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yes, let’s pardon all non-violent drug offenders

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Governor JB Pritzker of Illinois recently pardoned 11,000 people in his state who had non-violent narcotics convictions. Three cheers for him! This is the right thing to do, as the country is sensibly moving toward legalization of marijuana. The War on Drugs has damaged lots of people. One form of harm is in saddling hundreds of thousands of people with felony convictions for possession or distribution of narcotics. These people will have the stigma of a criminal conviction and it makes it very hard for them to find stable work after incarceration.

Today, 33 states, and the District of Columbia, have legalized some form marijuana. Hopefully, in the near future, that number should be higher. We can’t go back in time and fix all the lives that have been broken by mass incarceration but we can do one more thing: as each state legalizes marijuana, governors and state legislators can void or reverse all non-violent convictions. It’s the right thing to do.

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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

January 17, 2020 at 12:04 am

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developing scholars of color ain’t that hard

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When people point out that many departments have few scholars of color, the response is often, “look, we only hire people with the right publication records and there aren’t that many.” True on the surface, but it evades a key issue – scholars of color are often hideously under-represented in top journals and university presses and these institutions are the de facto credentialing agencies of elite academia. It’s not as bad as it used to be when I started the academic track in the 1990s, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

To be blunt, the situation will only change when the predominantly White faculty at leading research programs start mentoring students of color, and women as well, so that they have the “right” publications upon graduation. If you have ever worked at a research academic program, you notice that the most common profile for a junior faculty hire is a doctoral candidate who has an unpublished dissertation but who is also a co-author on a senior professor’s “A journal” article. So one way to bolster the pipe line is to bring in graduate students onto projects – and early.

IU does not have a huge graduate student cohort and, frankly, it is not diverse as it reflects Indiana’s demographics. Still, progress can be made and it isn’t *that* hard. In my own case, I’ve been able to chair two dissertations of minority students who’ve gone on to academic careers and I’ve been able to have a third co-author on two articles. I’ll also include my friend Rashawn Ray, who was in one of my grad courses. When someone nominated me to edit Contexts and I needed a co-editor, I remembered that Rashawn was an intelligent and thoughtful guy, so I reached out to him. He was already tenured at that point, but I do hope that co-editing a journal will be a career enhancing activity for him. My reach out efforts don’t always succeed, but you have to at least try and sometimes it works.

In general, I am not impressed with diversity initiatives, fellowships, tough talk on diversity, and what not. Sure, they’re nice but that’s not where the hard work happens. The real challenge is taking the time and effort to say, “sure, I’ll chair your dissertation,” or, “hey, do you want to co-author this piece?” Unless you try to do that, it’s just cheap talk.

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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

January 16, 2020 at 1:53 am

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rational choice theory, jess calarco edition

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One of the things that my graduate students truly hate about my teaching is my insistence on learning classical Becker-era rational choice and its variants. For most of the profession, RCT is simply something to be avoided and wished away. But I teach it for a few reasons. First, most sociologists actually believe in some version of RCT when you get down to it. For example, I asked my graduate theory seminar, “do you believe school shootings would decrease if the state penalized gun possession?” All hands went up. Then I said, “well, you believe in some form of RCT.” People were not happy. I also teach RCT in depth because, frankly, a lot of other theory professors teach straw man versions of the theory and I need to undo some of that.*

But the *real* reason that I teach RCT is that it is a theoretically rich tradition of social thought. If you really understand it, you can use it to formulate interesting questions, even if you don’t buy the most rarefied versions. And like all well articulated theories, once you write down the premises, you can use specific data to test the limits of the theory.

For example, a few days ago, my colleague and office neighbor, Jess Calarco posted this fun/frustrating tweet. Question: Are small children rational? RCT provides a lot of interesting answers. The options:

  1. Children are not rational actors in the Becker sense. They don’t have time intransitive preferences. RCT doesn’t apply to them and is an incorrect description of small children.
  2.  Children are “irrational rational” actors in the Becker sense. They have goofy preferences but they are still subject to time and budget constraints and this induces RCT behavior.
  3. Children are rational actors in the Becker sense but they have imperfect information. For example, maybe the child really wanted a red cup but once they saw what it was like, they found out it sucked.
  4. Children are rational actors but they have hyperbolic preferences. In other words, they want immediate satisfaction and utility drops exponentially over time.
  5. Children are “muddle through” rational actors, which means that they don’t have clearly defined utility function. “I don’t know what I want but I know it when I see it.” He thought he wanted the red cup but once he found a real one, he knew that it was all hype.
  6. Children are rational actors but they have low skills. Maybe he didn’t want that red cup but couldn’t properly express himself. So he just insisted on the red cup.
  7. Children combine elements of the RCT model and the biological model of behavior. When adrenaline is low, they are closer to RCT. But if their emotions get high, it inhibits RCT and they have intransitive preferences.

The truth? I’d probably gravitate toward #6 and #7. But there is a bigger point. RCT is a very useful way to investigate the social world – even a world filled toddler melt-downs.

*For example, some students are taught that RCT predicts that people choose to be poor or victims of crime. They are also taught that RCT is about financial incentives, a mistake that I even found repeated Bourdieu’s Intro to Reflexive Sociology. I spend a lot of class time every year reversing this.

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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

January 14, 2020 at 12:01 am

Posted in uncategorized

black angel (1970, freddie hubbard + spaulding)

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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

January 12, 2020 at 12:30 am

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you should become a fan of some obscure things

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It’s fun to be a fan but it can be pricey. Superbowl tickets? From $2k-$5k. Front row for Taylor Swift? $600+. Now, if you love Taylor that much, more power to you. But what if you want the world’s best entertainment with front row seats are a rock bottom price?

Answer: Be a hipster. Choose a sub culture and be it’s #1 fan.

Example: Chess. Every year, the St. Louis Chess Club hosts an international tournament and it attracts the leading players in the world. It’s blitz chess, so games are short and plentiful. You can even walk right up to a table and watch. Ticket price? $10 per day and $40 for a five day pass.

Example: Jazz. When I was in grad school, I went to see McCoy Tyner play at the old Yoshi’s in Oakland. McCoy Tyner is one of the world’s leading pianists, having invented a new style of jazz piano and being the first pianist for John Coltrane’s legendary group. Cost: $25 plus a few drinks. Amazing.

Example: Women’s basketball. A few years ago, the IU women’s basketball team was on fire. They did pretty well and even won the NIT tournament. Cost per game: $10. Similarly, the WBNA Indiana Fever will make you pay $25 to $75 for a five game pack. The Indiana Pacers? Same price… per game!

Once in a long while, I’ll drop some money on a marquis event, but why bother? I am surrounded by world class talent at bargain prices.

+++++++++

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

January 10, 2020 at 12:25 am

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a sociology podcasting course

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This semester, I was asked to prepare a course for Indiana’s “Arts and Science Undergraduate Research Experience” program. The ASURE course is meant to take a small group of strongly committed lower division students into a practical hands-on experience. My choice? Public sociology. So I designed a course around the concept of reading sociology journals, identifying those with policy relevance, and then translating research into public communication.

The syllabus for Sociology 105 Spring 2020. Major activities:

  1. Learn about the concept of public sociology and read about the sociology of the media. We’ll also do readings about the theory of the public.
  2. Choose one recent sociology journal article and write a 1 page policy brief.
  3.  Same article – in class, public speech – with no power point! You gotta memorize it!
  4.  Learn about audio processing.
  5.  Then make a short pod cast where you write a radio style script.
  6.  Team practice project: podcast with instructor to practice interviewing a real person and translate their work.
  7.  Team real project: Identify local IU faculty who are willing to be interviewed about their work, make podcast, and do a poster project for the ASURE program.

Soc Twitter was super helpful in helping me identify a wide range of sociology, policy, journalism, and other social science podcasts. I’ve assembled them here for your convenience.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by fabiorojas

January 9, 2020 at 12:01 am

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on the victory of “American” sociology

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Over at the “Fake Nous” blog, philosopher Michael Huemer has an interesting post on the analytical/continental divide in his field. He thinks that despite its flaws – and they are big flaws – analytical philosophy is the way to go. In summary, Huemer thinks that analytical philosophy dominates because it focuses on trying to offer clear statements of philosophical problems and then trying to deduce answers. In contrast, Continental philosophers can barely even state their arguments and their books tend to be long and confusing.

I think a similar dynamic is at play within sociology. In our field, people will often complain about “American” sociology. Sometimes they refer to geography, but usually, they are referring to a style of sociology that is positivistic in nature and presented in terse, but relatively jargon free prose. In contrast, we have many people who are committed to critical social theory. Sometimes it makes sense, but a lot of it is truly tough to follow.

American sociology rules the day for many of the reasons Huemer cites in his essay about analytical philosophy. The biggest is that problems are solvable. For example, if you think personal wealth is correlated with being a Republican, you can state that hypothesis, get relevant survey data and see if it holds up. Try to verify Luhmann? Good luck with that. Luhmann even states at the beginning of his major book, Social Systems, that if you can’t understand this, that’s your problem.

Huemer also identifies a problem within philosophy: an obsession with history of philosophy. He, correctly I think, says that it’s nice but irrelevant. A philosopher should use all information to come up with the best arguments. Re-reading old books really doesn’t do that. In sociology, we have “social theory.” It’s misleading as much of it is history of social thought. Fortunately for us, most sociologists don’t endlessly read Weber or Durkheim but rather focus on testing some of their ideas with modern tools.

The underlying issue is that philosophy and sociology, and other fields as well, probably are undergoing a similar evolution. Before the rise of positivism as a general framework for doing scholarship (e.g., focusing on clear concepts, measurements, testable ideas, clear tests of validity of argument), we had “magnus opus” scholarship where you were paid to write long books that used epic, if confusing, terminology (e.g., autopoeiesis, species being, habitus, hysteresis). The more scientistic approach to scholarship won out, but there’s still a big audience for the older style. It’s a Pax Americana in sociology and that’s probably a good thing.

++++++++

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

January 7, 2020 at 12:14 am

Posted in uncategorized