We are already seeing this in recruitment of faculty."

--Hopkins president William R. Brody, in his speech commemorating the university's 125th anniversary. Brody noted that the modern research university is at a crossroads in its evolution and also said the future of tenure is in doubt: "Departments want flexibility. They want to hire faculty but don't want to make a long-term, necessarily a lifetime, commitment to a faculty member in an area for which they are not sure they will have a need as they go forward."


In various articles--both in scholarly journals and in international news venues--Hopkins assistant professor of sociology James Ron has questioned how states resort to coercion and under what circumstances. One of his findings, reported last year in Theory and Society, analyzed violence along the Bosnia-Yugoslavia border. While doing field work in 1997, Ron discovered that some Muslims remained safer inside Serbian-dominated Yugoslav territory during the first years of the Bosnian war than they did just over the border in Bosnia, where Serbs were not in control. While 200,000 Muslims in the Yugoslav border area of Sandzak were harassed and their property destroyed by Serbs in the early 1990s, they were not subjected to the same "ethnic cleansing" found in Bosnia.

Why is violence against a group of people less likely within a nation's borders?

It has to do with issues of responsibility and accountability within the state and internationally. States do not to like to violate their own laws and international norms, especially when there's a lot of attention. If they do it at all, they hide what they are doing. Violence is certainly possible within their own boundaries, but they often hire paramilitary groups. They then run the risk of looking like they are losing control of their own boundaries, so they often don't like to do that. When violence occurs right over the border they can plausibly argue that they didn't do it and that it's not their responsibility.

How has this been evident in other countries over time?

States that have effective control over their own territory try to use police-style methods of violence [including prison terms] rather than despotic methods that are more direct or blatant. Some Palestinians living in the West Bank or Gaza have been viewed as enemies of Zionism in Israel, but only Palestinians in Lebanon were killed in large numbers. As it has developed in recent years, Israel's police-style repression has moved to more despotic measures. That is the irony of Palestinian independence.
--Interview by Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson

Ron will soon publish Frontier and Ghetto: State Violence in Serbia and Israel, University of California Press.

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