Archive for the ‘sociology’ Category
Now that I’ve been on faculty for almost ten years, I’ve spent a lot of time reading journal articles, manuscript submissions, book proposals, tenure files, and hundreds (!) of job applications. I’ve notice that almost no-one self-describes as a functionalist or neo-functionalist, except a few senior scholars like Jeffrey Alexander or Paul Colomy. This is surprising because sociologists still do research on social norms, social systems, and social differentiation, which are issues of central importance to classical structural functionalism. Why?
- Maybe people still do neo/functionalism, but they just don’t use the old jargon. Since Parsons got banished in the 1970s, maybe people don’t even know they are functionalists since they aren’t exposed to it. Call it functionalism on the “down low.”
- Maybe people simply migrated out of American sociology. Luhmann is clearly a neo-functionalist but he’s more popular in areas like media studies. He’s also a Big Deal in European sociology.
- Maybe there is a notable crowd of functionalists, but they simply don’t run in my circles.
- Functionalist ideas were imported/distorted by modern sociologists. A lot of folks have argued that institutionalism is a sort of modern day functionalism.
- Redefinition: The topics of interests to functionalists (e.g., norms) are better analyzed when recast in other theories. For example, the rational choice theory of norms has more appeal than Parson’s theory.
- Elite abandonment: Maybe it is just the structure of the profession. The elites killed functionalism by not hiring them in leading programs. With only a few functionalists (any other than Alexander?) in top 20 programs, it is nearly impossible to train a self-sustaining cohort of functionalist scholars.
Other ideas? Can any neo/functionalists enlighten me?
Jenn Lena broke the news before I could. I’ll add my excitement and say that creating an open source sociology journal with a fast and limited review process that allows online comments and community engagement is something that needed to happen. And it IS happening. In Fall 2013 you can submit your papers to Sociological Science and, if you get through the evaluation process, you can see your paper published within months of submission. One of the most exciting aspects of the journal is how reviews work. Rather than forcing authors to go through months (or years) of agonizing back-and-forth with reviewers, the editors will make an up-or-down decision based on an initial review. The reviews will be evaluative, not developmental. Once published, readers can respond to articles and “challenge or extend other people’s work.” Publication will be continuous, and so as soon as your article has been accepted and edited, it will go online as a published article.
I think the journal is going to fill an important niche in sociology. I hope that one consequence of the journal will be to pressure other journals to speed up the process and to make publications be more interactive. It’s still too early to tell how the journal will fare in attracting high quality papers. I sincerely hope that people will send some of their best stuff to the journal. If they do, then I wonder what consequence this will have for the vast set of secondary/specialist journals in our field. Journals like Social Forces and Social Problems will be those most likely to take hits.
attention stratification researchers: we now have seven social classes, i repeat: we now have seven social classes
From the UK, a new survey, conducted by the BBC and six universities, asserts that there are now seven social classes in Britain. The Guardian has a humorous take, using example from UK sitcoms:
Elite: General Melchett from Blackadder Goes Fourth. Braying, bellowing, incompetent and utterly contemptuous of the lower orders, Melchett would naturally expect to find himself at the top of the pecking order.
Established middle class: Margot and Jerry Leadbetter from The Good Life. As the establishment pillars of comfortable and conservative 1970s suburban society, the couple existed in pointed contrast to their more free-thinking neighbours Tom and Barbara Good.
Technical middle class: David Brent from The Office. Despite his supposedly rock’n'roll past, Ricky Gervais’s fist-gnawingly embarrassing general manager was resolutely middle class.
New affluent workers: Miranda from Miranda. Miranda Hart herself may be established middle class, but the heroine of her eponymous sitcom sits comfortably in a slightly lower category.
Traditional working class: Jim Royle from The Royle Family. Could Ricky Tomlinson’s armchair-bound, TV-addicted patriarch be anything other than proudly working class? My arse!
Emergent service workers: Maurice Moss from the IT Crowd. Young, nerdish and living at home with his mum, Moss could fit the emergent service worker class but probably needs a little work to increase his social and cultural capital levels.
Precariat: Rab C Nesbitt. Gregor Fisher’s much-loved and enduring sitcom creation has assumed the status of folk hero despite his resolutely unglamorous life.
This study investigates whether the increasingly common trend of working long hours (“overwork”) perpetuates gender segregation in occupations. While overwork is an expected norm in many male-dominated occupations, women, especially mothers, are structurally less able to meet this expectation because their time is subject to family demands more than is men’s time. This study investigates whether the conflicting time demands of work and family increase attrition rates of mothers in male-dominated occupations, thereby reinforcing occupational segregation. Using longitudinal data drawn from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, I show that mothers are more likely to leave male-dominated occupations when they work 50 hours or more per week, but the same effect is not found for men or childless women. Results also show that overworking mothers are more likely to exit the labor force entirely, and this pattern is specific to male-dominated occupations. These findings demonstrate that the norm of overwork in male-dominated workplaces and the gender beliefs operating in the family combine to reinforce gender segregation of the labor market.
Unit of analysis: US House elections in 2010 and 2012. X-Axis: (# of tweets mentioning the GOP candidate)/(# of tweets mentioning either major party candidate). Y-axis: GOP margin of victory.
I have a new working paper with Joe DiGrazia*, Karissa McKelvey and Johan Bollen asking if social media data actually forecasts offline behavior. The abstract:
Is social media a valid indicator of political behavior? We answer this question using a random sample of 537,231,508 tweets from August 1 to November 1, 2010 and data from 406 competitive U.S. congressional elections provided by the Federal Election Commission. Our results show that the percentage of Republican-candidate name mentions correlates with the Republican vote margin in the subsequent election. This finding persists even when controlling for incumbency, district partisanship, media coverage of the race, time, and demographic variables such as the district’s racial and gender composition. With over 500 million active users in 2012, Twitter now represents a new frontier for the study of human behavior. This research provides a framework for incorporating this emerging medium into the computational social science toolkit.
The working paper (short!) is here. I’d appreciate your comments.
* Yes, he’ll be in the market in the Fall.
Three scientific controversies worth comparing:
- Mark Regnerus publishes a study in Social Science Research claiming that having gay parents is correlated with worse outcomes for children. This is an example of a conservative attacking a belief held by liberals. The subsequent controversy focuses on the actual findings of his survey and the extremely expedited review process.
- Michael Bellesiles published Arming America, a book claiming that colonial Americans owned very few guns. This is a liberal attack on a conservative belief. The subsequent controversy revealed that Bellesiles had almost certainly made up a lot of data, which lead to his dismissal from his university position.
- Peter Duesberg is a microbiologist who does not believe that the AIDS is caused by the HIV virus. He believes it is caused by other factors. This, as far as I can tell, not political on his part. He fervently believes in a different hypothesis. There was a controversy which resulted in Duesberg being ostracized by other microbiologists but otherwise retaining is position at UC Berkeley. Duesberg has not changed his opinion, but most other researchers are convinced he is wrong.
Commentary: In academia, you will get attacked if you puncture a widely held belief, regardless of the politics. Somebody will want the credit of taking you down – and that’s not always a bad thing. However, what happens during the controversy is complex. The Regnerus controversy shows that you can survive charges of favoritism and charges of really, really stretching what the data says. The Duesberg controversy shows that you can survive being wrong.* The Bellesiles incident shows that you can’t survive fraud.
A deeper issue is that Regnerus and Duesberg survived because of tenure. They are able to continue teaching and working despite their hugely unpopular opinions because of privilege we give to our senior faculty. However, tenure will only help you though if you play by academic rules. While we may disagree with what these scholars say, I’d chalk up these three example of tenure living up to its promise.
* There’s a subtle issue with Duesberg. You may not survive if you are associated with a controversial figure. For example, the editor of Medical Hypotheses quit his job after publishing an opinion piece by Duesberg.
I have a new article coming out in the journal Public Opinion Quarterly. It’s called “Correcting for Postmortem Bias in Longitudinal Surveys.” I think you might enjoy it. Here’s the abstract:
Ever since the pioneering work of Heckman (1965), social scientists have been acutely aware of selection bias in surveys. This is especially true for longitudinal studies where respondents may drop out of the survey after the first wave due to deceasement. This paper proposes a solution to this problem through postmortem follow up interviews. We illustrate this technique with the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics. Through postmortem interviews, we are able to increase the response rates by approximately 15% and we can identify biases in the original PSID data. For example, we find that employment was over reported in the original PSID. Interestingly, we find that voting increased once the dead were included, an effect attributable to deceased respondents in the Chicago metropolitan statistical area. These results show the promise of including the dead in all future social research. This study was supported by NSF grant 123-666.
Check it out.
Think Progress has been digging further into the back story behind the Regnerus/gay parents paper. The news site got one of the study’s funders to admit that the conclusion was predetermined:
Tellez confirmed to The American Independent that he was referring to same-sex marriage cases. In April 2011 — a year before the study was complete — Tellez wrote in a letter that “we are confident that the traditional understanding of marriage will be vindicated by this study as long as it is done honestly and well.” He also suggested that no prior study had properly compared children raised by a mother and father and those “headed by gay and lesbian couples, but of course the Regnerus study doesn’t even do that.
The study was submitted for publication in February 2012 before Regnerus had even completed all of the data collection and accepted just six weeks later, while many other articles published in the same issue took a year between submission and acceptance. Peer review was similarly hurried, with one social demographer admitting that he only had two weeks to review the study and offer a commentary — without even having access to all the data.
Previous Regnerus discussion on orgtheory.
Salary.com had one of those lists of majors that don’t pay very well. #8? You guessed it – sociology:
People who enter the field of sociology generally are interested in helping their fellow man. Unfortunately, that kind of benevolence doesn’t usually translate to wealth. Here are three jobs commonly held by sociology majors (click on job title and/or salary for more info):
… social worker
… corrections officer
… chemical dependency counselor
This is one of those cheesy magazine articles on careers, but it is consistent with prior research on college majors and income. Sociology is a feeder into service professions. That’s a good thing, though I do wonder how my sublime lectures on the differences between structuralism and post-structuralism help people get off of drugs.
When I posted the Sociology Department Rankings for 2013 I joked that Indiana made it to the Top 10 “due solely to Fabio mobilizing a team of role-playing enthusiasts to relentlessly vote in the survey. (This is speculation on my part.)” Well, some further work with the dataset on the bus this morning suggests that the Fabio Effect is something to be reckoned with after all.
The dataset we collected has—as best we can tell—635 respondents. More precisely it has 635 unique anonymized IP addresses, so probably slightly fewer actual people, if we assume some people voted at work, then maybe again via their phone or from home. Our 635 respondents made 46,317 pairwise comparisons of departments. Now, in any reputational survey of this sort there is a temptation to enhance the score of one’s own institution, perhaps directly by voting for them whenever you can (if you are allowed) or more indirectly by voting down potential peers whenever you can. For this reason some reputational surveys (like the Philosophical Gourmet Report) prohibit respondents from voting for their employer or Ph.D-granting school. The All our Ideas framework has no such safeguards, but it does have a natural buffer when the number of paired comparisons is large. One has the opportunity to vote for one’s own department, but the number of possible pairs is large enough that it’s quite hard to influence the outcome.
It’s not impossible, however.
Update: I updated these analyses (fixing the double-counting problem). The results changed a little, so reload to see the new figures.
Last week we launched the OrgTheory/AAI 2013 Sociology Department Ranking Survey, taking advantage of Matt Salganik’s excellent All Our Ideas service to generate sociology rankings based on respondents making multiple pairwise comparisons between department. That is, questions of the form “In your judgment, which of the following is the better Sociology department?” followed by a choice between two departments. Amongst other advantages, this method tends to get you a lot of data quickly. People find it easier to make a pairwise choice between two alternatives than to assign a rating score or produce a complete ranking amongst many alternatives. They also get addicted to the process and keep making choices. In our survey, over 600 respondents made just over 46,000 pairwise comparisons. In the original version of this post I used the Session IDs supplied in the data, forgetting that the data file also provides non-identifying (hashed) IP addresses. I re-ran the analysis using voter-aggregated rather than session-aggregated data, so now there is no double-counting. The results are a little cleaner. Although the All Our Ideas site gives you the results itself, I was interested in getting some other information out of the data, particularly confidence intervals for departments. Here is a figure showing the rankings for the Top 50 departments, based on ability scores derived from a direct-comparison Bradley-Terry model.
The model doesn’t take account of any rater effects, but given the general state of the U.S. News ranking methodology I am not really bothered. As you can see, the gradation looks pretty smooth. The first real “hinge” in the rankings (in the sense of a pretty clean separation between a department and the one above it) comes between Toronto and Emory. You could make a case, if you squint a bit, that UT Austin and Duke are at a similar hinge-point with respect to the departments ranked above and below them. Indiana’s high ranking is due solely to Fabio mobilizing a team of role-playing enthusiasts to relentlessly vote in the survey. (This is speculation on my part.)
Yo: I will be in Chicago for the Midwest Sociological Association meeting on Thursday. Want to chat? Hang out? Talk about sociology? I’ll be on a panel discussing The Handbook of Sociology and Human Rights edited by David Brunsma, Keri Smith, and Brian Gran. Pls email/tweet/facebook/smoke signal me.
As many of you are by now aware, U.S. News and World Report released the 2013 Edition of its Sociology Rankings this week. I find rankings fascinating, not least because of what you might call the “legitimacy ratchet” they implement. Winners insist rankings are absurd but point to their high placing on the list. Here’s a nice example of that from the University of Michigan. The message here is, “We’re not really playing, but of course if we were we’d be winning.” Losers, meanwhile, either remain silent (thus implicitly accepting their fate) or complain about the methods used, and leave themselves open to accusations of sour grapes or bad faith. They are constantly tempted to reject the enterprise and insist they should’ve been ranked higher, and so end up sounding like the apocryphal Borscht Belt couple complaining that the food here is terrible and the portions are tiny as well.
The best thing to do is to implement your own system, and do it better, if only to introduce confusion by way of additional measures. Omar Lizardo and Jessica Collett have already pointed out that U.S. News decided to cook the rankings by averaging the results from this year’s survey with the previous two rounds. They provide an estimate of what the de-averaged results probably looked like. Back in 20011, Steve Vaisey and I ran a poll using Matt Salganik’s excellent All Our Ideas website, which creates rankings from multiple pairwise comparisons. It’s easy to run and generates rankings with high face validity in a way that’s quicker, more fun, and much, much cheaper than the alternatives. So, we’re doing it again this year. Here is OrgTheory/AOI 2013 Sociology Department Ranking Survey. Go and vote! Chicago people will be happy to hear can vote as often as you like. So, participate in your own quantitative domination and get voting.
As I posted earlier, I’ll be presiding over a conversation between George Ritzer and Carmen Sirianni from 3:30-5pm on Fri., March 22, 2013 at ESS in the Whittier Room (4th Flr) of the Boston Park Plaza hotel.
In the past several years, disasters like Hurricane Sandy and Katrina have sparked growing interest in what both conventional and innovative organizations can (and cannot) do given conditions of uncertainty vs. certainty. Both featured scholars’ work cover the limits of particular organizing practices (i.e., Ritzer’s work on McDonaldization), as well as the potential of organized action (i.e., Sirianni’s work on collaborative governance). Thus, I’ve given this particular conversation the broad title “Organizations and Societal Resilience: How Organizing Practices Can Either Inhibit or Enable Sustainable Communities.”
What would you be interested in hearing Ritzer and Sirianni discuss about organizations and society? Please put your qs or comments in the discussion thread.
For those unfamiliar with Ritzer and Sirianni, here is some background about their work:
George Ritzer is best known for his work on McDonaldization and more recently, the spread of prosumption in which people are both producers and consumers.
J. Mike Ryan‘s interview of Ritzer about his McDonaldization work:
J. Mike Ryan’s interview of Ritzer about why we should learn about McDonaldization (corrected link):
Carmen Sirianni is known for his work on democratic governance.
A brief video of Sirianni arguing that citizens should be “co-producers” in building society.
A more extensive video of Sirianni presenting on his book Investing in Democracy: Engaging Citizens in Collaborative Governance (Brookings Press, 2009).
Over the years I’ve written about ongoing scholarship about the phenomenon of mass incarceration in the United States. By now, the basic outlines of the phenomenon are pretty well established and, I hope, widely known. Two features stand out: its sheer scale, and its disproportionate concentration amongst young, unskilled black men. It should be astonishing to say that more than one percent of all American adults are incarcerated, and that this rate is without equal in the country’s history and without peer internationally, or that “five percent of white men and 28 percent of black men born between 1975 and 1979 spent at least a year in prison before reaching age thirty five”, or that “28 percent of white and 68 percent of black high-school dropouts had spent at least a year in prison by 2009”.
A few days ago, Eric Grollman was outraged by my post on “post-racist” society. In the original post, I argued that it is disingenuous to say that race doesn’t matter. At the same time, it would be equally misleading to say that things haven’t drastically changed. Here is what Eric wrote:
Ironically, even he suggests that “at least we can talk about [it].” When I first saw this post, I was outraged. A tenured sociology professor, who has written a book about the Black power movement and the development of Black studies, and who is LATINO, said to the world that the days of old-fashioned racism are gone.
Yes, “polite” white people no longer intentionally discriminate, at least in terms of saying “we won’t hire her because she’s Black!” But, that does not deny the everyday reality of subtle exclusion thinly disguised as something other than race (“she doesn’t have good people skills”). He underestimates the persistence of racial prejudice in America, and just how easy it is to talk about race (e.g., without whites being accused of being racist or fearing such accusations, without people of color being dismissed as hypervigilant or overly sensitive). The biggest flaw of his argument is missing the continued reality of racism within institutional practices: redlining and mortgage discrimination, the overrepresentation of Black and Latino men in prisons, “standardized” testing in schools, and so on.
Eric raises some good points, and I thank him for plugging my book. Now, a few responses:
- Recognizing progress is not logically equivalent to saying that racism is absent in our society.
- It is important to recognize the drastic reduction in racist practices in American society for political and scientific reasons. Politically, we should reward good behavior. We should praise people when they stop engaging in overtly racist actions or passing race based law and policy. If we say “nothing has changed,” then people may say “why should I change? Nothing will make people happy.” Sociologically, it is simply erroneous to equate the era of Jim Crow with the era of Obama. African Americans and other minorities have changed in many remarkable ways. People of color make more money, get better jobs, get more education, are healthier, and have benefited enormously because of the Civil Rights movement. To deny that is folly.
- Before you get outraged again, I do not deny relative differences remain, which are often substantial. But once again, we must still recognize progress in absolute terms. And I’ll take large absolute improvements over changes in relative differences any day.
- Eric raises the issue of racial privilege and subtle forms of discrimination. I completely agree! Nowhere did I deny that these remain. But that comment itself shows how much things have changes. The cost of outright racism is now so high that it must go “underground.” That’s an improvement!
- On one point, I would agree with the skeptics who believe that racism is just as bad, possibly worse, than it was at the end of the Civil Rights era. People of color are subject to mass incarceration (again). In many ways, being stuck under the thumbs of an oppressive White majority in the South in 1920 isn’t so much different than being put in jail for non-violent drug charges. I’d also add that we should consider immigration law as one massive attempt to keep out ethnic outsiders as well. And of course, I haven’t mentioned the harassment that many people of Arabic descent have experienced post 9/11.
- Finally, I stand by my comment that it is good that we can talk about race. This is a *massive* cultural change. Remember, if you can name it, you can own it.
Thank for raising these points, Eric. I look forward to reading your blog.
The issue of whether some culture is “deep” versus “shallow” has been a thorny one in social theory. The basic argument is that for some piece of culture to have the requisite effects (e.g. direct action) then it must be incorporated at some requisite level of depth. “Shallow culture” can’t produce deep effects. Thus, for Parsons values had to be deeply internalized to serve as guiding principles for action. Postulating cultural objects that are found at a “deep” level requires we develop a theory that tells us how this happens in the first place (e.g. Parsons and Shils 1951). That is: we need a theory about how the same culture “object” can go from (1) being outside the person, to (2) being inside the person, and (3) once inside, from being shallowly internalized to being deeply internalized. For instance, a value commitment may begin at a very shallow level (a person can report being familiar with that value) but by some (mysterious) “internalization” process it can become “deep culture” (when the value is now held unconditionally and motivates action via affective and other unconscious mechanisms; the value is now “part” of the actor).
One thing that has not been noted very often is that the “cultural depth” discussion in the post-Parsonian period (especially post-Giddens) is not the same sort of discussion that Parsons was having. This is one of those instances in cultural theory where we keep the same set of terms—e.g. “deep” versus “shallow” culture–but change the parameters of the argument, creating more confusion than enlightenment. In contrast to Parsonian theorists, for post-Giddensian theorists, the main issue is not whether the same cultural element can be found at different levels of “depth” (or travel across levels via a socialization process). The key point is that different cultural elements (because of some inherent quality) exist necessarily at a requisite level of “depth.”
These are not the same sort of statement. Only the first way of looking at things is technically “Parsonian”; that is Parsons really thought that
…culture patterns are [for an actor] frequently objects of orientation in the same sense as other [run of the mill physical] objects…Under certain circumstances, however, the manner of his [sic] involvement with a cultural pattern as an object is altered, and what was once an object becomes a constitutive part of the actor” (Parsons and Shils 1951: 8).
So here we have the same object starting at a shallow level and then “sinking” (to stretch the depth metaphor to death) into the actor, so that ultimately it becomes part of their “personality.”
Contrast this formulation to the (post-Giddensian) cultural depth story proposed by Sewell (1992). According to Sewell,
…structures consist of intersubjectively available procedures or schemas capable of being actualized or put into practice in a range of different circumstances. Such schemas should be thought of as operating at widely varying levels of depth, from Levi-Straussian deep structures to relatively superficial rules of etiquette (1992: 8-9).
Sewell (e.g. 1992: 22-26), in contrast to Parsons, decouples the depth from the causal power dimension of culture. Thus, we can find cultural schemas that are “deep but not powerful” (rules of grammar) and schemas that are powerful but not deep (political institutions). Sewell’s proposal is clearly not Parsonian; it is instead (post)structuralist: there are certain things (like a grammar) that have to be necessarily deep, while other things (like the the filibuster rule in the U.S. Senate) are naturally found in the surface, and need not sink to the level of deep culture to produce huge effects. Accordingly, Sewell’s cultural depth discussion should not be confused with that of the early Swidler. Swidler (circa 1986) inherited the Parsonian not the post-structuralist problematic (because at that stage in American sociology that would have been an anachronism). Her point was that for the thing that mattered to Parsons the most (valuation standards) there weren’t different levels of depth, or more accurately that they didn’t need to have that property to do the things that they were supposed to do.
The primary aim of recent work on dual process models of moral judgment and motivation seems to be to revive a modified version of the Parsonian argument. That is, in order to direct behavior the point is that some culture needs to be “deeply internalized” (as moral intuitions/dispositions). However, as I will argue below the very logic of the dual process argument makes it incompatible with the strict Parsonian interpretation. To make matters even more complicated we have to deal with the fact that by the time we get to Swidler (2001) the conversation has changed (i.e. Bourdieu and practice theory happened), and she’s modified the argument accordingly. She ingeniously proposes that what Parsons (following the Weberian/Germanic tradition) called “ideas” can now be split into “practices + discourses.” Practices are “embodied” (and thus “deep” in the post-structuralist sense) and discourses are “external” (and thus shallow).
This leads to the issue of how Bourdieu fits into the post-Parsonian/post-structuralist conversation on cultural depth. We can at least be sure of one thing: the Parsonian “deep internalization” story is not Bourdieu’s version (even though Bourdieu used the term “internalization” in Logic of Practice). The reason for this is that habitus is not the sort of thing that was designed to give an explanation for why people “learn” to have “attitudes” (orientations) towards “cultural objects” much less to internalize these “objects” so that they become part of the “personality” (which is, by the way, possibly the silliest thing ever said). There is a way to tell the cultural depth story in a Bourdieusian way without falling into the trap of having to make a cultural object a “constituent” part of the actor but this would require de-Parsonizing the “cultural depth” discussion (which is something that Bourdieu is really good for). There is one problem: the more you think about it, the more it becomes clear that, insofar as the cultural depth discussion is a pseudo-Parsonian rehash, there might not much left after it is properly Bourdieusianized.
More specifically, the cultural depth discussion might be a red herring because it still retains an implicit allegiance to the (Parsonian) “internalization” story, and internalization makes it seem as if something that was initially subsisting outside of the person now comes to reside inside the person (as if for instance, “I disagree with women going to work and leaving their children in daycare” was a sentence stored in long-term memory to which a “value” is attached.
This is a nice Parsonian folk model (shared by most public opinion researchers). But it is clear that if, we follow the substantive implications of dual process models, what resides in the person is not a bunch of sentences to which they are oriented; instead the sentence lives in the outside world (of the GSS questionnaire) and what resides “inside” (what has been internalized) is a disposition to react (negatively, positively) to that sentence when I read it, understand it and (technically if we follow Barsalou 1999) perceptually simulate its meaning, which actually involves running through modal scenarios of women going to work and leaving miserable children behind). This disposition is also presumably the same one that may govern my intuitive reaction to other sorts of items designed to measure my”attitude” towards other related things. I can even forget the particular sentence (but keep the disposition) so that when somebody or some event (I drive past the local daycare center) reminds me of it I still reproduce the same morally tinged reaction (Bargh and Chartrand 1999; Bargh and Williams 2006).
Note that the depth imagery disappears under this formulation, and this is for good reason. If we call “dispositions to produce moral-affective judgments when exposed to certain scenarios or statements in a consistent way through time” deep, so be it. But that is not because there exist some other set of things that are the same as dispositions except that they lack “depth.” Dispositions either exist in this “deep” form or they don’t exist at all (dispositions, are the sorts of things that in the post-Giddensian sense are inherently deep). No journey has been undertaken by some sort of ontologically mysterious cultural entity to an equally ontologically spurious realm called “the personality.” A “shallow” disposition is a contradiction in terms, which then makes any recommendation to “make cultural depth a variable” somewhat misleading, as long as that recommendation is made within the old Parsonian framework. The reason why this is misleading is because this piece of advice relies on the imagery of sentences with contents located at “different levels” of the mind travelling from the shallow realm to the deep realm and transforming their causal powers in the process.
If we follow the practice-theoretical formulation more faithfully, the discussion moves from “making cultural depth a variable” to “reconfiguring the theoretical language so that what was previously conceptualized in these terms is now understood in somewhat better terms.” This implies giving up on the misleading metaphor of depth and the misleading model of a journey from shallow-land to depth-land via some sort of internalization mechanism. Thus, there are things to which I have dispositions to react (endowed with all of the qualities that “depth” is supposed to provide such as consistency and stability) in a certain (e.g. morally and emotionally tinged) distinct way towards. We can call this “deep culture” but note that the depth thing does not add anything substantive to this characterization. In addition, there are things towards which I (literally) have no disposition whatever, so I form online (shallow?) judgments about these things because this dorky, suit-wearing in July interviewer with NORC credentials over here apparently wants me to do so. But this (literally confabulated) “attitude” is like a leaf in the wind and it goes this or that way depending on what’s in my head that day (or more likely as shown by Zaller 1992, depending on what was on the news last night). Is this the difference between “shallow” and “deep” culture? Maybe, but that’s where the (Parsonian version of the) internalization language reaches its conceptual limits.
Thus, we come to a place where a dual process argument becomes tightly linked to what was previously being thought of under the misleading “shallow culture/deep culture” metaphor in a substantive way. I think this will “save” anybody who wants to talk about cultural depth from the Parsonian trap, because that person can then say that “deep= things that trigger moral intuitions” and “shallow=attitudes formed by conscious, on-the-fly confabulation.” Note that conceptually the difference is between thinking of “depth” as a property of the cultural object (the misleading Parsonian view) or thinking of “depth” as resulting from the interaction between properties of the person (internalized as dispositions) and qualities of the object (e.g. meaning of a proposition or statement) (the Bourdieusian point).
Recently, at a faculty meeting of professors and graduate students from several disciplines, discussion turned to the IRB’s interpretation of human subjects guidelines and the implications for students’ efforts to document phenomena for class assignments. Participants pointed out a variety of problems, including changes over the years in IRB decisions about whether results of projects could be publicly shared – in this case, whether students’ videorecorded interview of a retired elected official could be publicly shared under today’s IRB guidelines. Faculty and graduate students also described delays in getting feedback from their IRBs, raising concerns about how the lack of accountability on the part of some IRBs increases the uncertainty of planning class research, students’ timely graduation, and faculty productivity.
At orgtheory, we’ve discussed how researchers face challenges concerning the IRB here and here. Although the IRB offers detailed guidelines that can protect human subjects in medical research, how the IRB and human subjects concerns can contribute to the conduct of qualitative research, particularly organizational ethnography, is less clear.
Several recent publications offer researchers’ experiences with these issues.
A few days ago, I asked if readers believed in school effects. The poll suggested that most orgtheory respondents do believe that schooling makes a difference. In the comments, many people asked: what counts as a school effect? joshtk76 noted that different features of schools seem to have different effects on students.
Ok, let’s sort this out. First, in the sociology and education literature on schools, there is a statistical definition of a “school effect.” It simply means that if we assign a variable for a type of school (e.g., public vs. private) or specific school (Indiana University), then there will be an effect on the dependent variable of choice (e.g., income or learning measurement). A lot of classic studies in sociology and economics then play the game of making the effects go away. For example, Coleman’s study used family background to make school effects disappear. Card and Krueger try to measure student aptitude to make college specific effects disappear. Often, school specific effects are reduced or go away entirely. The flavor of many studies are like that – add family, or cognitive ability, or whatever and school effects diminish.
Now, as the commenters note, there is still some ambiguity. There is stuff that is school specific that is not “school,” such as your friends at school. Luckily, the literature does give some guidance. For example, we do know that there are teacher effects. There seem some teachers who are really good at teaching. If a school has good teachers, then students will learn more. On social capital, the evidence is mixed. If you read Muow’s work on networks and jobs, the evidence is mixed, which suggests that social capital from schools doesn’t have that big of an impact.
If the evidence is so mixed, I wouldn’t put a whole lot on school effects unless there is a strong reason otherwise. For example, elite occupations (e.g. academia) seem to revolve around certain elite schools. Another example: very low SES students, the one group where we consistently find school effects. So when thinking about school effects, your presumption should be “not much, but I am willing to consider the evidence for specific groups of people.”
First, of all I’d like to thank Neil Fligstein for guest blogging on orgtheory. Acknowledging his contribution has been long overdue. He wrote a series of really provocative and intriguing posts about his new book, A Theory of Fields (see here and here), which spurred an intense discussion about the various strands of institutional theory, the role of agency and change in institutional theory, and the strategic orientation of actors. Rather than rehash that debate I wanted to step back and offer my own take on what I see as some of the most important (potential) contributions of field theory to organizational scholarship.
Even though in his posts Neil framed the book as a response to institutional scholarship, I think the book has more ambitious, broader designs. Their book tries to integrate various research strands and subfields – including, but not limited to, institutional theory and social movement theory – and offer a unified theory of fields and action. In this light, they have more in common with John Levi Martin (JLM), who has written his own treatise on fields and social action, than they do with the hordes of institutional scholars. (Their view of fields certainly owes more to Bourdieu than it does to DiMaggio and Powell’s concept of organizational fields.) They are attempting grand theory in a way that is rarely done in contemporary sociology. The grandness of their theoretical lens is apparent once you consider that they mean for it to apply not only to markets or industries but also to fields that exist within organizations or that describe relations between social movement activists.
The major difference between them (F&M) and JLM or other field theorists is the way they conceptualize fields as sites of collective action (strategic action being the most important form of collective action that actors take to reproduce or change fields). In contrast, JLM is more interested in fields as sites of social action, period. According to F&M, the major problem that faces actors in any field – whether you’re talking about American corporations seeking to deregulate an industry or parents addressing the education needs of their children – is figuring how to cooperate and take collective action so that they can gain advantages over contending groups. Engaging in collective action in order to get an advantage is the motivation that drives field formation, struggle, and change. A strong version of their theory would suggest that changes in meaning systems, rules and norms, or institutional settlements are endogenous to these strategic struggles. In fact, the field itself can be seen as situational, inasmuch as it forms around struggles over ideas and standing. Fields only exist inasmuch as there is some sort of collective action.
Let’s thanks Tom Medvetz for an edifying and entertaining series of posts that include the genesis of his research question, cinema trivia, and his thoughts on blogging as part of the academic enterprise. Readers can enjoy his posts here, here, here, here, and here.
When I was in graduate school, cultural sociology was simply a branch of sociology. But later, I found out that it has an usual place in the discipline:
- It’s a large specialty, but jobs are scarce. That’s my own observation – any one have data?
- It seems to have absorbed the social theorists
- It has been accused of being insular
- It has been accused of being too idiosyncratic with regard to method (See Perrin’s article)
So does cultural sociology have a Prada Bag problem? Is it a specialty that sounds cool but is really a luxury for fancy departments? Consider this an open thread on the place of cultural sociology and its position in the discipline.
This is the fourth and final post in a blog forum about inequality and organizational theory (see parts 1, 2, and 3). Michael Piore of MIT’s Sloan School of Management and the Department of Economics wrote the post, and Brayden King provided a rather long-winded commentary.
I share the concerns which a number of commentators have expressed here about the increasing inequality of income in the United States, but I see the income distribution as a symptom of a far more fundamental problem, the way in which we in the United States think about the economy and the capacity to manage and direct it through public policy. Two basic ideas now dominate our thinking: The notion of human behavior as motivated by individual self-interest (usually the maximization of monetary rewards) and the competitive market as a template for organizing all social activity. These are the starting point of standard economics, the foundations of a program of scientific research. But in the United States they have become the foundations of a political program as well. In most of the rest of the world, that political program is called neo-liberalism, but the tenets upon which it rests are so buried in contemporary American consciousness that we don’t even have a particular word for this way of thinking. They are widely accepted on the left and on the right of the political spectrum. If there is a difference, it is that the left is willing to revisit and revise the distribution of income through taxes and transfers once the market has played itself out, although it has had only limited success in doing so.
It is not that the insights of economics, even as refracted through the neoliberal lens, are wrong; it is that they are so limited (and in those limits so constraining). Sociology starts from a different set of insights about individual motivation and about social organization, and thus promises to open to the way toward a different set of visions about how we might structure the world in which we live, without sacrificing economic prosperity. And for me at least, the main reason for drawing sociologists into economic debates is to expand those limits.
As an economist, it perhaps ill-behooves me to say exactly what the alternative sociological perspective is. Indeed, there are probably several different perspectives that emerge out of the sociological vision. But the version which appeals to me is that the behavior of individual actors in a social system is directed by the actors’ conceptions of their personal identities; that those identities are, in turn, embedded in a set of narratives which link the stories that individuals tell themselves about their own personal lives to the identities (and historical narratives) of the organizations in which they live and work; and that these organizational narratives are ultimately linked to each other through a set of narratives about the larger society. It is the attempt to be the persons that these narratives identify, to act out the roles which they define, that motivates the actors in the economy. And it is these interlocking narratives—in addition to or possibly in place of, the market—which give the economy cohesion and direction. This “sociological understanding” suggests that what holds together and permits the current income distribution is the narrative of neoliberalism. What we need to create a more equitable and humane distribution is first the conviction that an alternative set of narratives is possible, and second to identify what such an alternative might be.
I worry that sociology is doing neither, that it has become distracted by a debate with economists about what determines individual incomes and is engaged in a project of showing that the market does not explain individual outcomes and that something else is at stake here (e.g., discrimination, social capital, even institutional isomorphism). I worry that in the absence of a broader perspective—about how sociology explains individual behavior and social coherence—and an alternative narrative, the answer to the critique will simply be policies to increase the pressures of the competitive market until outcomes which conform to it are achieved.
I have often read papers that address a standard sociological topic – like voting, or education, or health – and they immediately jump to “culture” as an explanation. Sometimes they take the time to take a swipe at a strong rational choice argument, but they rarely take the time to really engage standard non-cultural explanations. It’s as if saying “culture” three times and clicking your heels will magically transport you to a special place where culture is the only variable that matters.
Turns out that I am not the only one who has noticed this. Brian Steensland, my colleague at Indiana, wrote an article in Sociological Forum making this claim:
I suggest that the sociological literature on culture and politics has largely, and perhaps necessarily, been operating in a restricted fashion. It has developed a rich arsenal of concepts and propositions, but it has also addressed an audience already disposed to believe that ‘‘culture matters.’’ Cultural analysts are now well positioned to move more fully toward an elaborated mode of analysis that takes skepticism about culture in some quarters more seriously by directly engaging noncultural approaches to politics.
Steensland also approvingly cites Perrin, who suggests that cultural sociologists should use more standard techniques. I love you guys, but maybe it’s time to come in from the cold. Let me show you my non-cultural theory and we can make beautiful post-post-post-Parsons sociology together.
associate or full professor of sociology at the city college of new (ccny), city university of new york (cuny)
The following ad is currently available online at the Chronicle of Higher Education and the ASA jobbank under id# 8931. It will also appear in the Nov. 30th print edition of the CHE.
Associate or Full Professor of Sociology
The Department of Sociology at The City College of New York (CCNY), City University of New York (CUNY) invites interested persons to apply for a full-time, tenured position for people currently at either the advanced Associate or Full Professor level to start at the beginning of the Fall 2013 semester. Substantive areas of interest are open, but preference will be given to candidates who specialize in areas that build upon the strengths of the department (see http://www1.ccny.cuny.edu/prospective/socialsci/sociology/). The department has strong research and master’s and undergraduate programs. Successful candidates will be expected to exercise leadership in the department and programs, including a willingness to chair the department. Successful candidates, once hired, are also expected to fulfill the College’s requirements with regard to teaching, research, record of publications, and service to the institution.
Salaries are commensurate with experience.
Interested persons should send (mail) letters of application discussing their administrative experience, research and teaching interests, their Curriculum Vitae, names of three references with contact information, and two samples of written work to Prof. William Helmreich, Chair of the Search Committee, Dept. of Sociology, NAC 6/125, The City College of the City University of New York, New York, NY 10031. Inquiries should be sent to ccnysociologydept [at] gmail.com. The review of applications will begin Jan. 15, 2013 and continue until the position is filled.
The OMT Blog has a great interview with Roger Friedland, one half of the duo that wrote the now classic 1991 paper about institutional logics. I highly recommend reading the entire interview. In the interview he talks about how the institutional logics paper was inspired by a heated debate with Theda Skocpol, why he’s the Rip Van Winkle of institutional theory, and what organizational scholars can learn from studying religion. I enjoyed this bit:
A few months ago a graduate student approached me in Banff, Canada, where I had been invited to give a talk to a group of management scholars who do institutional research.
“Nice to meet you,” he said as he extended his hand. “Can I tell you something. It is a little embarrassing.”
“Go ahead,” I encouraged him.
“Well, I thought you were dead. I didn’t see your name after that 1991 piece.”
I laughed; I loved it.