Archive for the ‘culture’ Category
This weekend, Omar wrote a detail post about the “depth” of culture, the degree to which some idea is internalized and serves as a motivation or guide for action. I strongly recommend that you read it. What I’d like to do in this post is use Omar’s comments as a springboard for thinking about organizational behavior.
The reigning theory in sociology of organization is neo-institutionalism. The details vary, but the gist is that the model posits a Parsonsian theory of action. There is an “environment” that “imprints” itself in organizations. Myth and Ceremony institutionalism posits a “shallow imprinting” – people don’t really believe myth and ceremony. Iron cage institutionalism takes a very “deep” view of culture. Actors internalize culture and then do it.
Omar posits, I think, is a view of culture that is constitutive (you are the ideas you internalize) and interactive (your use of the idea modifies the cultural landscape). Omar wants to get away from the metaphor of “deep” vs. “shallow” culture. He also discusses dual process theory, which merits its own post.
What is important for organization theorists is that you get away from Parsons’ model:
Note that conceptually the difference is between thinking of “depth” as a property of the cultural object (the misleading Parsonian view) or thinking of “depth” as resulting from the interaction between properties of the person (internalized as dispositions) and qualities of the object (e.g. meaning of a proposition or statement) (the Bourdieusian point).
The implication for orgtheory? Previously, the locus of orgtheory has been the “environment” – all the stuff outside the organization that people care about. That’s highly analogous to “culture” getting internalized deep within the individual. Thus, different institutional theories reflect a deep/shallow dichotomy. If you buy Omar’s post-Swidler/post-Giddens view of things, then what is really interesting is the interaction creating at the point of contact between environment and organization. Orgs don’t passively await imprinting. Rather, there is variance in how they respond to the environment and there is interesting variation in the adoption/importation of stuff from the environment.
The issue of whether some culture is “deep” versus “shallow” has been a thorny one in social theory. The basic argument is that for some piece of culture to have the requisite effects (e.g. direct action) then it must be incorporated at some requisite level of depth. “Shallow culture” can’t produce deep effects. Thus, for Parsons values had to be deeply internalized to serve as guiding principles for action. Postulating cultural objects that are found at a “deep” level requires we develop a theory that tells us how this happens in the first place (e.g. Parsons and Shils 1951). That is: we need a theory about how the same culture “object” can go from (1) being outside the person, to (2) being inside the person, and (3) once inside, from being shallowly internalized to being deeply internalized. For instance, a value commitment may begin at a very shallow level (a person can report being familiar with that value) but by some (mysterious) “internalization” process it can become “deep culture” (when the value is now held unconditionally and motivates action via affective and other unconscious mechanisms; the value is now “part” of the actor).
One thing that has not been noted very often is that the “cultural depth” discussion in the post-Parsonian period (especially post-Giddens) is not the same sort of discussion that Parsons was having. This is one of those instances in cultural theory where we keep the same set of terms—e.g. “deep” versus “shallow” culture–but change the parameters of the argument, creating more confusion than enlightenment. In contrast to Parsonian theorists, for post-Giddensian theorists, the main issue is not whether the same cultural element can be found at different levels of “depth” (or travel across levels via a socialization process). The key point is that different cultural elements (because of some inherent quality) exist necessarily at a requisite level of “depth.”
These are not the same sort of statement. Only the first way of looking at things is technically “Parsonian”; that is Parsons really thought that
…culture patterns are [for an actor] frequently objects of orientation in the same sense as other [run of the mill physical] objects…Under certain circumstances, however, the manner of his [sic] involvement with a cultural pattern as an object is altered, and what was once an object becomes a constitutive part of the actor” (Parsons and Shils 1951: 8).
So here we have the same object starting at a shallow level and then “sinking” (to stretch the depth metaphor to death) into the actor, so that ultimately it becomes part of their “personality.”
Contrast this formulation to the (post-Giddensian) cultural depth story proposed by Sewell (1992). According to Sewell,
…structures consist of intersubjectively available procedures or schemas capable of being actualized or put into practice in a range of different circumstances. Such schemas should be thought of as operating at widely varying levels of depth, from Levi-Straussian deep structures to relatively superficial rules of etiquette (1992: 8-9).
Sewell (e.g. 1992: 22-26), in contrast to Parsons, decouples the depth from the causal power dimension of culture. Thus, we can find cultural schemas that are “deep but not powerful” (rules of grammar) and schemas that are powerful but not deep (political institutions). Sewell’s proposal is clearly not Parsonian; it is instead (post)structuralist: there are certain things (like a grammar) that have to be necessarily deep, while other things (like the the filibuster rule in the U.S. Senate) are naturally found in the surface, and need not sink to the level of deep culture to produce huge effects. Accordingly, Sewell’s cultural depth discussion should not be confused with that of the early Swidler. Swidler (circa 1986) inherited the Parsonian not the post-structuralist problematic (because at that stage in American sociology that would have been an anachronism). Her point was that for the thing that mattered to Parsons the most (valuation standards) there weren’t different levels of depth, or more accurately that they didn’t need to have that property to do the things that they were supposed to do.
The primary aim of recent work on dual process models of moral judgment and motivation seems to be to revive a modified version of the Parsonian argument. That is, in order to direct behavior the point is that some culture needs to be “deeply internalized” (as moral intuitions/dispositions). However, as I will argue below the very logic of the dual process argument makes it incompatible with the strict Parsonian interpretation. To make matters even more complicated we have to deal with the fact that by the time we get to Swidler (2001) the conversation has changed (i.e. Bourdieu and practice theory happened), and she’s modified the argument accordingly. She ingeniously proposes that what Parsons (following the Weberian/Germanic tradition) called “ideas” can now be split into “practices + discourses.” Practices are “embodied” (and thus “deep” in the post-structuralist sense) and discourses are “external” (and thus shallow).
This leads to the issue of how Bourdieu fits into the post-Parsonian/post-structuralist conversation on cultural depth. We can at least be sure of one thing: the Parsonian “deep internalization” story is not Bourdieu’s version (even though Bourdieu used the term “internalization” in Logic of Practice). The reason for this is that habitus is not the sort of thing that was designed to give an explanation for why people “learn” to have “attitudes” (orientations) towards “cultural objects” much less to internalize these “objects” so that they become part of the “personality” (which is, by the way, possibly the silliest thing ever said). There is a way to tell the cultural depth story in a Bourdieusian way without falling into the trap of having to make a cultural object a “constituent” part of the actor but this would require de-Parsonizing the “cultural depth” discussion (which is something that Bourdieu is really good for). There is one problem: the more you think about it, the more it becomes clear that, insofar as the cultural depth discussion is a pseudo-Parsonian rehash, there might not much left after it is properly Bourdieusianized.
More specifically, the cultural depth discussion might be a red herring because it still retains an implicit allegiance to the (Parsonian) “internalization” story, and internalization makes it seem as if something that was initially subsisting outside of the person now comes to reside inside the person (as if for instance, “I disagree with women going to work and leaving their children in daycare” was a sentence stored in long-term memory to which a “value” is attached.
This is a nice Parsonian folk model (shared by most public opinion researchers). But it is clear that if, we follow the substantive implications of dual process models, what resides in the person is not a bunch of sentences to which they are oriented; instead the sentence lives in the outside world (of the GSS questionnaire) and what resides “inside” (what has been internalized) is a disposition to react (negatively, positively) to that sentence when I read it, understand it and (technically if we follow Barsalou 1999) perceptually simulate its meaning, which actually involves running through modal scenarios of women going to work and leaving miserable children behind). This disposition is also presumably the same one that may govern my intuitive reaction to other sorts of items designed to measure my”attitude” towards other related things. I can even forget the particular sentence (but keep the disposition) so that when somebody or some event (I drive past the local daycare center) reminds me of it I still reproduce the same morally tinged reaction (Bargh and Chartrand 1999; Bargh and Williams 2006).
Note that the depth imagery disappears under this formulation, and this is for good reason. If we call “dispositions to produce moral-affective judgments when exposed to certain scenarios or statements in a consistent way through time” deep, so be it. But that is not because there exist some other set of things that are the same as dispositions except that they lack “depth.” Dispositions either exist in this “deep” form or they don’t exist at all (dispositions, are the sorts of things that in the post-Giddensian sense are inherently deep). No journey has been undertaken by some sort of ontologically mysterious cultural entity to an equally ontologically spurious realm called “the personality.” A “shallow” disposition is a contradiction in terms, which then makes any recommendation to “make cultural depth a variable” somewhat misleading, as long as that recommendation is made within the old Parsonian framework. The reason why this is misleading is because this piece of advice relies on the imagery of sentences with contents located at “different levels” of the mind travelling from the shallow realm to the deep realm and transforming their causal powers in the process.
If we follow the practice-theoretical formulation more faithfully, the discussion moves from “making cultural depth a variable” to “reconfiguring the theoretical language so that what was previously conceptualized in these terms is now understood in somewhat better terms.” This implies giving up on the misleading metaphor of depth and the misleading model of a journey from shallow-land to depth-land via some sort of internalization mechanism. Thus, there are things to which I have dispositions to react (endowed with all of the qualities that “depth” is supposed to provide such as consistency and stability) in a certain (e.g. morally and emotionally tinged) distinct way towards. We can call this “deep culture” but note that the depth thing does not add anything substantive to this characterization. In addition, there are things towards which I (literally) have no disposition whatever, so I form online (shallow?) judgments about these things because this dorky, suit-wearing in July interviewer with NORC credentials over here apparently wants me to do so. But this (literally confabulated) “attitude” is like a leaf in the wind and it goes this or that way depending on what’s in my head that day (or more likely as shown by Zaller 1992, depending on what was on the news last night). Is this the difference between “shallow” and “deep” culture? Maybe, but that’s where the (Parsonian version of the) internalization language reaches its conceptual limits.
Thus, we come to a place where a dual process argument becomes tightly linked to what was previously being thought of under the misleading “shallow culture/deep culture” metaphor in a substantive way. I think this will “save” anybody who wants to talk about cultural depth from the Parsonian trap, because that person can then say that “deep= things that trigger moral intuitions” and “shallow=attitudes formed by conscious, on-the-fly confabulation.” Note that conceptually the difference is between thinking of “depth” as a property of the cultural object (the misleading Parsonian view) or thinking of “depth” as resulting from the interaction between properties of the person (internalized as dispositions) and qualities of the object (e.g. meaning of a proposition or statement) (the Bourdieusian point).
One of my fondest earliest memories of starting my research was accepting an invitation to hear a band perform in Oakland, CA. I asked my host, “What kind of music is it?” My host, a Berklee College of Music grad, paused and then gave an intriguing answer, “Well…it’s noise.” That description ushered in a crash course introduction to Burning Man and its art scene, a memorable immersion depicted in the first paragraph of Appendix I of my book.
Since then, participating at Burning Man has provided many introductions to cultural trends, some of which have become mainstream. (Other art forms, like the Aesthetic Meat Foundation, have not yet become mainstream.) Each year, a fellow campmate likes to ruminate about what’s in and what’s out at Burning Man based on our mutual observations. This past year, we agreed that dub step seemed to be on its way out. For those readers who haven’t tried dancing or listening to dub step, here’s Key & Peele’s take on this musical genre (warning: squeamish viewers may want to pause around 2:23 or so):
Carmina Burana music chaser after the jump.
Read the rest of this entry »
Q. You are interested in factors that determine whether particular musical styles, genres, etc., will gain mass appeal — or remain circumscribed to a small niche. Have you discovered something about the process of “influence” or “contagion” that the social network scholars have ignored or underemphasized? What does your work tell us about the role of networks in shaping popular tastes?
A.The most common way for music to blow up from a small scene into global pop is for a controversy to erupt. Music history is littered with examples of “moral panics”: be-bop jazz was blamed for white-on-black race riots in the mid-1940s, just as rap music was blamed when riots erupted in Los Angeles following the Rodney King trial. In both cases, sensationalized news reports and especially a focus on the “dangerous” elements in the music attracted young people in droves. Moral panics, like magnets, repel and attract. This is also true when disputes involve dueling scenes, like the fights between “mods” and “rockers” in the U.K. in the early 1960s or the battles between fans of heavy metal and punk that played out on the pages of Creem magazine in the early 1980s. It is equally true when outsiders attack: the Parents’ Music Resource Center’s efforts to ban heavy metal and rap music resulted in those Parental Advisory stickers. When rock fans staged the infamous Disco Demolition at Comiskey Park they may have kept disco in the limelight for an extra year.
The interview is filled with lots of other insights. Self-recommending!
Harvard Magazine has an article from literary scholar Helen Vendler. She’s on the Harvard undegraduate admissions committee and she wonders if current standards would make it hard for tomorrow’s literary leaders to gain admission. A representative clip:
The truth is that many future poets, novelists, and screenwriters are not likely to be straight-A students, either in high school or in college. The arts through which they will discover themselves prize creativity, originality, and intensity above academic performance; they value introspection above extroversion, insight above rote learning. Such unusual students may be, in the long run, the graduates of whom we will be most proud. Do we have room for the reflective introvert as well as for the future leader?
I’ve long given up on a purely idealistic view of college admissions. For example, if you read Jerome Karabel’s The Chosen, perhaps the most important book ever written on elite undergraduate education in America, you quickly learn that college admissions reflect an economic and political equilibrium. A college, even one as wealthy as Harvard, serves many masters and that means you admit legacies and athletes and you have affirmative action. It also means that you create standards that students then strive to achieve, like the ideal type of the straight A student who is the newspaper editor as well.
You may think I’m a pessimist but I’m not. Rather, I’m amazed at the diversity of higher education. There’s more than one college, way more. There’s 2,000+ universities and liberal arts colleges. So yes, some of the future greats will end up at Harvard. But others won’t. Look at recent Pulitzer Prize winners. Many are Ivy League grads (Jennifer Egan – 2011 prize) and some are not (Paul Harding – 2010 prize). Some go to modest schools (Junot Diaz – 2009, went to Kean College). The bottom line is that literature doesn’t need Harvard. The motley crew that will become the next generation of Capotes and Rowling will come from all kinds of places.
Hi all, here’s an ad:
At the 2012 ASA meetings, a number of members of the Social Psychology Section sported pins announcing “Social Psychology—it’s actually everywhere!” The same may be true about culture and cultural processes. The Culture section “considers material products, ideas, and symbolic means and their relation to social behavior.” The new American Journal of Cultural Sociology and the long standing Poetics: Journal of Empirical Work on Culture, Media, and the Arts publish a wide array of studies focused on aspects of culture. The intent of a special issue of Social Psychology Quarterly is to highlight the deep connections between the omnipresent cultural context/processes and social psychological mechanisms in social life.The intersection of culture and social psychology may take many forms. Claims that “culture is cognition” raise linkages between cultural meaning-making and a wide array of internal processes such as stereotyping, attribution, schematic processing, and the like. Identity processes involve recognition of shared and negotiated meanings and interpersonal dynamics within cultural contexts that may bolster or alter identity meanings and subsequent behavior. And, the varied status and power processes shaping dynamics among individuals and groups may underlie the production, consumption, and interpretation of cultural objects.We welcome submissions from a broad range of empirical and theoretical perspectives, demonstrating the links between social psychological mechanisms and cultural processes to explain a wide variety of practices (pertaining, for example, to religion, health, politics, music, art, intergroup dynamics). The deadline for submitting papers is May 1, 2013. The usual ASA requirements for submission apply (see “Notice for Contributors”). Papers may be submitted at http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/spq. Please indicate in a cover letter that you would like your submission to be considered for the special issue. Prospective authors should feel free to communicate with the coeditors (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org) or special issue editors, Jessica Collett (email@example.com) and Omar Lizardo (firstname.lastname@example.org) about the appropriateness of their papers.
When I was in graduate school, cultural sociology was simply a branch of sociology. But later, I found out that it has an usual place in the discipline:
- It’s a large specialty, but jobs are scarce. That’s my own observation – any one have data?
- It seems to have absorbed the social theorists
- It has been accused of being insular
- It has been accused of being too idiosyncratic with regard to method (See Perrin’s article)
So does cultural sociology have a Prada Bag problem? Is it a specialty that sounds cool but is really a luxury for fancy departments? Consider this an open thread on the place of cultural sociology and its position in the discipline.
I have often read papers that address a standard sociological topic – like voting, or education, or health – and they immediately jump to “culture” as an explanation. Sometimes they take the time to take a swipe at a strong rational choice argument, but they rarely take the time to really engage standard non-cultural explanations. It’s as if saying “culture” three times and clicking your heels will magically transport you to a special place where culture is the only variable that matters.
Turns out that I am not the only one who has noticed this. Brian Steensland, my colleague at Indiana, wrote an article in Sociological Forum making this claim:
I suggest that the sociological literature on culture and politics has largely, and perhaps necessarily, been operating in a restricted fashion. It has developed a rich arsenal of concepts and propositions, but it has also addressed an audience already disposed to believe that ‘‘culture matters.’’ Cultural analysts are now well positioned to move more fully toward an elaborated mode of analysis that takes skepticism about culture in some quarters more seriously by directly engaging noncultural approaches to politics.
Steensland also approvingly cites Perrin, who suggests that cultural sociologists should use more standard techniques. I love you guys, but maybe it’s time to come in from the cold. Let me show you my non-cultural theory and we can make beautiful post-post-post-Parsons sociology together.
In this installment of our Fall book forum, I’ll discuss how Glaeser applies the “sociology of understanding.” Based on interviews, he presents us with an account of how some East Germans (in Berlin) saw the world. His account of peace activists would be familiar to those who study movements. Peace activists saw their faith in German socialism challenged when authority figures were perceived to act in hypocritical ways. Thus, the personal attachment to communist institutions was challenged and eventually severed.
What is much, much more interesting is his account of the internal life of the Communist party and the lives of Stasi officers. Glaeser’s account relies on a description of the folk cosmology of Communist leaders. Essentially, there are two components to this “lifeworld.” One is a worldview derived from Leninist interpretations of Marxist theory. It was all about the Party and how the Party sets the course for the nation as a whole. Thus, the mental lives of Stasi officers is filled with thinking about how any action or policy reflects the Party’s agenda and mission as the guide of the people. Political Epistemics is filled with lots of thick description on how Stasi officers sat around and try to create an interpretation of the world that properly squared with how the understood Marxist-Leninist theory. I found the obsession with “left” and “right” deviations to be informative, if amusing as well.
Second (which I find more interesting) is a Manichean worldview that pits us (the Communist movement) against an evil outsider. Abstractly, the evil outsider was capitalism in general. More concretely, the enemy, the nightmare that haunted the socialist imagination was fascism, seen as the most perverse manifestation of counter revolutionary forces. The implication is that the people who had the most status were those who had somehow participated in anti-fascist actions in WWII, as partisans, prisoners, or soldiers. This biographical experience created a sort of authenticity from which the elite of the East German communist state could be built.
This is important from the perspective of political sociology because it indicates how socialist systems were often built on very real historical traumas and the authenticity that could be constructed from these experiences. While I find it hard to see how someone could abstractly accept a political philosophy that ceded all power to state committees, I do find it easy to believe how anti-fascist sentiment could be assimilated into a socialist party’s agenda. The Party became the “us” in a literal life and death battle with “them” (fascists).
This biographical approach to the East German state also explains, to some extent, the endurance of European socialist states, which survived starvation (USSR in the 20s), mass political murder (USSR in the 30s), warfare and mass death (USSR in the 40s), and open revolt (Prague ’56/Czech Republic ’68). The elites of the system had gotten to the point where there own internal sense of self was thoroughly integrated with the Party’s interests. Thus, social change entailed a thorough rejection of the self as it had been shaped by wars.
Ironically, this merging of Party ideology, history, and personal identity contained its own internal contradictions. Since Stasi officers were justifying their actions in terms of the inevtiable evolution toward communism, they hesitated to support the GDR when things started going bad in 1989. They simply couldn’t keep repressing dissent and still believe that the Party was really standing against fascism and moving in a progressive direction. This corrosive doubt, rooted in the tensions between individual experience and party ideology, and the confrontation with a now wealthy West Germany, enabled one important group, the Stasi, to hesitate when it came time to either fight anti-communist activists or simply give up on the East German socialist project.
Next week, we’ll wrap this up with a discussion of how this historical analysis fits into a broader social scientific discussion of revolutions.
This Fall’s book forum will address Political Epistemics, a new book by Chicago sociologist Andreas Glaeser. The book investigates life in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s an ambitious book that has three main aims. First, it’s a political sociology argument. Glaeser argues that social change occurs when there is a break, or shift, in how people develop their identities and have them affirmed by various people and institutions. He calls this the “sociology of understandings.” Second, Glaeser offers a historical account of two groups of people with very different understandings of East German socialism – Stasi officers and Berlin peace activists. Third, Glaeser claims that his sociology of understandings provides a better explanation of the dissolution of East German communism than other theories.
As you might guess from this thumbnail sketch, the book is epic. It synthesizes a deep knowledge of Western cultural sociology with Glaeser’s own reading of East European history and Communist ideology. There is also a lot of thick description, where Glaeser tracks down former Stasi officers, dissident intellectuals, and works through East German archives. Yet, the book hangs together remarkably well. Though Glaeser is erudite, the text is easy to follow and rich with interesting insights. It’s a wonderful example of how a book can be very sophisticated, yet accessible to most readers.
This book succeeds on a number of levels, though I do have some reservations, especially when Glaeser goes beyond his interview evidence and extrapolates to the broader issue of why Communism ended. We’ll discuss these strong and weak points in the coming weeks, but for now, I’ll end this introductory post with a discussion of why I chose this specific book.
First, Political Epistemics has many sociological virtues. The topic – the fall of European Communism – is important and deserves serious attention. The transition away from Communism is a topic I wish that more graduate students would address. As late as the 1980s, much of the world’s population lived under state socialism. Even today, we have a number of nations that have traditional Leninist/Maoist states (e.g., Cuba, North Korea), have leaders who are trying to push in that direction (e.g., Venezuela), hybrid state forms, such as modern China, or nationalist-socialist systems such as the Baath regimes of Hussein era Iraq, Kaddafi’s Libya, and contemporary Syria. Another virtue is that the book is grounded in daily experience. Rather than rely on “grand history,” Glaeser takes the time to uncover the meaning of these political systems by interviewing the people who made these systems a reality.
Second, I chose this book for personal reasons – Glaeser was an instructor of mine in graduate school. The first time I met Glaeser was when he gave a job talk at the University of Chicago, where I was a young and very annoying graduate student. I was struck by his talk (a precis for Divided in Unity) because it combined fancy schmancy hermeneutics and ethnography. Later, I took a course in cultural sociology with him. It didn’t resemble any of the “American sociology” courses. He yelled at us once – “What? You don’t know who de Certeau is? What do they teach you around here?”* He also admitted that he doesn’t watch cable TV. But still, he was always very generous when helping students get through the rather imposing corpus of European social theory. He even indulged me in a weird argument about whether the label “critical theory” could be applied to rational choice theories.** So I was quite happy to see that his second book was out. When I read Political Epistemics, I recognize our culture theory syllabus embedded in it. It’s always a pleasure to see how the ideas of the past form the books of the present.
Next week: How to Understand the Sociology of Understanding
* Answer: Circa 1999, a lot of Park and Burgess, with a healthy dose of Simmel. And a lot of event history models.
** My view was that critical theory was not really an important theoretical distinction. Rather it’s a normative term in disguise, or simply a term for second generation Marxist theory. I asked, “For example, couldn’t, say, bounded rationality be critical theory in some sense if it lead to some level of reflexivity (as implied by Calhoun’s definition of critical theory)?” Hilarity ensued.
We are clearly living in a golden age of sociology of culture. We have the works of Richard Petersen. We have the works of Jenn Lena, whose book we discussed in detail last Spring. Now, we have Climbing the Charts is a new book by guest blogger and UCLA sociologist Gabriel Rossman. What these books have in common is a very careful examination of how cultural industries are created and how they change.
Rossman’s book is a study of how some songs become hits on the radio. The problem is that there are lots of nice stories about how this happens, but it’s hard to prove if any of them are true. For example, you might think that the dominant firm, Clear Channel, just chooses hits and then everyone follows them. You might also think that songs diffuse through a network of stations or promoters. The third option is simply that radio stations do what the record industry tells them. These are nice stories, but how do you tell which one is true?
Rossman has a simple, but powerful, idea. The different stories imply different diffusion curves (graphs that map market saturation vs. time). Each story comes with a different curve. The “lightning in a bottle” story (hot songs diffuse through market networks) has a classical S-shaped curve. Promotion by the record industry has a discontinuous step function.
Using new data on play time, Rossman shows there’s a lot of evidence that pop music is built by the record industry. You may say, “duh!” But remember, there are other equally obvious hypothesis that have conflicting predictions. It’s a real testament to Rossman that he was able to test these different stories with this great data set.
This book is a great example of bread and butter social science. The ideas are simple, the hypotheses sound obvious. But they can’t all be true. It’s hard to find data to test different ideas. Thus, the social scientist is a sort of Sherlock Holmes who roles up her sleeves and does the messy work of assembling the relevant facts to find an answer. This book is a testament to empirical social science and is highly recommended to anyone who is interested in the economics and politics of cultural markets.
Interested in consumption?
Dan Cook, an expert in childhood consumption at Rutgers, writes:
“There is 2 weeks to go to secure our membership numbers for Consumers and Consumption. Let students and colleagues know about our effort. I am confident we will also reach many new people at the next ASA in NY, but our numbers now matter.
To become an official member, you must add Consumers and Consumption to your Section membership through the ASA website. Right now it costs only $5/year—in the future, we expect the dues to remain at $5 for students and probably $12 for faculty. But right now it is $5 for everyone.
Attention Students, there are some limited funds available for ASA Student members to join Consumers and Consumption for free for 2012. Send me an email to dtcook [at] camden.rutgers.edu with “Consumption Student Membership” in the subject line. In the message, include the email that is on file with the ASA. A few are left.
Also, near the end of September or in early October, you will hear about sessions for next year, a possible reception and call for nominations for Section election of officers.”
You can read more about the section, with newsletters and an extensive list of members and their research interests, here.
In particular, this section’s pre-ASA-conferences are a great way for researchers at all stages of their careers (grad students included) to meet other like-minded scholars and “cross-fertilize” across sub-disciplines. In my case, my American Behavioral Scientist paper on how the Burning Man organization promoted a logic of artistic prosumption, in which participants simultaneously consume and produce Burning Man’s art, germinated from the literature I read and contacts I made through participating in this group.
Looking for a friendly venue to present papers? Consider the Eastern Sociological Society, or ESS. ESS meets in March 21-24, 2013 at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel and Towers. The full call for papers is here. Full disclosure: I am currently serving as the ESS secretary (it seems that my ability to take excruciating, in-depth meeting notes led to my nomination).
Here are some calls that recently went out on the ESS list that may be of interest to some of our orgheads:
1. “Rosanna Hertz is organizing a session on “Productive Rule Breakers and Innovators” and would like to identify potential presenters. The panel will focus on the turning points (power, resistance and resilience against institutions and governments) that have shaped women and men’s success in becoming successful change agents in their chosen fields from NGOs to the public sector and private sectors. If you are interesting in submitting an abstract for this session or would like more information about the proposed session, please email her at rosannahertz1 [at] gmail.com”
Saxophone legend Von Freeman passed away last week. I had the pleasure to see him play the New Apartment Lounge on the South Side, and he was just great. The Chicago Tribune has a thoughtful article about his career:
That sound seduced some listeners and puzzled others, but no one could mistake it for anything but that of the great Vonski, as he was affectionately called by friends and admirers. Sharply acidic in the top register of the instrument but full and throaty down below, whinnying and squealing in some passages, whispering tenderly in others, Freeman’s tenor work utterly defied categorization. Every sweet-sour note, every intricately etched phrase, it seemed, was crafted to sound as unexpected and as intensely expressive as possible.
Once, at the Green Mill, upset at all the chatter drowning out the music, he looked up and said, “Keep on talking. It’s ok, I usually play on the South Side.” Von, keep on playing.
For many of us, it’s that time of year – updating syllabi in preparation for fall semester. Often, this involves deciding whether to add or replace readings. This semester, I am reconsidering readings for an undergrad course on workplace management and its effect on workers and society. Like Indiana Jones, I’ve been on a decades-long hunt for what I consider my Holy Grail: finding counter-examples of how to organize in ways that serve multiple interests – not just management/owners and not just workers at the expense of customers, clients, or larger society.
Contemporary organizational sociologists excel at identifying problems, such as inequality, and the unintended consequences of organizing practices for workers, such as discrimination and instability. Mainstream bschool researchers study organizing practices that benefit management/owners but usually ignore the impact on workers and other parties. Neither group of researchers is particularly focused on helping students and readers to imagine other possibilities and the challenges these organizations encounter; thus, we may inadvertently reinforce the status quo by limiting exploration of the organizing “toolkit” to conventional practices and outputs.
Lately, I’ve turned to the media to locate examples of possible alternative ways of organizing, both conventional and unconventional. In a previous post, I described game developer Valve’s preference for teams over hierarchy. When teaching about organizations that function as sweatshops, I pair that reading with a NYT article on Alta Gracia, which pays a living wage and hires unionized labor. This week’s New Yorker offers an article that might spark a great class discussion. Comparing the operations of the Cheesecake Factory restaurant chain and efforts to standardize care on hospital units to improve patient outcomes and decrease waste, Atul Gawande explores a topic I’ve posed as an exam question – to what extent can a complex output like medical care be routinized and standardized?
In a few weeks, from beneath a silver cowboy hat, I should be continuing my search for the Holy Grail of organizing in a Nevada desert. But in the meantime, please put your suggestions for articles/links of interest in the comments!
That’s got to be Eric Dolphy – nobody else could sound that bad! The next time I see him I’m going to step on his foot. You print that. I think he’s ridiculous. He’s a sad motherfucker. Just put he’s a sad shhhhhhhhh, that’s all! The composition is sad. The piano player fucks it up, getting in the way so that you can’t hear how things are supposed to be accented.
Disagree on Dolphy, but he’s kind of right on the piano player…
What are your plans for retirement? Do you hope that your retirement investments will comfortably support you and your loved ones in a life of leisure? Or, do you hope to work as long as possible – work until you drop! As life expectancies expand and the cost of living increases, some will work as long as possible, either out of necessity or choice. Increasingly, workplaces seek to retain such employees, as demonstrated by efforts to redesign work processes at Germany’s BMW plants for aging workers.
Speaking of post-graduate school ethnography, cultural anthropologist Caitrin Lynch has just published Retirement on the Line: Age, Work, and Value in an American Factory (2012, ILR Press), which sheds insight into the experiences of an aging workforce. This intriguing ethnography follows the workers powering the family-owned factory Vita Needle in Needham, Massachusetts. Vita Needle manufactures a wide variety of needles, including those used for medical care and industrial applications. Its workers range in age from teens through their late nineties; some have advanced degrees. Some work for the sheer pleasure or to stay active per their doctors’ orders; others work because their retirement savings were insufficient to cover expenses.
Besides life-long employees, workers include a smorgasbord of past professions, including engineering, physics, architecture, education, and accounting. The company’s owner feels that these workers are especially dependable and devoted. They are less costly since Medicare serves as their medical insurance. Furthermore, he opines that this invested and experienced workforce offers a competitive advantage over other companies.
Most of Vita’s employees work part-time. Lynch’s interviews reveal that they enjoy the flexible work schedule, camaraderie, and meaning-making. Lynch’s participant-observations describes the banana-time like games that workers play to stay alert and engaged in repetitious tasks – the most sleep-inducing machine work is rotated among employees in one hour shifts. Some workers will cover for one another; a few will gently urge laggards to resume work. Lynch also notes the benefits of violating Taylorist practices of efficiently rearranging workspace. Having to walk to get tools or materials in the tight factory space keeps workers active and connected with co-workers. In addition, Lynch devotes a chapter to employees’ responses to the flurry of media attention, as well as an analysis of how domestic and foreign media have depicted the firm. In all, this book is an informative addition to courses on the workplace, organizations, and work and occupations.
“organizing creativity” and other articles on organizations and work available in sociology compass journal
Need an overview of research on conditions that enhance or constrain creativity in organizations? Check out my just published Sociology Compass article “Organizing Creativity: Enabling Creative Output, Process, and Organizing Practices,” which pulls together findings from organizational sociology, cultural sociology, psychology, and organizational studies.
Orgheads may also be interested in other Sociology Compass articles on a variety of topics in organizations and work. These articles are ideal for undergraduates and practitioners as they quickly and comprehensively introduce classic and current research. In addition, graduate students and thesis writers may find these helpful for exploring possible topics to research. Also, seasoned researchers can keep up with the latest research under specific topics of interest.
Here are several examples from the past two years:
Have any recommendations for your own or your colleagues’ articles on organizations or work that are useful for updating syllabi or catching up on the field? Please post them in the comments.
Yesterday, Jenn posted about the findings from the SNAAP survey, which show that many arts majors do rather well. While they don’t always have careers as practicing artists, they often have arts related jobs and have satisfactory post-graduation lives. This raises a question: what is the link between college major and post-graduation life course?
My hypothesis is that the jump from college major to post-graduation life is influenced by the following factors:
- Labor market credential: Is there an industry that the major trains you for? If so, how big is that industry? What is the career trajectory of people in that industry? Note: Such majors may not give you skills, just the credential (e.g., education).
- Ability signal: Some majors are harder than others. Some majors get you a better job because the major is a signal of high IQ/cognitive ability.
- Human capital: Some majors provide concrete job skill (i.e., computer science).
- Taste: Some majors require that people have an intense taste for a subject.
- Precision: This is more ambiguous, but what I mean is that some majors require people to produce very precise outputs, which requires a very different mindset. For example, in the humanities, performing music is relatively clear cut, compared to writing an essay.
The implication of the model, controlling for other factors:
- For college majors that are credentials, we expect employment, income, and satisfaction for correlate with the financial health of the industry the major is tied to.
- The higher IQ needed for completing the major, the higher the income and lower unemployment.
- Income and employment will increase with the demand for skills that happen to provided by the major (e.g., computer science was a niche topic in the 1970s, but a money maker in 2000).
- Taste: Satisfaction with the major correlates with how much you have to love the major to pursue it.
- Majors that require precision have graduates with lower unemployment and higher incomes.
When it comes to understanding the link between major and behavior, it helps to sort through these factors. I’d say the SNAAP results definitely reflect #1. There is now a fairly healthy arts sector in America that includes schools, museums, non-profits, curators, and other venues. Even those who have no desire to be an artist, might still pursue an art major as a credential. There’s also #4. People enjoy the arts a lot.
I think the visual and performing arts are different than many other humanities and social studies majors because of #5. While it’s hard to flunk someone for writing a vague essay, you probably wouldn’t far with a similar level of musical performance or figure drawing. To be even moderately successful in a traditional arts major, you can’t fake it. That ability to actually master a skill at a level that another expert (the teacher) can recognize as progress probably carries over into the jog market.
In Fabio’s November 2011 post about the profit-motivations of college students, he wrote about “why people choose useless majors”:
In 1971, about 50% went to college to make money. In the 1990s, it’s about 70%. Similarly, modern college students are more interested in financial stability, not philosophical issues. I haven’t been able to find more recent data, but I’d be surprised if that trend reversed.
As responsible social scientists, we want to measure the merits of higher education in part on how well it fulfills the expectations of the clientele: students, possibly their parents/guardians, and employers. If students enter college hoping to gain financial stability, and a college degree in some major fails to provide this, we might reasonably decide students need to be warned, and majors need to be redesigned. However, while Fabio cites research indicating students increasingly value financial stability, research on arts majors suggests they may be the exception to the rule.
On-going research on double majors and creativity, done by our colleague Richard Pitt and Steven Tepper, provides an illustrative contrast between art majors and others: while only 35% of art majors describe income as “very important” or “essential” to their careers, a full 64% of engineering majors describe income in this fashion [as I understand it, this data is from their Surdna-funded study (see "Double Majors and Creativity")].
Respondents don’t complete our SNAAP survey until after they graduate from a participating program, and we don’t ask them to tell us what they thought they wanted (financial stability/high income, or something else) when they entered college. However, we do have some information on how debt impacted the job choices of arts graduates, and how income impacts their level of job and program satisfaction. Read the rest of this entry »
I am really excited to join the fray again as a guest contributor, and thankful to the team for inviting me. In my other posts I’ll be speaking on behalf of Steven Tepper and Danielle Lindemann (both of Vanderbilt University), my collaborators in the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP). This one’s just me.
We’ve been asked to post on the state of arts graduates and artistic employment and skills in the contemporary U.S. I think the topic is timely and appropriate for this blog as we’ve discussed the value and relevance of an arts or humanities degree in the past. In particular, OrgTheory hosted a discussion in November titled, “why job hungry students choose useless majors.” The gist of Fabio’s argument, I think, is that college students are practical credentialists who want a BA to avoid service sector and manual labor; the least talented of these are drawn to majors that require the least “academic ability,” namely, the arts and humanities.
I won’t comment on the claim that arts and humanities disciplines require less “academic ability” (except to say that I think it’s bonkers), but I do want to remark upon the fiction that a firewall exists between math and science on the one hand, and the arts on the other. Read the rest of this entry »