Archive for the ‘sociology’ Category
I got sick of navigating the ASA Meeting Calendar thing, so I threw together something some of you might find useful. You can see what’s happening on various days, but also—and this is the potentially useful part—every event has an associated
.ics file for you to download and import into your preferred calendar application such as iCal, Outlook, Google Calendar, and so on. Dates, times, summary information, and locations included. Enjoy.
This August 15, Alex Hanna, a computational sociologist at Wisconsin, will host “Big Cities, Big Data” at the campus of UC Berekeley. BC/BD is a “hackathon” – a meeting of people who program all night long to develop new projects. The next day, the results will be presented at a workshop at ASA. From the announcement:
The theme is “big cities, big data: big opportunity for computational social science,” the idea being looking at contemporary urban issues — especially housing challenges — using data gathered and made publicly available by cities including San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Austin, Boston, Somerville, Seattle, etc.
The hacking will start at noon on August 15 and go until the next day. Sleeping is optional. We’ll have a presentation and judging session in the evening of August 16 in San Francisco, exact location TBD.
We’re working with several academic and industry partners to bring together tools and datasets which social scientists can use at the event. So stay tuned as that develops.
Check it out! It’s the place to meet the next generation of sociology hackers!
A few days ago, I suggested that sociologists should seriously consider teaming up with computer scientists. Here, I’d like to sketch out the big picture to suggest why we are in a special moment. Basically, computer science has had three major stages of development:
- Stage 1 (1949-1970s): The construction of computers. In this stage, it was all about the engineering. How could you make a machine that (a) could be programmed, as opposed to running one command, and (b) do it in a way that didn’t require a machine the size of a house?
- Stage 2 (1970s-1990s): Learning and theory. Could you make a machine that could, say, solve an algebra equation? Play chess? See things? CS also developed its mathematical side. Does this algorithm find an answer in a reasonable amount of time?
- Stage 3: (1990s-present): Social computers. Can we build machines that will help people, say, trade using e-currency? Operate in secure networks? In other words, instead of making computers mimic people, we make computers extensions of people.
Of course, people still work in all streams of computer science. The issue is that the social computing stream is now huge. That means that computer scientists are building a technical system that integrates human beings and computer networks. In other words, there isn’t going to be real sharp distinction between online behavior and “real world” behavior. They’ll be connected.
A second observation is that social computing is the engineering analog of “social action.” It’s a broad idea that encompasses a lot of behavior. This is a bit different than say, economics, which reduces a lot to price theory, or political science, which focuses on very specific things like voting or legislation. Instead, computer scientists are dealing with something that is extremely broad. That’s why they can entertain all the different types of data: video recording how people use computers, text analysis, online experiments, and plain old vanilla stats.
None of this means that the CS/soc hookup will automatically happen. Rather, this post explains why this opportunity has appeared. It’s up to us to make the most of it. Otherwise, you can bet on a series of Nature and Science articles that are sociological, but lack sociology authors.
Nicolai “The Postmodernist” Foss recently drew my attention to the blog of sociologist Randall Collins. I had never read it before, but I’ve been missing out. My guess is that it documents Collins’ recent thoughts on topics that he’s working on. Examples:
Infrequent, but always good. Recommended.
This week, some readings on who goes to college and why:
- College Choice in America by Charles Manski. The standard model of how students choose the college they attend. Just add $40k to the tuition bill to update it.
- Read a bunch of reports summarizing the results of the annual freshman survey fielded by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute. Start with the 70s and move forward.
- How elite schools choose students: Crafting a Class by Duffy and Goldberg; Creating a Class by Mitchell Stevens; and The Chosen by Jerome Karabel. Each a classic in its own way.
- Academically Adrift by Arum and Roksa. Shows the limited learning in higher ed.
- Read Becker on human capital, Arrow & Spence on signalling, and Collins on credentialism. Each is a classic statement of different theories of how college plays into employment and income.
- Read Carnevale, Strohl and Melton on the incomes associated with different college majors.
- On student protest: Freedom’s Web by Richard Rhoads and From Black Power by myself.
Use the comments for more suggestions.
sociology compass article by Liz Gorman now available: “Professional Self-regulation in North America: The Cases of Law and Accounting”
Professional and expert work holds the potential for misconduct that can harm clients or the public. According to the traditional model of professional self-regulation, developed during the “golden age” of the professions in the mid-20th century, societies grant professional communities freedom from external regulation in return for their commitment to regulate their members’ conduct. Professions were said to cultivate distinctive ethical norms, socialize new practitioners, and engage in social control of deviant behavior. In light of dramatic changes in the professional world since that time, this essay reviews research on the legal and accounting professions in North America to assess the extent to which this traditional model still holds. The two professions continue to resemble the traditional model in some respects but diverge from it in others, and on some points, there is insufficient evidence to draw a conclusion. The traditional model of self-regulation is probably best viewed as an ideal type that can serve as a standard of reference, not as an accurate representation of social reality. This conclusion opens up new topics for research and opportunities to inform policy.
Yesterday, I described how Indiana sociology conducts graduate education. It’s a really good system. In fact, when prospective students visit, I describe the system and then say: “Look, if you get an offer from Princeton, take it! They have prestige, money, and an amazing placement record. But if you don’t have an offer from a place like that, you are probably making a mistake if you turn us down.”
Still, nothing is perfect and it is worth talking about the drawbacks of the Indiana model. First, the system only works because most faculty do research where it is easy to get people involved. We do a lot of survey research, interviews, health, education, and public opinion. Thus, it’s probably not the best place for doing certain types of research that are not large team based like ethnography or comparative historical. Our students do well in those areas, but there are other better options out there.
Second, we don’t do well with what I call the “Foucault” kids. These are students who have some insanely interesting project that spans disciplines and is very sui generis. These students need less structure, not more of it. They don’t need all the stuff that IU provides. All they need is one or two older scholars who can give some honest feedback and make sure they don’t take 12 years to finish. I encountered one such student during a visit. This student unleashed this insane ethnographic/multi-site study of health on me and I said: “You are clearly very good. Just go to Harvard. Tell Bob I said hello.
Mind you, a lot of people think they are Foucault, but they’re not. IU is built for people who want to do high quality work within the confines of normal social science – which means most of you! For a few people, or people in specialties where the model doesn’t fit, it may not be appropriate.
I am often asked: how does Indiana consistently place people so well? Just to be clear, in terms of elite placement, we do as well as other programs of our rank. Our ranks floats in the 10-15 range, and we can do a good R1 placement every other year. Every few years we place at or near the top. What is amazing is that we consistently place all of our students, not just the “stars.” We place students that routinely get discarded at other programs. How does that happen?
First, it starts with the faculty. In hiring at both the junior and senior levels, we have a preference for people who are committed to graduate education. Also, in terms of culture, our faculty have a very different attitude towards graduate work. We don’t work on the “star system” where a few people get most of the attention. We believe that with the right training, we can help most graduate students start a career in either teaching or research. Finally, in terms of the faculty, we also tend to attract people who are productive and collaborative. Not much dead wood.
Second, we choose graduate students very carefully. Sure, we’ll hand out acceptance letters to a few “stars” of the market every year. That’s because, like most graduate programs, we take GPA and GRE scores very seriously. But the difference is that Indiana doesn’t mark you down because you didn’t go to the “right” school. We’ve taken people from regional state schools, small liberal arts colleges, lower ranked MA programs, and other places. We read the entire application, not just the name of the BA school or the letter of recommendation. We’ve picked up some fantastic people who’ve gone on to great careers by looking for diamond in the rough.
Third, we have an insane amount of structure. It doesn’t work for everyone, but most people do well in a system that makes you jump through a lot of hoops. Like most soc programs, we have theory and methods in the first year. But we also have a summer research program, required writing workshops, a required minor, a required teaching workshop for TAs, and a bunch of other stuff. Annoying? Yes. But do people have the OLS model hammered into their brains at the end of the sequence? You bet.
Fourth, we have a deep “culture.” Our expectation is that all students should be able to complete the PhD. We also support students on multiple career tracks. We even have a special program for people interested in teaching intensive institutions. And nearly all faculty collaborate and believe in intensive 1 on 1 interaction. More than one visiting scholar has been shocked by this system.
Fifth, we have reasonable expectations and a high level of professionalism. We don’t pretend MA or PhD theses are master pieces. We want them to be good and we want them to be done. We also push people, but we (mostly!) don’t yell at people or treat grad students like children. We tell you what to do and then we try to help you. We’ll get back to you in a few weeks on your dissertation, not a few semesters.
Sixth is funding. While far from perfect, we’ve developed a system where most students can rely on 4-5 years of funding. Then, we have various mechanisms for helping most students. The pay is low, but we don’t play games. You get funding. You will get help. No games.
The issue with many programs is that they drop the ball on one or more of these issues. During my time at Chicago, for example, they had a nearly structureless program and very poor funding. Other programs will chase famous faculty without considering how well they place students. It’s too easy to slide into the star system of graduate training. Considering all that, it’s a real testament to this department that we can go head to head with programs that have a fancier brand and a much bigger budget.
We’ve been talking about the diffusion of organizational thinking into parts of sociology that don’t identify as “organizational sociology.” Monika Krause’s new book, The Good Project: Humanitarian Relief NGOs and the Fragmentation of Reason, is the latest example of this.
I was familiar with Krause’s name, but the first article of hers I ran into was a 2012 piece on “model systems” in sociology, coauthored with Michael Guggenheim. The paper explores whether sociology has model systems analogous to the fruit fly or E. coli in biology — specific organisms studied by lots of people so that a large body of knowledge can be developed and eventually extended to other organisms.
The paper suggests that yes, sociology does have model systems. Think of Chicago in urban sociology, or the French Revolution in comparative-historical, or doctors in the study of professions. But, due both to the nature of what we study (the city of Chicago can’t be reproduced in a lab in Germany, like mice can) and the difficulty of standardization (there may be many studies of hospitals, but two hospitals will differ more than two C. elegans), cumulation is harder in sociology.
The concept was cool, and it stuck with me. The new book is on a very different topic, although it also touches on the production of knowledge.
The book is an interview-based study of large humanitarian NGOs. It argues that such NGOs are structured to make “good projects” the main goal of desk officers. Because the success of the project is what the organization demands, and officers are rewarded for, they have incentives to provide help that will have measurable short-term effects on groups that are relatively easy to assist. The people who are in need have to compete to show that they are the right kind of population — one that will benefit in the ways desired by donors. This dynamic has a variety of effects on what kind of assistance is provided — some benign, others less so.
I found this particularly interesting because it echoes findings by Joe Gibbons, a PhD student whose committee I’m on. (Defending Tuesday and on the job market — check him out here!) Joe’s dissertation looks at community-based organizations in Newark and Jersey City. He discovered that funding agencies’ focus on maximizing impact — “impact” meaning “numbers of people reached” — meant that when times got tough, groups doing excellent work serving smaller immigrant communities, for example, could lose funding entirely. Others had to adjust their strategies to serve as large a population as possible, even if that didn’t really align with their mission or competency. His quantitative findings also suggested the most disadvantaged neighborhoods tended to be underserved by CBOs — which would be compatible with a donor preference for helping populations likely to show measurable success.
Both of these studies are fundamentally organizational, and find overlapping results. The Good Project is explicitly about how organizations operating within a particular field develop logics that shape those organization’s practices in complex, but comprehensible ways. Joe’s dissertation looks at how city-specific fields of CBOs shape how and to whom services are provided. Yet studies like these — one in the development literature, one in urban soc — are unlikely to be put into conversation with one another.
At any rate, you can preview a nice chunk of The Good Project here. I know I’m looking forward to reading the rest.
So I was toying around with the “future of org theory” line of thought, and started thinking about the past of org theory instead, because that’s so much easier.
In my mind ASQ straddles sociology and business schools, or at least has, historically. I thought that ASQ used to publish a fair number of sociologists and now publishes fewer. I figured that was part of the decline-of-org-theory-in-soc story.
But when I took a look, it turned out (based on a limited, totally nonscientific sample) I had the story totally wrong. There were hardly any sociologists publishing in ASQ 20 years ago, either.
A little data, based on the author bio pages: The last four issues of ASQ had, collectively, 45 authors. One, Olav Sorensen, has a courtesy appointment in sociology. Three — Sorenson, Amanda Sharkey, and Brayden King — have soc PhDs but B-school appointments. That’s it for sociologists. Not all the rest are at B-schools, but they’re not in soc departments either.
But. Ten years ago, in 2003-04, ASQ had 34 authors. Not one was appointed solely to a soc department. Two had a joint appointment in sociology and something else, and one a courtesy appointment in soc. Six (including the joint/courtesy appointments) held sociology PhDs.
Okay, I thought. I’m just not going far back enough. The decline of sociologists took place earlier, maybe in the late 90s. So I looked at 1993-94.
Nope. No dice. 36 authors. 1 with a sociology appointment, 1 with a joint appointment in sociology. Three soc PhDs.
That’s where I stopped, since it was getting time-consuming, though I’m curious if another decade would have made a difference.
I suppose on the one hand this shouldn’t be so surprising. I mean, “Administrative Science” kind of gives it away: not a sociology journal. But why would I have had the impression that there used to be more sociologists publishing in ASQ? Has org theory as done in business schools moved further from sociology in other ways?
cfp on “The Rise of Finance: Causes and Consequences of Financialization” at Socio-Economic Review journal
Now that the spring semester is ending, some of our readers are kicking the manuscript preparations into high gear, judging from the uptick in the number of review requests that I’m starting to receive. For those of you looking for a special issue to target as an author or a reader, I wanted to call attention to a call for papers in the Socio-Economic Review that might be of interest (click this PDF for more info: SER 2015 Special Issue CfP on Financialization):
Call for papers
“The Rise of Finance: Causes and Consequences of Financialization”
Sabino Kornrich, Emory University
Alex Hicks, Emory University
Submission deadline: July 21, 2014
Publication of Special Issue in Socio-Economic Review: 2015
The financialization of the economy, as seen in the growing importance of financial markets and the shift from industrial to financial capitalism, stands out as one of the largest changes in the structure of the economy over the last half of the twentieth century (Krippner 2005, 2012; van der Swaan 2014). Indeed, van der Swaan’s (2014) review points to shifts in the structure of accumulation, the role of financialization in firms’ attention to shareholder value, changing individual and household approaches toward everyday life, and related changes in institutional structures. One important line of research focuses on the increasing concentration of profits in financial firms and its consequences for inequality due to its influence on top incomes, the labor share of income, and the distribution of income and profits across sectors (Tomaskovic-Devey and Lin 2011; Volscho and Kelly 2012; Kristal 2013). Even in firms which focus primarily on non-financial activities, financial divisions have become more important (Krippner 2012). While existing research has convincingly demonstrated the rise of financialization in the USA, fewer studies have examined these processes in other countries (e,g, Akkemik and Özen 2014, Godechot 2012). An important agenda remains to understand the extent to which the patterns and dynamics of financialization can be generalized or differ significantly across different types of capitalism, as well as how these have potentially reshaped global economic interdependencies.
This special issue aims to build on and extend this research by enlarging the explanatory focus. We seek contributions that either add empirical insights and advance theory in relation to the underlying causes of financialization, the consequences of financialization for
individual-level and organizational outcomes, and extending the focus of financialization
research beyond the United States and into a broader frame of comparative political
This year, I’ve been on sabbatical, removed from the ordinary cares of teaching and departmental affairs. But in one short month, I’ll be returning to Albany and to “normal” life. I’ll also be returning to a three-year term as grad director.
When I was a grad student, I was only vaguely aware that we had a grad director. I certainly couldn’t have told you what the grad director does.
My sense of that is better now, but I still wonder what my goals should be as I take on this role, and how I should manage the inevitable challenges of the job.
I can imagine two basic strategies, probably not mutually exclusive. One is bottom-up: Talk to lots of grad students, figure out what they see as their problems and issues, and do what I can to solve or ameliorate those.
The other is top-down: Think about our strengths and weaknesses as a department, what our niche is both in sociology and within the university, and where we want our grad program to be in five years, and develop a plan from there.
Okay, maybe there’s a third — muddle through — but let’s assume I’m going to be a little more proactive. Also, let’s assume I have roughly zero control over financial resources. And I already know that one of my priorities is going to be better data collection on student trajectory and placement, a project that the current grad director has started but that we still have way too little information on.
What do you think? If you’ve been a grad director, what accomplishments are you proud of, and what were the challenges? If you’re a grad student, what does your department do well? Or what do you wish your department would do differently, and think a grad director might be able to change?
This spring Washington University in St. Louis announced that they are bringing sociology back to their campus. The department of sociology at Wash. U. was infamously phased out of existence by the late 1980s after highly visible controversies and power struggles. At a time, when many sociology departments across the U.S. are losing students and faculty, sociology’s relaunch at Wash. U. is an indication of its value within a liberal arts academic curriculum. As their dean of Arts and Sciences said, reestablishing sociology will “enhance our ability to educate our students and conduct world-class research in areas that are central to the critical social issues of our time.”
Yesterday afternoon I got sucked into reading about the drama that unfolded at Wash U. in the late 1960s and 70s that led to the department’s demise and its gradual displacement as a top sociology department. You can read more about the department’s conflict-ridden history in an article that David Pittman and Deirdre Boden wrote for the American Sociologist. They note that prior to 1968 the department was the home of a number of renowned sociologists, including the legendary Alvin Gouldner. The department had a strong graduate program that would have been ranked in the top 10 had they done rankings at that time. In addition, the department had a reputation for being cutting-edge while also embracing a more democratic style of governance, which included allowing PhD students to have some input over important departmental decisions. Gouldner was (and still is) a famous sociologist who had built a department that was doing rigorous sociological research while also challenging the sociological orthodoxy of the time. If Harvard was the seat of status quo sociology, Wash. U. was the capital of radical sociology. In many respects, Wash. U. sociology in the 1960s was what sociology would become in the contemporary era – a place where studying social problems, conflict, and inequality with a mixed methodological toolkit dominated the research agenda.
But in 1968, Wash U.’s sociology department came under attack from both within and from outside the department. 1968 was a tumultuous year in academia, not just in St. Louis but throughout much of academia. Students were protesting against the war, and more relevant to the academic setting, many student activists were seeking to give more input into university decisions. Many of the old establishment in sociology were under fire for being too conservative. Even at a place like Wash. U., where Gouldner was by all accounts a committed left-of-center sociologist, students rankled at his exactness and unwillingness to compromise. Earlier in his career Gouldner had founded a journal Trans-action – a journal aimed at translating sociological ideas in a jargon-free way to mass audiences (similar to today’s Contexts) – with Lee Rainwater and Irving Louis Horowitz, two other senior professors in the department. As a recent article by Edward Shapiro notes, Gouldner strongly believed in the necessity of sociologists to get away from “academic purism” and to make sociological research meaningful for the times. Gouldner had ceded control of the journal to Horowitz when he was away on sabbatical in Europe but when he returned in 1966, Horowitz refused to turn the journal back over to Gouldner. Horowitz wanted to take the journal in a more radical direction than Gouldner, exploring previously unexplored topics that interested the new generation of sociologists, while Gouldner believed the journal ought to be linked to the journalistic establishment. Also having relinquished the position of department chair, Gouldner suddenly found himself lacking the influence he once had. Conflict erupted between Gouldner and Horowitz/Rainwater, which eventually led to enough disruptions within the department that Gouldner was removed from the department as a faculty member and appointed to a university chair. At the same time, graduate students were organizing among themselves and asking for more say and influence over departmental decisions, like the ability to veto faculty hires. Laud Humphreys, one of the more senior and outspoken grad students and a protege of Rainwater (Gouldner’s rival), got caught up in the toxic situation.
The future of organizational sociology may be uncertain, but organizational thinking has diffused widely in sociology. Just look at the most recent ASR. (Less so the current AJS, but we can cut them some slack since Fabio coauthored their one organizational piece.)
But how did we get here? In the comments, I suggested one reason. Org theory’s main research programs — institutional theory, networks, field theory, population ecology — aren’t about “organizations” anymore and as productive as those may have been, they don’t encourage the reproduction of “organizations” as a distinct subfield. It turns out Brayden and Teppo wrote a whole article on this with David Whetten — very much worth a read.
There’s another factor, too, though, that I’m surprised hasn’t come up yet: economic sociology. Economic sociology usually dates itself to Mark Granovetter’s 1985 article on embeddedness, but no one called themselves an economic sociologist circa 1990. They were, mostly, org theorists.
(Viviana Zelizer has a great piece that talks about how, to her surprise, she found her work being redefined as economic sociology. Fligstein and Dauter’s 2007 ARS piece made a similar move, calling performativity a branch of economic sociology — which must have come as a shock to Michel Callon.)
The earliest you can reasonably call econ soc a subfield is 1994, when Smelser and Swedberg published the first Handbook. And really, the year 2000, when econ soc became an ASA section-in-formation, is a more appropriate date.
Econ soc channeled a lot of the intellectual energy that had been focused on organizations (broadly speaking) in a slightly different direction. The section’s organizing committee included Nicole Woolsey Biggart, Neil Fligstein, Mark Granovetter, Brian Uzzi, Fernanda Wanderley, and Harrison White. Most ASA sections have grown in the last decade. But OOW has been flat, while Econ Soc has grown by 55%.
One result was that a new generation of students who might have studied organizations instead did econ soc. I took my comp exam in organizations in 2001 partly because no one had ever taken one in econ soc. Two years later, that would not have been the case.
The effect is that many sociologists who would have studied organizations ended up studying econ soc instead. The ones who stayed in orgs were more likely to be B-school oriented and to take jobs outside soc departments, and that means that today there are few younger scholars who seem themselves as primarily organizational sociologists.
Now, maybe this is just how disciplines evolve. I do consider myself an economic sociologist too, and I think the emergence of econ soc has been enormously generative for the discipline. But sociology is not the most cumulative of disciplines. And there is lots of important stuff that is taught in orgs classes but not in econ soc classes. My fear is that we just lose all that stuff as students trained in other, orgs-influenced subfields stop learning it. Then we’ll have to wait another 20 or 30 years for another generation of scholars to “bring the organization back in.”
Marginal Revolution had a thread on all time great dissertations. In sociology, I’d nominate the following:
- Theda Skocpol’s dissertation, which was a first draft of the seminal States and Revolutions
- Erving Goffman’s dissertation on face work.
Nominate your own best soc dissertations in the comments.
A couple of weeks ago, Brayden asked about the growing disconnect between org theory and sociology. He argued that 1) sociology is now heavily focused on inequality, and organization theory isn’t, and 2) org theory has become abstract and detached from a Selznick-style effort to make organizations better. Lively discussion ensued.
I have also felt this disconnect, but from the other side of the coin. My training is as an organizational sociologist, and I was hired to teach organizations in a sociology department. My work is mostly framed in terms of organizational fields and institutional logics. But, increasingly, it seems I have trouble finding much to engage with in org theory. (The field, not the blog.)
For a while I thought this was just a natural evolution of interests. My current research, which looks at how economists and the intellectual tools of economics gained a central place in U.S. policy making, doesn’t sound very organizational at all.
But what this misses is how invaluable an organizational approach is for thinking about this problem. For example, if a group of experts wants to influence policy, one way they can try is by providing advice to policymakers—at Congressional hearings, through advisory groups, and so on. But policymakers are bombarded by information, and use it mostly to justify decisions made for other reasons.
For experts, it works much better, though it’s less direct, to establish organizational footholds for yourself. This can mean the creation of new offices that your type of expert runs. So the U.S. Antitrust Division created an Economic Policy Office in the 1970s that became a stronghold for economists. It provided a base for some of the early champions of deregulation, and it gained control over technical decisions affecting which corporate behaviors the Antitrust Division would challenge.
Or it can mean creating entirely new organizations in which you play a major role. Economists were key players in the new schools of public policy founded around 1970, which looked very different from the older public administration departments. They taught a different style of thinking that then made its way into Washington via graduates of those programs.
Thinking organizationally is also important to understanding how such footholds are sustained. The Congressional Budget Office, dominated by economists, was created in 1975. Its mandate wasn’t originally so clear. To become permanent and influential, it had to figure out how to provide services that members of Congress from both parties found useful—while continuing to maintain as much scope as possible to pursue the internally generated studies it cared about. Classic resource dependence.
My point here is that there are many research topics in sociology that don’t look so organizational, but that benefit from an organizational perspective. And lots of scholars who identify primarily with other subfields are drawing heavily on organizational theories and concepts. I think org theory is diffusing, not disappearing, in sociology. Why, and whether that’s a problem, are questions I’ll leave for another day.
Exciting news, dear readers! Something to look forward to as we barrel towards the end of the spring semester… SUNY Albany’s Elizabeth “Beth” P. Berman has agreed to guest blog for orgtheory, inspired by Brayden‘s and other posts about upcoming discussions of the waxing/waning relationship between sociology and orgtheory. Berman is the author of the multi-award-winning Creating the Market University: How Academic Science became an Economic Engine (Princeton University Press). See her other pubs here.
A while back, I asked about the relationship between philosophy and sociology. Here’s some evidence that there’s some philosophical imperialism at work these days. Specifically, more and more cultural sociologists are relying on the tools of philosophy to help them stake out new territory. Three recent examples:
- Drawing on a bunch of traditions (yes, even critical realism), Isaac Reed argues that sociology is about “cultural landscapes”)
- Gabriel Abend draws on phenomonology to articulate his theory of the “moral background”
- Andreas Glaeser relies also on phenomonology, and other traditions, to argue that people are stuck in a folk cosmology
The underlying theme, I think, is that cultural sociologists have moved beyond the Swidler moment (i.e., arguing against Parsons’ theory of action) and they’ve moved back into the game of semantic systems and their internal logic. This requires an explanation of how people situate themselves in a social world and how they reason about. This naturally leads (mainly) to the tradition of Husserl, Heidegger, Schutz, and Berger and Luckman. But instead of letting actors become the servant of this “lifeworld,” as in institutionalism, there’s a lot more effort in explaining what is possible in that world.
If this approach to symbolic systems turns out to be of lasting value, it will be one of the rare bridges between philosophy and mainstream sociological practice.
This guest post on the politics of sociology is written by Chris Martin, a doctoral student in sociology at Emory University.
Conservativism doesn’t seem to be a unipolar thing, according to much of the social psychological research on political attitudes. Rather, you can be conservative by being high in either social dominance orientation (SD) or right-wing authoritarianism (RWA). Of course, the two dimensions are moderately correlated but they’re not the same thing: high-SDO people dislike socially subordinate groups, and high RWO dislike socially deviant (or unconventional) groups. As a centrist, however, I’ve found that there’s a lack of research on the opposite poles of these scales even though there clearly seem to be a subset of liberals who like socially subordinate groups and a subset who like socially deviant groups. Again, there’s considerable overlap between these two subsets. And there’s a small subset of libertarian liberals who don’t lean toward either pole.
This comes across in social psychological work on religious freedom. Early research showed that high-RWA people are more supportive of Christian than Muslim mandatory prayer, while low-RWA people oppose both types of prayer equally. However, if you change “mandatory” to “voluntary,” you find that low-RWA people no longer disfavor both types. Rather, they more strongly favor Muslim than Christian school prayer space.
To some degree, I’ve found that sociology has become so ideologically homogenous that it’s now the disciplinary norm to avoid using “inequality” to describe preferential treatment of subordinate or deviant groups. In the race domain, in fact, centrists can get accused of supporting colorblind ideology or denying White privilege, even if they have a well-reasoned critique of preferential treatment. And in the gender/sexuality domain, the norm is for 50% of the research to focus on people who are deviant by conventional standards. But this skewness of focus isn’t termed inequality. My point isn’t about race or gender, though, but the large issue of whether there’s place for centrists in sociology—people who neither valorize nor condemn subordinate and deviant groups. Psychological social scientists have begun to address this issue—see Jonathan Haidt and Lee Jussim in particular—focusing on how this political homogeneity harms science. Where does sociology stand?
Recently I was talking to a statistician in a business school and he mentioned that he’d seen my paper about the Matthew effect and status bias in baseball. He said that he knew I was a sociologist as soon as he saw the title of our paper. “All sociologists study status and the Matthew effect right?” He asked me why sociologists care so much about status. The answer I gave him was that sociology as a discipline is very focused on explaining inequality – its antecedents and consequences – and status is one important manifestation of inequality. We have many theories, like the Matthew effect or status characteristics theory, that are fundamentally about explaining the persistence of inequality. Other subfields in sociology – e.g., social movement theory, social networks – try to figure out power imbalances, yet another source of inequality.
Of course, the statistician was partly wrong. Yes, it’s a good assumption that if a scholar studies the Matthew effect he or she is probably a sociologist, but there are still some sociologists – some of whom are in business schools – who are not as interested in studying inequality. Organizational theory, setting aside work and occupations research or status scholars, is one of those subfields within sociology that has historically been less concerned with inequality than with other dynamics. I’ve said in the past that the major contribution of organizational theory is that organizations “become “infused with value” independent of any technical or rational contribution they make to society. They become their own ends.” This insight distinguishes sociological theories of organizations from economics and organizational behavior. The contribution runs deep in the history of organizational theory as well, linking the old institutionalism of Selznick to contemporary theories like new institutional theory, organizational ecology, and identity theory. But this contribution has nothing to do with inequality. I can see how graduate students who are not immersed in organizational theory might even find this insight irrelevant.
Perhaps this disjuncture between what organizational sociologists and the rest of sociology find interesting explains some of the distancing of organizational theory from mainstream sociology. Organizational theory increasingly seems to be going through a long divorce process from sociology as more established scholars leave sociology departments and as top sociology departments fail to replace them with up-and-coming scholars. Now, of course, before I lament too much, I should add that even if there is a disjuncture, it hasn’t prevented organizational scholars from publishing in mainstream sociology journals. Some of the most prolific scholars in ASR and AJS are people who are very much working in the organizational theory tradition. But as I see papers like this get published, I wonder, to what extent do graduate students, outside of those few schools that still teach an organizational theory course in their sociology curriculum, find these studies interesting or relevant? I’m not sure. Perhaps they see them as a weird alien species that occasionally shows up and reproduces in their territory. Adding to this divide is the fact that because many of the organizational scholars who publish in ASR and AJS are now located in business schools, their relational embeddedness in mainstream sociology is quite weak.
I think two trends have taken place that may explain this growing distance between organizational theory and mainstream sociology. The first is that sociology has become more focused on inequality than ever. Although inequality and social problems have always been of interest to sociologists, it has never quite captured the discipline as it has in this moment. Even cultural sociologists are now inequality scholars. The second is that organizational theory has become increasingly abstract and removed from practical issues, such as figuring out how to make organizations more effective for resolving social problems. Selznick believed that this ought to be one of the main motivators for organizational theory. It was the impetus for his TVA study, and he later criticized new institutional theory for losing that practicality. Perhaps as organizational theory has become more focused on generalizable propositions (e.g., see the formal theory of ecology), most sociologists find it less interesting and less relevant to what they do. They certainly see it as being unconcerned with sociology’s bread-and-butter topic – inequality.
I was having dinner with a Team Fabio affiliate who was making the choice between two really excellent sociology programs. In discussing his choice, we got into the issue of who is now on top in terms of status. In Ye Olden Days, elite sociology meant the following: the Chicago/Columbia/Berkeley axis + massive public flagship schools (UNC, Wisconsin, UCLA, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Indiana). Now, the landscape has changed a bit. The major change seems to be the rise of smaller private schools. While these schools have always been the home of good scholars, it is only recently that they’ve boosted their status by gathering critical masses of elite scholars, consistent publication in top presses and journals, and consistent placement of PhD students in competitive programs. Here the examples are well known – Princeton, Harvard, and Duke in the top ten. Slightly lower down the ranking would be Northwestern, NYU, and Cornell. Certainly well known, but not considered powerhouses of sociology 20 or 3o years ago. Similarly, there’s been sliding among the elites with Chicago and Columbia no longer at the top. The (flawed) 2011 NRC ranks also bumped some prominent flagships (Madison, Bloomington).
Why the change? There are many factors. There’s always complacency and in-fighting. But I think the change is more profound. First, the big flagships had the comparative advantage because 20th century American sociology was built on big surveys. No longer the case. Second, some programs “woke up.” My impression in reading history books is that elite private schools weren’t terribly interested in sociology. Deans were content to let a sociology program be dominated by one or two “big names,” but not invest in the infrastructure needed for high visibility sociology. For some reason, things just changed. Supporting sociology was on the agenda at these schools. Third, along the same line, my sense is that there’s been a real change in training. Princeton for example seems to fit the model. No graduate has ever described it as a fun, cuddly place, but almost every grad has reported that they have enough financial support, almost all students have an adviser, and there is *lots* of prof/student co-authorship. Not much falling through the cracks. That translates into jobs and high visibility.
I encourage older faculty to comment. Does this match your perception? Counter evidence? Alternative explanations?
While catching up on some reading during spring break, I ran across an Journal of Organizational Ethnography article by organizational ethnographer Gideon Kunda. In this article, Kunda’s reflections about his development as an organizational ethnographer seem pertinent to the on-going orgtheory discussion of ethnography. Kunda not only describes how he became drawn to organizational studies (hint: questioning a figure of authority about the differential treatment of patients based on class), but also how he arrived at his topic and research site, generating the now iconic study Engineering Culture.
During his training, Kunda worked on several projects using other data collection methods (i.e., surveys), during which Goffman’s work on Asylums was instructive:
Here once again was a science that starts with ready-made theories, selectively uses them in accordance with interests unrelated to (or even opposed to) the logic and spirit of scientific inquiry, collects data using a method that assumes it knows what and how to ask before encountering the world of its subjects, and disrespects or ignores their complex realities, or for that matter, their feelings about who is studying them and why. What factors effect quality is a legitimate question, if one takes the managerial perspective (although this is not the only perspective that could and should be taken). But in order to answer it, in fact in order to even know how to go about studying it, I began to realize, one has to find ways to collect valid data. And the data, if that was what the facts of life should be called, were found in the richness of the stories I heard and the complexity of the interactions I observed, in people’s sense of who they were and what they were up to, and in their willingness to convey it to an interested outsider. Whether or not all this could or should be ultimately reduced to numbers and statistically analyzed seemed much less important than finding ways to collect, understand and interpret evidence that was respectful of its complex nature. If this was the case, it seemed to me, then the scientific system I was enmeshed in, even by its own standards – the norms of science that demand respect for the empirical world – was woefully inadequate. And worse – its procedures and output were embarrassingly boring, to me at least, when compared to the richness of the world it set out to comprehend.
In conclusion, Kunda states:
Over the years I have continuously noted and wondered about the extent researchers in the early stages of their careers, and graduate students in particular, feel, or are made to feel, that while they are granted the methodological license, and sometimes looseness, of “qualitative methods” (a phrase that often replaces or refers to a watered down version of ethnography), the academic authority system (in terms of funding, supervision, publication requirements and career options) compels them to limit their questions, choice of theory and writing style to those that enhance the chances of approval, funding and quick publication. I encounter again and again the ways that this commitment comes at the expense of a willingness to let fly their own sociological imagination, to cultivate and trust their own interpretive resources and analytic instincts, to respect and develop their innate language and authorial voice, or, for that matter, to risk long-term ethnographic fieldwork.
The issue then is not, or not only, one of competing methods, and to overstate such distinctions is, I believe, to miss my point. Rather, I see my story as an invitation to acknowledge and explore the shared conditions of all scientific claims to knowing and depicting social reality, organizational and otherwise, under whatever theoretical and methodological guise, that together place limits on the depth, insightfulness and indeed the validity of interpretation: the endless complexity of data, the incurable subjectivity of the observer, the fundamental flimsiness of formal method and the prevalence of unsubtle yet often disguised institutional pressures to confirm to standards and ways of thinking outside and often against the pure logic of scientific inquiry.
If I am to formulate a conclusion, then, it is this: the continuing need to devise personal and collective ways – and I have suggested and illustrated some of mine – to release “discipline” from its misguided equation with an institutionally enforced a priori commitment to hegemonic theoretical discourse and methodological frameworks, and to apply it instead to its legitimate targets, the questions for which there can never be a final, authoritative answer, only continuing exploration and debate: What is data, what is a valid and worthwhile interpretation, how does it come about, what are and how to cultivate the personal sources of imagination that make it possible, how to report it and, not least, to what end.
Another major take-away for budding researchers is that peers can offer support. That is, scholarly development is not necessarily a hierarchical transmission of information from mentors to mentees, but the co-production of knowledge with peers.
On the Soc Job Rumor Board, there was a discussion of the non-replicability of ethnography. I think this is mistaken. Ethnography is easily replicable, it’s just that ethnographers don’t want to do it. For example, ethnographers could:
- Stop making everything anonymous so others can verify and check. Mitch Duinier is right about this.
- Group ethnography. Have multiple observers and do inter-coder reliability.
- Standardize data collection – how field codes are done and recorded.
- Encourage others to revisit the same population (which is actually done in anthropological ethnography)
Of course, no single study can strive for replication in the same way and some folks do a good job addressing these issues. But still, the anti-positivist framing of much ethnography probably prevents ethnographers from developing intuitive and sensible things to create standards that would move the field away from the solo practitioner model of unique and non-replicable studies.
This semester, I agreed to teach a PhD-level course on organizational theory when I realized that fewer and fewer colleagues who are trained in organizational research remain in sociology departments. Apparently, I am not the only organizational researcher who is wondering about the implications of the de-centralization of organizational sociology.
Mark your calendars for Aug.! Liz Gorman has planned the following Organizations, Occupations, and Work (OOW) session for the ASA annual meeting this Aug. in San Francisco. The line-up includes some of our regular commenters and readers:
Title: Section on Organizations, Occupation and Work Invited Session. Does Organizational Sociology Have a Future?Description: Few sociologists today consider themselves primarily scholars of organizations. Sociologists who study different types of organizations within their primary fields–such as economic sociology, science, social movements, political sociology, and urban sociology–are often not in conversation with each other. Many sociologically-trained scholars have migrated to business schools and become absorbed by the large interdisciplinary field of organization studies, which tends to have a managerial orientation. Little attention is directed to the broader impact of organizations on society. This invited session will consider these and other trends in the study of organizations within the discipline of sociology. It will ask whether “organizations” still constitutes a coherent subfield, whether it can or should be revitalized, and what its future direction might look like.Participants:Organizer: Elizabeth Gorman, University of VirginiaPanelists:Howard Aldrich, University of North Carolina – Chapel HillElisabeth Clemens, University of ChicagoHarland Prechel, Texas A&M UniversityMartin Ruef, Duke UniversityEzra Zuckerman, MIT Sloan School
Topics: Organizations, Formal and Complex
This guest post on Federal government’s classification of sociology is written by Bogdan State, a doctoral student in sociology at Stanford University.
According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Sociology is not a true science. Among its many attributions, the Department of Homeland Security is in charge of separating, for immigration purposes, the imposter from the “real” sciences. Seemingly, our discipline does not pass muster.
The story is – by now – a familiar one. The DHS divides academic disciplines into two categories: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and non-STEM. The former get a lot of attention and dominate the immigration debate while the latter are relegated to marginality. The official list is available here [http://www.ice.gov/doclib/sevis/pdf/stem-list.pdf]. Needless to say, the very idea of such a blunt distinction between science and non-science is problematic and misguided. Nonetheless, it’s a distinction that has very important consequences, which I am currently sorting through myself.
I am a doctoral student in a Sociology PhD program. About a year ago I decided to give industry a try and I was lucky enough to be offered a job at a major tech company, headquartered in the US. For someone who thrives on data and short publication cycles the job is a dream come true. And even though my title says I do “data science” (already derided by some naysayers as “not a science”), even though my days are spent defending the idea that Sociology can and should be a science at least as rigorous as Biology, Homeland Security seems to have a clear message: no way.
My problem is a common one for international students. I need permission to work outside of my University while in the US. Since my landing here for the first time in 2005 I have become ever more painfully aware of the difficulties involved in staying in the country post-graduation.
International students have twelve months during which they can work in the US in a job related to their specialty under what is called Optional Practical Training. Past those twelve months their options for continued employment in the US usually revolve around the H1B visa, which allows them to work for a US company while seeking a green card through a lengthy and costly process of “labor certification” (which is supposed to ascertain the wholly-undecidable claim that the “alien” is not taking an American’s job). H1B visas are hugely controversial and their issuance has been capped at 85000 per year for most of recent memory (20000 of which are reserved for people holding graduate degrees). Last year the cap translated into the DHS refusing to process (and thus practically denying) about a third of H1B applications filed. This year the ratio may be closer to one in two.
Compared to what comes after, Optional Practical Training is a relatively benign period during which the “alien” can focus on doing their job rather than on learning the regulatory alphabet soup inflicted on them by contradictory and sometimes outright hostile acts of Congress. The Government itself recognized the self-defeating nature of forcing international students – otherwise content to stay and contribute to the US economy – out of the US after American entities had invested huge amounts in their education. As a stopgap measure, foreign STEM graduates of American higher education institutions were granted a one-time, 17-month extension to their Optional Practical Training.
Sociology falls on the wrong side of the arbitrary divide imposed by the DHS (examples of some disciplines considered to be sciences by DHS: Archeology, Social Psychology, Management Science). Interestingly, the NSF does consider Sociology to be STEM. This would be funny were it not the source of a lot headaches, dislocation, uncertainty and plain misery.
In my own case, this policy has meant that I have not been able to access these extra 17 months of headache-free OPT extension that typically serve as a bridge to the much-desired (and irredeemably broken) H1B visa. It is part of why I have to leave the US and go pay taxes somewhere else. But our discipline’s location outside the STEM divide may have far more important consequences in the future.
Specifically, there has been a lot of talk about “stapling” green cards to STEM degrees, or of other important facilities afforded to the immigration of STEM graduates. Presumably, Congress will eventually pass an immigration law, and Sociology will be left on the outside of an admittedly artificial divide.
Let me emphasize that I do not believe for a moment in the validity of a division of the academic world made by government bureaucrats. But while fighting the idea of this division would be quixotic (given the current fixation on STEM), I believe that there is a sufficient number of Sociologists who do not have US citizenship or permanent residency and who would be affected by this omission in the future.
The ASA has come up against this issue before (http://www.asanet.org/footnotes/feb13/vp_0213.html), but it does not look like they have ever addressed it on the immigration front. This is of course more than a matter of immigration policy: it also concerns our discipline’s being recognized as a bona fide science. As Sociologists we often deride the shortcomings of our methods, and that is certainly a healthy attitude. But we cannot let cocktail-party observations about “true” and “fake” sciences be enshrined into government policy.
The first “tweets/votes” paper established the basic correlation between tweet share and vote share in a a large sample of elections. Now, we’re working on papers that try to get a sense of who is driving the correlation. A new paper in Information, Communication, and Society reports on some progress. Authored by Karissa McKelvey, Joe DiGrazia and myself, “Twitter publics: how online political communities signaled electoral outcomes in the 2010 US house election” argues that the tweet-votes correlation is strongest when people compose syntactically simple messages. In other words, the people online who use social media in a very quotidian way are a sort of “issue public,” to use a political science term. They tend to follow politics and the talk correlates with the voting, especially if it is simple talk. We call this online audience for politics a “twitter public.” Thus, one goals of sociological research on social media is to assess when online “publics” act as a barometer or leading indicator of collective behavior.
This year, there are many great pre-conferences. In addition to the New Computational Sociology conference on August 15, there is also:
- Digitizing Demography - hosted by Facebook and our guest blogger Michael Corey.
- The Hackathon at UC Berkeley – hosted by Wisconsite Alex Hanna. Get together and code all night long.
- Junior Theory Symposium – hang out with the cool kids!
Please put links to more ASA pre-conferences in the comments.
The new open access journal, Sociological Science, is now here. The goal is fast publication and open access. Review is “up or out.” On Monday, they published their first batch of articles. Among them:
- The Structure of Online Activism by Lewis, Gay, and Meierhenrich.
- Time as a Network Good by Young and Lim.
- Political Ideology and Preferences in Online Dating by Anderson et al.
Check it out, use the comments section, and submit your work. Let’s move sociological journals into the present.
Alan Sica sent out the following request to a few ASA listservs. With his permission, I’m reposting it here. As you’ll see below, I think the note raises a number of interesting questions/issues that I’d never before considered.
Historians of sociology, social theorists, and other scholars,
Please take five minutes to read what follows, as it affects our discipline’s future historiography.
Two weeks from now the ruling body of the ASA, the Council, will meet at the Association’s headquarters in Washington, DC and, in addition to other things, will decide the fate of 588 boxes of archived journal-related material: whether to preserve them or destroy them. I am writing to ask that you contact Council members (their email addresses follow this note) with your opinion one way or the other. Obviously, I hope you “vote” to preserve the materials, but if you believe they are not worth preserving, you could register that opinion as well. Read the rest of this entry »