Archive for the ‘current events’ Category
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 »
Over the weekend, the public radio show This American Life created quite a stir when they retracted a story that appeared on their show earlier this year. The retracted story was a segment from Mike Daisey’s one-man play, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. (I blogged about Daisey’s story when it originally came out, saying “the voices that will remain in your head after the podcast are those of the mistreated workers whose bodies and souls are slowly being sacrificed on the factory line.”) It appears that Daisey fabricated parts of the story, like claiming that he met underage employees outside of a Foxconn plant where parts for Apple’s iPad were made. Many of the most moving parts of the story never actually happened. The story began to unravel when a reporter for another NPR show, Marketplace, realized that some parts of Daisey’s account didn’t sound accurate and began to do some fact-checking and discovered that Daisey’s accomplice in all of this – a translator named Cathy – disagreed about the basic facts. Anyway, it’s a big mess because NPR holds itself to high journalistic standards and they needed to cleanse themselves of Daisey’s fabrications before it all went public in some other forum. Here’s a full transcript of the retraction episode.
Needless to say, the media is having a field day with Daisey’s debacle, in which he first appeared to contritely apologize and then later defended himself as presenting a truthful representation of factory workers’ experience. For more in-depth coverage, check out these articles posted on the New York Times, The Atlantic, and Slate. Daisey has responded by claiming that his show is a work of art, not journalism, and that the central message he hoped to convey is true – that workers in factories where our precious technologies are employed in inhumane conditions and that this should affect how we feel about consuming these products. From Daisey’s own blog:
I apologized in this week’s episode to anyone who felt betrayed. I stand by that apology. But understand that if you felt something that connected you with where your devices come from—that is not a lie. That is art. That is human empathy, and it is real, and even if you curse my name I hope you’ll recognize that and continue reading, caring, and thinking.
I feel bad for Daisey because I do think that his message is an important one, and I’m glad that he got the message out there. The show was incredibly popular. The radio segment was the most downloaded show ever on This American Life. But I think Daisey created a major mess for himself. His sin is not fabricating a story, but rather it’s presenting that fabrication in the media as if it were journalism. If Daisey had never set foot on the set of public radio this would have never become a problem. Daisey’s theater performance is not the first, nor the last, piece of muckraking to dramatize truth. People have compared his work to that of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, which fictionalized turn-of-the-century factory conditions in Chicago. I think another apt comparison is the movie, The Social Network. Like Daisey’s play, The Social Network draws on archival material to create a semi-fictionalized account of Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of Facebook. The movie is so compelling because of the emotional moments in the plot, which portrays Zuckerberg as coolly calculating, insensitive, and desperate for recognition. This version of Zuckerberg is the one that the public has come to know. We believe this is the real Zuckerberg. But like Daisey’s play, many (or most) of the scenes in the film are fabricated. The screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, gets away with it because everyone knows he’s writing a movie and not a biography. So we let him play fast and loose with the empirical details and we love him anyway. Daisey is doing the same thing in his play. Unfortunately, what he was doing changed when he moved from the theater to the radio studio and began presenting his work as factually true (which he undoubtedly did). It’s hard to look past this error on his part.
Daisey isn’t the only person to tread the thin line between factual reporting and fiction. Recently John D’Agata and Jim Fingal wrote a book about this issue called, The Lifespan of a Fact, which relays exchanges between a writer and his fact-checker (here is a review of the book by Jennifer McDonald at the New York Times). The writer, D’Agata, wrote an essay about a 16-year old boy who committed suicide by jumping from Las Vegas’s Stratosphere casino. In fact-checking the essay Fingal found over a hundred inaccuracies. D’Agata defended the inaccuracies, claiming that they helped him to artistically convey the truth of the story he was trying to tell. The fabrications, he argued, helped to uncover the basic truths the piece was about. Is this what Daisey believes he was doing? If so, why not allow people to decide for themselves by revealing the inaccuracies up front? Of course, regular listeners of This American Life know that not every story appearing on the program is factually true. They regularly present short stories or memoir-like accounts told at The Moth, none of which I assume are fact-checked. Listeners would not be dismayed to learn that a humorous anecdote from one of these storytellers was not completely factually correct. People writing memoirs, after all, remember a distorted version of the past. Psychologists tell us that memories are malleable. Novelists are professional liars. We praise them for their ability to make their fabrications believable. Occasionally, they reveal truths in the process of fabricating. We live in a subjective world, and so we’re comfortable intermingling fact and fiction. We just need better labels to tell us how to process it.
You’ll see the media hype the GOP primary. They’ll point to the upcoming Southern primaries as evidence that the race isn’t over. Let’s do a reality check:
- 23 states have already voted.
- Delegates: Romney has 415 confirmed delegates. Other candidates have about 328 – combined.
- Raw vote totals: Romney has about 3.1 million total votes. Santorum has about 1.9 million.
- States won: 14 Romney, 9 for the rest combined.
Romney has some big winner take all/nearly all states coming up like California and New York. As long as he avoids blow outs in all the remaining big Southern and Midwest states, he’ll continue padding his lead in delegates, vote count, and states. The only question is when and how Santorum will end the race.
The results are in. Romney averted disaster by winning the Michigan primary. Santorum’s surge will soon come to a grueling end. The next contest is Washington, which should be Romney friendly. Then, a split on Super Tuesday would still leave Romney ahead in states won, total vote count, and delegates. Not a knock out victory, but enough to guarantee that a long slog will leave him ahead at the end of the day. Santorum’s money will dry up sooner or later.
So how does Ron Paul fit into this? There’s some evidence that Paul pulled his punches w/Romney and focused on the non-Romneys, especially Santorum. Paul’s campaign ran anti-Santorum adds in Michigan, a state where he’s clearly not a factor. Paul may have helped Romney get the extra points that he needed to get a win and close Santorum’s window of opportunity.
The reasons may be unclear, but the effect is not. By attacking Santorum, Paul has ensured that the next nominee will *not* be a guy who is opposed to birth control, thinks Satan runs our colleges, and trashes well regarded dead presidents. If the economy is improving, any Republican candidate will have a tough time. But Paul’s attacks on Santorum in Michigan may have saved the Republican party from a disaster of Goldwater proportions.
Over at the Andrew Sullivan blog, Zack Beauchamp picks up on my post about Ron Paul’s failure to significantly transform the Republican Party. He thinks that Paul doesn’t represent the best of libertarian face. Paul is tainted by state’s rights fanaticism, association with racists, and homophobia:
The real test for libertarianism will be when it gets a champion equipped to stand up for the ideology’s social views as well its economic and international ones.
Actually, there was one politician who might be considered a test of Beauchamp’s hypothesis – former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson. He’s pretty much a hard core libertarian who is both an economic and social liberal. He’s anti-tax, pro-gay rights, drug decriminalization, and has never dabbled in the race mongering that tainted Paul. The result? Johnson did worse than Huntsman. Barely topping 2% on polls, Johnson dropped out in November and bought a ticket to Irrelevant Land by running for the Libertarian Party nomination.
This evening, Santorum is enjoying a second surge, upsetting Romney in Minnesota and possibly Colorado. Paul’s best showing is second place in Minnesota, but still not winning a single state. Paul barely broke single digits in the other states. The message is loud and clear from the GOP primary electorate. The Wall Street republican, the anti-abortion crusader, and the hot head all get a thumbs up. Libertarians need not apply.
Here are some more Anonymous links:
- The group has big plans for 2012, here’s the announcement (watch the video).
- You can follow Anonymous on twitter, @Anon_Central.
- There’s a new documentary, We are legion: the story of hacktivists (it’s now playing at Slamdance Film Festival, the alternative to Sundance).
Also, Anonymous has recently retaliated against the shutdown of the filesharing site Megaupload (wiki site here) and the arrest of its Finnish-German hacker-founder Kim DotCom. Here’s the NYT story about the arrest. This fella is a piece of work: he was arrested at his $30 million dollar mansion in New Zealand (yes, with Finnish flag flying), and apparently about $6 million worth of vehicles were also confiscated. Yes, he made his money via illegal filesharing (of music, movies etc) – about 50 million people visited the site daily. Anonymous retaliated by hacking various sites, including the DOJ, MPAA, Universal. Interesting issue: free filesharing, important to the Anonymous ethos, has now created the type of concentration of wealth that the movement is fighting against. Robin Hood got rich.
Kim Dotcom managed, just last month, to get some music celebs (Will.i.am, Alicia Keys, Kanye West, etc) to endorse Megaupload:
Needless to say, Universal did not like the song or video.
Despite its many problems, I use wikipedia, a lot. Too much. Sure enough, just now I tried to dig something up – and got the wikipedia blackout page. Given the blackout- where will we quickly read up on SOPA (or whatever else)?
The SOPA thing is a complicated matter – a fascinating tension between protecting intellectual property and free speech. At the extreme – should online sites like Pirate Bay (free movies, music and books) be allowed to operate freely? Few people say “yes” to that one (including Jimmy Wales), so the questions emerge in the gray areas. But SOPA itself is a mess, no question.
According to the NY Times, Jim Huntsman will drop out soon. Some might say that being moderate sank him, even though he’s fairly conservative. My lesson is different and much simpler: candidates who refuse to seriously run in the first primary and reject the base’s rhetoric do badly. Unless the first state is going to be won by a local, you must try. See also: Rudy, Fred.
The latest episode of This American Life is a breathtaking first-person account of a Mac aficionado’s visit to an electronics manufacturing plant in Shenzhen, China. Here he meets some of the workers who put iPhones together and discovers that the entire manufacturing process is done by hand! He learns of the incredible toll this process of constructing little electronics goods has on their health and lives. The account, partly due to Mike Daisey’s engaging monologue style, is really unforgettable and disturbing. One of my favorite lines from Daisy’s account:
How often do we wish more things were hand-made? Oh, we talk about that all the time, don’t we? I wish it was like the old days. I wish things had that human touch. But that’s not true. There are more hand-made things now than there have ever been in the history of the world. Everything is hand-made. I know, I have been there. I have seen the workers laying in parts thinner than human hair, one after another after another. Everything is hand-made.
In typical TAL style, they try to get the other side of the story and the last ten minutes of the episode really grapple with the effects of sweatshop labor on economic mobility. Still, the voices that will remain in your head after the podcast are those of the mistreated workers whose bodies are souls are slowly being sacrificed on the factory line.
I’m sort of intrigued by the various innovations emerging from the Occupy Wallstreet Movement (I posted at strategyprofs about some of the tech ones, specifically apps).
One of the cooler, more low-tech innovations (ok, ok, these have been around for a long time – but still) is the use of the “human microphone” – note that the wiki entry was initiated just two weeks ago. Occupy also has its own hand signals (and, check out the hand signals for consensus decision-making). Cool. Twinkles.
Here’s a hand signal tutorial:
Hosted over on my own blog, mostly because it’s a little long, here’s A Sociology of Steve Jobs.
You’ve undoubtedly seen the announcements. But an orgtheory tribute seems warranted for this legend. Here’s the Stanford address Kieran linked to, a classic.
So, what are the specific demands and aims of the Occupy Wall Street protest? Here are some sources of information on the protest -
- An active twitter presence, @OccupyWallSt.
- A very active #occupywallstreet twitter hashtag (as well as #ows).
- A relatively detailed wikipedia site.
- A live stream of the ‘global revolution.’
- Or, see globalrevolution.tv.
- A New York Times piece and short video on “Wall Street Occupiers, Protesting Till Whenever”
- There is OccupyTogether.org.
- Adbusters is involved.
- As is Anonymous.
Here’s an interesting, upcoming conference that I only recently found out about: “Philosophical Foundations of Economics and The Good Economy: Individual Values, Human Pursuits, Self-Realization and Becoming.” That’s a long title.
The conference is hosted by the Center on Capitalism and Society at Columbia University, set for September 23-24. No registration is required. Here’s the program (pdf). Some of the sessions look interesting. I’m going to try to attend. With any luck, additional rain delays may even give me a chance to catch a US Open match. (If any orgtheorists in New York perchance want to meet up, I’d love it. Send me a note.)
Did you watch the Little League World Series last month? It’s possible you missed it in the wake of other news stories, like Hurricane Irene. But this year’s winners (a team from Huntingdon Beach, California) were also overshadowed by coverage of their own game, as the state of competitive youth baseball and whether or not these “unpaid adolescents” were being exploited became the media’s focus.
Sportswriter Dan Wetzel made his case for compensating Little Leaguers in “Pay the Little League World Series Players.” Wetzel writes: “Not every Little Leaguer, just the ones who play on television, where their innocence is packaged into a commodity. And, no, they shouldn’t make millions or even hundreds of thousands. They should get something, maybe several hundred per television appearance. If it made people more comfortable that the money went to a college savings fund or maybe into a trust that becomes available when they’re 18 or 21, so be it.”
Any self-respecting economic sociologist, or sociologist of childhood, will immediately think of Viviana Zelizer’s classic Pricing the Priceless Child after reading this quote. And you will also know that childhood innocence and compensation do not always mix so well.
I’ve written about how we should think of children’s participation in afterschool activities as a form of children’s work. Afterschool activities can qualify as “work” both because of prizes won and because of the acquisition of cultural capital that will have a pay-off in the longer run. I’ve also written about child performers, particularly children on reality television shows, and how they are compensated. Child performers have always occupied a complicated space in child labor debates, partly because their “work” is often constructed as being “educational.” But I’m not aware of any serious scholarship (sociological, economic, or legal) on compensation of child athletes.
In my opinion compensating child athletes may sound logical on some level, but it is a complicated issue that poses a few problems that are likely insurmountable in today’s commodified world. The most obvious practical complication has to do with NCAA regulations. If we compensate kids they almost certainly lose their NCAA eligibility. Of course many of these kids won’t go on to play NCAA baseball, but they may play another NCAA sport. Compensating them without proper protections in place jeopardizes those future opportunities. (Paying NCAA athletes is another issue that has been batted around for some time, though it also has been talked about a lot more in the past few months).
Second, and even more complicated, is that if we compensate kids in a way consistent with them being classified as workers or performers (and limiting compensation to those who appear on television makes it more likely they would be classified as performers) that would also limit the number of hours they could “work” and the conditions under which they could labor. This could impact practice times, length of games, and other parts of the sporting experience.
However, I do believe that kids should be compensated and rewarded for their hard work—particularly when it helps adults benefit financially. One model to look at would be the National Spelling Bee (which, incidentally, is now not only broadcast on ESPN, but also live on ABC in the final rounds). Finalists receive prizes, like an encyclopedia, along with scholarships, bonds, and cash awards. Other in-kind gifts like computers and trips are also possible (for example the National Geography Bee winner wins a trip to the Galapagos Islands). Perhaps elite child athletes could receive similar types of awards—like specialized training—that could protect them from NCAA violations.
In the meantime they have to settle for hometown parades and a DVD of their television appearances. What do you think is fair?
The 2011 Academy of Management conference (in San Antonio) is in a couple weeks. Miguel Unzueta (UCLA) and Sekou Bermiss (Texas) have put together a helpful Academy of Management parties and receptions twitter account, @AoMParties. Thanks guys! Very helpful. Here’s the google calendar of the events.
Other than financial measures (like ROA) I can’t think of another firm-level variable that is more commonly used in organizational studies than patent activity. Patents are used to track everything from innovation to technological niches to social networks among scientists. Patents are an all-purpose measure because we think they are tightly linked to creativity and knowledge production, the engine that drives both science and capitalist enterprise. But what if this is increasingly not true? What if patent use is becoming decoupled from creativity?
This is one of the questions posed made by last week’s This American Life, my favorite NPR show and one of the most consistently interesting programs of journalism out there. The show talked about patent trolls – companies or individuals who acquire patents for the primary purpose of suing other actors who might use technology that potentially infringes on that patent. The show focused on the firm, Intellectual Ventures, and its founder Nathan Myhrvoid. Through a couple of interesting vignettes and sly investigations, they showed how the company uses lawsuits, brought by a number of shell companies, to get large settlements out of technology companies, some of which are struggling enterpreneurial groups. The show demonstrates how, rather than protect and promote innovation, increasingly patents are being used to stifle innovation by wiping out or financially weakening companies that are actually trying to bring innovation to the marketplace. Meanwhile, patent trolls sit on those patents and do nothing to advance the innovations.
This must have some implications for our current understanding of patents as indicators of creativity and innovation. One of the startling revelations in the program was just how much redundancy there is in the patent system. The number of patents issued that cover the same basic function is often in the thousands, especially in the software industry. Patents may be more indicative of turf wars than they are of real innovation.
Even if you’re not a technology scholar, I highly recommend that you listen to the podcast of the show.
The Supreme Court has sided with Wal-Mart in the class action case. As regular readers of this blog will be well aware, sociologists have been more than usually involved in the case and the debate surrounding it. The slip opinion, written by Scalia, discusses Bill Bielby’s testimony and dismisses it:
The only evidence of a “general policy of discrimination” respondents produced was the testimony of Dr. William Bielby, their sociological expert. Relying on “social framework” analysis, Bielby testified that Wal-Mart has a “strong corporate culture,” that makes it “‘vulnerable’” to “gender bias.” He could not, however, “determine with any specificity how regularly stereotypes play a meaningful role in employment decisions at Wal-Mart. At his deposition . . . Dr. Bielby conceded that he could not calculate whether 0.5 percent or 95 percent of the employment decisions at Wal-Mart might be determined by stereotyped thinking.” The parties dispute whether Bielby’s testimony even met the standards for the admission of expert testimony under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 702 and our Daubert case … The District Court concluded that Daubert did not apply to expert testimony at the certification stage of class-action proceedings. We doubt that is so, but even if properly considered, Bielby’s testimony does nothing to advance respondents’ case. “[W]hether 0.5 percent or 95 percent of the employment decisions at Wal-Mart might be determined by stereotyped thinking” is the essential question on which respondents’ theory of commonality depends. If Bielby admittedly has no answer to that question, we can safely disregard what he has to say. It is worlds away from “significant proof” that Wal-Mart “operated under a general policy of discrimination.” … Respondents have not identified a common mode of exercising discretion that pervades the entire company—aside from their reliance on Dr. Bielby’s social frameworks analysis that we have rejected. In a company of Wal-Mart’s size and geographical scope, it is quite unbelievable that all managers would exercise their discretion in a common way without some common direction. Respondents attempt to make that showing by means of statistical and anecdotal evidence, but their evidence falls well short.
While dismissing the particular body of evidence presented as insufficient to establish the Plaintiff’s central claim, the decision does not make any more general remarks about the relevance of social-scientific evidence. (At least not to my untrained eye. Those with a legal education are welcome to comment.)
The ruling was unanimous with respect to rejecting certification, but Ginsburg wrote a partial dissent (joined by Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) on the question of the scope of the ruling, and did not sign on to the middle section of the decision (where the social science evidence is discussed). She writes, in part,
The plaintiffs’ evidence, including class members’ tales of their own experiences, suggests that gender bias suffused Wal-Mart’s company culture. … the plaintiffs presented an expert’s appraisal to show that the pay and promotions disparities at Wal-Mart “can be explained only by gender discrimination and not by . . . neutral variables.” Using regression analyses, their expert, Richard Drogin, controlled for factors including, inter alia, job performance, length of time with the company, and the store where an employee worked. The results, the District Court found, were sufficient to raise an “inference of discrimination.” … The District Court’s identification of a common question, whether Wal-Mart’s pay and promotions policies gave rise to unlawful discrimination, was hardly infirm. The practice of delegating to supervisors large discretion to make personnel decisions, uncontrolled by formal standards, has long been known to have the potential to produce disparate effects. Managers, like all humankind, may be prey to biases of which they are unaware. The risk of discrimination is heightened when those managers are predominantly of one sex, and are steeped in a corporate culture that perpetuates gender stereotypes.
In a footnote to that “long been known” sentence, Ginsburg cites Goldin and Rouse’s paper on discrimination in Symphony orchestras (revealed by the comparison of blind with non-blind auditions). The partial dissent does not mention Bielby’s testimony.
I’ll leave it to those more qualified than myself to assess the technical aspects of the ruling (e.g., with respect to Daubert), along with its meaning and likely consequences. It’s worth noting, finally, that even as they dismissed certification for the class, the three women on the court joined the dissent.
Much has been discussed about the Walmart case and ASA Amicus Brief in the postings and comments on the orgtheory [with subsequent posts 1, 2] and scatterplot blogs. Little, however, has been said about the literature review in the ASA Amicus Brief, though it spans a little more than half the main body of the Brief. Some have even suggested that the only thing the Brief does is take the position that the methods that Bill uses are those of science and sociology in particular. Clearly it does much more. [In providing the analysis below, I want to be quite clear that I am not making any claims about what people’s motives were in writing and submitting the ASA Brief. Laura Beth has been quite clear about hers and I believe her.]
I spent last night reading through all the comments on orgtheory and scatterplot. My key goal in writing my initial post was to get a discussion going about the role of sociology in the courts and the particular problems involved. I guess I succeeded! My interest in the Walmart case was only secondary and I discussed it, the ASA Amicus Brief, and Bill’s expert report because it was current, was potentially important, and exemplified many of the issues that I thought needed to be discussed. I did not write it to attack the ASA as Sally Hillsman has accused me of in an email to the Council. Truthfully, I do not know enough about what was done to know whether I would believe it to be unproblematic or not. If the Council, the ASA members’ elected representatives, had the time to seriously consider the matter, read the materials involved, appreciated the issues, and voted to submit an Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court, then I think I and others should not complain. Of course the Mitchell et al. paper does attack the ASA brief, but on scientific, not procedural grounds. [I should also note that Sally’s claim that I offered Laura Beth the opportunity to publish her reply to Mitchell et al. in SMR and withdrew that offer is factually incorrect. I withdrew the offer for her to write a quite different paper, for quite defensible reasons. All that said, what will go in the SMR special issue is still evolving.]
In reading through all the comments last night I was amazed by the number times various people said I said particular things (using their words, not mine), and claimed that I thought various things (with no access that I am aware of to my mind). Amy’s post is perhaps the extreme example of this. In an actual court proceeding this may be appropriate. I don’t think it is appropriate for blogging, assuming the goal should be to try to understand each others’ thinking–why they believe what they think is reasonable–and that by hearing what each other thinks, we might improve and deepen our own thinking. Let’s not put words in people’s mouths or thoughts in their heads. If a position someone has taken is important for a point you want to make then quote the person. If you believe someone thinks a particular thing and that is why they are taking the position they do, then ask them whether that is what they think. More generally, as Laura Beth has asked, let’s keep it as diplomatic as possible. In doing so, this will vastly increase the likelihood of having a constructive dialogue.
Note: Chris is a professor of sociology at Harvard University and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and, since 1995, he has edited Sociological Methods and Research, which is a peer-reviewed scholarly methodology journal. SMR content is also available on the SMRblog.
The current employment discrimination case against Walmart raises the important question of whether social science, and sociology in particular, can effectively participate in court cases and at the same time maintain its scientific integrity. If the answer is yes, there is then the further question of what criteria need to be met for scientific integrity to be maintained. These are important questions requiring discussion, even debate. But first some history.
By early fall, if not sooner, the Supreme Court will make a key decision in the largest employment discrimination suit in history: Dukes v. Walmart. Oral arguments in the case were heard on March 29. The suit itself, involving a class of as many as 1.5 million women, alleges that Walmart has systematically discriminated against women in its salary and promotion decisions. Potentially, billions of dollars in damages are at stake. The question before the Court, however, is not whether Walmart in fact discriminated against its employees but rather whether such a large case, involving women working in varied circumstances in thousands of different stores and involving different supervisors can be thought to constitute a single class and thus whether the class should be certified.
Olderwoman has written a fascinating post on Scatterplot about the political conflict brewing (or boiling over perhaps) in Madison as the UW-Madison contemplates separating itself from the larger Wisconsin university system. The move would allow them to raise tuition and would grant the university some autonomy from the state. Of course, the change is complicated by the current, messy politics of Wisconsin and is made even messier, as OW describes in her post, by the conflicts of interest that faculty have as citizens who typically support more progressive policies while also being stakeholders in a research institution striving to maintain its elite status. Here’s a highlight from her post:
As I have debated this issue with grad students (who are mostly lined up in opposition to the plan), I have been trying to unravel the threads of interest involved. The students tend to emphasize concerns about tuition. Issues of access and affordability are real ones. They are issues now, as state funding continues to decline. All predictions about how this issue would play out under different structures are entirely hypothetical. One group argues that to change from being a public university is to give up forever on the idea of more tax dollar subsidies for tuition. Another group argues that the only way to increase affordability is to raise tuition simultaneously with raising financial aid — effectively to charge a sliding scale that depends on family income; people who advocate this disagree about which structure is most likely to do this. As that is all hypothetical, that particular debate is solely one of opinions.
But the whole tuition debate — one I am sympathetic to as a progressive — cuts entirely differently from the issue of what is good for an elite research university. If my goal is access to high quality education for youth of modest means, wouldn’t I just stop funding an elite research university entirely? Wouldn’t that access goal be better met with an institution staffed by lower-paid faculty teaching three or four courses a semester than by an institution staffed by higher-paid faculty whose major interest and time commitment is to their research/scholarship? The trend at elite schools is toward inequality: higher and higher salaries for the high-performing research faculty, and more and more teaching done by lower paid adjunct faculty.
One core value question is whether you support the idea of an elite research institution or not. Should there be major public research institutions at all? And if so, what does it take to maintain them? Can an elite research university survive with an egalitarian ethos in the face of competition from the unapologetic elitist private institutions?
By way of Stewart Lee in the Guardian:
Once upon a time, royal marriages were political acts that forged links between different nations. Instead, William and Kate’s wedding will bind this nation to itself, and in marrying so very far beneath himself, I believe the young prince has made a heroic and deliberate sacrifice to achieve this end. … The Fisher King must search the devastated terrain for the Holy Grail, and drink from it to heal the land. Broken Britain is that wasted land. William is that Fisher King. Kate Middleton is that lovely grail, full not of the blood of the crucified Christ, but of the blood of the Middletons, who run a children’s partyware business in Berkshire. And Kate’s wedding to wise William is a ritual that may help to fix what David Cameron’s vision of the Big Society so far has not. For in choosing Kate, a simple girl from a school near Swindon, as his bride, William is in fact taking each and every British subject – man, woman, old, young, black, white, Christian and Muslim – into his royal bed, and binding us all to each other in the white heat of his princely passion. … The prince has taken his lowly bride from within this charged landscape, where our ancestors celebrated the union of man and woman in stone and earth, and began the communal processes that forged a nation from their descendents, the broken nation that William the Fisher King must now heal. Our shaman-prince could not have chosen a better receptacle for his magical purposes than Kate Middleton, a peasant-spawned serf-girl, sodden with the primordial mire of the Swindon-shadowed swamplands.
When I was in grad school, power elite theory seemed antiquated, an explanation founded on paranoid underpinnings. It was an undergrad-ish view of the world. Sure, Domhoff was fun to read in your SOC 101 class, but as an explanation for state behavior it sucked. Skocpol said so. Sociologists weren’t getting jobs selling power elite stories. People on the job market talked about status dynamics, social movements, categories, and other important stuff.
And then the financial crisis happened, and the government bailed out a bunch of firms and through good journalism we learned that a lot of that money directly funded the investment projects of Wall Street executives’ wives. And we learned that Goldman Sachs never rests and never loses. And we figured out that ex-Goldman executives are now basically running our economy (and perhaps the world). And we found out that grass roots movements are covertly being funded by the super wealthy Koch brothers. It turns out that the power elite has been really busy while sociologists have been off studying other things.
To be fair, not all sociologists stopped engaging with elite theory. The holdout Mark Mizruchi, for example, hasn’t stopped (even though even he thinks that the elite has become fragmented, causing individual firms to pursue their own business interests more vigorously). His work and the research of others like him (e.g., Val Burris) makes me feel silly for ever doubting the power of the elite. I encourage you to read Mark’s excellent 2004 article from Theory and Society, “Berle and Means revisited: The governance and power of large U.S. corporations.” It’s a great scholarly article that will rejuvenate your interest in elite theory while also making the classic work of Berle and Means (written in 1932) seem very contemporary and sexy. Perhaps there will be a resurgence in this area of economic and political sociology in the next few years.
Yesterday I was on Radio-Canada’s “Dispatches” to talk about outsourcing to India. Below is the description and a link to the segment. (Last radio plug I promise!)
Outsourcing call centres and tech support shops to India has created an affluent new generation of young Indians. But other disturbing truths are beginning to emerge.
And they’re in a new book: Dead Ringers: How Outsourcing Is Changing The Way Indians Understand Themselves (Princeton University Press).
The author is sociologist Shehzad Nadeem, an American, from City University of New York
For the full program: http://www.cbc.ca/video/news/audioplayer.html?clipid=1846190801
From NYT: ”A small crew of technicians, braving radiation and fire, became the only people remaining at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on Tuesday — and perhaps Japan’s last chance of preventing a broader nuclear catastrophe.
They crawl through labyrinths of equipment in utter darkness pierced only by their flashlights, listening for periodic explosions as hydrogen gas escaping from crippled reactors ignites on contact with air.
They breathe through uncomfortable respirators or carry heavy oxygen tanks on their backs. They wear white, full-body jumpsuits with snug-fitting hoods that provide scant protection from the invisible radiation sleeting through their bodies.
They are the faceless 50, the unnamed operators who stayed behind. They have volunteered, or been assigned, to pump seawater on dangerously exposed nuclear fuel, already thought to be partly melting and spewing radioactive material, to prevent full meltdowns that could throw thousands of tons of radioactive dust high into the air and imperil millions of their compatriots… Read the rest of this entry »