sociology’s most important breakthrough in ten years!

Gilles Beauchamp asked: What do you think is the most important breakthrough in sociology since 2000? A few candidates:

  1. Global inequality has decreased because of economic liberalization in China and India.  Global inequality is the result of cross national differences, less than domestic differences. Until the rise of China and India, global patterns of inequality have been stable since the industrial revolution (Firebaugh/Moran/Hung & Kucinskas).
  2. The creation and development of the ERGM model in network analysis. Non-technical explanation: In normal statistics, you can often safely assume that two observations are independent. E.g., my age and your age normally don’t cause each other. This is not true in network data. E.g., my social tie may be correlated with your social ties; very messy. The ERGM model accounts for this problem. HUGE technical advance done by teams of statisticians and sociologists. (starts with Wasserman with p*, Buskens goes to  ERGM in the 2000s).
  3. Showing the consequences of mass incarceration of American Blacks (Western, Pager, Quillian, etc.)
  4. Using genetic markers and other biological variables to predict social behavior, such as racial self-identification, gender traits, or criminality (Guo, Udry).
  5. Explaining the “financialization” of the American economy (Davis, Kripner, etc).

Add your own “best” findings/developments from 2000 in the comments.

Written by fabiorojas

December 30, 2010 at 12:47 am

Posted in fabio, sociology

17 Responses

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  1. (1) Is still a somewhat contested finding that even if valid has unclear substantive implications (this applies to the entire literature on “inequality” effects as has been pointed out by Dalton Conley); (2) is important but mostly technical, and in my view ERGMs have not produced many findings of theoretical significance (the Sorensen critique of statistical versus mathematical models applies here as John Skvoretz has pointed out before); (4) is still just a mess of interaction effects without any clear conceptual or theoretical basis.

    As I see it, (3) is the most important “classic” sociological finding (or series of findings) because it straddles so many areas of substantive significance (race and ethnicity, political sociology, gender/family, strat, etc.). (5) is of course of arguably equal substantive/topical significance. So I’d say that on that list it would be between (3) and (5).

    Other ones that I’d consider: Buchmann/Diprete (ASR, 2006) on the emerging female advantage in college completion; Hout/Fischer (ASR, 2002) on the sudden spike in disaffiliation as a result of the politicization of religion in the U.S.; Schofer/Frank/Meyer on the worldwide expansion of higher ed; Budig/England/Correll’s research on the motherhood wage penalty.

    Liked by 1 person


    December 30, 2010 at 3:23 am

  2. […] sociology’s most important breakthrough in ten years! ( […]


  3. I have not read any of the material but I was drawn to number 2, 3, 5 as the most interesting. Would probably pick 2 as slightly less US-centric.

    Omar makes an interesting comment on point 2 however, I will need to look into it!



    December 30, 2010 at 3:34 am

  4. I agree with Omar, the Hout/Fischer piece was a major breakthrough. However I don’t know if the politicization of religion had as much of an effect as they suggest. H&F show that most of the increase in non-affiliation in the 90’s was made up of liberals and moderates, but even the percentage of those who “lean conservative” and identify as non-religious doubled over the same time period (from about 5 to 10%).

    They also dismiss the notion that hot political issues like abortion and same-sex marriage could drive religious disaffiliation. They believe that such issues are more likely the consequence of changed religious identity than a cause of it….but I’m not so sure.



    December 30, 2010 at 6:30 am

  5. could you guys provide links or at least more information on the important findings/articles?



    December 30, 2010 at 6:46 am

  6. I’ll second the request for links, particularly on ERGM, which I have not heard of before. Please at least spell out the acronym for outsiders!

    Liked by 1 person

    Jeff Smith

    December 30, 2010 at 4:29 pm

  7. Thanks Fabio for your answer to my “end of the decade question”.

    It is (as expected from orgtheory ;-) as informative and wide-ranging as it could be… But I tend to agree wit Andrew : if you happen to have some links to online papers it would be even richer ! I will probably search for some, and post them with the wrap-up post I am preparing.



    December 30, 2010 at 4:37 pm

  8. ERGM – Exponential Random Graph Model

    Basically, you compare the network graph that you observed with a set of graphs that were generated by a random technique but which have a scale-free degree distribution (that’s the exponential part) which is something we don’t find in normal random graphs (their degree distributions tend to be normally distributed).

    Then, as Fabio already explained, you can ask, how much do my observations diverge from what we would expect from a random graph that has a similar scale free shape.



    December 30, 2010 at 4:45 pm

  9. Another idea for the most important ideas of the 2010s.

    It’s not a sociology article, but a great deal of excitement in the social sciences was generated by Albert and Barabasi’s 2002 piece on the “Statistical Mechanics of Complex Networks”.

    Liked by 1 person


    December 30, 2010 at 4:55 pm

  10. Re #4. I think perhaps more important from a sociological viewpoint is how social factors trigger or suppress the expression of genetic or biological factors, such as in the Pescosolido et al article in the AJS special issue here.

    Liked by 1 person


    December 30, 2010 at 7:46 pm

  11. Just a couple of corrections on James’ ERGM post for the sake of other readers. First, while an ERGM could be used to test scale-freeness, it is a much more general model. Basically, it is a model of tie probabilities based on the tendencies of the network to have certain researcher-specified micro-configurations, such as reciprocated ties, transitive triples, or many/few ties between nodes of different categories. Second, scale-free distributions are described by power functions (e.g., x^e, where x is a variable and e is a constant), not exponential functions (e.g., e^x). Normal distributions actually belong to an exponential family of distributions.


    steve borgatti

    December 30, 2010 at 9:08 pm

  12. re: links on ERGMs. Robins, Pattison, Kalish and Lusher provide a good introduction:

    They’ve also got some useful information on the topic here:



    December 30, 2010 at 10:19 pm

  13. Need to add that Chris Uggen’s and Loic Wacquant’s important work should be mentioned as part of (3).



    December 30, 2010 at 10:42 pm

  14. […] l’Université d’Indiana, répondait à ma question en avançant 5 candidats au titre de sociology’s most important breakthrough in ten years en identifiant pour chaque question quelques auteurs : l’évolution récente de […]


  15. It’s interesting that most of the breakthroughs mentioned above are almost entirely empirical. I’d like to think that the 00’s had some pretty significant theoretical breakthroughs as well, although it’s difficult to tell which of these breakthroughs will actually hold up and have a lasting impact in the decades to come.

    I’ll nominate a couple:

    Steve Vaisey’s “dual process model of culture” is a really interesting reconceptualization of how culture influences behavior. Steve’s been doing his best to “bring values back in” and his data provide some support for the idea that we shouldn’t discount the role of values/beliefs in motivating action. I think the model has tons of potential for explaining variation in organizational behavior as well.

    There is a lot of interesting new research attempting to overturn the primacy-of-networks bias within sociology and emphasize the role that culture plays in the formation of relationships/groups. This new research attempts to show that people’s beliefs, tastes, and cultural tools shape the kinds of people they associate with and helps create/harden group and class boundaries (see, for example, Lauren Rivera’s excellent dissertation). Our own Omar Lizardo has a fascinating article in ASR, which I saw as a major theoretical breakthrough, called “How cultural tastes shape personal networks”.


    brayden king

    December 31, 2010 at 10:51 pm

  16. reading through the post and comments I just can’t help but think that these findings were made possible by the actual changing facts (eg, the rise of mass incarceration) or technology (eg, techniques like EGRM that substitute brute force for heroic assumptions are only possible because of Moore’s Law) such that this work could not have been done in the 1980s, no matter how brilliant the scholars. that’s not to disparage the accomplishments — i’d be extremely proud to have any of them on my CV — just to note the structural contingencies in kind of a men make sociology but not in the circumstances of their choosing kind of way.



    December 31, 2010 at 11:43 pm

  17. Agree with Brayden that the networks/culture link thing is hot, but Vaisey, Lizardo? Yawn. Those guys are dinosaurs. I’d be looking to read:

    Srivastava, Sameer B. and Mahzarin R. Banaji. Forthcoming. “Behind the Front: Culture, Cognition, and Collaborative Networks in Organizations.” American Sociological Review (first major application of IAT in soc).

    Wimmer, Andreas and Kevin Lewis. 2010. “Beyond and Below Racial Homophily: ERG Models of a Friendship Network Documented on Facebook.” American Journal of Sociology 116: 583–642. (the good ergums paper that proves the above rule).



    January 1, 2011 at 12:56 am

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