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another theory syllabus you can use!!!!

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Akram Al-Turk is a doctoral candidate at UNC-Chapel Hill in sociology. He recently sent me his theory syllabus. It’s similar to my approach – use Theory for the Working Sociologist and then add more readings. He uses the Lemert anthology but then also adds material from the Kivisto and Calhoun et al. anthologies. With his permission, I post it: Click here to check it out.

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50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
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Written by fabiorojas

September 19, 2019 at 1:32 am

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more social theory from gabriel abend

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After writing about Gabriel Abend’s now classic “The Meanings of Theory,” my attention was drawn to a recent article he wrote where he pushes a new argument about the use of concepts in social theory. From “Thick Concepts and Sociological Research:”

One way to classify concepts goes like this. Some concepts are descriptive, like yellow, furniture, and Uruguayan. Other concepts are evaluative, like goodness, wrongness, and beauty.1 One way to classify evaluative concepts goes like this. Some evaluative concepts are thin, like goodness, wrongness, and beauty. Other evaluative concepts are thick, like dignity, piety, cruelty, humanness, generosity, sleaziness, dogmatism, ostentatiousness, and garishness.2

What’s the difference between thin and thick concepts? Thin concepts like goodness, wrongness, beauty, and appropriateness do an evaluative job, whose valence can be positive (pro) or negative (con). One key property of thin concepts is that you can apply them to anything you’d like. According to your evaluations, Becky’s piano is good, Huck’s action was wrong, and Tom’s painting is beautiful. While you applied these thin predicates to these particular piano, action, and painting, you could have applied them to any other. For example, you could have said that the Steinway Model D isn’t a good piano. If so, you would have made a mistake about musical instruments’ quality, but not a conceptual or semantic one. You could have said that concentrated animal feeding is a morally good thing. If so, you would have made a moral mistake, but not a conceptual or semantic one.

Thick concepts like compassion, cruelty, humanness, and elegance do an evaluative job, whose valence can be positive (pro) or negative (con). But they also do a descriptive job. That a practice is compassionate, a ruler is cruel, and a chess sacrifice and combination are elegant tells you something about what these things are like. Therefore, one key property of thick concepts is that you can’t apply them to anything you’d like. If you say that Oskar Dirlewanger and Augusto Pinochet weren’t cruel people, you wouldn’t understand what cruelty is (or, you wouldn’t understand the meaning of the English word “cruel”). If you say that concentrated animal feeding is a compassionate and humane practice, you wouldn’t understand what compassion and humanness are (or, you wouldn’t understand the meaning of the English words “compassionate” and “humane”). In both cases you’d be mistaken semantically or conceptually. You’d be mistaken in the same sense you’d be mistaken if you said, “Strawberries are yellow” and “Messi is Uruguayan.”3 In this sense, thick concepts compassion and cruelty are like descriptive concepts yellow and Uruguayan, but unlike thin concepts good and wrong.

Read the whole thing!

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50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

September 18, 2019 at 1:24 pm

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the end stage of socialism is kleptocracy

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If you read The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels give a poetic account of how societies evolve. Western society moved out of antiquity into feudalism and then into capitalism. In their view, capitalism is so exploitative and unstable that revolutionary forces will topple the system and impose state control over the economy. Ideally, the state itself will wither and you’ll get an idyllic communist society.

But we now know that’s wrong. The industrialized nations of the West never turned to socialism, though they did institute welfare states in the 20th century. Instead, more rural societies like China and Russia were the biggest customers of Marxism. And very few socialist states of the 20th century remained socialist in the classical senses. Socialism, and communism, was not the end of the story.

So what did we get? If you follow someone like Francis Fukuyama, you might believe that liberal capitalism is the end state. It’d be great if it were true, but that’s also wrong. Liberal capitalism, understood as private ownership of most of the economy with a government that redistributes a lot of income, is still not what most people in the world experience and it’s probably not what the residents of Russia and China have.

Instead, people have kleptocracy – a state that has some features of capitalism and democracy, but is mainly designed to help a narrow elite suck up all the wealth through graft, bribery, and coercion. That is probably the most likely end state of socialist development. This is made extremely clear by a book called Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?, by political scientist Karen Dawisha. The book provides an illuminating account of how the Russian state grew out of the Soviet Union and by doing so, explains how kleptocracy is a very natural outcome of socialist government.

Here’s the story in brief: Socialist states have piles of cash. They can print their own but they also acquire hard currency through sales of oil and minerals. Socialist states use these piles of cash for the enrichment of elites, the purchase of capital goods, and supporting socialist parties abroad. So, most socialist states already have a nice system of bank accounts and elites understand how financial institutions work.

When socialist states collapse (e.g., Russia 1989) or evolve (e.g., China in the 1990s/2000s), elites with the socialist state then embezzle these piles of cash and set up their own firms. They also use the state to impose all kinds rules that require that outsiders deal with them and they also use state violence to harass or kill rival business owners. The end point is that you get a coherent group of state participants who essentially set up a mafia under the aegis of state legitimacy.

Dawisha’s book chronicles this story in extreme detail and shows how Putin’s ring of KGB allies stepped in and set up a kleptocracy in the waning days of the Yeltsin administration. It is a story that likely has analogs in China, Africa, and anywhere else you’ve seen socialist governments pop up. It’s also a story of how many authoritarian states on the right evolve. They’re just skipping the socialist step in their trajectory.

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BUY THESE BOOKS!!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

September 17, 2019 at 4:43 pm

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“don’t be afraid to push big, bold projects” and “be brave and patient”: Dustin Avent-Holt and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey on producing Relational Inequality Theory (RIT)

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Dustin Avent-Holt and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, who collaboratively published their book Relational Inequalities: An Organizational Approach (Oxford University Press), graciously agreed to do a joint email interview with orgtheory!  Here, we discuss their book and the process leading up to the production of the book.  Readers who are thinking of how to apply relational inequality theory (RIT), join and bridge scholarly conversations, and/or handle collaborative projects, please take note.

First, I asked Dustin and Don substantive questions about RIT.  Here, both authors describe how they used their workplaces in higher education as laboratories for refining their theory.  Also, Don channeled his disappointment with the limits of Chuck Tilly’s Durable Inequalities into fueling this endeavor.

1. Katherine.  How did you apply the insight of relational inequality in your own lives?  For example, both of you are at public universities – how does knowing relational inequality affect your ways of interacting with other people and institutions?

Dustin. I think for me one of the ways I see this is becoming faculty during the process of writing the book and being in a transitioning institution. I was hired out of grad school to Augusta University when it had just merged with the Medical College of Georgia. With this merger, Augusta University moved from being a teaching-focused college to a comprehensive research university that includes both graduate and undergraduate programs and a mission focused on research. Experiencing this transition  made me think through the daily lives of organizations in a much less structural way as I saw people negotiating and renegotiating the meaning of the institution, the practices and policies, creating new ways of fulfilling institutional roles, etc. I guess in that way it highlighted the work of Tim Hallet on inhabited institutionalism. As university faculty and staff, we didn’t just copy a bunch of templates from the environment, people were translating them and challenging them in the organization. And we still are, 7 years later, and I suspect we will be for a very long time. Organizations at that moment became enactments rather than structures for me, something to be relationally negotiated not simply imported. Don and my endeavor then to understand inequality in this context actually began to make more sense. And in fact during our weekly conversations about the book, I do remember often relating stories to Don of what was going on, and this certainly shaped how I thought about the processes we were thinking through.

I don’t know if that is what you were after in your question, but it is for me this experience shaped how I have come to think about organizations, and became central to how we think about organizations in the book. 

Don. No fair, actually apply a theory in our own lives? Seriously though, I became pretty frustrated with the black hole explanations of local inequalities as reflecting “structure” or “history”. These can be analytically useful, but simultaneously disempowering. Yes, some students come to the University with cultural capital that matches some professors, but this does not make them better students, just relationally advantaged in those types of student-teacher interactions. At the same time the University exploits revenue athletes for its purposes while excluding many others from full participation. The struggles of first gen students and faculty are produced by relational inequalities. 

As a department chair I was keenly aware of the university dance of claims making around status and revenue and that this had to be actively negotiated if our department was going to be able to claim and sequester resources. This sounds and to some extent is harsh, since success might mean taking resources indirectly from weaker or less strategic departments, although it can also feel insurgent if the resource appears to be granted or extracted from the Provost. But the truth is that university resources flow in a complex network of relationships among units, students, legislators and vendors (beware the new administrative software contract!). 

The Dean will pretend this is about your unit’s “productivity”, it’s never that simple.*  It’s also great to have allies, at UMass we have a great faculty union that works to level the playing field between departments and disrupt the administrative inequality dance.

* Katherine’s addition: Check out this satirical twitter feed about higher ed administration for laugh/cries.

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in memory of doug mitchell, jazz drummer

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Most people knew Doug Mitchell as the long serving acquisitions editor of the University of Chicago press. I did know him in this role. He gave me a lot of advice on writing and told me to read Bill Germano’s wonderful book on how to write an academic text. But that is not the way I remember him. I knew him mainly as a jazz drummer.

In Hyde Park, there is a musical community based around playing jazz, blues, and funk. Much of it converged at “Jimmy’s,” a local bar that would have open jam sessions on Sunday nights. A life long jazz fan and amateur player, I quickly found myself in this milieu. I sat in and played (badly) with some folks who went on to become well regarded musicians and music scholars, like Matana Roberts and Paul Steinbeck. The guy behind the trap set a lot of the time was Doug Mitchell.

One day, I was trying to get people together for a gig and I said, “we need a drummer.” Through a friend of a friend, we got Doug Mitchell. For a year or so, he was the guy we’d ask to sit behind the trap set for a gig in Hyde Park. And it was fun. He was a very solid “inside” drummer and a seriously cool dude. He told me the story of how Miles Davis hit on his wife at a Chicago club in the 1960s. He told me about his wild intellectual interests. And, perhaps most crucially, he told me how to sit properly while drumming so that you won’t get back problems. After I graduated, I rarely saw Doug, except at ASA and only in passing, though he once did invite me to a big party people threw for him at the now defunct Hot House music space. It was a good party and his friends chipped in to get him a trip to Paris.

This jazz tune, Sugar by Stanley Turrentine, is a common song that beginners like me enjoy playing. When Doug played it, he was smiling and sweating hard, and he knew when to drop a big hit for dramatic effect. So thanks for memories. I am glad music allowed our paths to cross.

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50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

September 15, 2019 at 12:09 am

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posts that i’m actually proud of in retrospect

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Written by fabiorojas

September 12, 2019 at 12:45 am

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open borders 2019 conference: call for panels

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FMP pic

The Open Borders conference will happen on October 19, 2019 at the New School for Social Research in New York. We’ll have great speakers, but you too can submit a proposal for an activity. Even if you can’t, please consider chipping in some $$$.

So check it out and join us!

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BUY THESE BOOKS!!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

September 11, 2019 at 12:01 am

Posted in uncategorized