Andrew Ross (sociologist)
|This biographical article relies too much on references to primary sources. (April 2009)|
Andrew Ross (born 1956) is a social activist and analyst who teaches in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University. He has authored and edited numerous books, and written for The New York Times, The Guardian, The Nation, Newsweek, and Al Jazeera. Much of his writing focuses on labor, the urban environment, and the organisation of work, from the Western world of business and high-technology to conditions of offshore labour in the Global South. Making use of social theory as well as ethnography, his writing questions the human and environmental cost of economic growth. As a harsh critic of labor conditions in Abu Dhabi, he was recently denied entrance to the United Arab Emirates.
Life and education
Ross was born and educated in the lowlands of Scotland. After graduating from the University of Aberdeen in 1978, he worked in the North Sea oil fields. His graduate studies were undertaken at the University of Kent at Canterbury, Indiana University, and the University of California, Berkeley. He joined the faculty at Princeton University in 1985, and left in 1993 to become Director of the Graduate Program in American Studies at NYU. He was the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship in 2001-2. and has held research positions at Cornell University and Shanghai University.
His doctoral dissertation, about modern American poetry, was published as The Failure of Modernism in 1986. Several subsequent books (No Respect: Intellectuals and Popular Culture; Strange Weather: Culture, Science, and Technology in the Age of Limits; and The Chicago Gangster Theory of Life: Nature's Debt to Society) established his reputation as one of the leading practitioners of cultural studies, particularly in the fields of popular culture, ecology, and the history of technology.
Increasingly, his writing focused on urban sociology, labour, and the organisation of work. A scholar and activist associated with the anti-sweatshop movement, he published No Sweat: Fashion, Free Trade, and the Rights of Garment Workers in 1998 and Low Pay, High Profile: The Global Push for Fair Labor in 2002. In 1997, he took up residence for a year in Disney's new town of Celebration, Florida, and wrote The Celebration Chronicles, based on his participant observation of the town's residents, the first ethnography of a New Urbanist community.
Two further books were based on field work with employees: No-Collar: The Humane Workplace and Its Hidden Costs, about employees in Internet companies during the New Economy boom and bust, and Fast Boat to China: Corporate Flight and the Consequences of Free Trade, about skilled Chinese employees of foreign firms in Shanghai and other Yangtze Delta cities. The latter book, written on the ground in China, is a frank alternative to Thomas Friedman's pro-outsourcing views on corporate globalisation. In 2009, Ross published Nice Work if You Can Get it: Life and Labor in Precarious Times, an analysis of changing patterns in the nature of creative work and contingent employment.
In several of his books, Ross has pioneered a method he calls Scholarly Reporting, which is a blend of ethnography and investigative journalism. In Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World's Least Sustainable City, Ross draws on his fieldwork in Phoenix, Arizona. Focusing on areas such as water supply, metropolitan growth, renewable energy, downtown revitalisation, immigration policy, and patterns of pollution, the book argues that urban managers have to base policy on combating environmental injustices to avoid replicating the condition of "eco-apartheid" that prevails in Phoenix and other major urban areas.
His most recent book, Creditocracy and the Case for Debt Refusal, analyses, and proposes solutions to, the massive household debt burden that has accumulated over the last two decades. The book considers some of the legal and moral principles of the Jubilee South movement–aimed at repudiating external debts of developing countries–and adapts them to the situation of household debtors in the North. Creditocracy engages with ideas and actions from the Occupy movement of debt resistance to Wall Street's creditor class.
In Richard Posner's 2003 study, Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline, Ross was ranked among the top 100 public intellectuals in the US.
From 1986 to 2000, Ross served on the editorial collective of Duke University's journal Social Text. In 1996 he was one of the journal's editors who published a paper by Alan Sokal professing to show connections between physics and post-modern theory, and which was later revealed by Sokal to be a hoax meant to expose the low academic standards of "post-modernism" (see Sokal affair).
He has been active in the anti-sweatshop movement since the mid-1990s. From the late 1990s, he has turned his attention to the academic labour movement, both in the national AAUP, and at NYU as a vocal supporter of the graduate student union, and as a founding member of Faculty Democracy. In 2007, his co-edited volume, The University Against Itself, documented and analysed the long strike at NYU in 2005 by GSOC-UAW (The Graduate Student Organizing Committee). A founder of the Gulf Labor Coalition, he has helped to organise campaigns to raise migrant labour standards in the United Arab Emirates. In 2015, he edited an anthology of art and writing from Gulf Labor entitled, The Gulf: High Culture/Hard Labor. An early participant in Occupy Wall Street, he helped found the Occupy Student Debt Campaign and has been an integral member of the Occupy Debt Assembly and Strike Debt—a coalition formed in the summer of 2012 to help build a debtors movement. Strike Debt produced the Debt Resistors Operations Manual and organised the Rolling Jubilee. He is an active member of the Debt Collective, a prototype debtors' union. He also serves on the board of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI).
Denied entry to the UAE
Ross intended in mid-March 2015 to visit Abu Dhabi, where one New York University campus is located, to conduct research on labor issues there. However, he was stopped at John F. Kennedy International Airport and was told that he could not enter the country. Officials at NYU responded to this incident by indicating, "Regardless of where NYU or any other university operates, it is the government that controls visa and immigration policy, and not the university." The Gulf Labor Coalition, of which Ross is a member, previously revealed that immigrant workers who constructed the university campus in Abu Dhabi were exploited.
This incident has caused controversy especially with regard to NYU's passive response to an authoritarian government's threat against its faculty's research and its violation of academic freedom. Likewise, the issue of American schools opening external campuses in undemocratic states has been revisited. NYU also has a campus in Shanghai.
- Creditocracy and the Case for Debt Refusal (OR Books, 2014)
- The Exorcist and the Machines (Kassel, Documenta, 2012)
- Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City (Oxford University Press, 2011)
- Nice Work If You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times (NYU Press, 2009)
- Fast Boat to China: Corporate Flight and the Consequences of Free Trade–Lessons from Shanghai (Pantheon, 2006, Paperback edition, Vintage, 2007)
- Low Pay, High Profile: The Global Push for Fair Labor (New Press, 2004)
- No-Collar: The Humane Workplace and its Hidden Costs (Basic Books, 2003) ( Paperback edition, Temple University Press, 2004)
- The Celebration Chronicles: Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Property Value in Disney’s New Town (New York: Ballantine, 1999) (London, Verso, 2000)
- Real Love: In Pursuit of Cultural Justice (NYU Press, 1998)
- The Chicago Gangster Theory of Life: Nature's Debt to Society (Verso, 1994)
- Strange Weather: Culture, Science and Technology in the Age of Limits (Verso, 1991)
- No Respect: Intellectuals and Popular Culture (Routledge, 1989)
- The Failure of Modernism: Symptoms of American Poetry (Columbia University Press, 1986)
- Co-editor (with A.J. Bauer, Cristina Beltran, and Rana Jaleel) Is This What Democracy Looks Like? (Social Text Periscope e-book, 2012)
- Co-editor (with Monika Krause, Michael Palm, and Mary Nolan), The University Against Itself: The NYU Strike and the Future of the Academic Workplace (Temple University Press, 2007)
- Co-Editor (With Kristin Ross) Anti-Americanism (New York University Press, 2004)
- Editor, No Sweat: Fashion, Free Trade, and the Rights of Garment Workers (Verso, 1997)
- Editor, Science Wars (Duke Univ. Press, 1996)
- Co-Editor (with Tricia Rose) Microphone Fiends: Youth Music and Youth Culture (Routledge, 1994)
- Co-Editor (with Constance Penley) Technoculture (University of Minnesota Press, 1991)
- Editor, Universal Abandon? The Politics of Postmodernism (University of Minnesota Press, 1988)
- http://sca.as.nyu.edu/object/AndrewRoss (referenced 24 March 2015).
- Richard A. Posner, Public Intellectuals: A Study in Decline (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).
- Interview with Andrew Ross about Celebration, Florida and the Disney Corporation on NPR Radio, 10 August 1999.
- on YouTube 13 May 2009.
- Interview with Andrew Ross about Fast Boat to China on 17 April 2006 in the WFMU (New Jersey) Radio Archives
- Lovink, Geert. "Organic Intellectual Work: Interview with Andrew Ross," nettime, 11 July 2007.
- Williams, Jeffrey J. "Andrew Ross's Second Act: The cultural-studies theorist becomes a scholarly reporter of work and labor," The Chronicle of Higher Education, 31 August 2009.
- Ross, Andrew. "Life and Labor in the Era of Climate Justice," talk at Universita’ di Bologna, 25 November 2010. Referenced 7 December 2010.
- "The Debt Resistors Manual" a project of Occupy Wall Street/Strike Debt.