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is sociology getting better?

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A few days ago, we got into a discussion of why journals are getting more submissions. Joseph Cohen asked the following:

Is there a prevailing sense about whether or not the average quality of these submissions has changed?

This question really got me thinking. Here is my answer:

Here is some prima facie evidence that things have not improved in terms of quality. If you look at what is published – which represents what editors think is top 5% or so in lead journals – you tend to see a lot of really polished normal science. It’s pretty much the same stuff we’ve seen before. Another study, of say, residential segregation or a network analysis, but with a bigger and better data set.

I am not claiming these are bad studies (which would include some of my own!). But it is really hard for me to say that ASR 2018 is really that incredibly better than ASR 2008 or 1998.

I am not claiming that there is no progress in sociology. Quite the opposite. If you read the first volume of AJS or ASR, you see that the articles pale in comparison with what we have today. They had minimal data and few theoretical concepts that would stand up today. I also think that within specific empirical areas, we have good progress as well. Choose a topic – school effects on learning or racial attitudes – and you will find a lot of really good data these days and you’ll find that we’ve answered some great questions.

But that is what Kuhn called “normal science.” Within a given research framework, people skillfully apply established ideas. You build upon existing roads. So sociology is getting incrementally better through classic knowledge accumulation. But that doesn’t mean the average researcher or paper is getting better.

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Written by fabiorojas

January 17, 2019 at 5:04 am

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why have journal submissions increased?

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Editors often discuss the increase in journal submissions. I won’t reveal specific numbers, but I have heard from other journal editors that they’ve seen their submission pipeline explode and some journals have acceptance rates well below 10%, when only a few years ago they had 20% acceptance rates.

This puzzles me. It’s not like the cohort of professors has doubled or tripled in recent years. Or that the people “demand” more journal publications. My hypotheses:

  1. Faster production: With easier to operate statistical software, many scholars can very quickly produce lots of papers. Also, nobody uses a type writer anymore. It’s all electronic word processing.
  2. Better information:  In the past, people had little information about what counts as a “good” journal. Now, everyone has access to impact factors and online forums about what disciplinary opinion leaders think is important.
  3. Better strategy: People have learned that the journal referee process is very random. So everyone should just shoot for the top and hope you get picked.
  4. Department Standards: More and more departments require publication in high visibility journals for hiring and promotion.
  5. Team work: People have learned to collaborate to produce more and better papers.
  6. Professional and interdisciplinary fields: People in areas like education, business, policy, and social work believe that sociology is worth publishing in. So we now get a ton of submissions from these areas.
  7. International scholars: Many of the above trends facilitate non-US submissions.
  8. Graduate students: Most graduate programs communicate to students that they need to publish early and well… and they got the message.

What do you think? Evidence for and against? Did I miss something?

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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

January 15, 2019 at 5:01 am

Posted in uncategorized

joseph jarman (1937-2019), non-cognitive aspects of the city

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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

January 13, 2019 at 5:01 am

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that time shamus’ field notes got subpoenaed

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Shamus Khan, author of Privileged, was subpoenaed for his field notes. In Sociological Forum, he recounts what happened. A young woman alleged an assault at the school where Shamus was a student and later spent time doing field work. The young woman and her attorney wanted field notes to help them establish a pattern of neglect on the part of the school in regards to assault.

The subpoena of documents raises all kinds of problems. Researchers often promise confidentiality to their subjects and if lawyers can subpoena field notes, future researchers may find it difficult to recruit subjects. Fortunately, the plaintiff’s legal team backed down after Shamus and his representative noted that his field notes might not support their case.

Shamus takes away a few lessons from this. First, few academics can really absorb the cost of a subpoena. Independently well-off, Shamus could afford a good attorney, but many of us could not. Second, he was pleasantly surprised to find out that such events are rare. Scanning the literature and his network of ethnographers, he found very few cases of field note subpoenas. Third, most institutions will not help you manage the legal implications of research. Neither his employer (Columbia) or the PhD institution (Wisconsin) would help out. Fourth, he offers some recommendations to help shield field notes and other research materials from legal investigation.

Here are my take-away points: The up side is that few ethnographic projects raise these issues. So, the risk seems low. Another take home point is about solutions. While it would be valuable to have some sort of disciplinary discussion about standards, I would be hesitant to recommend an insurance program (i.e., researchers  pool money together) because then you might accidentally encourage people to take on riskier ethnographic work. Finally, I think in most cases, I would do what Shamus did and try to resist subpoena but in extreme cases, such a homicide investigation, I might be less resistant.

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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

January 9, 2019 at 5:01 pm

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theory for the working sociologist: title explanation

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Image result for theory for the working sociologist

People like to make the following joke about Theory for the Working Sociologist. “It’s too bad, Fabio – most sociologist are unemployed!” Good one, Groucho. But I’ll take the opportunity to talk about the origin and meaning of the title.

Image result for categories for the working mathematician

Honestly, the title is a rip-off of an old math text book called Categories for the Working Mathematician by the late Saunders Mac Lane. His book was the first attempt to explain category theory – perhaps the most “meta” and abstract approach to mathematics – to the typical mathematician. Thus, the title conveyed something very important – category theory wasn’t some weird type of math for an elite group of scientists. Rather, it could be used to solve every day scientific problems.

While pondering my theory book  in progress, I wanted to convey that this is for “everyone” but I wanted to avoid a trite title (e.g., “Theory Today” or “Modern Social Theory”). My book’s title needed to say that anyone interested in social science could really benefit from a simple and useful explanation of social theory. So I did what all right thinking people do when stuck with a problem – copy someone way more successful than you!

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50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
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

January 8, 2019 at 5:01 am

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forty minutes of noisy avant garde goodness, i love this stuff

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++++++++

BUY THESE BOOKS!!
50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
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

January 6, 2019 at 8:01 am

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theory for the working sociologist: graduate course edition

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Last week, I wrote about how to use Theory for the Working Sociologist in an undergraduate course. How does one do it for a graduate course? As usual, just abandon the pretense that you’re teaching great books, history of sociology, or philosophy of science. And just remind yourself that you are here to teach the core ideas of social theory in ways that a normal sociologist – like a demographer or a sociologist of education – would use.

I’ll focus on the graduate theory course. As with the undergraduate class, you should probably decide what the major approaches to social theory are. In my grad class, I stuck with inequality/power, culture/structure/values, rational choice and social construction. You can come up with your own labels.

The big difference with the undergrad class is that I usually start with selections from the Theory book and then add a healthy mix of classic and super-modern readings. You can also easily weave in cutting edge work from today, as long as you can identify the theoretical assumptions.

Here’s a cool example. In my recent graduate social theory course, I wanted to spend a week on “dual process models,” which folks like Vaisey and Lizardo have imported from psychology into sociology. Normally, doing contemporary social psychology in a theory course would be pushing it. But not if you assign the book.

How does it work? Simple. We had a section on “values and structures.” That is chapter 4 in Theory for the Working Sociologist. That chapter provides an overview. Then, I supplemented the textbook with an intuitive sequence of readings:

  1. Durkheim, selections from Elementary Forms
  2. Weber, selections from Protestant Ethic
  3. Parsons, selections from The Social System or one of the early books on social action
  4. Swidler, DiMaggio and Powell and Meyer and Rowan (toolkit theory and institutionalism)
  5. Then: Vaisey & co. on dual process models, and Lizardo on declarative/non-declarative models of culture

Thus, by focusing the logical development of the theory of culture from Durkheim to the present, it becomes very easy to understand the motivation behind the argument for dual process models. The text book offers a nice road map and it’s easy to add or subtract items (like dual process models) as needed. Once they are done with social theory, they will understand how a lot of social psychology is logically integrated with the intellectual architecture of the discipline.

Finally, you can also easily assign sections of Theory for the Working Sociologist as a supplement to other courses. For example, you might be teaching political sociology and run into arguments about the rational voter model. You could then assign a few pages from the book about rational choice theory to help students see why the argument happened in the first place.

++++++++

BUY THESE BOOKS!!
50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
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

January 4, 2019 at 8:01 am

Posted in uncategorized