Archive for the ‘sociology’ Category
Melissa Wooten is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her forthcoming book In the Face of Inequality: How Black Colleges Adapt (SUNY Press 2015) documents how the social structure of race and racism affect an organization’s ability to acquire the financial and political resources it needs to survive.
“Look…Come on…It’s $10 million dollars” is how the Saturday Night Live parody explains the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) decision to accept donations from now disgraced, soon-to-be former, NBA franchise owner, Donald Sterling. This parody encapsulates the dilemma that many organizations working for black advancement face. Fighting for civil rights takes money. But this money often comes from strange quarters. While Sterling’s personal animus toward African Americans captivated the public this spring, his organizational strategy of discriminating against African Americans and Hispanic Americans had already made him infamous among those involved in civil rights years earlier. So why would the NAACP accept money from a man known to actively discriminate against the very people it seeks to help?
A similar question arose when news of the Koch brothers $25 million donation to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) emerged in June. Not only did the UNCF’s willingness to accept this donation raise eyebrows, it also cost the organization the support of AFSCME, a union with which the UNCF had a long-standing relationship. The Koch brothers support of policies that would limit early voting along with their opposition to minimum wage legislation are but a few of the reasons that have made some skeptical of a UNCF-Koch partnership. So why would the UNCF accept a large donation from two philanthropists known to support policies that would have a disproportionately negative affect on African American communities?
A major theme of Goffman’s On the Run book/article is that the criminal justice system incapacitates Black men by entangling them with surveillance, leading many to become outlaws. This is in contrast to earlier work that claimed that police had abandoned, or had minimal involvement with, poor urban neighborhoods. So what’s the deal?
Here’s one suggested solution based on public choice theory and McCubbin’s old theory of public agencies, which claims that public agencies respond to financial and political incentives. Roughly speaking, police have choices and these choices come with very different pay offs. Call one option “beat policing.” The police pick up beats, they get involved, and have lots of contact with the population. The other option is called “fire alarm” policing. The police respond to complaints.
Add one additional assumption to the model – the voters who pay/support the police think that drugs and young Black men are the biggest “fires” that need to be put out. Voters don’t reward as much the police that do routine policing.There’s a lot of evidence for this. Police displays of drug caches after busts, forfeited assets going to police budgets, and the general demonization of young black men in the media.
Then, the conclusion of the model is fairly simple. Resources will be shifted to the drug trade and away from beats. The random citizen will wait for police help with, say, a car theft while police rush to conduct an endless string of busts and arrest, and thus create a pool of stigmatized men with arrest records.
I’m back from ASA and engaging in a little just-in-time production of syllabi. (For anyone who’s wondering, I did take notes on the “future of orgs” panel and will write those up, but want to run them by the presenters before I post them.)
As grad director, I get to run the proseminar for first-year graduate students. Ours is one hour a week, both semesters. In the past, about half of it has been faculty introducing students to their research areas — e.g. urban week, work & orgs week, demography week, etc.
But grad students have expressed dissatisfaction with this format, and I don’t think faculty are overly thrilled with it, either. So I’m trying to mix things up a bit and make it more immediately useful.
One challenge is that while we want students to get the message about the need to publish, etc., in the past they’ve found such messages a bit overwhelming in the first year, when they’re still trying to figure out how to get through Durkheim. So I’ve tried to approach this from the perspective of, “What do you need to know your first year of grad school?”
Here’s what I’m thinking in terms of weekly topics. This is by substantive area, not chronological. Most weeks will involve guest speakers; I’ll lead perhaps 1/3 of them.
- How to get around the university
- Intro to the grad curriculum (DGS)
- Introduction to the department (department chair)
- How to get things done in the department (graduate secretary)
- Guide to library resources (librarian)
- How to get through the first year of grad school
- How to “read” 1000 pages a week (DGS)
- What I wish I knew my first semester (2nd and 3rd year students)
- Mid-semester check-in (open discussion)
- Surviving stats (stats faculty, 2nd-year grad student)
- The “hidden curriculum” (including race, gender, class issues; DGS and possibly grad students)
- Successful TAing (one faculty, one student)
- Making the most of your RA experience (ditto)
- Time management (DGS? Or someone better with time management skills…)
- The personal side of grad school (social life, psychological challenges) (not sure…)
- Thinking about the next year
- What do I do in the summer? (2nd and 3rd year students)
- Reverse CV exercise—find people whose jobs you want—what did they have to do to get there? (DGS)
- Planning years 2, 3 and 4 (DGS)
- Looking back—how’d the first year go? (open discussion)
- Thinking about finances
- Fellowships and grants (DGS)
- Financial aid & personal finance (financial aid office rep, advanced students)
- Learning about the profession
- An overview of the profession (DGS)
- Developing a publishable research project (one student who collaborated with faculty, one who published from MA?)
- Developing mentors (advanced grad students)
Then there are a few topics that seem important, but that are not primarily first-year topics. I may include some of these, but open the meetings up to advanced grad students as well:
- My first article (advanced grad student)
- Publishing in AJS/ASR (faculty)
- Will your dissertation be a book? (book faculty)
- Types of jobs (guest panel—research, teaching, non-academic)
- Presenting at conferences (advanced students)
- Choosing a dissertation topic (advanced student + faculty)
- Finding postdocs (???)
- The transition to becoming faculty (new junior faculty)
What do you think? Additions? Omissions? Things to skip?
I just attended the American Sociological Association Meetings in San Francisco, and while there my friend Marion Fourcade told me about a remarkable little piece of sociological history. It’s an audio recording of Émile Durkheim delivering a talk.
I had no idea such a thing existed. The recording is about two and a half minutes long. It’s a fragment of a piece titled Jugements de valeur et jugements de réalité, which you can read in French here. It was recorded in 1911 at a meeting in Bologna, which I think is one of only quite few times that Durkheim left France in order to attend a conference. Here it is. (There’s a short bit of dead silence at the beginning.)
(If you don’t see the player, download the clip directly).
The original is held at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Here’s the catalog entry for the recording. I think what’s needed to top this is maybe some decent video footage of Marx’s speech on the anniversary of the people’s paper.
ASA Conference Bingo is on a permanent vacation pending its return around 2030 in a nostalgic comeback that warms the hearts of fans old and new. But as several people have asked me about it, here is a collection of the cards from years past. Not available in stores.
I am now old enough that I have seen three traditions in American sociology die. In describing them, I am not necessarily saying that I don’t like them. In fact, I am a published practitioner in one of them. Rather, these traditions have not been able to reproduce themselves at the core of the profession. They may be popular in other fields, but not in soc:
- Rational choice
Each promised a lot and had a moment in American sociology. Munch, Alexander, and others led the charge on neo-functionalism in the 1990s, and Luhmann has a following. Rational choice still has notable adherents, like Doug Heckathorn at Cornell or Richard Breen at Yale. And the AJS and ASR had their share of articles discussing postmodernism (here, for example). But still, it’s hard to say that these traditions aren’t dormant in American sociology. Few students, few placements.
The question is whether there is any commonality. Is American sociology resistant to certain types of theory? If these three cases indicate a deeper process, then I’d make the following guesses:
- “Strong assumptions” – American sociologists don’t like models with what appear to be overly strong assumptions. Rational choice models have smart actors; postmodernism has overly complex actors; and the various functionalisms had actors that were hyper sensitive to social norms and communities were overly structured.
- “High tech” – With the exception of applied statistics, American sociologists don’t like fancy things. The AGIL system in functionalism; math for RCT; European philosophy/social theory for post-modernism.
So the ideal theory would be one with weak assumptions and requires little machinery. Many of the dominant theories these days seem to fit this: institutionalism/field theory; intersectionality theory; theories of racial privilege; etc. Network theory rests on simple, but weak, assumptions and uses only stats.
It is unclear to me if this is a good or bad state of affairs. However, if you think it’s bad, then you have a real problem. The most obvious way to change it is to recruit different kinds of people into the profession who like demanding theory or high tech tools. That seems like a tall order given our undergraduate audience, which is the major talent pool for the profession.