Pen & Inq

Vote Local

Among countries where citizens can vote, the United States holds one of the lowest voter turnout records. Ironically, when states restrict voting rights, those efforts are always more effective than campaigns designed to bring more voters to the ballot box. However, the same state laws that help create low turnouts may offer insights for reform, said Melanie Jean Springer, an assistant professor of politics at UCSC.

In her book, How the States Shaped the Nation: American Electoral Institutions and Voter Turnout 1920–2000, Springer analyzed 80 years of voting history. Her research showed that each state has considerable influence on local voting culture. For instance, some states require that voters have particular kinds of photo identification, which may be too costly for some citizens to obtain. Paying attention to those state-specific effects is the ticket to building more participation.

“We need to look at the history of how states encourage or discourage voting,” Springer said, “and then be more mindful about how we aim to engage people.”

Green Dreams

Early on, the organic farming movement found wide appeal among California’s back-to-nature crowd. But it wasn’t long before this “weird hippie interest” became a selling feature in high-end restaurants, said Julie Guthman, a UC Santa Cruz professor of social sciences.

In the second edition of Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California, Guthman takes another look at the influence of agribusiness and foodie sensibilities on the organic food movement.

“There’s all this attention on organics, yet only one percent of U.S. farmland grows organic food,” said Guthman. “This is because the market still turns on a voluntary system of regulations and consumers’ willingness to pay more.”

The high cost of land puts growers under great pressure to get more crop value per acre. So, the system ends up being very similar to conventional agribusiness models.

“It’s a California story, but the implications are much wider,” said Guthman.

Jazz Fusion

It’s been fourteen years since Eric Porter and Lewis Watts met as new professors at UC Santa Cruz. With a mutual passion for jazz history, their collaboration was only a matter of time. Involving New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, was inevitable.

When Hurricane Katrina stormed through the city, wreaking cultural transformation in its wake, the men found the story they wanted to tell: Porter with prose, Watts with images. Their book, New Orleans Suite: Music and Culture in Transition, was published by UC Press in 2013.

“We wanted to showcase the role that cultural practices play in everyday lives in New Orleans, and also the way these practices were mobilized to rebuild the city,” said Porter, a professor in the History and History of Consciousness Departments.

In black-and-white photography, Watts, a professor emeritus of arts, reveals the place and its people before and after the hurricane hit. “We managed to meld words and images to approach the city through its music,” he said.

Carrying On

In the early 1990s, New Queer Cinema emerged as an amalgam of art and activism.

The movement was fueled by a potent combination of politics, AIDS, camcorders, and cheap rent, said B. Ruby Rich, author of New Queer Cinema: The Director’s Cut.

“When I started formulating these ideas, the AIDS epidemic was still new,” said Rich, a professor in the Social Documentation Program and the Film and Digital Media Department. “There was an enormous amount of panic, grief and shock in the community. New Queer Cinema represented a second phase, a time to gather strength and try to express something other than mourning. I coined the name as a way to try to clear a space for this.”

With this book, Rich brings back her early essays about the rise of gay and lesbian cinematic themes, and updates her writing with new testaments to LGBT influences on film and life.

Rich is also the editor of Film Quarterly, the film journal of the University of California Press.

Looking for Law

The politically unstable setting of Sudan might appear an unlikely place to investigate the power of law. But it seemed ideal to Mark Fathi Massoud, an assistant professor of politics and legal studies at UC Santa Cruz. Sudan was the first sub-Saharan African country to achieve colonial independence from the British. Its post-independence period has been wracked by warfare, slaughter, and instability. Massoud’s family fled from there in 1983, when war resumed after a decade of relative calm.

“I hoped to learn more about my homeland and the people who had stayed behind, and also to make sense of how law matters and fails to matter in the most unexpected places,” Massoud said.

The culmination of Massoud’s research, Law’s Fragile State: Colonial, Authoritarian and Humanitarian Legacies in Sudan, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2013.

His book received the 2014 Law and Society Association’s Herbert Jacob Prize for the best book in law and society published in the previous year.