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Archive for the ‘Sean Safford’ Category

contradictions and confirmation bias

I don’t envy these people who are tasked with coming up with a memorial quote that is simultaneously pithy and meaningful.  Hendrick Hertzberg, among others, is criticizing the architect of Martin Luther King’s memorial for failing to take the context of King’s speech into account when he decided to use this truncated quote on the side of King’s statue:

Image

If you read the sermon, it becomes clear that, not only did the architect commit a hatched job,  the paragraph he pulled actually contradicts the whole point King was trying to get across.

King’s point was to rail against the “drum major instinct”; the drive in each of us that says “hey look at me!”  But then, toward the end, he sort of makes a verbal personal foul and says: if you want to call me a drum major then at least say I am doing it for the good of mankind because that is not… er… quite as megalomaniacal as… uh… I mean… anyway back to what I was saying….

My take is that the quote came from a moment in which King started down an unfortunate verbal path and was trying to get out of it to get back to his main point.  Oops.

Last April, Caroline Alexander brought up the same question of context regarding the use of a quote on the 9/11 Memorial.  In that case, the quote “No day shall erase you from the memory of time,” actually came from a longer sentence in which the poet Virgil was lauding his own role as a poet recording history in venerating the memory of an amorous pair of soldiers who died in midst of battle.  Virgil is basically saying: it’s a good thing I know what you two were up to, because otherwise you would die in obscurity like every other piker… or something like that.

What is the common thread?   Read the rest of this entry »

Written by seansafford

January 17, 2012 at 2:33 pm

i’m just a silly man who needs a shave

An incisive rebuttal laying bear bare the overdetermined intersection of social identity theory, categorization, hierarchy and agency within organizations.  Bravo.

Clearly, organizational theory would be better off if it had more bears.

 

 

Written by seansafford

January 31, 2011 at 8:52 pm

tunisia: another data point on revolutions

Given the events in Tunisia, I thought it would be worth pointing toward two (lengthy) Org Theory posts written during the “Green Revolution” in Iran last year.

The first is my post “Fisking” Andrew Miller and Gideon Rachman’s dialogue on the factors that lead some revolutions to succeed while others fail.  Events have moved so quickly in Tunisia, that I don’t really have much of a read on what just happened.  But as we learn more about how this revolution unfolded, it will add yet another data point.  For instance, current news reports mention relatively little about internal divisions among the elite, but if previous revolutions have anything to teach us, it would suggest that this must be part of the story.

In addition, I am interested in the government’s violent response to initial protests.  In Tunisia, this spurred further protests.  In Iran, violently putting down protests helped to squelch the movement.  Why?  This points to what I think is probably the most important open question in the social movement literature: why do some cycles of protest catch fire while others peter out?

On this, the evidence so far suggests that new social media played a role and so, I will also point toward Brayden’s post on the role that social media (i.e., Twitter and Facebook) might have played in Iran.  Brayden’s argument, if I can paraphrase, was that Twitter and Facebook may be more important in conveying the voice of movement participants to the outside world — becoming an “audience generation machine” in his words — but that they were not as effective as a coordinating mechanism.  In Tunisia, it does seem that social media helped to coordinate.  The difference, it seems, has to do with how the two regimes regulated social media, but it seems like there is more of a story to be told here.

Indeed, reports are that the role of social network media was to bring outside information in that changed the political opportunity structure: information unveiled by Wikileaks laid bare the corruption of the regime, this spread through social media, and helped to drive people to the street.

Written by seansafford

January 14, 2011 at 7:16 pm

the federal wage freeze

With these words, President Obama announced an across the board pay freeze for Federal workers:

In these challenging times, we want the best and brightest to join and make a difference.  But these are also times where all of us are called on to make some sacrifices.  And I’m asking civil servants to do what they’ve always done — play their part.

Anyone looking at either the politics or the substance of our America’s budget deficits recognizes that something should be done about the federal budget.  But is asking 2.1 million workers to shoulder the burden the right approach?  And even if it is, is doing it in an “across the board” freeze, the right way to go? No it’s not. Here’s why. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by seansafford

December 1, 2010 at 8:05 pm

ah, the little choices we make

Two years ago I did a radio interview about a company called “The Point”.  The name of the company came from Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point”.  The idea was to use the web to facilitate collective action.

After the interview, I contacted the founder.  We had lunch.  He was brimming with ideas.  But he was also really interested in… well…  OrgTheory.  He wanted to take the ideas we talk about on this blog and try to turn them into a company.

We talked a few more times after that. He wanted to know if I wanted to get involved. I decided it would be better to focus on my writing.  But I did mention there were grad students who would love to spend time with his company; to mine it for data and hopefully help tweak the model too.  In the end though, I couldn’t find anyone willing to pull themselves away from studies of status rankings and categorization.

By the by, Andrew Mason and I lost contact and that company became Groupon which has, apparently, been sold for $6 billion to Google.

Oops.

Written by seansafford

December 1, 2010 at 1:25 pm

confessions of a social spatial navigator

Network analysts can roughly be divided into two camps: those who look at the “whole” network and those who concentrate on individuals and their “local” set of network connections.  One problem often raised about network analysis is that the two camps have relatively little to do with each other.

Indulging in my side interest in urban transportation planning, I came across a discussion of the different ways that people navigate physical space.  It got me thinking about parallels to the way people navigate social space and about how different people approach the question of social “navigation”.  It speaks to this bridging of the two network camps.

First, some terminology:

Humans have two methods of navigation.  Spatial navigators can construct maps in their heads as they experience a place, and also tend to be good at using maps as navigational aids.  Narrative navigators navigate by creating or following verbal directions.  For spatial navigators, the answer to the question where? is a position in mapped space.  For narrative navigators, the answer to where? is a story about how to get there.  Obviously, this is a spectrum; many of us are in the middle with partial capabilities in both directions.

The same concept, put differently:

[Giuseppe] Iaria and McGill University researcher Véronique Bohbot demonstrated in a study they published six years ago that our mapping strategies fall into two basic categories. One is a spatial strategy that involves learning the relationships between various landmarks—creating a map in your head, in other words, that shows where the flower shop is in relationship to the movie theater and to the Wendy’s. The other is a stimulus-response approach that encodes specific routes by memorizing a series of cues, as in: Get off the bus when you see the glass skyscraper, then walk toward the big park.

Lets put this in terms of social structural navigation.  Say you have a hipster friend who wants to go on a date with a Polish kid who the friend has been eying for a while, but doesn’t see a route in.   Plenty of people think about social structure in the same way that roughly half of the population thinks about physical space; that is in narrative terms: “So, hipster from Williamsburg, you want to figure out how to ask that Polish kid out on a date?  Well, Pauline used to own the store with Mitch, but they split up and he started his own store.  I think that kid works for Mitch and I am going to dinner with Pauline so I can see if she’d ask Mitch to make an introduction.”

Myself, however, I’m a spatial navigator when it comes to physical geography.  When I ask my phone for directions, it initially pops up with a series of “turn left here, go right there” instructions which I ignore completely as I head straight for the map.  I then assess the whole map and adjust the route the computer gives me in light of information I might have, for instance, that I know there’s a really great cupcake shop on a slightly altered route.  In fact, I do this in a lot of areas involving instructions: for instance, I tend to improvise based on recipes I look up rather than following exactly what the cook-book says.

And, not surprisingly, I do it too when it comes to social space.  Rather than specific individuals and their connections, I tend to think in terms of cliques and the key people within those cliques.  Carrying on the example from before:  “Mitch and Pauline don’t talk any more.  No love lost in that breakup.  But, I’ve noticed that Mitch has a few Polish kids who are here for the summer working for him.  I don’t know if this kid is one of them, but I see a bunch of them downing vodka shots at the Pig Wednesday night.  That’s when you and the rest of the hipsters are normally drinking G&Ts at the Governor Bradford.  I can’t guarantee it, but you might want to consider boogieing across the street.  I bet he’ll be there.”

Both approaches will get you to the destination, but the cognitive map that gets you there is different.

This distinction has the potential to be very useful both for how we teach network concepts and also for pointing toward research directions attempting to bridge individual and network levels of analysis.  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by seansafford

August 24, 2010 at 7:31 pm

the long fiscal game

I supported the stimulus package, but agree with the likes of Ryan Avent that the problem with Obama’s stimulus was that it was not only poorly executed, but that that execution is rooted in a systemic problem:

A country committed to stimulus will take care to prepare to use stimulus. It will construct a system of automatic stabilizers that provide immediate counter-cyclical aid as an economy deteriorates. It may have a backlog of needed infrastructure projects at the ready, which can be rushed into action as conditions warrant. A country generally skeptical of stimulus, on the other hand, will reach for it in an emergency and find that it is unprepared. Automatic stabilizers will be too small and will require constant Congressional maintenance. Too few projects will be shovel-ready. The need to legislate will lead to inclusion of pork items that aren’t particularly stimulative. Stimulus will be less targeted, timely, and effective as a result.

My take for some time has been that Larry Summers and Tim Geithner are no more pro-Keynesian than Greg Mankiw or other detractors of a stimulus approach.  And, just as it was a bad idea  to have a government with a distaste for government running major a government operation like the response to Katrina (i.e., G.W.B.), it has been a problem having economists running the response to the crisis who are implementing a Keynesian approach while quietly holding their noses.  Which brings me to Martin Wolf’s insightful post on how the politics of supply-side economics have influenced modern thinking both among Democrats and Republicans: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by seansafford

July 27, 2010 at 1:44 pm

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