The dark side of Silicon Valley

California’s booming tech industry has created the most extreme wealth disparity in America. Josie Ensor investigates the tale of two cities

6:00AM GMT 26 Nov 2014

He settles himself in for what is going to be a long night – taking off his scuffed leather shoes and resting his head against a window opaque with condensation.

Jimmy, 47, has had the same routine for the last three years since losing his job as a chef at Microsoft.

He gets on the bus at midnight and rides the same 35-mile journey between San Jose and Palo Alto, California, until sunrise. He can spend up to $8 (£5) a night just trying to keep warm and off the streets – money he can ill afford.

The 22 bus is the only route that runs 24 hours in Silicon Valley and it has become something of an unofficial shelter for the homeless.

They call it Hotel 22.

A homeless man sleeps onboard bus route 22, known as Hotel 22

This small pocket of the Golden State has become the most extreme example in the US of the growing schism between the haves and have nots.

Santa Clara – the county which encompasses Silicon Valley – has the highest percentage of homeless in America, according to the latest Department of Housing report.

Yet it also has the nation’s highest average household income and some of the most expensive homes in the country – all down to the high-tech economy on its doorstep.

Silicon Valley is enjoying the most sustained period of wealth creation in history, but the area is crippled by income disparity. Where once a robust middle-class thrived, there exists only the super-rich and the extreme poor.

The 22 bus drives past Jimmy’s old employer Microsoft, as well as the headquarters of Google, Facebook and Apple.

On our journey, we pass a “Google bus” going in the opposite direction towards San Francisco. Employees are ferried to and from work in their own private blacked-out coaches dubbed “Gbuses”, which have themselves come to be a symbol of the inequality.

“It’s a tale of two cities,” Jimmy says. “At least that’s the poetic way people describe what’s going on here.

“What these techies don’t realise though is that we’re no different to them – they’re just one misstep, one paycheck away from being us.”

Jimmy, who moved from Chicago to California in the early 1990s for work, is wearing a slightly mottled suit and tie, as he does most days, in the hope it will help him find a job. He sends off a dozen applications a day from the local library, but he rarely even hears back.

He keeps a length of rope wrapped round his ankle, hidden under his trouser leg, “just in case one day I decide I’ve had enough.”

According to the most recent census data, as many as 20,000 people will experience homelessness in the county this year.

Protesters block a bus taking Apple employees to work in Silicon Valley in December 2013

Those who are not sleeping on the streets here are sleeping in what is known as The Jungle – the largest homeless encampment in the US. Hundreds of makeshift tents and treehouses go on for miles in a lawless sprawl.

Ray Bramson, the City of San Jose’s homelessness response manager, says: “There’s 5,000 sleeping rough on any given night – we just can’t deal with that.”

Over the last few years rent in the area has skyrocketed, in some cases up to 300 per cent of the national average.

“When you think homeless, you think of someone on the streets with no money, no job,” he says. “That’s changed. Being employed no longer guarantees you can afford to rent here. People simply lack the sustainable wages they need to survive.”

The state’s minimum wage was recently increased from $8 to $10 an hour. “It’s a step in the right direction,” Mr Bramson says, “but unfortunately the self-sufficiency standard is around $15.”

Our bus jolts to a stop as the driver spots someone waiting in the dark at the side of the road. It is now 2am. He lays down the ramp for the woman, who has a large cart full of her worldly belongings.

She is not the only woman, Sandra Pena spends one night a week on Hotel 22.

A well-spoken, well-educated and strikingly beautiful woman of 52, she is not the average night passenger.

Silicon Valley (ALAMY)

She spent nine years working as a technician for Arantech – which was at one time one of the bigger tech firms in Silicon Valley, until she was made redundant in 1989.

Shortly after, she decided to start up her own construction business, which enjoyed some success.

But at the height of the recession in 2009 she lost it all and had her home repossessed.

She started living out of her truck, doing odd job for neighbours, until she could no longer afford that either.

“I was hit by everything at once, and sometimes you just can’t pick yourself up from that,“ says Sandra, who is wearing pristine blue jeans and a button-down blouse. “Never, ever, would I have imagined myself in this situation.”

When there are no free beds at the local shelter, Sandra sleeps on the bus.

“I get the day pass for $6 – which if you buy at the right time can last you all through the night to the next morning,” she says. “I like it for the quiet …. and the alone time.

“The only downside is that you get woken up at the end of the line and are made to wait 15 minutes to get on the next one,” she says.

As a native of Santa Clara she has seen the area change beyond recognition.

Apple’s new headquarters in Cupertino

It was once known for its orchids, earning it the nickname the Valley of Heart’s Delight. Until the 1960s, it was the largest fruit production region in the world and Del Monte was the biggest employer in town.

Then the tech companies started moving in, growing outward from Stanford University, which had begun nurturing start-ups with grants and academic support.

“Growing up here it was all ranches and orchids, I was a cowgirl. You had everything you could want, and great weather all year round. I don’t blame them all for coming here, but they offer the people who live here nothing,” says Sandra, who is currently completing a building course at an employment centre, which she hopes will lead to a job.

Chris Richardson, director of programme operations at the homeless organisation Downtown Streets, which has been helping Sandra, said: “Hotel 22 is an open secret in the homeless trade – for a couple of bucks people can get a relatively undisturbed night’s sleep.”

He says the problem has become so out of control there are twice as many homeless as there are available beds.

“You see camps of people sleeping rough just two miles from Sergey Brin’s (Google co-founder) house,” he says. “And the irony is, not even his engineers get paid enough to live here.

“We are trying to get tech billionaires involved in what we’re doing. They donate millions to good causes, but almost nothing to the local community they are helping destroy.

“It’s not necessarily their fault, but they are stakeholders in the homelessness problem and have the power and brains to change it.”

Eileen Richardson, Downtown Street’s founder, is a venture capitalist and former tech CEO herself, previously heading up the online music site Napster. She volunteered with the homeless on a sabbatical leave 10 years ago and was so shocked by what she saw she started up her own organisation to help.

At their weekly meeting, the team leader makes an announcement to the some-100 guests gathered – Google is hiring. The company is holding a jobs fair in a few weeks’ time and they are looking for chefs, cooks and cleaners.

Some groan, but most are keenly listening and a group stay behind after to sign up. In desperate times you cannot be too proud to “make a deal with the devil”, one guest says.

Original source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11249291/The-dark-side-of-Silicon-Valley.html

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How to do ethnography

Malinowski with natives, Trobriand Islands, 1918

Malinowski with natives, Trobriand Islands, 1918

This post aims to explain how to use observation or related methods such as ethnography in social research. Hence the post is divided in three sections. First one aims to answer what does this method mean and come from, second one, what does it make observation different from other methods as in-depth interview or focus group and last but not least what a researcher is supposed to observe in such studies.

1. What is the observation method and what does it come from?

Whenever your research question deals with people behavior an obvious form to understand it is just watch how they behave. This is essentially what observation and ethnography are all about, a systematically observation of people behavior.  Although there are differences between them (Atkinson and Hammersley, 1998) both observation and ethnography will be treated as equivalent techniques in this and following posts.

It is important to add that both are originally rooted into social science. It was a polish anthropologist, Bronisław Malinowski, who first applied it, at the beginning of XX century, what is considered the oldest qualitative method. By mean this method; he conducted several fieldworks in order to analyze patterns of exchange in aboriginal communities, mainly in Africa and Australia. It was also Chicago School of social research that first encouraged its students to study by observation the constantly changing social phenomena of Chicago in the 1920´s and 1930´s.

Its importance has considerably grown over the last decades as a way to understand buying process. Observing customers both in naturally occurring actions like in a shop, bar or at home is now a common method in market research industry. On the other hand, with the advent of Internet, such techniques as online ethnography (Martinez and Rodríguez, 2008) or nethnography (Kozinets, 2002), among other; are already an essential part of today’s market research. On top of that, emergence of new social media such as twitter or Facebook give way to a new way to understand purchase and consumption decision. Besides pursuing conventional advertising, consumers are using Facebook groups, blogs, chat rooms, email, twitters to share ideas, build community and contact fellow consumers who are seem as more objective information source. Actually, several studies have confirmed that in the “buyer´s decision journey”, traditional marketing communications just aren´t relevant, or such as an article in Harvard Business journal has recently suggested, “Marketing is dead” (2012) Although this assertion may be seen as controversial, the truth is that every researcher shouldn´t nowadays underestimate the importance of new social media to gather market information. Such as the sociologist Manuel Castells sustained, we don´t live in a virtual reality but in a real virtually. Finally, despite the distance in time between first studies on aboriginal communities and current online studies, as well as between the different varieties that have emerged throughout the time, the essence is still the same, understanding human existence by mean observing people.

2. What makes observation method different

The development of observation and ethnography may strongly depend on the variety applied. How far observation is revealed to those who are observed, how far researcher participates or how systematic the collection of data is, gives way to the different varieties to be applied. Regardless such differences that may be looked up in the references, this post aims to highlight the essentials of a good observation.

1. Case study design. One shop, one office, one street or restaurant; observation is commonly applied in a specific case, always giving more importance to the depth of analysis than to how representative this case is.

2. Location in place and time of everyday life (Flick, 2009)

3. Interpretation and understanding. Although the information might be systematically collected by a “off-the-shelf” coding schedule (Lewis et al, 2009), usually called structured observation, the truth is that it is commonly applied as a method to interpret rather than quantifying people behavior.

4. Besides the competencies of speaking and listening used in interviews, observing is another everyday skill that is relevant for qualitative studies. Almost all sense; seeing, hearing, feeling and smelling are required for a good observation.

5. Interest in human meaning and interaction. In social sciences we cannot hope to adequately explain the behavior of social actors unless we at least try to understand their meanings. Remember the meaning of DC Metro for passer-by during rush hour on the Washington post´s violinist experiment.

6. Flexible, opportunistic and open ended inquiries (Flick, 2009) are an essential part of observation, except for the varieties that don´t require the researcher participant where there is no interaction with actors and consequently no question is formulated (non-participant observation)

3. What to observe

Before moving on to the proper observation, researcher should have previously selected the setting (where and when) as well as the actions to be documented (e.g. buying process) and a carefully description of the field, concentrating on aspects relevant to research question. Subsequently, researcher or observers hired for such reason will start the fieldwork, i.e. the observation properly. Now the question is what to observe in the observation process? The dimensions to be observed may vary from more structured to less structured observations. However, according to Spradley, social situations generally may be described along nine dimensions for observational purposes.

1. Space: the physical place or places.

2. Actors: the people involved.

3. Activity: a set of related acts people do. Who originates actions? How often? Which consequences with? For whom such consequences are?.

4. Object: the physical things that are present.

5. Act: single actions that people do.

6. Event: a set of related activities that people carry out.

7. Time: the sequencing that takes place over time.

8. Goal: the things people are trying to accomplish.

9. Feeling: the emotions felt and expressed.

On the other hand the more structured observations normally use a so called “off-the-shelf” coding schedule (Lewis et al, 2009). What is it? It is a number of questions to be tested during the observation time. For instances, the bellow table shows the items tested by a group or observers in a study that aimed to measure a fastfoodchain service quality:

behaviour

Reference list

Atkinson, P., & Hammersley, M. (1994). Ethnography and participant observation. Handbook of qualitative research, 1, 248-261. In Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative research. Sage Publications Limited

Castells, Manuel (2012) Interview on BBC: “Viewpoint: Manuel Castells on the rise of alternative economic cultures” Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-20027044

Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative research. Sage Publications Limited

Kozinets, R. V. (2002). The field behind the screen: using netnography for marketing research in online communities. Journal of marketing research, 61-72. In Lewis, Philip, Mark NK Saunders, and Adrian Thornhill. Research methods for business students. Pearson, 2009.

Lee, B. (2012). Marketing Is Dead. HBR Blog Network. Harvard Business.

Lewis, Philip, Mark NK Saunders, and Adrian Thornhill. Research methods for business students. Pearson, 2009.

Martínez, P., & Rodríguez, P. M. (2008). Cualitativa-mente. ESIC Editorial.

Spradley, J. P. (1979). The ethnographic interview. In Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative researchSage Publications Limited

“Gendered strategies of resistance in the workplace”. An example of participant observation study

I intend to focus on the issue of gendered economic relations on the labor market. I would like to investigate how the feminization of work is produced (on the macro level: by economic, state and labor market transition of diverse sector of the economy) and reproduced (in the every-day life experience of women workers). The main question would therefore be: how is global capitalist economic restructuring affecting the lives of Polish women workers? Furthermore, to escape the binary vision of gender/power relations, I will also look for women’s strategies of resistance to better understand if and why the women workers struggle is possible, and how it deconstructs their subordinate position and brings empowerment. In my PhD thesis I intend to study gender/power-class relations in one of the factories in the Walbrzych Special Economic Zone and also conduct desk research on special economic zones in Poland. This will enable me to grasp the chain of capital flow and its linkages with the local market and women workers’ experiences. No research on special economic zones from a feminist and workers rights perspective has been done in Poland. In the media and policy makers’ accounts, the zones are a success story in bringing in foreign investment, generating jobs, and enhancing the competitiveness of Polish economy. They are described as a solution to unemployment in Poland following transitional crisis, when over 5 million jobs were lost between 1992 and 2004. Precarious work, violations of labor rights, depletion of local government income, environmental costs, and impact on women are not addressed. Given this, my research project would try to provide a new background knowledge for political organizing on women’s and labor rights.

The paper would therefore be the excerpt of the theoretical framework that I have been study recently. Thus, I would like to shift the perspective closed in conference ‘call for papers’ and  concentrate on the issue of the intersection between gender and the strategies of workers’ resistance: if and how the conditions of women’s work interfere with the workers organizing (meant as: the trade union or the informal groups of workers’ activists).  In other words I would like to question how the oppression is gendered and how the resistance is gendered in the workplace, and if there is a need for other organizing among women workers – different form the traditional trade unionism.

Author: Małgorzata Maciejewska. University of Wrocław

Source: https://sites.google.com/site/unionrenewal/conference-programme/gendered-strategies-of-resistance-in-the-workplace

How to use observation method

This post aims to explain how to use observation or related methods such as ethnography in social research. Hence the post is divided in three sections. First one aims to answer what does this method mean and come from, second one, what does it make observation different from other methods as in-depth interview or focus group and last but not least what a researcher is supposed to observe in such studies.

1. What is the observation method and what does it come from?

Whenever your research question deals with people behavior an obvious form to understand it is just watch how they behave. This is essentially what observation and ethnography are all about, a systematically observation of people behavior.  Although there are differences between them (Atkinson and Hammersley, 1998) both observation and ethnography will be treated as equivalent techniques in this and following posts.

It is important to add that both are originally rooted into social science. It was a polish anthropologist, Bronisław Malinowski, who first applied it, at the beginning of XX century, what is considered the oldest qualitative method. By mean this method; he conducted several fieldworks in order to analyze patterns of exchange in aboriginal communities, mainly in Africa and Australia. It was also Chicago School of social research that first encouraged its students to study by observation the constantly changing social phenomena of Chicago in the 1920´s and 1930´s.280px-Bronisław_Malinowski_among_Trobriand_tribe_3

Its importance has considerably grown over the last decades as a way to understand buying process. Observing customers both in naturally occurring actions like in a shop, bar or at home is now a common method in market research industry. On the other hand, with the advent of Internet, such techniques as online ethnography (Martinez and Rodríguez, 2008) or nethnography (Kozinets, 2002), among other; are already an essential part of today’s market research. On top of that, emergence of new social media such as twitter or Facebook give way to a new way to understand purchase and consumption decision. Besides pursuing conventional advertising, consumers are using Facebook groups, blogs, chat rooms, email, twitters to share ideas, build community and contact fellow consumers who are seem as more objective information source. Actually, several studies have confirmed that in the “buyer´s decision journey”, traditional marketing communications just aren´t relevant, or such as an article in Harvard Business journal has recently suggested, “Marketing is dead” (2012) Although this assertion may be seen as controversial, the truth is that every researcher shouldn´t nowadays underestimate the importance of new social media to gather market information. Such as the sociologist Manuel Castells sustained, we don´t live in a virtual reality but in a real virtually. Finally, despite the distance in time between first studies on aboriginal communities and current online studies, as well as between the different varieties that have emerged throughout the time, the essence is still the same, understanding human existence by mean observing people.

2. What makes observation method different

The development of observation and ethnography may strongly depend on the variety applied. How far observation is revealed to those who are observed, how far researcher participates or how systematic the collection of data is, gives way to the different varieties to be applied. Regardless such differences that may be looked up in the references, this post aims to highlight the essentials of a good observation.

  1. Case study design. One shop, one office, one street or restaurant; observation is commonly applied in a specific case, always giving more importance to the depth of analysis than to how representative this case is.
  2. Location in place and time of everyday life (Flick, 2009)
  3. Interpretation and understanding. Although the information might be systematically collected by a “off-the-shelf” coding schedule (Lewis et al, 2009), usually called structured observation, the truth is that it is commonly applied as a method to interpret rather than quantifying people behavior.
  4. Besides the competencies of speaking and listening used in interviews, observing is another everyday skill that is relevant for qualitative studies. Almost all sense; seeing, hearing, feeling and smelling are required for a good observation.
  5. Interest in human meaning and interaction. In social sciences we cannot hope to adequately explain the behavior of social actors unless we at least try to understand their meanings. Remember the meaning of DC Metro for passer-by during rush hour on the Washington post´s violinist experiment.
  6. Flexible, opportunistic and open ended inquiries (Flick, 2009) are an essential part of observation, except for the varieties that don´t require the researcher participant where there is no interaction with actors and consequently no question is formulated (non-participant observation)

3. What to observe

Before moving on to the proper observation, researcher should have previously selected the setting (where and when) as well as the actions to be documented (e.g. buying process) and a carefully description of the field, concentrating on aspects relevant to research question. Subsequently, researcher or observers hired for such reason will start the fieldwork, i.e. the observation properly. Now the question is what to observe in the observation process? The dimensions to be observed may vary from more structured to less structured observations. However, according to Spradley, social situations generally may be described along nine dimensions for observational purposes.

1. Space: the physical place or places.

2. Actors: the people involved.

3. Activity: a set of related acts people do. Who originates actions? How often? Which consequences with? For whom such consequences are?.

4. Object: the physical things that are present.

5. Act: single actions that people do.

6. Event: a set of related activities that people carry out.

7. Time: the sequencing that takes place over time.

8. Goal: the things people are trying to accomplish.

9. Feeling: the emotions felt and expressed.

On the other hand the more structured observations normally use a so called “off-the-shelf” coding schedule (Lewis et al, 2009). What is it? It is a number of questions to be tested during the observation time. For instances, the bellow table shows the items tested by a group or observers in a study that aimed to measure a fastfoodchain service quality:

behaviour

Reference list

Atkinson, P., & Hammersley, M. (1994). Ethnography and participant observation. Handbook of qualitative research, 1, 248-261. In Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative research. Sage Publications Limited

Castells, Manuel (2012) Interview on BBC: “Viewpoint: Manuel Castells on the rise of alternative economic cultures” Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-20027044

Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative research. Sage Publications Limited

Kozinets, R. V. (2002). The field behind the screen: using netnography for marketing research in online communities. Journal of marketing research, 61-72. In Lewis, Philip, Mark NK Saunders, and Adrian Thornhill. Research methods for business students. Pearson, 2009.

Lee, B. (2012). Marketing Is Dead. HBR Blog Network. Harvard Business.

Lewis, Philip, Mark NK Saunders, and Adrian Thornhill. Research methods for business students. Pearson, 2009.

Martínez, P., & Rodríguez, P. M. (2008). Cualitativa-mente. ESIC Editorial.

Spradley, J. P. (1979). The ethnographic interview. In Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative researchSage Publications Limited