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blogcation/grad skool rulz 2.0

I am taking a blogcation for about two weeks. But before I do, I’ll make one small announcement. The sales of Grad Skool Rulz are doing well and I think it’s time for an update. New cover, new content. I’ll work on it this coming semester, once some other projects are done. So if there is something you want in the new edition, put it in the comments. Also, once the new edition is released, the first 100 copies will be free.

PS. Don’t forget – if you have an idea for a guest post, feel free to send it in.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power

Written by fabiorojas

July 11, 2014 at 12:02 am

is sociology a poor source of policy stories?

A few years ago, I bought a copy of Charles Tilly’s Why?, just for fun sociology reading. All the Important sociology reading got in the way, and I never read Why?

But while I was unpacking this week I came across it and thought I’d bring it along on a car ride to Providence over the weekend. Not only is it a fun read, as well as touchingly personal at times, it turned out to be surprisingly relevant to stuff I’ve been thinking about lately.

The book is organized around four types of reasons people give for things…any things: their incarceration in mental hospitals, why a plane just flew into the World Trade Center, whether the last-minute change of an elderly heiress’s will should be honored. In grand social science tradition, the reasons are organized into a 2 x 2 table:

Popular Specialized
Formulas Conventions Codes
Cause-Effect Accounts Stories Technical Accounts

 

Why? illustrates these types with a wide range of engaging examples, from eyewitness accounts of September 11th to the dialog between attending physicians and interns during hospital rounds.

Conventions are demonstrated by etiquette books: they are reasons that don’t mean much of anything and aren’t necessarily true, but that follow a convenient social formula: “I lost track of the time.” Stories are reasons that provide an explanation, but one focused on a protagonist—human or otherwise—who acts, and which often contain a moral edge: evangelist Jerry Falwell’s account of how he came to oppose segregation after God spoke to him through the African-American man who shined his shoes every week. Both conventions and stories are homely, everyday kinds of reasons.

Codes and technical accounts, on the other hand, are the reasons experts give. Reasons that conform to codes explain how an action was in accordance with some set of specialized rules. The Department of Public Works did not repair the air conditioning because they lacked a form 27B/6. While law is the quintessential code, Tilly shows that medicine follows codes to a surprising extent as well.

Finally, technical accounts attempt to provide cause-effect explanations of why some outcome occurs. Jared Diamond argues that Europe developed first because it had domesticable plants and animals and sufficient arable land, and lacked Africa’s north-south axis. Technical accounts draw on specialized bodies of knowledge, and attempt to produce truth, not just conformity with rules.


 

I’ve spent a lot of time in recent months thinking about what experts do in policy, and thinking about the different paths through which they can have effects. Lots of these effects are technical, of course. Expert opinion may not determine the outcome in debates over the macroeconomic effects of tax policy changes or what standards nutrition guidelines should be set at, but there’s no question that they’re informed by technical accounts.

But at least as important in influencing a wider audience are the stories experts can tell. Deborah Stone wrote about these “policy stories” decades ago, though she wasn’t especially focused on experts’ role in creating them. Political scientists like Ann Keller, however, have shown that scientists, too, translate their expertise into policy stories—for example, that human activity was creating the sulfur and nitrogen oxides that produce acid rain, destroying fisheries and making water undrinkable. These stories are grounded in technical accounts, but are simplified versions with moral undertones that point toward a particular range of policy solutions—in this case, doing something about the SOx and NOx emissions that the story identifies as creating the problem.

Some kinds of expertise, or rather some kinds of technical accounts, are more amenable than others to translation into policy stories. Economic models, in particular, are often friendly to such translation. For example, although this isn’t the language I use there, my book in part argues that U.S. science policy changed because of a model-turned-story. Robert Solow’s growth model, which includes technology as a factor that affects economic growth (by increasing the productivity of labor), became by the late 1970s the basis of a powerful policy story in which the U.S. needed to improve its capacity for technological innovation so that it could restore its economic position in the world.

Similarly, a basic human capital model in which investment in training results in higher wages easily becomes a story in which we need to improve or extend education so that people’s income increases.

Sociological models, even the formal ones, seem less amenable on average to these kinds of translations. Though Blau and Duncan’s well-known status attainment model could be read as suggesting education as a point of intervention to improve occupational status, it seems fairer to read it as saying that occupational status is largely determined by your father’s occupation and education. While this certainly has policy implications, they are not as natural an extension from the model itself. It hearkens back to that old saw—economics is about how people make choices; sociology is about how they don’t have any choices to make.

Blau & Duncan

I guess part of the appeal of Why? for me was that it mapped surprisingly well onto these questions that were already on my mind. Mostly I’ve thought about this in the context of economic models becoming policy stories. I wonder, though, whether my quick generalization about the technical accounts of sociology lending themselves less readily to compelling policy stories actually holds up. What are the obvious examples I’m missing?

Written by epopp

July 9, 2014 at 7:00 pm

book spotlight: democracy in the making by kathleen blee

ASQ has just published my online my review of Kathleen Blee’s Democracy in the Making. The book is an intensive study of the development of 97 activist groups in Pittsburgh. It’s a book that has earned its praise. Two key quotes from my review, on methods and the implications for political theory:

A number of empirical points about this book deserve mention. First, the diversity of the groups Blee studies is a nice counterpoint to the focus on highly professionalized groups that often dominates the literature on social movements.
We encounter many small groups run by a single person, in addition to groups that have attracted large followings. Second, Blee employs the language of sequences and turning points to organize the argument, which allows her to focus on specific events that have effects on further development, such as defining issues and setting group boundaries. Third, by identifying the turning points, Blee is able to discuss the paths not taken, which is an analytic strength of this work.

And:

The implication for democratic theory is that the effectiveness of citizen action depends a great deal on what might be seen as innocuous choices made by activists. This is not obvious from other theories of political economy. Mancur Olson’s work, for example, argued that basic features of groups, such as their size, affect their influence. Blee’s work suggests a rather subtle link between culture and democratic decision making. The choice that activists make in defining their group relies on their cultural repertoire: when people define who is in the group, they will likely rely on the practices in their society. This, in turn, will affect how the group develops, which affects its ability to promote its agenda. Thus culture indirectly affects democracies through its influence on activist groups.

Recommended!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

July 7, 2014 at 12:01 am

more organizational non-organizational sociology

We’ve been talking about the diffusion of organizational thinking into parts of sociology that don’t identify as “organizational sociology.” Monika Krause’s new book, The Good Project: Humanitarian Relief NGOs and the Fragmentation of Reason, is the latest example of this.

Krause coverI was familiar with Krause’s name, but the first article of hers I ran into was a 2012 piece on “model systems” in sociology, coauthored with Michael Guggenheim. The paper explores whether sociology has model systems analogous to the fruit fly or E. coli in biology — specific organisms studied by lots of people so that a large body of knowledge can be developed and eventually extended to other organisms.

The paper suggests that yes, sociology does have model systems. Think of Chicago in urban sociology, or the French Revolution in comparative-historical, or doctors in the study of professions. But, due both to the nature of what we study (the city of Chicago can’t be reproduced in a lab in Germany, like mice can) and the difficulty of standardization (there may be many studies of hospitals, but two hospitals will differ more than two C. elegans), cumulation is harder in sociology.

The concept was cool, and it stuck with me. The new book is on a very different topic, although it also touches on the production of knowledge.

The book is an interview-based study of large humanitarian NGOs. It argues that such NGOs are structured to make “good projects” the main goal of desk officers. Because the success of the project is what the organization demands, and officers are rewarded for, they have incentives to provide help that will have measurable short-term effects on groups that are relatively easy to assist. The people who are in need have to compete to show that they are the right kind of population — one that will benefit in the ways desired by donors. This dynamic has a variety of effects on what kind of assistance is provided — some benign, others less so.

I found this particularly interesting because it echoes findings by Joe Gibbons, a PhD student whose committee I’m on. (Defending Tuesday and on the job market — check him out here!) Joe’s dissertation looks at community-based organizations in Newark and Jersey City. He discovered that funding agencies’ focus on maximizing impact — “impact” meaning “numbers of people reached” — meant that when times got tough, groups doing excellent work serving smaller immigrant communities, for example, could lose funding entirely. Others had to adjust their strategies to serve as large a population as possible, even if that didn’t really align with their mission or competency. His quantitative findings also suggested the most disadvantaged neighborhoods tended to be underserved by CBOs — which would be compatible with a donor preference for helping populations likely to show measurable success.

Both of these studies are fundamentally organizational, and find overlapping results. The Good Project is explicitly about how organizations operating within a particular field develop logics that shape those organization’s practices in complex, but comprehensible ways. Joe’s dissertation looks at how city-specific fields of CBOs shape how and to whom services are provided. Yet studies like these — one in the development literature, one in urban soc — are unlikely to be put into conversation with one another.

At any rate, you can preview a nice chunk of The Good Project here. I know I’m looking forward to reading the rest.

Written by epopp

June 15, 2014 at 5:06 pm

summer reading: libby garland’s after they closed the gates: jewish illegal immigration to the united states, 1921-1965

As part of a CUNY junior faculty semester-long writing group, I read and commented on drafts of what are now publications.  I’m delighted to see that one draft is now a book that introduces readers to an unfamiliar historical period, one that helps us understand the US’s contemporary policy on immigration.  For readers interested in immigration, historian Libby Garland‘s new book After They Closed the Gates: Jewish Illegal Immigration to the United States, 1921-1965 (University of Chicago, 2014) offers a window into policy implementation.

For a preview of her book, check out a recording of her talk and actors’ re-enactments of documents (fast forward to about 9:25 for the start of her talk) at the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side.* In her talk, Garland discusses the origins of her research project, which was prompted by the desire to understand the role of Jewish nonprofit organizations in international aid work, as well as the impact of nascent quota laws – numerical limits that presaged piloted by the Chinese Exclusion Act – upon the forms of immigration.  While conducting research on documents from the US Immigration Bureau in the National Archives, she realized she had stumbled upon a forgotten piece of American history.

During her research, which included examining reports made by Jewish aid organizations and newspaper articles, she uncovered accounts of eastern European Jewish immigrants’ circuitous routes into the US via multiple countries, including Cuba, Canada, and Mexico.  Governmental officials (undercover agents) sent reports documenting smugglers’ activities and requesting orders on what to do about the influx of undocumented immigrants.  Through careful study of such documents, Garland uncovers the implementation of policy at borders, seaports, and deportation hearings.

Garland also has a podcast interview about her book on Vox Tablet.

* The Tenement Museum offers docent-led tours, showing how much (or how little) times have changed in terms of living space.

Written by katherinechen

June 10, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Posted in books

social movement book recommendations

Mobilizing Ideas has a nice feature where they recommend summer reading:

  • Phillip Ayoub on LBGT activism in Africa
  • Catherine Corrigal-Brown on activism in British Columbia
  • Paul-Brian McInerney on Soule’s corporate activism book
  • Will Moore on policing
  • Jo Reger on child abuse
  • Deana Rohlinger on collective action fiction
  • I wrote on dissidents in East Germany (the Glaeser book)

Check it out.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

June 10, 2014 at 12:04 am

ten years towards big impact: david burns’ feeling good

One of the awesome aspects of grad school (besides the occasional “free” pizza as you listen to the latest in research) is the sharing of resources among colleagues who are undergoing the same experiences.  One grad school friend gave out copies of David Burns‘ seminal Feeling Good, an exercise book that explains how to practice cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Back in the fall, the Stanford alumni magazine had an article about how Burns became convinced of CBT’s efficacy over prescription drugs as a tool for treating depression, anxiety, perfectionism, and other paralyzing feelings:

What Burns did in Feeling Good, the first mass-market, evidence-based, self-help book for the relief of depression, was explain the tenets of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for the lay person: that depression is caused by self-defeating beliefs and negative thoughts—thoughts like “I’m not good enough,” “I’ll never amount to anything,” or “I have no friends.” Feeling Good included exercises readers could use to change how they reacted to such thoughts and to stop depression before it spiraled down into an endless abyss of despair and pain. Study after study has since demonstrated CBT’s effectiveness.

Burns did not invent CBT; its philosophical underpinnings can be traced back to the Buddha or to Epictetus, the Stoic. Credit for laying the foundation of modern CBT generally goes to Philadelphia psychiatrist T. Aaron Beck and the late New York psychologist Albert Ellis. Burns remembers when he, like most psychiatrists, didn’t believe that something as simple as how we think could cause depression.

Working at the University of Pennsylvania’s Depression Research Unit in the 1970s, Burns researched the theory that low serotonin levels cause depression, an idea widely accepted as the “chemical imbalance theory” and conventional wisdom among popular media, many physicians and much of the public. Although Burns won the A. E. Bennett award from the Society of Biological Psychiatry in 1975 for his research on brain serotonin metabolism, he was not convinced that the chemical imbalance theory was valid. In one study, he and his colleagues gave massive daily doses of the amino acid l-Trytophan to depressed veterans in a double-blind study. L-Trytophan goes directly from the stomach to the blood to the brain, where it is transformed into serotonin. If depression results from a deficiency of brain serotonin, the massive increase should have triggered clinical improvement, but it didn’t.

The study was published in a top research journal but did little to dim the growing excitement about the chemical imbalance theory. In 1988, Lilly launched the world’s first blockbuster SSRI antidepressant, a drug with powerful effects on brain serotonin receptors. During its first 13 years, Prozac generated $21 billion in sales, or 30 percent of Lilly’s revenues. Burns still wasn’t convinced.

“I always wanted to see people’s lives transformed from depression and anxiety to joy and peace,” he says. In his clinical work, he didn’t see that happening very often, no matter how many pills he prescribed. His department chair suggested that he sit in on one of Dr. Aaron Beck’s weekly cognitive therapy seminars.

At first, Burns thought Beck’s presentation sounded like “pure hucksterism”; still, he began using CBT methods if only to prove to himself that they didn’t work. Soon, many patients he’d been treating with drugs and “you talk, I’ll listen” therapy started to get better. A lot better.

Burns felt torn. He had just won a five-year grant to develop a brain serotonin lab at Penn. Yet he wasn’t convinced serotonin played a role in depression or any other psychiatric disorder. After three agonizing months, Burns decided he’d “rather spend my life doing something that works.” He left Penn and opened a private practice “in a storeroom with a window,” two stories below Beck’s Center for Cognitive Therapy.

Burns’s doubts were vindicated by a landmark 2002 metastudy conducted by psychologist Irving Kirsch, now at Harvard, of all trials submitted to the FDA by the manufacturers of the six most widely prescribed antidepressants approved between 1987 and 1999. Not widely publicized until a 60 Minutes report in February 2012, it showed only a slight difference in patient response between the drugs and placebos.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by katherinechen

June 3, 2014 at 7:50 pm

book spotlight: creative life by bob ostertag

ostertag

A few years ago, I read Creative Life by Bob Ostertag and promised myself that I’d blog it. Sadly, I was waylaid by children, post-modernism, critical realism, and all other manner of things. Today, I shall right that wrong. I love Creative Life. It’s a great book, one that I find fascinating and inspirational.

The book is by Bob Ostertag, a Bay Area electronic musician. I got to know him mainly through his musical works, specifically a series of CD’s called “Say No More.” Really top notch sound collage. I later heard “Sooner or Later.” From the liner notes:

The sounds in this piece come from a recording of a young boy in El Salvador burying his father, who had been killed by the National Guard. There is the sound of the boy’s voice, the shovel digging the grave, and a fly buzzing nearby.

The music is gripping, to say the least.

Creative Life is part autobiography, part political statement, and part manifesto for artists in the Internet age. The early parts focus on becoming an avant garde musician and political activist. Interesting, but much more insightful are sections talking about how to do political art in places with violent histories (e.g., Serbia), the work of gay artist David Wajnarowicz, and his plan to distribute all of his music for free as a liberation from a music industry that is hostile to his work.

I hope my summary indicates the rich range of topics covered in the book, but it certainly underplays the passion he brings to these topics. For me, the discussion of his plan to distribute his work for free is the most passionate. Rather than being a pipe dream, the Internet has now made it possible for artists to develop new ways of presenting themselves and, if they are lucky, they can control how their work reaches the audience. It’s a fight for integrity in a world where that’s hard to come by.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz 

Written by fabiorojas

May 21, 2014 at 12:35 am

Posted in books, culture, ethics, fabio

book spotlight: from social movement to moral market by paul-brian mcinerney

I had the pleasure of reading Paul-Brian McInerney’s book, From Social Movement to Moral Market, as it was being written. It’s a good book that expands on the new sociology of markets, which focuses on how ideas of worth and value influence firms and exchange. The main contribution of McInerney’s book is explaining how one specific movement, the Circuit Riders, innovated the field of IT for non-profits. This is a big area of the  market and it raises a number of issues that are worth discussing.

At first, the Circuit Riders start off as a typical movement.  A small cluster of nerds who have the dream of helping non-profits exploit new information technologies. Later, things get interesting as Microsoft jumps into the fray and creates a hybrid organization that bridges the IT consulting world and the idealistic nerd world. This creates a sort of situation of moral ambivalence where people question the role of various organizations in helping non-profits. Thus, movements create new spaces that have to be negotiated as markets mature and become institutionalized.

The bigger picture is that McInerney’s book makes a strong case that movements are vital actors in society. Not only do they push for political change, but they are responsible for creating markets and organizations. I think research likes this makes the case that studies of social change should more consistently look for movement like actors across different social domains.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

May 7, 2014 at 12:01 am

upcoming books

Books that will be discussed:

  • The Moral Background by Gabriel Abend.
  • From Social Movement to Moral Market by Paul-Brian McInerney
  • Shaping Jazz by Damon Phillips

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

May 3, 2014 at 12:24 am

Posted in books, fabio

high risk, high reward? kunda’s reflections on ethnography and organizational studies

While catching up on some reading during spring break, I ran across an Journal of Organizational Ethnography article by organizational ethnographer Gideon Kunda.  In this article, Kunda’s reflections about his development as an organizational ethnographer seem pertinent to the on-going orgtheory discussion of ethnography.  Kunda not only describes how he became drawn to organizational studies (hint: questioning a figure of authority about the differential treatment of patients based on class), but also how he arrived at his topic and research site, generating the now iconic study Engineering Culture.

During his training, Kunda worked on several projects using other data collection methods (i.e., surveys), during which Goffman’s work on Asylums was instructive:

Here once again was a science that starts with ready-made theories, selectively uses them in accordance with interests unrelated to (or even opposed to) the logic and spirit of scientific inquiry, collects data using a method that assumes it knows what and how to ask before encountering the world of its subjects, and disrespects or ignores their complex realities, or for that matter, their feelings about who is studying them and why. What factors effect quality is a legitimate question, if one takes the managerial perspective (although this is not the only perspective that could and should be taken). But in order to answer it, in fact in order to even know how to go about studying it, I began to realize, one has to find ways to collect valid data. And the data, if that was what the facts of life should be called, were found in the richness of the stories I heard and the complexity of the interactions I observed, in people’s sense of who they were and what they were up to, and in their willingness to convey it to an interested outsider. Whether or not all this could or should be ultimately reduced to numbers and statistically analyzed seemed much less important than finding ways to collect, understand and interpret evidence that was respectful of its complex nature. If this was the case, it seemed to me, then the scientific system I was enmeshed in, even by its own standards – the norms of science that demand respect for the empirical world – was woefully inadequate. And worse – its procedures and output were embarrassingly boring, to me at least, when compared to the richness of the world it set out to comprehend.

In conclusion, Kunda states:

Over the years I have continuously noted and wondered about the extent researchers in the early stages of their careers, and graduate students in particular, feel, or are made to feel, that while they are granted the methodological license, and sometimes looseness, of “qualitative methods” (a phrase that often replaces or refers to a watered down version of ethnography), the academic authority system (in terms of funding, supervision, publication requirements and career options) compels them to limit their questions, choice of theory and writing style to those that enhance the chances of approval, funding and quick publication. I encounter again and again the ways that this commitment comes at the expense of a willingness to let fly their own sociological imagination, to cultivate and trust their own interpretive resources and analytic instincts, to respect and develop their innate language and authorial voice, or, for that matter, to risk long-term ethnographic fieldwork.

The issue then is not, or not only, one of competing methods, and to overstate such distinctions is, I believe, to miss my point.  Rather, I see my story as an invitation to acknowledge and explore the shared conditions of all scientific claims to knowing and depicting social reality, organizational and otherwise, under whatever theoretical and methodological guise, that together place limits on the depth, insightfulness and indeed the validity of interpretation: the endless complexity of data, the incurable subjectivity of the observer, the fundamental flimsiness of formal method and the prevalence of unsubtle yet often disguised institutional pressures to confirm to standards and ways of thinking outside and often against the pure logic of scientific inquiry.

If I am to formulate a conclusion, then, it is this: the continuing need to devise personal and collective ways – and I have suggested and illustrated some of mine – to release “discipline” from its misguided equation with an institutionally enforced a priori commitment to hegemonic theoretical discourse and methodological frameworks, and to apply it instead to its legitimate targets, the questions for which there can never be a final, authoritative answer, only continuing exploration and debate: What is data, what is a valid and worthwhile interpretation, how does it come about, what are and how to cultivate the personal sources of imagination that make it possible, how to report it and, not least, to what end.

Another major take-away for budding researchers is that peers can offer support.  That is, scholarly development is not necessarily a hierarchical transmission of information from mentors to mentees, but the co-production of knowledge with peers.

Written by katherinechen

April 16, 2014 at 9:14 pm

new labor in new york book now out

GC colleague Ruth Milkman and Murphy Institute colleague Ed Ott have co-edited a new book, New Labor in New York: Precarious Workers and the Future of the Labor Movement (2014, ILR Press), that should interest readers who are looking for content on recent organizing efforts in the labor movement.

Milkman-Cover, 2Final

In the preface, authors Ruth Milkman and Ed Ott write about the genesis of the book, with case studies researched and written by grad students enrolled in a year-long course:

This book is the culmination of a long process of collective effort.  It began in early 2011, when we decided to co-teach a seminar in the Sociology program at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center entitled, “Toward a New Labor Movement:  Community-Based Organizations, Unions and Worker Centers in New York City.”  To enroll in the course, interested students were required to make a commitment to conduct in-depth fieldwork and to write a case study of an organizing campaign or group, with the understanding that we would eventually try to publish an edited volume like this one.  We were extremely fortunate to attract an extraordinary group of Ph.D. students from various departments at the Graduate Center, as well as a few from the Labor Studies Masters’ program at CUNY’s Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies, where both of us are on the faculty.

Check it out.

Written by katherinechen

March 13, 2014 at 1:52 am

a bargain for $29,150.92 (plus $3.99 shipping)?

While following up on an inquiry about the list price for my book Enabling Creative Chaos: The Organization Behind the Burning Man on amazon, I was surprised to see that at least one vendor has apparently entered an algorithmic deathspiral on the offer price.

If anyone wants a new copy of the book for $29,150.92 (plus $3.99 shipping), a bookstore in Tennessee would like to sell you one.  On that same offer page, a used copy is going for $966.03.  And to think that my students complained that Pearson’s more than $100 price tag on Scott and Davis’s Organizations and Organizing was a bit much…

Written by katherinechen

February 7, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Posted in books

Tagged with

books that shaped work in America – the US DOL seeks your recommendations

The US Dept. of Labor (DOL) is celebrating its 100th birthday. In honor of reaching that milestone, the DOL is asking the public to contribute recommendations for “Books that Shaped Work in America:

In honor of its Centennial in 2013, DOL, in partnership with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, is developing a list of Books that Shaped Work in America. To get started, we’ve asked members of the DOL family, as well as many other esteemed individuals, for suggestions. That includes you! Suggest a book to add to the list.

Of course, this list is a work in progress, and essentially always will be, since — like America itself — work is constantly changing and evolving.

Already featured books include Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickled and Dimed, and Michael Lewis’s Liar’s PokerMaybe you have additions to contribute that have altered your own outlook or those of your students?

Here are just three examples that my students have reported as either changing their lives (for example, standing up to workplace abuse) or helping them to better understand the organizational underpinnings and dynamics of the workplace:

BTW, the Bureau of Statistics under the DOL produces a handy online book (also available in print at your local library) that  helps readers understand different kinds of work that they might like to pursue.

Written by katherinechen

December 4, 2013 at 12:38 am

Posted in books

Tagged with

Becker and Faulkner’s Thinking Together: An E-mail Exchange and All That Jazz now available in print

Today, I met with first year grad students who wanted to know how sociologists develop research questions and studies while navigating grad school, academia, and other contexts.  Although sociologists do give retrospective accounts in their publications and presentations, it’s not easy to fully convey the “back stage” behind the research.  Rarely do readers get to see how a study unfolds.  Luckily, Howie Becker and Bob Faulkner‘s latest book is now available both as an ebook and print book (update: corrected link), for those of us who like to read old school-style.   According to Franck Leibovici,

the paperback version produces a different experience [from the ebook]. for example, it has an index which allows you to visualise how many people, scholars, musicians, anonymous people, have been mobilized to produce this investigation.

For those who like the ebook format, see our earlier post, which includes a summary by Becker himself.

Here’s the official summary of Thinking Together: An E-mail Exchange and All That Jazz:

· edited by Dianne Hagaman
· preface by Franck Leibovici

When Rob Faulkner and Howie Becker, two sociologists who were also experienced professionals in the music business, decided to write something about this other part of their lives, they lived at opposite ends of the North American continent: Faulkner in Massachusetts, Becker in San Francisco. They managed the cooperation writing a book requires through e-mail. Instead of sitting around talking, they wrote e-mails to each other.

And so every step of their thinking, the false steps as well as the ideas that worked, existed in written form. So, when Franck Leibovici asked them to contribute something which showed the “form of life” that supported their work, they (helped along by a timely tip from Dianne Hagaman), they sent him the correspondence.

The result is one of the most complete and revealing records of scientific collaboration ever made public. And one of the most intimate pictures of the creative process in all its details that anyone interested in that topic could ask for. Investigative writing is not only about formulating chains of rational ideas (as the usual format of scientific articles would like us to believe), but also mixes plays on words, stories, and arguments in new arrangements.

this book is a contribution to the art project (forms of life)—an ecology of artistic practices, paris, 2011-2012, by franck leibovici.

curated by grégory castéra and edited by les laboratoires d’aubervilliers and questions théoriques, with the support of fnagp, la maison rouge, le fonds de dotation agnès b. see www.desformesdevie.org.

One of the songs that helped the two authors work on their cases of how musicians build their repertories:

Written by katherinechen

November 13, 2013 at 4:43 am

how to lose friends and family via multi-level marketing, aka direct selling organizations

Two weeks ago, my organizations class discussed a chapter from Nicole Woolsey Biggart’s classic study of direct selling organizations (DSOs) as charismatic organizations.  DSOs rely upon people using their personal networks to recruit customers and, more importantly, new members who distribute products and services. Members share a portion of their sales with sponsors, or those who recruited them to the organization; such sponsors derive most of their income from recruited members’ sales.  DSOs’ techniques are more commonly known as multi-level marketing, which have been criticized by some.

In past years’ discussions of the DSO reading, students listed familiar examples of DSOs like Tupperware, Cutco, Amway, and Mary Kay.  This time, students named a new DSO that I wasn’t familiar with: Primerica.  Two said that they had studied for their license to sell Primerica life insurance.  After class, I looked up Primerica’s business model.  One of the summary articles (bonus: 300 page prospectus) noted Primerica’s origins (citigroup) and flagged one of its sources of revenues as the $199 license fee that members-in-training front, along with a recommended monthly fee.

In the financial sector, another DSO Herbalife has been the epicenter of an unusually vocal feud between two hedge fund managers, one of whom is shorting Herbalife’s stock and the other of whom is going long. In explaining the rationale for their fund’s position on Herbalife, Bill Ackman and his analyst Shane Dineen gave a 3 hour-long presentation with a 300-plus slide Powerpoint analysis that claims that “Herbalife Displays Indicators of Being a Pyramid Scheme.” During the presentation, Ackman and colleagues argued that Herbalife is primarily about recruiting people for a “business opportunity” rather than selling products or services. For example, the presentation describes how the top 1% of distributors claim 88% of Herbalife’s compensation.  Not surprisingly, in a subsequent cnbc interview, the Herbalife CEO countered Ackman’s analysis as an attempt to “manipulate our stocks.”

Ackman’s analysis inspired at least one blogger to journey to Queens to visit a Herbalife nutrition club’s meeting and post about his impression. On the other hand, a Herbalife distributor who has been disappointed by his business opportunity results has filed a suit using claims similar to Ackman’s contentions. An executive summary version of Ackman and Dineen’s Powerpoint analysis underscores the potential impact of DSOs upon distributors’ networks:

Recruiting family members, friends, work and church acquaintances and others in their communities into a rigged game, one that is highly likely to exact financial and emotional harm on those loved and trusted by them, has an impact that cannot be repaired or recompensed with dollars alone.

In class discussions over the years, students have made similar conclusions, with some sharing experiences about how they no longer can socialize with relatives and friends who are members of DSOs because of the relentless pressure to buy and join.  Others continue to do part-time work as DSO members who were recruited by family.

Teaching resources on DSOs
Here are recent studies of DSO practices:
Paid to Party: Working Time and Emotion in Direct Home Sales by Jamie L. Mullaney and Janet Hinson Shope (Rutgers, 2012)
Making Up the Difference: Women, Beauty, and Direct Selling in Ecuador by Erynn Masi de Casanova (University of Texas Press, 2011)
The Hard Sell: An Ethnographic Study of the Direct Selling Industry by John Bone (Ashgate, 2006)

- The Tupperware! documentary is a great complement for teaching Biggart’s work

More on Ackman vs. Ichan
Despite the cnbc announcer’s attempts to steer discussion towards the two callers’ opposing positions on Herbalife, Ackman and Carl Icahn revisited an old disagreement, with traders ohhhing in the background. A Vanity Fair article delves into the origins of their feud and other feuds over what sound like spot agreements gone sour.  Word on the street is that Ackman may have another presentation on the ready.

Written by katherinechen

October 31, 2013 at 11:05 pm

book spotlight: No Billionaire Left Behind: Satirical Activism in America

While attending a Burning Man-related event in NYC during the mid-2000s, I ran into a group of well-dressed “advocates” who satirically called themselves “Billionaires for Bush (or Gore).”  Using personas like Ivy League Legacy (aka Melody Bales) and Phil T. Rich (Andrew Boyd), this troupe has deployed humor, irony, and satire to underscore the weakening of democracy by moneyed interests and the resultant growing inequality.  According to the NYT, this group was one of many that were under surveillance by the New York Police Department (NYPD) during the months leading up to the the 2004 Republican National Convention in NYC.

Rutgers anthropologist Angelique Haugerud‘s (2013) No Billionaire Left Behind: Satirical Activism in America delves into this irrepressible and well-organized social movement group.  The book kicks off slowly, with the obligatory carnival analysis that characterizes many academic studies of festivals and performance.  Nonetheless, the book excels in contextualizing larger social issues, including the erosion of American safety net policies and the ascendency of the financial sector.  Using interviews and observations, Haugerud reveals how this social movement group has secured an audience and media presence: building up a recognizable brand (“Billionaires for X” – or in the case of Mitt Romney, “Multi-Millionaires for Romney”), storytelling to rally the troops around co-optations of various political candidates’ messages, hustling for resources (i.e., bartering a canoe for 100 tuxedos to dress “Billionaires”), and using humor and impression management to deflect public stereotyping of demonstrators as militant, “angry,” and “smelly.”  This book neatly captures the challenge of how to get social movement messages out via corporate media, which for the most part, have eschewed careful analysis of complex phenomena, while sidestepping barriers to free assembly and free speech.  In addition, the book depicts the difficulties of coordinating local chapters whose members may have their own ideas about acceptable practices and messaging that could muddy the social movement brand.

Although Haugerud adopted the name of Billionaire persona, she didn’t fully immerse in Billionaire character, opting for a primary identity as a resident anthropologist who overtly took notes while at meetings and events.  How she negotiated access isn’t entirely clear, although the troupe seemed to appreciate being the focus of an anthropological study.  In all, this book offers a vivid depiction of the strategy and tactics of a contemporary social movement.  Those who are involved in social movements will find the practices depicted useful for expanding the organizing toolkit.

Written by katherinechen

October 18, 2013 at 1:36 pm

new book on work and family: Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy

When I visiting another university to give a talk a few years back, I met two faculty members for lunch.  One was wincing visibly in pain.  When I asked what was wrong, my colleague explained that he was suffering a migraine but that he would still teach class.  When I suggested cancelling class that day to recuperate, he felt he couldn’t.  He explained that he needed to save his vacation days for helping his ailing father, who was aging in place in another state.  Moments like these made me realize that for workers of all ages, attending to family matters is not easy or well-supported in the US.

Such policy issues are addressed in a new book by sociologist Ruth Milkman and economist Eileen Appelbaum: Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy (2013, ILR/Cornell University Press).

Here is a description of Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy provided by the authors:

This book documents the history of California’s decade-old paid family leave program, the first of its kind in the United States, which offers wage replacement for up to six weeks for all private-sector workers when they need time off from their jobs to bond with a new child or to care for a seriously ill family member. Based on original fieldwork and surveys of employers, workers, and the larger California adult population, it analyzes the impact of paid family leave on employers and workers in the state, and explores the implications for crafting future work-family policy for the nation.

The book makes three key arguments. The first concerns the politics of paid leave. In contrast to most government-sponsored social programs, which are under attack and often have little popular support, paid family leave (and indeed work-family policy more generally) is a crossover issue politically. Conservatives see it as an expression of “family values,” whereas for progressives it is a much-needed element of the safety net for working families. As a result it has strong support across the political spectrum. Business routinely opposes any and all legislative initiatives in this area, which is a major obstacle to passing laws like the one that created the California program. But because the population generally is so highly supportive of paid leave, that opposition can be overcome by means of coalition organizing, as the passage of California’s landmark 2002 law – documented here in detail – illustrates.

The second argument is that contrary to the claims of the Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbyists, paid family leave and other programs like it do not impose any major burdens on employers. This book presents survey data that show that in California, employers themselves concluded that the impact of the new state program on their productivity, profitability and performance was minimal and often positive. In addition, paid leave often reduced turnover and improved workers morale, at little or no cost to employers. The tax supporting the program is paid for entirely by workers, and many employers enjoyed cost savings as a result of the program’s creation, because they could coordinate their own wage replacement benefits with now offered by the state.

The third argument is more disturbing. This book shows that although workers who use California’s paid leave program and their family members have benefitted greatly, and although the program is well-managed and easy to access, awareness of its existence remains low. Moreover, those who are in most need of the program’s benefits – low wage workers, young workers, immigrants and disadvantaged minorities – all of whom have little or no access to employer-provided wage replacement benefits when they need to take time off to care for a new baby or a seriously ill relative – are least likely to know about it. As a result, the program’s potential to act as a social leveler, making paid leave available not only to managers and professionals, who are much more likely than lower-level workers to have access to paid time off in any form, but to all private-sector workers, has not yet been achieved. Instead the longstanding pattern of inequality in access to paid leave has remained largely intact. And even workers who are aware of the new state program are often reluctant to take advantage of it because they fear repercussions on the job.

Here’s the front and back of the book cover:

Milkman-Pprbk, Proof#1 copy

Check out the book – the 2014 ESS annual meeting in Baltimore will feature this book (and others) as an author-meets-critics session.

Written by katherinechen

October 11, 2013 at 7:39 pm

new ebook by Howie Becker and Rob Faulkner: Thinking Together: An E-mail Exchange and All that Jazz

New ebook by Howie Becker and Rob Faulkner

New ebook by Howie Becker and Rob Faulkner

What does it take to pull together a collaborative research project?  Howie Becker and Rob Faulkner reveal all, via a reconstruction of their prolific email correspondence collected in a new ebook Thinking Together: An E-mail Exchange and All that Jazz.  Prompted by the puzzling observation that younger musicians didn’t know the same repertoire of songs shared among older musicians, Becker and Faulkner, who are both practicing musicians, muscle through hammering out a research design and theoretical explanation for how musicians, including ones who have never practiced together before, can collectively perform.*  Their exchanges evidence the gradual refinement of categories with plenty of links to songs, descriptions of illustrative experiences, and recounting of interviews with fellow musicians while practicing in the field.  Here’s a blurb penned by Becker:

Would you like to know how people really think their way through all the problems of doing research and writing a book? Watch two old pros in action as they do that in the e-mail correspondence between sociologists Rob Faulkner and Howie Becker as they wrote Do You Know? The Jazz Repertoire in Action.

The book Thinking Together: An E-mail Exchange and All that Jazz shows the authors exchanging ideas and modifying them as the conversation proceeds. It shows them extracting ideas from their experiences in the field: performing in public, collaborating with other musicians, interviewing, using their field notes to generate ideas and test them, to elaborate theories as they go, all the thinking that goes on when you actually do research. No review of the literature—it’s replaced by the two of them drawing in work that seems relevant, that gives them something they can use to explain what they’ve seen and heard: using a study of Mexican witchcraft, for instance, to develop a research strategy, and painfully realizing that they have some substantial musical prejudices that they have to turn into a kind of historical sociology.

This is the way research really gets done, what you do after you write the research proposal and start working and find out that none of your plans are going to work because things were more complicated than you thought they were.

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Written by katherinechen

September 19, 2013 at 10:13 pm

monadology and sociology by gabriel tarde

Excellent. An open access copy of Gabriel Tarde’s Monadology and Sociology (pdf).

Written by teppo

September 10, 2013 at 10:42 pm

lifting the crimson curtain: Manufacturing Morals: The Values of Silence in Business School Education

As a grad student, I always found crossing the bridge over the Charles River from Harvard University to the Harvard Business School (HBS) to be a bit like approaching Emerald (or more appropriately, Crimson) City. On the Allston side, the buildings seemed shinier (or, as shiny as New England vernacular architecture allows), and the grounds were undergoing constant replantings, thanks to a well-heeled donor. In addition, HBS has loomed large as an institution central to the dissemination of organizational theory and management practices, including Elton Mayo’s human relations.

HBS has certain peculiarities about teaching and learning, like the use of case studies which follow formulaic structures as the basis for directed class discussion.* Moreover, instructors follow a strict grading break-down: mandatory “III”s assigned to the lowest-performing students of classes – a source of concern, as students with too many IIIs must justify their performance before a board and possibly go on leave.** To help instructors with grading, hired scribes document student discussion comments.***

Such conditions raise questions about the links, as well as disconnects, between classroom and managerial leadership, so I was delighted to see a new ethnography about business school teaching at the UChicago Press book display at ASAs.

With his latest book, Michel Anteby lifts the crimson curtain from HBS with his new book Manufacturing Morals: The Values of Silence in Business School Education (University of Chicago Press, 2013).

anteby-jacket

Here’s the official blurb:
“Corporate accountability is never far from the front page, and as one of the world’s most elite business schools, Harvard Business School trains many of the future leaders of Fortune 500 companies.  But how does HBS formally and informally ensure faculty and students embrace proper business standards? Relying on his first-hand experience as a Harvard Business School faculty member, Michel Anteby takes readers inside HBS in order to draw vivid parallels between the socialization of faculty and of students.

In an era when many organizations are focused on principles of responsibility, Harvard Business School has long tried to promote better business standards. Anteby’s rich account reveals the surprising role of silence and ambiguity in HBS’s process of codifying morals and business values. As Anteby describes, at HBS specifics are often left unspoken; for example, teaching notes given to faculty provide much guidance on how to teach but are largely silent on what to teach. Manufacturing Morals demonstrates how faculty and students are exposed to a system that operates on open-ended directives that require significant decision-making on the part of those involved, with little overt guidance from the hierarchy. Anteby suggests that this model-which tolerates moral complexity-is perhaps one of the few that can adapt and endure over time.”

Check it out! And while you’re at it, have a look at Anteby’s previous book, Moral Gray Zones (2008, Princeton University Press).

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Written by katherinechen

August 27, 2013 at 10:43 pm

book spotlight: playing to win by hilary levey friedman

Friedman

Guest blogger emeritus Hilary Levey Friedman has just released her new book, Playing to Win, which is a thoughtful account of competitive children’s activities. Drawing from fieldwork done in three competitive youth circuits (chess, dance, soccer), Hilary provides us with an engaging treatment of the topic. She raises important questions about how we’ve reshaped childhood in response to the growing importance of higher education for young adults.

The core strength of the book is that it successfully explains how two organizational fields – higher education and children’s leisure – collide. Since colleges are the “key” for mobility, we recreate childhood in ways that reproduce status via college entrance. Thus, the book is an extension of Bourdieu’s approach to stratification, as expressed through Lareau and her school. This attempt at social reproduction is seen when parents strategize about how much effort to expend and how these activities teach the right life lessons. And, of course, as with all good ethnography, there are lots of juicy bits, such as the discussion of female chess players, which is a great discussion of counter-signalling theory in childhood.

The biggest question I had when reading the book is “does it matter?” In the final chapter, Hilary alludes to arguments made by Dalton Conley (and myself, by the way) that the specific school doesn’t matter much.  In other words, if it doesn’t matter which college you go to, then why should you torture your kid with violin lessons so he’s get into Yale?

Even if I’m wrong, and there is an Ivy League treatment effect, it’s still puzzling. Higher education researchers know that only about 50 colleges in the United States are hard to get into (consistent admit rates below 50%). About 18  million people a year enroll in college, but very competitive schools like the Ivies and the public flagships account for a small fraction of that number. Being a chess champ may be helpful for the smartest kids who have a shot at an elite school but this whole scene is irrelevant for most people who are trying to get into college.

My guess is that parents probably know, on some level, that these activities usually have marginal effects on admission when compared to GPA or SATs, but they still want to show that they are invested in their children. And of course, many of this activities are enjoyable. So in many cases, no harm no foul. If you buy this argument, you can skip soccer camp with a clean conscience.

Overall, great job and a pleasure to read. Recommended!

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Written by fabiorojas

August 26, 2013 at 12:11 am

excellent librarian video

Written by fabiorojas

August 24, 2013 at 12:01 am

burning man round table discussion at the society pages

Several sociologists (Matt Wray, Jon Stern, and myself) and an anthropologist (S. Megan Heller) have a round table discussion on Burning Man at the Society Pages. We’ve all done research at Burning Man, an annual temporary community in Nevada that has inspired events and organizations worldwide.

Have a peek at our discussion, which includes ideas for future studies. We discuss answers to questions such as:

Why might the demographics of the Burning Man population be of interest to researchers? For instance, there is a cultural trope that people who go to Burning Man are often marginalized individuals—outsiders in some way. Could the festival’s annual Census be used to measure this rather subjective characteristic of the population? Is there a single “modal demographic” (that is, a specific Burner “type”) or are there many? What else does the Census Lab measure (or not measure)?

and

Burning Man sometimes gets portrayed as little more than a giant rave—a psychedelic party on the playa. It is like a party in many ways, but those of us who go know that the label doesn’t begin to capture the full experience. What larger phenomena does Burning Man represent in your research? In other words, how do you categorize the event and why should we take it seriously?

Going to Burning Man? Check out the un-conference schedule. Looking to volunteer? Start with this post.

A 2003 San Francisco billboard ad for a voluntary association references Burning Man.  As Burning Man's popularity and legitimacy have increased, other organizations and individuals have sought to expropriate the Burning Man name, imagery, and output for their own use.  Photographer unknown.

(Unfortunately, this photo didn’t make it into my book because the image quality wasn’t sufficient for a black and white reprint.) A 2003 San Francisco billboard ad for a voluntary association references Burning Man. As Burning Man’s popularity has increased, other organizations and individuals have sought to expropriate the Burning Man name, imagery, and output for their own use. Photographer unknown.

Written by katherinechen

August 14, 2013 at 8:09 pm

asa Fifth Avenue shopping

The sociological equivalent of Fifth Ave. shopping is pulling out the Am Ex for publisher’s bags filled with books and swag from the ASA book exhibit. (Or, for those of us who prefer purchasing items from the privacy of home, online shopping for books to be delivered by mail. Only the delivery fulfillment staff will know our proclivity for a particular author or text…)

The haul: 12  books, 1 award, publisher swag (pens and buttons), and more books to arrive by snail mail

The haul: 12 books from Cornell University Press, Oxford University Press, NYU Press, Duke University Press, Penguin, Westview Press, and Beacon Press (signed by the author herself, Barbara Katz Rothman), 1 award certificate from Emerald, assorted publisher swag (pens and buttons), white paper summaries, and more books to arrive later from presses that couldn’t do on-site sales, like UChicago Press

Written by katherinechen

August 14, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Posted in books

Tagged with ,

“are you the last person in line?” – learning local norms

One of the somewhat terrifying or, for some of us, invigorating aspects of being an academic is learning and practicing cross-cultural and local norms, especially for research or travel. Typically, these lessons involve careful observation of what seems unthinkable (cutting in line?!? OR waiting one’s turn in line?!?), inadvertently breaking norms in front of aghast or amused locals, and the thrill of mastering a new skill.

In a few weeks, those of you who are relocating or returning to Britain might find the following links handy for immersion in the local milieu:

- “Feeling your life lacks excitement, so dunking your biscuit for an irresponsibly long time
– “The anxious bewilderment when clocking the stranger deciding to join the queue at your side rather than behind you
– “The unwelcome surprise of someone telling you how they are after you’ve asked them how they are”
– “Secretly hoping it stays cold so there’s always something to talk about”
– “Feeling guilty taking your M&S Bag For Life into Tesco

Coming to NYC for ASAs? Try season 8 of Curb Your Enthusiasm and brush up your “waiting on line” etiquette. Tip: don’t assume you’re at the back of the right line.

Written by katherinechen

August 2, 2013 at 9:30 pm

Posted in books, culture, fun

are we a post-racial society? See Vilna Bashi Treitler’s new book The Ethnic Project: Transforming Racial Fiction into Ethnic Factions

Sociologist Vilna Bashi Treitler has a new and especially timely book coming out about race and ethnicity in the US.  Look for The Ethnic Project: Transforming Racial Fiction into Ethnic Factions at your local bookstore or at the Stanford University Press table at ASAs.

The Ethnic Project analyzes changing depictions of race relations to help readers understand the development and perpetuation of a racial hierarchy in the US.

The cover of Harpers Weekly from 1876 depicting the status of African-Americans and Irish-Americans

The cover of Harper’s Weekly depicts the status of African-Americans and Irish-Americans using racial stereotypes in 1876

A contemporary cartoon and summary after the jump.
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Written by katherinechen

July 23, 2013 at 5:00 pm

fall book forum 2013?

Please use the comments to suggest a text for our next book forum. Recent forums: Biernacki’s Reevaluating Evidence, Glaeser’s Political Epistemics, Jenn Lena’s Banding Together, David Graeber’s Debt.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 27, 2013 at 12:40 am

Posted in books, fabio

looking for a reader for cultural sociology? see Matt Wray’s Cultural Sociology

Looking for a reader for a cultural sociology class?  Matt Wray has put together Cultural Sociology: An Introductory Reader, which is an excellent anthology that covers classic and contemporary readings of cultural sociology, including several penned by our very own orgtheory bloggers and guest bloggers like Jenn Lena and Stephen Vaisey.  In addition, Wray has interspersed excerpts with his own essays, which uses Burning Man as a phenomena to help students understand sociological concepts and forms of inquiry. 

Bonus: Wray’s cover art also exhibits good taste in featuring Pepe Ozan‘s (2005) The Dreamer. (Read about Steve Mobia’s account of making the Dreamer and subsequent activities here.)

Here’s official info about Cultural Sociology: An Introductory Reader:
“Available for Fall courses, this brand new reader is a comprehensive and clever mix of classic and contemporary essays on the sociology of culture. This mix of essays is an essential resource for understanding this fast growing, dynamic area of sociology. An introduction outlines the building blocks of a sociological approach to studying culture, and helpful headnotes guide students through each reading. For more information, or to order an exam copy, visit http://books.wwnorton.com/books/978-0-393-93413-7/.”

Click below for the Table of Contents:
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Written by katherinechen

June 25, 2013 at 4:00 am

Posted in books

Tagged with

democracy and direct action according to David Graeber

For those of us who wish to consider the implications of recent worldwide events, three of anthropologist David Graeber‘s books offer a deeper understanding of relatively unfamiliar organizing practices and their relationship with democracy:

(1) Direct Action: An Ethnography (2009, AK Press)

(2) Revolution in Reverse (or, on the conflict between political ontologies of violence and political
ontologies of the imagination)
(2007)

(3) The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement (2013, Random House)

Fabio’s previous posts covered one of Graeber’s most famous books Debt. For those of us who teach and practice orgtheory, Graeber’s work on direct action and criticisms of bureaucracy offer much-needed insight into how collectivities can gel in taking action. In particular, his in-depth account of how groups make decisions by consensus offers rich examples that can help students and practitioners understand the steps involved, as well as the pitfalls and benefits of these alternatives to topdown orders. (Other examples in the research literature include Francesca Polletta’s research on SDS and my own work on Burning Man – see chapter 3 of Enabling Creative Chaos: The Organization Behind the Burning Man Event).

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Written by katherinechen

June 21, 2013 at 7:00 pm

thanks to guest blogger Kathleen Blee

A very belated thanks to guest blogger Kathleen Blee for her informative post about her latest book Democracy in the Making: How Activist Groups Form. You can find out more about Blee and her work here.

Written by katherinechen

June 10, 2013 at 5:21 pm

how to live a happy life

For seventy five years, Harvard University has conducted a longitudinal study of 269 men who graduated in 1938. It’s an attempt to learn, in detail, about the factors that might contribute to a good life. Business Insider has a nice summary of a new book, Triumphs of Experience, that presents the results of the study. A few take home points:

  • Alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power.” Alcoholism was the main cause of divorce between the Grant Study men and their wives; it was strongly correlated with neurosis and depression (which tended to follow alcohol abuse, rather than precede it); and—together with associated cigarette smoking—it was the single greatest contributor to their early morbidity and death.
  • Above a certain level, intelligence doesn’t matter. I assume that it doesn’t matter for the types of life course outcomes social scientists measure (employment, health, happiness, marriage).
  • Relationships matter, a lot: “Men who had “warm” childhood relationships with their mothers earned an average of $87,000 more a year than men whose mothers were uncaring.” and “Late in their professional lives, the men’s boyhood relationships with their mothers—but not with their fathers—were associated with effectiveness at work.”
  • Dad matters as well: “warm childhood relations with fathers correlated with lower rates of adult anxiety, greater enjoyment of vacations, and increased “life satisfaction” at age 75—whereas the warmth of childhood relationships with mothers had no significant bearing on life satisfaction at 75.”

The formula for a good life: no alcohol or smoking; be nice too people, especially your kids; and you’re probably good enough to get what you want out of life.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 20, 2013 at 12:01 am

rounding up the org

Written by fabiorojas

May 9, 2013 at 12:27 am

Posted in books, fabio

biernacki book forum, part 3: the role of cultural competence

Part 1, Part2Scatterplot review by Andrew Perrin.

In this last post, I’ll discuss why I fundamentally disagree with the argument presented in Reinventing Evidence. There are two reasons. First, I agree with Andrew Perrin that Biernacki wants us to embrace a textual holism. One of Biernacki’s major arguments is that by isolating a single word, or passage, we are losing the entire meaning of the text. Thus, interpretation is the only valid approach to text. Coding and quantification is  invalid. Perrin points out that lots of things be isolated. For example, if I see the n-word, I can say that, on the average, the text is employing racist language.

Second, Biernacki does not seem to consider cultural competence. In other words, human beings are creatures that can often reliably capture the meaning of utterances made by other humans from the same cultural group. Of course, I am talking about things like every day speech or short and simple writings like newspaper articles. More complex texts, like novels, will have networks or dense layering of meaning that go beyond a human’s native capacity for communication. These probably could be coded, but it would require intense training and an elaborate theory of text, which sadly we don’t have in sociology. But my major point remains. There’s a lot of fairly simple text that can be coded. If you believe that people can accurately convey the meaning of a text or label some aspect of it because they are “native speakers” of the culture, then coding is a valid thing to do. To believe otherwise, is to assume a world of solipsistic culture where every act of utterance requires a stupendous level of interpretation on the part of the audience.

So to wrap things up. I give credit to Biernacki for making us think hard about the quality of coding which is lacking. The fact that science is presented in ritual is fair, but doesn’t address whether a particular procedure produces valid measurement or inference. And I think that the view that texts are essentially uncodable is in error.

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Written by fabiorojas

April 22, 2013 at 12:15 am

Posted in books, culture, fabio, research

academic work inspired by hello kitty

Speaking of branding with kitties, I have enjoyed academic work that incorporates the iconic Hello Kitty. As a grad student, I attended a conference featuring presentations on kawaii (“cute”) culture. One observant panelist noted that what appeared to be Hello Kitty on the conference posters was actually her twin sister Mimmy, distinguished by a yellow rather than red bow.

Hello Kitty has also graced the covers of at least two American academic books. The book cover of an edited anthology on manners and gender in Japan features Hello Kitty and her not-often-seen boyfriend Daniel both reaching for the same piece of sushi. A fresh-off-the-press book on globalization showcases an over-sized version of Hello Kitty about to trample a metropolis.

Want to share your own favorite cultural icons analyzed from an academic perspective? Put them in the comments.

Written by katherinechen

April 17, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Posted in books, culture

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