Archive for the ‘blogs’ Category

two new sociology blogs

1. The group blog Bad Hessian, which focuses on computational issues. Includes guest stars Alex Hanna and up and coming sociologists Dan Wang, Trey Causey, Benjamin Lind, Adam Slez, Matt Moehr, and others.

2. Todd Beer, a former Fabologist, teaches at Lake Forest College in Chicago. He now has a blog called that focuses on teaching.

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Written by fabiorojas

August 3, 2013 at 12:34 am

Posted in blogroll, blogs, fabio

christakis 1, gelman 0

The plaintiff: Andrew Gelman – fellow blogger and poli sci pugilist. The defendantNicholas Christakis – sociologist, physician, tweeter.  The claim: Christakis wrote the following, which made Gelman, like, really mad:

The social sciences have stagnated. They offer essentially the same set of academic departments and disciplines that they have for nearly 100 years: sociology, economics, anthropology, psychology and political science. This is not only boring but also counterproductive, constraining engagement with the scientific cutting edge and stifling the creation of new and useful knowledge. . . .

I’m not suggesting that social scientists stop teaching and investigating classic topics like monopoly power, racial profiling and health inequality. But everyone knows that monopoly power is bad for markets, that people are racially biased and that illness is unequally distributed by social class. There are diminishing returns from the continuing study of many such topics. And repeatedly observing these phenomena does not help us fix them.

Gelman’s complaint? It’s a little hard for me to understand, but he doesn’t like the fact that Christakis said that we have really beat some topics into the ground and that maybe we should expand a little:

Regarding the question of illness being distributed by social class: Is it really true that “everybody knows,” for example, that Finland has higher suicide rates than Sweden, or thatforeign-born Latinos have lower rates of psychiatric disorders. These findings are based on public data so everybody should know them, but in any case the goal of social science is not (just) to educate people on what should be known to them, but also to understand why. Why why why. And also to model the effects of potential interventions.

Christakis is making a point about the maturity of research topics, not public knowledge of specific results. For example, the “SES gradient” is one of the most well established results in all of health research. It appears in every single sociology of health class and it is not easy (though certainly not impossible) to find a health condition where SES (or income or status) doesn’t affect the likelihood of contracting the condition or recovering. In other words, if you know anything about sociology or health, you know this finding and it is very, very, very well established.

Of course, within any field, there are notable puzzles, like the finding that immigrants (in the US) tend to be healthier than second generation people. I’m a bit puzzled by the importance of  the suicide fact. Perhaps suicide is an exception, but I believe the SES gradient enough that I’d wager that for many important health conditions that (a) SES within Finland (or Sweden) makes a big difference or (b) that wealthy countries do better on the condition that poor countries (e.g., Finland v. Sweden is probably not as important as Finland v. Gambia or Guatemala).

Gelman raises the issue of causation, and once again, it seems like he’s missing the point. Christakis is not suggesting that people stop investigating causes. Rather, it’s about the relative amount of effort. Hundreds of papers have attempted to explain the SES gradient in one way or another. In fact, it’s come to the point that if I see a talk that is about SES and health, I can nearly always predict the tables and coefficients – and I’m not even a specialist on the topic. This suggests that the marginal benefit of yet another study on the SES gradient is likely to be small. Instead, maybe people should look into new areas of inquiry unless you have a really, really, really amazing way to get at causation.

Judgment: The Court of Orgtheory finds against the plaintiff and in favor of meeting some new people.

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Written by fabiorojas

July 22, 2013 at 4:53 am

Posted in blogs, fabio, research, sociology

comment note

Brief technical note – if your comments are delayed or don’t appear, please send Orgtheory Headquarters a note. We’ll look into it. Thanks.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 28, 2013 at 5:03 am

Posted in blogs, fabio

needed: orgtheory guest stars

I will be on blogcation from July 1 to July 15. If you have ever wanted to write a post for a blog, send me an email. Topics: management, sociology, related social sciences, research methods, current events, jazz/metal/classical/West African or Ethiopian/alt- or psychedelic folk, academia/the profession, Finland.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 24, 2013 at 3:34 am

Posted in blogs, fabio

top ten orgtheory posts by comments

Written by fabiorojas

June 21, 2013 at 12:11 am

Posted in blogs, fabio

sociology blog list

The website “Best Sociology Programs” has a list of 30 soc blogs. The list covers some of the usual suspects (like this blog, Kieran’s blog, or Phil Cohen). I also learned about some bloggers that are new to me, like Deborah Lupton (“This Sociological Life“), Zero Anthropology, which focuses on postcolonial communities, and Neuroanthropology, which is self-explanatory and run by PLoS  One.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 16, 2013 at 12:39 am

Posted in blogs, fabio, sociology

why activism and academia don’t mix

Over Eric Grollman’s blog, there is a nice essay on blogging, academia, and activism. Eric provides an interesting note about the differences between white graduate students and students of color:

In a 2009 sample of 1,473 doctoral students, African American and Latina/o doctoral students ranked as their number 1 and number 3 reason to attend graduate school, respectively, to “contribute to the advancement of minorities in the US”; “contribute to my community” was number 2 for Latina/os. The top three reasons for white doctoral students were to “grow intellectually,” “improve occupational mobility,” and “make a contribution to thefield.”  All these years of feeling my work was urgently needed to make a difference, while my white colleagues were merely curious about the social world, now had confirmation.

This passage raises a number of different issues. For example, students of color often come from financially strapped backgrounds, so academia is a step up. In contrast, white students likely come from more comfortable backgrounds so mobility isn’t the issue.

The big issue, and one that captures Eric’s attention on his blog, is the divide between activism and academia, one that student’s of color don’t accept so much. Why do we “beat it out’ of graduate students? The answer, in my view, is that academia and activism are simply different things. Every activity has a bottom line. In politics, it’s votes. In business, it’s money. In religion, it’s souls. Activism is about promoting social change, which is a different bottom line than academia, which is knowledge generation.

And look around – academia is built for scholarship. We are cloistered on our campuses and  in our laboratories. We pore over journals that few people read. Our main ritual is the seminar, not the protest. To be blunt, we simply don’t have the tools that you need for social change.

Social change is a wholly different creature. If you want to influence policy, you need money, or you need a bloc of voters, or you need to sue someone. You may need friends in the media. Or a few thousand friends to show up at a rally. The work of social change is about these activities, not pumping your CV with articles in the right journals.

I’ll conclude with a few comments about the relationship between activism and academia, which is the topic of my book on the Black Power movement and its impact on the academy. What I learned is that academia is about itself and that people who enter it are under great pressures to conform. Much in the same way that an executive is only rewarded for bringing in the next account, academics are rewarded for scholarship. The Black Power movement tried to change that dynamic and experienced very little success. The main reason is that people pay money to university for prestige, which follows research, not activism.

Does this mean that I think academia should abandon activism? Absolutely not! But my views do have consequences. First, most professors (and graduate students) will continue to be rewarded to research and teaching. Academic jobs that reward activism are rare. Second, understand that until one gets tenure, most of one’s time will be spent doing academic work. Third, if you are serious about social change, you will do things that get you no reward in the academy. Activism will be done because you care about it even though your boss won’t.

Academics do have a role in social change. And I don’t mean the Chomsky’s of the world who sit around and speechify about the man. Rather, I mean the academics whose work leads to tangible improvements. I think of people like Kenneth Clark, who helped litigate Brown and desegregate  American schools. Or someone like Norman Borlaug, the biologist who helped the green revolution get off the ground by creating high yield crops that helped millions escape starvation. Academics do have a role in social change, but if you look at those who were successful you’ll see that they mastered their discipline and built a foundation of knowledge. In other words, professors who create social change aren’t the activists, they’re the ones who are really good professors and spent most of their time creating knowledge.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 31, 2013 at 12:52 am


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