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Open Access Publications from the University of California


Welcome to the Berkeley Undergraduate Journal, a biannual publication dedicated to publishing exemplary undergraduate research in the humanities and social sciences.


Dangerous Love: "Positive" Eugenics, Mass Media, and the Scientific Woman, 1900–1945

In the early twentieth century, the concept of eugenics swept through the American scientific community and lay public. Concerned with the production of "better babies" through "better breeding," eugenics found a place among other Progressive Era social movements, such as public health and home economics, that thought to use science to improve social conditions. Eugenists promoted both "negative" eugenics—the use of coercion, isolation, and sterilization to prevent childbearing among those deemed genetically inferior—and "positive" eugenics—the encouragement of increased or improved voluntary childbearing among those of "superior stock." My research will identify why positive eugenics became so popular among middle-class white women in the United States. By examining newspaper and magazine articles dating from 1900–1945, I argue that many middle-class white women supported positive eugenics because 1) it assured women that they could experience more independence, happier marriages, healthier children, and superior parenthood; and 2) it formed areas in which women could exercise authority and build interpersonal relationships with other women. While scholars have portrayed eugenics as simply a tactic to coerce and subjugate women's sexuality and fertility, I instead contend that some middle-class white women supported eugenics because of its promises for self-empowerment.

El Gran Canal de Nicaragua: Between the Politics of Land, Survival, and Autonomy on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua

The struggle for autonomy and multicultural governance, in both rich and poor countries alike, is riddled by contradictions—this, the literature largely agrees on. On the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, recent events illustrate these contradictions and provide further insight on how multi-ethnic states can promote autonomous rights and in particular, protect indigenous land rights. Through a narrative of indigenous people’s centuries-old struggle for autonomy on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, leading up to the most recent state-sponsored expropriation of indigenous territory to build el Gran Canal, this paper utilizes first-hand interviews, legal documents, and Nicaraguan news articles to illustrate both the successes and pitfalls of recent reforms to decentralize and strengthen indigenous land rights as part of the region’s broader, ongoing autonomous process. In doing so, this paper argues that while the Caribbean Coast’s current autonomy regime advances the indigenous right’s agenda by opening up new spaces for political participation, such advances are limited both by Nicaragua’s structural conditions and the inherent contradictions of state-sponsored autonomy. The paper concludes with the argument that in order to fulfill the promises for autonomous rights first set out in the 1860 Treaty of Managua, Nicaragua’s coste ñ os must strengthen grassroots movements. As long as autonomy remains dependent on the state, it will remain nothing but a lofty goal.

  • 1 supplemental file

The New World of Derivative Regulation: Clearing Risk through Clearinghouses

Derivatives are financial instruments whose price is determined based on the value of another commodity, stock, currency, interest rate or similar item. Most often, they are structured as swap contracts which amount to an exchange of cash flows: on a certain date, one party gives the other a fixed amount and the other is required to put forth an amount based on the current market price. The fixed payer has sold the risk of price movement and the fixed receiver has bought that risk. Derivatives have gained popularity in the past few decades given their exemption from certain provisions in the Bankruptcy Code and their over-the-counter status that long freed them from any type of regulatory oversight.

After the 2008 financial crisis, the U.S. government enacted regulatory changes domestically via the Dodd-Frank Act, which put derivatives under the jurisdiction of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). Most major types of derivative transactions must now use clearinghouses as their middleman (Skeel, 2011). The goal of a clearinghouse is to measure the risk of loss on a default and require the clearing member to pre-fund it through margin deposits. The interplay between banks, regulatory agencies and clearinghouses has developed a new norm for the drafting of derivative contracts and the clearing procedures involved in the modern exchange platform. My research suggests that although the contracts that have remained under the jurisdiction of the new reforms are becoming less hazardous, there exist new threats stemming from the transformation of swap agreements into less regulated futures contracts. 

Sacred Culture and Secular Religion: Catholic Missionary Work in Japan

Whenever Christian missionaries proselytize, they always discuss the interaction between culture and religion in the society they are attempting to convert. What they often do not realize is the role of modernity in producing both these categories, reorganizing how missionaries relate not only to potential converts, but also to how they understand their own theology. This study follows the genealogy of religion and secularism in their development in Japan. It also traces the development and introduction of the concepts of culture and religion as two distinct spheres in the Roman Catholic Church. These historical changes lay the foundation for how Catholic missionaries classify something as either cultural, religious, or both, and how that classification affects their willingness to change practices or teachings according to “culture” or preserve them for the sake of “religion.” This research also includes ethnography about an Opus Dei center, a Catholic institution, in Japan with how they go about their missionary activities. The ethnography reveals that preference of historical Catholic practice over adapting to what is considered more Japanese forms of practice is not about asserting a dominance of the West over the East, but about the maintenance of legitimacy to a sacred tradition, which theoretically spans space and time. Furthermore, despite Catholicism’s association with the West, Opus Dei’s focus on virtue through cultivation of pious habits rejects the dichotomy between religion and culture, making both a matter of practice instead of abstract thought.

Deconstructing Secularization Theory: Religion, Secularity, and Self-hood since the Onset of Western Modernity

The secularization thesis is a prominent paradigm within the sociology of religion. It holds that modernity has made religion increasingly obsolete. This paper refutes the secularization thesis, arguing that religion was essential to modernity (particularly in its pertinence to the development of capitalism and democracy). Yet if religion is embedded within modern civic and political life, then what do we mean when we speak of “the secular”? I argue that secularity is a set of orientations and sensibilities towards religion that have evolved through their own repeated iteration within academia on religion. The discourse of the secular is crucial to the modern political project of governance; it creates and reifies power relations not only between the populace and the elite, but also between the west and the less modernized regions of the middle east. However, the discourses of religion and secularity are entirely subject to changing cultural conditions. I posit that postmodernity-- an era characterized by rampant consumerism and mobility – has engendered a new form of religiosity in which the individual is able to combine tenets and traditions from a multitude of traditions without experiencing cultural or cognitive dissonance in so doing. Because of religion’s reflexivity to societal change and the consistent impact it has made on the fruition of such development, the secularization thesis must be replaced by a more robust paradigm built upon the interconnectedness of the postmodern world and the longstanding interaction between religion, secularity and structures of power.

From Gods To Gamers: The Manifestation of the Avatar Throughout Religious History and Postmodern Culture

When James Cameron’s epic film, Avatar, was released in 2009, it was the highest-grossing film of all time. Yet how many people who watched it were aware of the multifaceted Hindu doctrine underlying the concept of the avatara? This paper traces the avatar from the Vedic age to the present day, examining how it has persisted and adapted for over three thousand years. First the complex history of the Hindu avatara is examined through Hindu religious literature, mythology, and hagiography. This is followed by a deeper exploration of the theology of the avatar as a “hierophany”, or divine manifestation, through three progressively deepening dimensions of Hindu belief—dharma, bhakti, and moksha. The final chapter concludes with a glimpse of the avatar concept in the postmodern world, now stripped of its religious context and emerging as a simulacrum of selfhood in the digital age. The question is asked whether the secularization of the avatar is a simple case of cultural appropriation, or what possibilities for authenticity remain as we explore the recoding of religious idioms in popular culture.

Gender-Hours Disparity Across Races

This paper analyzes data from the 2013 Annual Social and Economic (ASEC) Supplement of the Current Population Survey to examine whether women work fewer hours per week than men across races. Reported hours worked in a typical week for White males are juxtaposed to those of male and female workers of Black, Hispanic, Asian, and other descent. Several regressions are considered in an attempt to correct for possible violations to ordinary least squares (OLS) assumptions that may weaken both the internal and external validity of the model. Results from the linear regression suggest that women across considered ethnicities work approximately 1–2 fewer hours per week on average than their male counterparts. While these gender differences vary across race, modifications to the regression distinguishing part-time and full-time workers indicate general robustness of the estimates for full-time employees. Part-time coefficient calculations, however, tend to lose their statistical significance for the difference in the number of typical hours worked per week, which suggests the possibility that no gender-hours gap exists for some races at the part-time level. Areas for future research are suggested.

  • 2 supplemental files