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jenn lena in freakonomics

Orgtheory friend and leading cultural sociologist Jenn Lena was interviewed for Freakonomics this week:

Q. You are interested in factors that determine whether particular musical styles, genres, etc., will gain mass appeal — or remain circumscribed to a small niche. Have you discovered something about the process of “influence” or “contagion” that the social network scholars have ignored or underemphasized? What does your work tell us about the role of networks in shaping popular tastes?

A.The most common way for music to blow up from a small scene into global pop is for a controversy to erupt. Music history is littered with examples of “moral panics”: be-bop jazz was blamed for white-on-black race riots in the mid-1940s, just as rap music was blamed when riots erupted in Los Angeles following the Rodney King trial. In both cases, sensationalized news reports and especially a focus on the “dangerous” elements in the music attracted young people in droves. Moral panics, like magnets, repel and attract. This is also true when disputes involve dueling scenes, like the fights between “mods” and “rockers” in the U.K. in the early 1960s or the battles between fans of heavy metal and punk that played out on the pages of Creem magazine in the early 1980s. It is equally true when outsiders attack: the Parents’ Music Resource Center’s efforts to ban heavy metal and rap music resulted in those Parental Advisory stickers. When rock fans staged the infamous Disco Demolition at Comiskey Park they may have kept disco in the limelight for an extra year.

The interview is filled with lots of other insights. Self-recommending!

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Written by fabiorojas

December 20, 2012 at 12:01 am

Posted in blogs, culture, fabio

jenn lena snaaps it in july

Jenn Lena is well known to readers around here. She’s a guest blogger emeritus, has her own blog (What is the What) and it the author of Banding Together, an innovative book on music production. She’s recently been working with Steven Tepper and Danielle Lindemann on another groundbreaking study of cultural industries – the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project ( . It’s an annual survey designed to track the lives of people who graduate with degrees in the arts.The team has agreed to write a few posts there fascinating work.

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Written by fabiorojas

July 8, 2012 at 12:01 am

bill roy’s other comment on jenn lena’s book

Previous discussion of Banding Together: Part 1, Part 2, Bill Roy’s comments, Brayden’s comments

Bill Roy gave me permission to post this comment and illustration: ” Trajectories, of course, apply to individuals as well as genres.  The comparison of musical trajectories to other artistic trajectories is very promising.  I have played around with trajectories of musical careers in the 78 rpm era (before 1950).  Career trajectories also include output—how many songs a performer records.  If you examine the number of songs performers record relative to their first recording, the overall picture is one of decline.  The great majority of musicians record only once. Year 1=2 (A and B sides of a record), and all subsequent years=0.  Artists who record more than once peak early, then decline.  What is especially interesting is that those who eventually record many songs (hundreds) look no different in their second or third year.  They peak later, then decline at a slower rate.  If you compare groups with different levels of life-time productivity, the initial curves are nearly identical.  This is illustrated in this figure:  The x axis is the number of years relative to an artist’s first record.  The y axis is the average number of songs in that year (a different metric should be used because the distribution approximates a pareto distribution, but I’m just beginning the analysis).  The different lines are different levels of life time productivity.  Of course, there is right censoring.”

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Written by fabiorojas

April 25, 2012 at 12:02 am

spring 2012 book foum – jenn lena’s banding together

Spring is almost here – and it is time to announce our next book forum. We’ll be discussing Jenn Lena’s new book, Banding Together: How Communities Create genres in Popular Music. The book explains how musical genres are built from cultural boundaries, networks, and local scenes. It’s an honor to discuss Jenn’s book because she’s a former guest blogger and a leading sociologist of culture. So, please buy a copy (or two!) and we’ll get started in the first week of April.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 5, 2012 at 12:02 am

Posted in books, culture, fabio, markets

interview with jenn lena – music sociologist!

Our good friend Jenn Lena has a new book called “Banding Together.” It’s about rise of music scenes and the creation of culture. In the youtube clip, she is interviewed by Eric Schwartz, editor at the Princeton University Press. Spring book forum, anyone?

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Written by fabiorojas

January 20, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Posted in books, culture, fabio

guest blogger – jenn lena

We’d like to extend a warm welcome to our newest orgtheory guest blogger, Jennifer Lena.  Jenn is an economic, organizational, and cultural sociologist at Vanderbilt University.  As readers of the blog know, I’m a big fan of her paper in the most recent issue of ASR.  Jenn is no stranger to blogging; she’s a veteran of the blogosphere, regularly stunning readers with her wit and sarcasm.  We’re thrilled to have her with us for a month.  Welcome Jenn!

Written by brayden king

November 4, 2008 at 3:06 pm

lena book forum part 2 – music trajectories

Previous discussion of Banding Together: Part 1, Bill Roy’s comments, Brayden’s comments

The big contribution of Jenn’s book , Banding Together, is a classification of musical communities into a handful of archetypes. This leads to a logical follow up question: do musical communities have some sort of trajectory? Is there a “natural” course of development to musical scenes?

Jenn’s answer is a qualified yes. She doesn’t get into an argument about necessary and sufficient conditions, but she does note that a lot of genres tend to move from an avant-garde form of organization, to mass distribution, then to a scene based culture. In other words, a lot of music starts out in the grungy garage band mode. A few hit it big, which transforms the music, and then the music will sooner or later devolve into a sort of traditionalist style of organization, which is only for die hard fans.

In the next post, I’ll quibble with this argument and some of the examples, but I like the overall argument and it seems right to me. Let me take a few moments to ask: how might model apply to other forms of culture? Would novel writing or blogging fit the model?

I think the answer is messy. The nice thing about music is that there is a simple distinction between the avant-garde phase and the industrial phase. You hit it big with a corporate entity distributes than increases mass consciousness of the music. This isn’t always the case in other forms of art. For example, in visual arts such as painting, “hitting it big” may mean high prices through a handful of rich collectors who are funneled through prestigious galleries. Mass industry isn’t always a player in “converting” an avant-garde format for a mass audience. In fact, some artists have hit it big with art forms that are extremely restricted,

E-media is another interesting case. Blogging definitely has an avant-garde phase and a mass industry phase, but sometimes they seem to co-exist. For example, Andrew Sullivan’s blog was originally a one person operation, which then was absorbed into some really big media outlets, yet retained much of its original style.

Next week: arguing over bebop.

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Written by fabiorojas

April 20, 2012 at 12:04 am

Posted in books, culture, fabio, sociology

bill roy comments on lena’s banding together

Bill Roy has given me permission to post his comments on Jenn Lena’s Banding Together. These comments were delivered at an Author Meets Critics session last fall. From the notes:

This is the best book yet for developing a sociology of genres and connecting the sociology of genres to the broader sociology of classification and boundaries.  It synthesizes an awesome amount of material and develops a coherent, systematic model of popular music genres.  It not only shows keen insight into particular genres, as most of the work on genres aspires to do, but more impressively analyzes the entire terrain of genres, laying out what they have in common and developing a fertile topology of genres.  Perhaps most fruitful for general sociological understanding of classificatory systems is an ideal-typical trajectory of genre development, though being an empirically sensitive scholar, she examines, and more importantly, seeks to explain, why some genres fit the trajectory or deviate from it.

Click here, to read Roy’s entire comments on Banding Together.

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Written by fabiorojas

April 3, 2012 at 12:02 am

Posted in books, culture, fabio, sociology

lena book forum – part 1: people get together and make stuff

Jenn Lena’s new book, Banding Together, takes on a major issue in the sociology of culture – how people organize so that they can make culture. In other words, music, or painting, or poetry, just doesn’t appear out of nowhere. There’s usually a community of people who create the music.

Of course, Jenn Lena isn’t the first to make this observation. Howard Becker has a well known book called “Art Worlds,” which describes the world of visual arts, with its gate keepers and taste makers. However, the sociology of cultural production wasn’t terribly well developed in the years after Becker’s work. During the 1980s and 1990s, “culture” took on a different meaning in sociology. It didn’t mean cultural artifacts, it meant the cognitive aspects of behavior, the shared understandings that guide action and provide meaning to the world.

Still, a number of sociologists did continue plugging away at the question of how people came together to actually make stuff that was artistic or “cultural.” Richard Peterson wrote a highly influential book on the social construction of country music. More recently, we have studies of how artistic organizations persist (see Victoria Johnson’s book on operas) and how networks facilitate artistic work (see Gabriel Rossman’s work).

A follower and co-author of Petersen, Jenn Lena brings this literature to a new point. She asks a very simple, yet surprisingly neglected, question. What are the different ways that people get together to make music?

Here answer is intuitive and important. Music communities tend to take on one of four forms – traditional (e.g., think folk music); commercial; avant-garde; and scene based. These forms can mutate into one another and Jenn spends a lot of time describing how that happens. Each type of music community (“genre” in her words) has it’s own type of organizations and networks.

It’s a rich book that pushes the study of markets and culture in the right direction and I think its models can be extended. Next week, we’ll get into the nitty gritty of music production and talk about how the model might be applied to other examples of cultural production.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 29, 2012 at 12:47 am

upcoming book forum: lena’s banding together

Next week, we’ll be reading Jenn Lena’s Banding Together. Required reading for culturistas. Get your copy today!

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Written by fabiorojas

March 25, 2012 at 12:05 am

sociology’s greatest hits 2010-2019: #6 – culture industry research returns

When I took a graduate course in the sociology of culture, my instructor said that we weren’t doing old school analysis of the cultural institutions, like the opera, but we’d be doing the “cultural turn.” Fair enough, but there’s been a real boom in the study of actual cultural institutions and it’s getting pretty good. The big leader here is Jenn Lena, whose two books on cultural industries (Banding Together and Entitled) have really explained how cultural products are made and sent to the masses.  She’s also asserting disciplinary leadership by editing Poetics, which runs a lot of this work. There are lots of other good people in this area like Gabriel Rossman’s work on radio and the Oscars, Alison Gerber’s book on the visual arts profession, Gary Alan Fine on MFA programs, and Patricia Banks’ book on Black art collectors. We also got the post-humous publication of Pierre Bourdieu’s book on Manet, which extends his ideas as presented in the Rules of Art.



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Written by fabiorojas

December 13, 2019 at 12:43 am

Posted in uncategorized

asr review guidelines

In a totally commendable attempt to broaden the range of methods represented in ASR, the new editorial team is working to develop guidelines for reviewers of papers using ethnographic and interview methods, theory papers, and comparative-historical papers. The idea is that if reviewers, especially those who don’t write such papers themselves, are given a more explicit sense of what a “good” article in one of these areas looks like, they will be less likely to dismiss them on grounds borrowed inappropriately from another type of research.

Jenn Lena posted links on Twitter to guidelines for the first two, and the comparative-historical section is forming a committee to provide input on the last one.

Personally, I think this is a great idea. I don’t know if it will work, and I might have some quibbles around the margins (I think really great work can come from ethnographic sites basically chosen for the sake of convenience, and that systematicity of method in choosing who to talk to isn’t as important as working to check and cross-check emerging findings), but by and large, it’s an admirable effort. I particularly liked the openness to the descriptive contribution of ethnography. Causality is terrific, but not everything has to be causal.

The tough thing, I think, is that we all think of ASR as a certain kind of journal, and review submissions to it accordingly. I know I’ve probably reviewed pieces negatively for ASR that I would really have liked for another journal, just because they didn’t seem like ASR pieces. Moving the needle is hard when even people who should be friendly to a certain type of work see it as just “not fitting.” (Much like other kinds of social processes?) But it’s worth trying, and this seems like a useful step.

Your reactions?

Written by epopp

September 3, 2015 at 8:09 am

artists and professional vagueness

Guest blogger emerita Jenn Lena and Danielle Lindemann have a forthcoming article in Poetics analyzing the self-identity  of artists. The issue is that people often question whether they are artists. From the paper “Who is an Artist? New Data for an Old Question:”

Employment in the arts and creative industries is high andgrowing, yet scholars have not achieved consensus on who should be included in these professions. In this study, we explore the ‘‘professionalartist’’ as the outcome of an identity process, rendering it the dependent rather than the independent variable. In their responses to the 2010 Strategic National Arts Alumni Project survey (N=13,581)— to our knowledge, the largest survey ever undertaken of individuals who have pursued arts degrees in the United States—substantial numbers of respondents gave seemingly contradictory answers to questions asking about their artistic labor. These individuals indicated that they simultaneously had been and had never been professional artists, placing them in what we have termed the ‘‘dissonance group.’’An examination of these responses reveals meaningful differences and patterns in the interpretation of this social category. We find significant correlation between membership in this group and various markers of cultural capital and social integration into artistic communities. A qualitative analysis of survey comments reveals unique forms of dissonance over artistic membership within teaching and design careers.

When you get into the nitty gritty, the authors focus on embededness in institutions as decreasing ambiguity. There’s probably an Abbott side of the story where people in specific orgs or art systems successfully getting the high position in the field.

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Written by fabiorojas

April 29, 2014 at 12:22 am

you can end gender inequality on orgtheory – today!!

During Festivus, a commenter complained about the gender inequality on this blog. This comes up from time to time. Trust me, I’ve tried to remedy the situation. In the past, I’ve made a conscious effort to invite comparable numbers of guests from all genders. And we’ve had excellent female bloggers. Our permanent crew member Katehrine Chen, Hilary Levy Friedman, Jenn Lena, Leslie Hinkson, Mito Akiyoshi, Brandy Aven, Rhacel Parrenas, Karissa McKelvey, and others. But usually, men are much more likely to accept invitations and post, that’s why the imbalance remains. In Spring 2013, I even put out an open call and I posted *everything* that was sent to me. The result? Two men and one woman.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t try even harder. So here’s the deal: send me something to post. You have a commitment from me. If you send me a post that is social science/management or related to the academic profession (orgtheory’s two main topics), I will post it contingent on light editing and meeting our admittedly low intellectual standards. This helps me by bringing fresh ideas to the blog and it will bring new voices to the soc blogosphere. So if there’s a book you want to comment on, or an article you hate, or a theoretical point that needs to get out there, send it in!!

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Written by fabiorojas

January 11, 2014 at 12:03 am

Posted in blogs, fabio

fall book forum 2013?

Please use the comments to suggest a text for our next book forum. Recent forums: Biernacki’s Reevaluating Evidence, Glaeser’s Political Epistemics, Jenn Lena’s Banding Together, David Graeber’s Debt.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 27, 2013 at 12:40 am

Posted in books, fabio

looking for a reader for cultural sociology? see Matt Wray’s Cultural Sociology

Looking for a reader for a cultural sociology class?  Matt Wray has put together Cultural Sociology: An Introductory Reader, which is an excellent anthology that covers classic and contemporary readings of cultural sociology, including several penned by our very own orgtheory bloggers and guest bloggers like Jenn Lena and Stephen Vaisey.  In addition, Wray has interspersed excerpts with his own essays, which uses Burning Man as a phenomena to help students understand sociological concepts and forms of inquiry. 

Bonus: Wray’s cover art also exhibits good taste in featuring Pepe Ozan‘s (2005) The Dreamer. (Read about Steve Mobia’s account of making the Dreamer and subsequent activities here.)

Here’s official info about Cultural Sociology: An Introductory Reader:
“Available for Fall courses, this brand new reader is a comprehensive and clever mix of classic and contemporary essays on the sociology of culture. This mix of essays is an essential resource for understanding this fast growing, dynamic area of sociology. An introduction outlines the building blocks of a sociological approach to studying culture, and helpful headnotes guide students through each reading. For more information, or to order an exam copy, visit”

Click below for the Table of Contents:
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by katherinechen

June 25, 2013 at 4:00 am

Posted in books

Tagged with

russian crack down on social science research

Our friend Jenn Lena draws my attention to a serious issue in Russia – the state is attacking the Levada Center, an independent organization of social scientists who conduct polls. I quote from Jenn’s post:

The Center has been (with other non-profit organizations) asked by its government to identify itself as a “foreign agent” because it receives money from outside Russia and engages in political activity. As this NY Times article on the crack-down on Levada makes clear, approximately 3% of the Center’s funding comes from abroad, namely, grants from MacArthur, Ford, and the Open Society Institute. The Center provides us with the only social scientific polling data on Russians I’m aware of that isn’t generated by the state. The Center’s origins actually lie in conflict with the state over political attitudes:

The center’s founder, Yuri Levada, incurred Mr. Putin’s wrath a decade ago by publishing polls that showed waning approval of the United Russia party and the Chechen wars. When Kremlin officials tried to assert control over his organization by appointing a new board of directors in 2003, Mr. Levada resigned and formed a private company, the Levada Center. His employees followed him.

Consequently, the Levada Center staff went about their business, sorting out what Russians really think about their country.

In other words, independent scholarship is being attacked. Here is a petition, asking state officials to relent.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 30, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Sociological Science is coming

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.

Written by brayden king

May 7, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Posted in brayden, research, sociology

spring book forum 2013

Written by fabiorojas

February 15, 2013 at 12:20 am

Posted in books, fabio

book spotlight: climbing the charts by gabriel rossman

We are clearly living in a golden age of sociology of culture. We have the works of Richard Petersen. We have the works of Jenn Lena, whose book we discussed in detail last Spring. Now, we have Climbing the Charts is a new book by guest blogger and UCLA sociologist Gabriel Rossman. What these books have in common is a very careful examination of how cultural industries are created and how they change.

Rossman’s book is a study of how some songs become hits on the radio. The problem is that there are lots of nice stories about how this happens, but it’s hard to prove if any of them are true. For example, you might think that the dominant firm, Clear Channel, just chooses hits and then everyone follows them. You might also think that songs diffuse through a network of stations or promoters. The third option is simply that radio stations do what the record industry tells them. These are nice stories, but how do you tell which one is true?

Rossman has a simple, but powerful, idea. The different stories imply different diffusion curves (graphs that map market saturation vs. time). Each story comes with a different curve. The “lightning in a bottle” story (hot songs diffuse through market networks) has a classical S-shaped curve. Promotion by the record industry has a discontinuous step function.

Using new data on play time, Rossman shows there’s a lot of evidence that pop music is built by the record industry. You may say, “duh!” But remember, there are other equally obvious hypothesis that have conflicting predictions. It’s a real testament to Rossman that he was able to test these different stories with this great data set.

This book is a great example of bread and butter social science. The ideas are simple, the hypotheses sound obvious. But they can’t all be true. It’s hard to find data to test different ideas. Thus, the social scientist is a sort of Sherlock Holmes who roles up her sleeves and does the messy work of assembling the relevant facts to find an answer. This book is a testament to empirical social science and is highly recommended to anyone who is interested in the economics and politics of cultural markets.

Seriously, buy these books: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

September 18, 2012 at 12:01 am

Posted in books, culture, fabio, markets

thank you!

Let’s thank our summer guests Jenn Lena and Brandy Aven for sharing their thoughts on topics ranging from the market for art majors to the reproducibility of science. Thank you!

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Written by fabiorojas

September 7, 2012 at 3:40 am

Posted in fabio, guest bloggers

cutting edge sociology at orgtheory!

Blogs work when there’s a solid community of readers and writers. We’ve been blessed with both. If you haven’t checked in for a while, look at these great discussions by leading scholars and the quality comments by readers:

Coming up on orgtheory: in September, a review of Gabriel Rossman’s book on the radio industry and in October we’ll do our book forum on Andreas Glaeser’s Political Epistemics book. And don’t forget guest posts by Jenn Lena, Katherine Chen, and Brandy Aven.

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Written by fabiorojas

August 29, 2012 at 12:01 am

Posted in books, fabio, sociology

ASA highlights

The annual American Sociological Association conference is nearly upon us!  I imagine some of you are going to Denver today.  If you’re going to be in Denver stop by the blog party, which is covered in awesomesauce, on Saturday from 8-10 at Harry’s Bar in the lobby of the Magnolia Hotel. In addition to being a get-together of the socio-blogosphere, we will also be celebrating the release of two books, Jenn Lena’s Banding Together and Gina Neff’s Venture Labor. Orgheads will remember that we did a book forum on Banding Together earlier this year.

Feel free to highlight any sessions, events, or parties in the comments section!

Written by brayden king

August 15, 2012 at 3:39 pm

an inconvenient truth about social science and humanities majors

First, I’d like to thank our July guests, Jenn Lena and Katherine Chen. We are blessed to have such accomplished friends. Second, I’m picking a fight with Jenn Lena, just because I can. Earlier this week, Jenn referred to an earlier discussion of college majors, where I argued that some students drift into social sciences and humanities because they are easier and that this means that these students have less academic ability. Jenn called this view bonkers.

I may be bonkers, but I’ve got some evidence. But first, a few qualifiers. People may think I hate the humanities or that I think poets are dumb. Quite the opposite. I am impressed by the humanities. I think it requires enormous intellect to write great music or compose an insightful poem. Also, I freely admit that there a lot of folks in the arts who have high cognitive ability that’s on par with people in other fields. Doing great art is just as much of a challenge as solving a math problem.

But that still doesn’t mitigate the fact that the *average* social science or humanity major simply has less academic skill than the *average* science major. For example, consider this 2004 study from the Journal of Econometrics, Ability Sorting and Returns to the College Major by Peter Arcidiacono.  The paper analyzes labor market outcomes, SAT scores, and college major. The majors are sorted into natural science, social/science humanities, business & education. If you look at Table 2, the results are clear. The natural science majors had higher mean scores in both SAT math and verbal (!), though the verbal difference is small. The humanities/social sciences does about the same as business in math, but better in verbal. Education is dead last in both categories. These results are not atypical and common in the higher education literature.

There is also evidence about graduate students. Studies of GRE score by major, once again, show that sciences do better than humanities/arts/social sciences in math, and there are many science fields that do better than the humanities & arts in verbal GRE. Once again, education and some types of business, don’t do well.

Bottom line: On the average, science students are the best in terms of math, reading, and vocabulary. On the average, education is rock bottom. The arts and social sciences are in the middle, but still consistently less than the sciences.

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Written by fabiorojas

July 13, 2012 at 12:01 am

are we in a post-authentic music world?

One of the themes of Jenn Lena’s Banding Together is that genres organize the entire music industry, from the way that musicians create their art to the way that producers find and market it to the way that consumers form their own identities around music choices. Chapter 5 in Banding Together discusses the consequences of genres more in depth.

The keynote speaker at this spring’s South-by-Southwest festival, the Boss himself Bruce Springsteen, challenged the idea that genres should be an essential element to the way musicians create music. In his incredibly thoughtful remarks, Springsteen suggested that we live in an era in which musicians can be free to be themselves simply by creating the music that is inside them without feeling constrained by the conventions of genre.

I’d like to talk about the one thing that’s been consistent over the years, the genesis and power of creativity, the power of the songwriter, or let’s say, composer, or just creator. So whether you’re making dance music, Americana, rap music, electronica, it’s all about how you are putting what you do together. The elements you’re using don’t matter. Purity of human expression and experience is not confined to guitars, to tubes, to turntables, to microchips. There is no right way, no pure way, of doing it. There’s just doing it.

We live in a post–authentic world. And today authenticity is a house of mirrors. It’s all just what you’re bringing when the lights go down. It’s your teachers, your influences, your personal history; and at the end of the day, it’s the power and purpose of your music that still matters (emphasis added).

It’s not as if Springsteen isn’t aware of the genres that form the backbone of the music industry. A few minutes earlier in his talk, Springsteen jokingly went through a short list of the various genres that categorized the bands wandering the streets of Austin that week, stopping to note that he had no idea what “Nintendo core” is. He added, “Just add neo– and post– to everything I said, and mention them all again.”

I think Springsteen’s main point is that it’s no longer necessary for artists to play by the rules of a specific genre to make music that resonates with a crowd.  You don’t need to strive for authenticity in the same way that artists of a previous generation did because the rules for what it means to be authentic don’t apply anymore. The proliferation of new genres has, in a sense, freed musicians to do whatever the hell they want. An artist doing his version of classic blues on a synthesizer is just as authentic as is a folk artist doing an an acoustic cover of “Robot Rock.”  What counts more than one’s inclusion in a genre subcategory is an artist’s workmanship and basic creative impulse.

Of course Springsteen can say this because he is The Boss. He sells out stadiums night after night. He no longer plays by the rules or conventions because of his success and popularity. But is there an element of truth to it? Do genres matter as much as they once did? I see a couple of reasons to give his argument merit. The first is that the Internet really does seem to have freed artists to “remix” and hybridize musical genres more than was done in the past. The Internet has become its own scene, reducing the importance of old geographic-based scenes, which in turn makes it more likely that people working in different genres or subgenres will be aware of and influence each other.  And I also think there is some truth to the idea that precisely subdividing subgenres has the ironic effect of making those subgenres less meaningful and less constraining.  Sub-subgenres are usually just hybrids of two or more genres anyway, and so what difference does it make to layer on a third or fourth genre? Melding together 4-5 new genres subsequently decreases the social distance between you and every other artist working in the space of popular music and simultaneously opens the possibility of bringing in old genres in your next creative moment. Suddenly the idea that Texas polka has real combinatorial potential for rap seems possible. I think this is what it means to say we live in a post-authentic world.

Written by brayden king

April 30, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Posted in books, brayden, culture

genre as a social form

I picked up Jenn Lena’s book, Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music, with unabashed enthusiasm. The book combines two of my passions: sociology and music. Like the music nerd that I am, I’ve read a lot of books written by journalists and insiders of the music industry.  I’ve subscribed to Rolling Stone since I was an undergrad, and I’m a regular reader of Pitchfork.  I watch Austin City Limits. I collect mp3s of obscure bands like my 12 year old son collects baseball cards.   So you can imagine how thrilled I was to finally get my hands on this book – a sociological examination of music genres.

I haven’t been disappointed. The book, front to back, is full of interesting details about diverse music genres. Not surprisingly, Lena walks us through the evolution of a conventionally fascinating genre like funk, but we also get to learn about the equally interesting (but lesser known) genre of the Texas polka. She moves between genres easily, in part, because her theoretical framework gives her a lens through which you can analyze genres with very different musical sensibilities and technical distinctions.  And of course, it is this lens that makes this book different from a musicological treatment of music genres. The book is less interested in the content of genres than it is in the structure of genre forms. That’s not to say that she ignores content, but the important insight she brings is that all music genres, regardless of their musical qualities, appear to have stable characteristics associated with different forms of development.  If you want to understand how a music genre comes to be and how it becomes popularized as part of a canon, you need to understand the social elements that make up these genre forms.

That is how Lena’s view of genre classification differs from students of music.   But what intrigued me most about her book is how Lena’s view of music genres differs from other sociological accounts of genre and form. You see, the study of classification systems, including genres, has suddenly become a huge thing in the world of sociology and organizational theory. Organizational ecologists, cultural scholars, and social psychologists have all begun to focus on how classification systems organize human experience, shape evaluation, and influence organizational outcomes. Naturally, her perspective will be compared to these related research streams. But Lena is doing something very different here, which I think sets her apart from the majority of  scholars studying classification systems.

Through the first part of the book, I experienced this little mental itch that kept bugging me (not in a bad way, of course). I knew that there was something really unconventional about Lena’s take on genre but I couldn’t put it in words. Somewhere in the middle of chapter 3, I started to get a handle on it.  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by brayden king

March 28, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Posted in books, brayden, culture

richard stallman and free software as a social movement

Here are some links about free software as a social movement:

Update:  Jenn Lena adds a link in the comments, a 9000+ word rider on Stallman’s speaking contract.

Written by teppo

December 29, 2011 at 8:36 pm

occupy wall street and change

The Occupy Wall Street protests are fascinating.  For a social movement scholar, these protests are like gold. We get a seemingly spontaneously organized protest that quickly captures the nation’s attention, replete with vivid imagery of protestors being harassed and arrested by police and a sudden diffusion of the protests to other large urban centers. And because the movement is evolving over time, we get a unique view into the dynamics of collective action and social change. Amazing stuff.

Jenn Lena’s photos on her blog tell a really interesting story about the internal dynamics of the protest. Looking at this organizing board, you can’t help but be impressed by the enormous effort of coordinating a protest of this scale.  Forget the coordination issues inherent in keeping an ideologically diverse group such as this together and marching in the same (roughly) direction or the incredible public relations job the activists are doing, some of the biggest and most problematic organizing issues are  more mundane (e.g. where do we get food and latrines for all these folks?). Organizing a protest of this size requires a massive amount of coordinating and organizing, and so the fact that this group is making it up on the spot is really impressive.

The movement has gained momentum to the point that now everyone is asking, what’s next? Where do we go with all of this energy? The resources are in place, the nation is watching, but does the movement have any objectives? I think that at a very abstract level, there is some agreement about what the objectives should be. For example, this video (again, thanks to Jenn for the link) points to an outcome of changing the process of community decision-making based on participation and consensus-building around a general assembly. Scholars of the 60s movements will recognize a lot of similarities in the philosophy behind the general assembly idea and the notion of participatory democracy practiced by groups like SDS. So one clear objective is to get more people involved in participatory democracy and form linkages between like-minded people who might form the base of a broader change-oriented movement. I think this is inspiring, and restoring this organizational know-how could be the most important product of these protests.

But clearly that’s not the only goal that participants in the movement would like to see accomplished. For one, restoring a process of participatory democracy in a relatively small social movement will have a limited impact on society unless they come up with other clearly articulated goals. In other words, while participatory democracy will certainly make a difference in the lives of those involved, at some point new demands have to be set if the movement is hoping to influence real social and political change. Those demands will probably come, even if it means losing many supporters who don’t see to eye-t0-eye on concrete reforms, but will it come soon enough? I think the time to strike is when the iron is hot, and right now the iron is HOT.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by brayden king

October 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm

journal review time problems and how to fix them

About two weeks ago, I asked readers to describe their experiences with the journal system. I provided a list of journals and asked people to indicate how long it takes for them to get decisions. You can still vote if you want to.

Here’s what I take away from the exercise. Since people only tended to vote for the top journals, there isn’t enough data to say much about the smaller regional & specialty journals. This only applies to the most visible journals:

  • The good news: Many journals seem to be doing a good job. The modal and mean answers for many journals seem to be “0-3 months” or “4-6 months.” We aren’t yet at the biomedical sciences model where most papers are judged in 8 weeks or less, but we definitely aren’t in economics hell, where the editors at top econ journals will routinely hold papers for a year or more.
  • The bad news: There is important variation between journals and within journals. The worst offender seems to be Theory and Society. Almost nothing comes back quick.  No one reported getting back anything in 3 months and most take at half a year. The AJS has enormous variance. Some papers come back quick, while others can take a year or more. Also, AJS was singled out by at least two commenters.

I’d also recommend Jenn Lena’s and Omar’s comments. Jenn pointed out that journals depend on editors. True. When I started doing sociology, Social Forces was notorious for keeping articles for a year or more, as was Gender and Society. Now, these journals seem to be doing well, even though a few people reported 1 year + (!) for Social Forces. Omar focused on journal status. Top journals have more resources and competent editors.

I give our journals get a B+ rating: doing good but there’s room for improvement. Here’s what I recommend to editors at slow journals. I speak from experience as the student associate editor at AJS, managing editor of Sociological Methodology, and an author:

  • If you haven’t done so, switch to online submission. Online submission sites handle a lot of the nitty gritty and reduce clerical errors.
  • Desk rejections: About 10-20% papers are not even competent or simply don’t fit. Get rid of these papers ASAP. If you need to justify the desk rejection, have your associate editors/editorial board write a short note.
  • Choose editorial board members wisely. Yes, put a few stars on the mast head for prestige, but most of the editorial board should be chosen for professionalism. Same goes for reviewers – don’t pick famous people. Pick well behaved people.
  • Slow papers: If people refuse to review a paper, then simply tell the author that you are having problems getting reviews. Don’t sit on it for months and months and make the author angry. Communication is a good thing. Then give the author an option – we can try again or you can honorably take the paper to a new journal.
  • Reasonable reviews: Don’t wait for five reviews. Most papers can reasonably be judged with 2-3 reviews. If the reviews are ambiguous, be the decider. As an editor, you’re the expert. Only solicit extra reviews if it is really, really outside your area of knowledge and the reviews are really split.
  • Bug reviewers – a lot!
  • The author’s right of retraction: A more radical policy. A journal that can’t produce a judgment in 6 months or so has surrendered its right to an article. The author should be able to take it to another venue and have it be considered as “submitted to only one journal.”

If you use these rules, most of your submissions should be complete in 6 months or less.

Written by fabiorojas

August 30, 2011 at 12:50 am

Posted in academia, fabio

five false beliefs

What beliefs did you have that were falsified through your research? If you aren’t a researcher, what beliefs did you have that were falsified by reading up on some topic? Here’s five of my falsified beliefs:

  1. An organization’s ideology affects the technology it uses. I had this idea that being more democratic or radical would make movement orgs more likely adopt facebook and the like. Wrong. It’s mainly path dependence and org vintage, at least according to my data on antiwar groups.
  2. Philanthropists can coopt social movements because of resource dependency. After doing my research on the black studies movement, I believe movements can shape the agenda, which attracts philanthropists. But they tend to support who they like rather than coopt radicals.
  3. Ethnic studies is widely institutionalized. I used to believe, like many people, that the movements of the 60s totally flooded the academy. Wrong. The academy did take a leftward shift, but much of it was in political attitudes, not academic programs. Depending on the definition, 10-20% of universities have ethnic studies, most of them concentrated in research universities. These are also small programs. Actually, the big change in the post-1960s era is the spread of vocational and interdisciplinary programs, not identity politics programs. At most, the politics of the 60s affected courses and research topics, but that’s also widely exaggerated.*
  4. Litigation does not prevent medical misbehavior. Many don’t know they’ve been harmed, many are afraid to sue, which is risky, and sensational pay outs are rare. This one isn’t from my own research.
  5. Protest is common. In my studies of college protest, I found that the rate of protest was fairly low among colleges in the 60s. I bet the rate is even lower today. I now think protest is just one occasionally used tactic and it’s not terribly important in many cases.

It’d be cool if other bloggers did this – Jenn Lena, Jeremy, Andrew? Care to offer your falsified beliefs?

* Yes, people do cultural studies, but all English programs still teach Shakespeare and most dissertations and journals still deal with highly conventional topics.

Written by fabiorojas

April 12, 2010 at 6:35 am

Posted in fabio, mere empirics

grad skool rulz #21.2: when to quit, follow up

Get the entire book – Grad Skool Rulz: Everything You Need to Know about Academia from Admissions to Tenure – for only $2. You can read it on personal computers, Nooks, Kindles, iPads, and smart phones.

Few weeks ago, I dedicated an edition of the grad skool rulz to the subject of when to quit. The comments were good and a number of questions were raised. Fellow blogger and awesome culture researcher Jenn Lena wrote:

I’m wondering if you would be willing to talk more about this argument, insofar as you think it is insufficient grounds for leaving a doctoral program: “I hate my department/adviser/cohort/university/dissertation. In a few years, you won’t have an adviser, and you’ll be at another place with different people, and you’ll finish the diss and move on to other topics.” I ask because my first instinct is that there may be multiple reasons behind one’s hatred, and some of them will persist into the career (and be dysfunctional there).

Fair point. I think that this speaks to the importance of honest self-assessment. You have to ask yourself: why am I in this job? Do the strong points outweigh the stuff that angers me? Are my complaints really complaints about the entire profession?

For example, “my adviser is delaying me because he can’t get around to reading anything I write.” Yes, that may be lame, but it’s not a reason to quit.  Sooner or later, if you write a dissertation, it’ll be filed. However, if you think, “my adviser insists that I master these stupid ideas in the ASR.” Well, yes, we may critique the ASR (or whatever journal), but every competent scholar must have a strong mastery of what is considered acceptable mainstream research. In this second case, maybe the student thinks that scholarship is not important to their life. If that true (and it’s ok to not be into scholarship), then maybe another career is better.

Dan Hirschman wrote the following question:

Following Jenn’s comment, Fabio, might there be a separate sort of decision about whether or not to switch universities (or even fields)? The “hate my department/adviser/cohort/university/dissertation” situation seems ripe for considering a switch.

This is a subtle answer, with many parts. My take on switching to new fields or universities:

  • Bad advising is usually not cause for switching fields or universities. The costs are too high – you might have to redo all your course work at another program or learn entirely new skills by switching fields. And that sucks up a lot of time. It’s kind of like having a mean boss – usually better to just tough it out until the end of the gig.
  • A bad department may actually be a good reason to move to another program in certain cases. There’s no use for a student to stay in an imploding program with no productive faculty, or one that sucks your emotional and financial resources. You can usually survive a year or two of horrible advising, or switch to another adviser in an extreme case, but staying in the toxic program may end your career. But most of the time, you can usually tough it out.
  • Switching specialties: If you switch specialties within a discipline (e.g., strat to culture), it’s often not too bad if you haven’t started a dissertation. If you have already done a lot of work on the dissertation, it’s probably smart just to buckle down and finish. Remember, a good dissertation is a done dissertation
  • Switching fields: Once again, it’s usually better to stick to your field unless the following conditions hold. First, staying in your current field will not allow you get the skills needed to succeed in your desired labor market. For example, staying in an English PhD program probably means you will never get the skills to be a nuclear engineer. Gotta switch! Second, if you wish to teach in an arts & science program but you are a professional student. For example, a lot of law students have interests in political science. But a law degree simply won’t let you teach on a politics program. You’ll need a PhD in a new field. Overall, long as you a PhD in a regular area, you can self-teach (or just attend courses) and pick up skills in related areas. A strong foundation in research often carries over.

Gabriel asked about “impostor syndrome.” Isn’t it the case that people may get dismayed about their good skills?

“Ability – once in a while, you get into a situation where you’re not up to it, or not at the level that’ll get the outcome you want.”

I think this is very true but there’s also the risk of false positives with “impostor syndrome.” The fact is that a lot of the things we do are so complicated that we don’t really understand what we’re doing on an intuitive “I get it” kind of level and so we think we’re frauds even if it actually works out such that we’re doing it right. In my own experience, being able to plausibly fake it comes first and only years later do you backfill the deep intuition. This deep intuition helps you perform the operation a little better, but not that much better. I think this applies equally to methods and theory.

Absolutely correct. The research process is often arcane and murky. We confuse the difficulty of the task with our own inadequacy. At the same time, during grad school, if you simply can’t hack certain basic skills. Like doing a regression, for example. Then you have to ask in a non hysterical way – do I have the skills for this? Perhaps the right way to say it is this: research is murky, so give yourself a break; but you really need certain skills, and if year after year you don’t get it, it may be a sign.

Once again, thanks for the great comments. More rulz coming up after June 1.

Written by fabiorojas

May 22, 2009 at 3:00 am

scatterplot: do as we say and no one gets hurt!

That’s right, scatter brains. We’ve got one of your precious little “ribbons.” And he’s frayed. Very a-frayed. But you have the power to end the suffering. Just comply with the following five demands and no one gets hurt.

  1. Immediately release Michael Sauder, Jenn Lena, and all other orgtheory guests who have been forced to write for you.
  2. Jeremy shall rename the computer text game “Violet.” The game’s new name shall be “Teppö.”
  3. Drek shall now be known as “Drek the Underwhelmed.”
  4. When Jeremy assumes his position on the ASA publications committee, he shall require all ASA journal articles to cite at least one sociology blog.
  5. By midnight tomorrow, drop off 1,000,000,000 scatterplot dollars in a small duffel bag by the Panda Express, next to the guy in the panda suit.

These demands are not negotioable. And if there’s any funny business, Dr. Khan, you’ll find a tangle of white and blue thread in your faculty mailbox.

The Orgtheory Liberation Army

Written by fabiorojas

April 1, 2009 at 1:15 am

does your adviser write the soc shrine?

Written by fabiorojas

January 4, 2009 at 5:58 am

making a scene: what silicon valley programmers have in common with punk rockers

Our friend and hip hop expert Jenn Lena has an article in the most recent American Sociological Review that is a must read for organizational scholars who give a darn about culture.  The paper, coauthored with Richard Peterson, is about how people create new music genres, a process generalizable to the construction of symbolic classification systems.  Given the recent interest in the linking of organizations to identities, categories, and audiences, the paper has clear implications for a number of research areas.

One area that could benefit from the insights of this paper is the crowd who studies organizational form creation and categorical emergence.  While much of the ecology-based research is focused primarily on the structural dynamics that enable the creation of new identities, etc. (and I heard a really interesting talk about this very topic by Elizabeth Pontikes yesterday), Lena and Peterson are more interested in ground-level behavior resembling collective action.*  They create a typology of different genre forms: Avant-garde, Scene-based, Industry-based, and Traditionalist. Each form is associated with a different kind of collective action taken by people promoting their musical vision and involves the creation and maintenance of boundaries that allow the members to distinguish between genres.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by brayden king

October 16, 2008 at 3:41 pm

a provocative claim: the sociology of culture is nearly always at least implicitly a sociology of morality – a guest post by jeff guhin

Jeff Guhin is a post-doctoral scholar at the University of Virginia. In Fall 2016, he will be an assistant professor of sociology at UCLA.

That’s wrong of course, or at least it’s not precisely right.  There are two important exceptions right away: the first in the sociological work on cultural production (think Paul DiMaggio, Gabriel Rossman, Jennifer Lena) and the second in the work of Pierre Bourdieu, which is certainly about culture but generally unconcerned with moral life (that’s actually the basis of Jeffrey Alexander’s criticism).

Yet for much of the rest of cultural sociology, moral life really matters.  Think about some of the biggest stateside names in culture: Robert Wuthnow, Michele Lamont, Ann Swidler, Jeffrey Alexander, Orlando Patterson.  These thinkers are all quite different, but there remains a sense within each of them that what it means to be a good person and what it means to have a good life are centrally important to understanding how culture works.

There’s a genealogical explanation here that goes all the way back to Weber and Durkheim asking very similar questions, mediated through Parsons and, at least for Swidler, Wuthnow, and Alexander, through Bellah and Shils at Berkeley.   But there’s also a much simpler explanation, which is that most sociology of culture is about meaning making, and the most important meanings tend to be moral ones in the sense that they evoke strong emotional responses about the relative rightness and wrongness of particular behaviors.  Now there are different ways to think about those meanings and their relationships to structures, and there are ways to do culture without worrying too much about meaning at all (and those, for what it’s worth, tend to be the kinds of cultural sociology that aren’t implicitly about moral life, yet I would argue they’re in the minority).

So while there might well be important analytic or organizations reasons to distinguish the sociology of morality from the sociology of culture, I’m not sure I buy that there’s anything new there. More importantly, I’m not sure I buy that, to the extent sociologist have recognized once again that culture matters, they were ever at risk of forgetting that morality matters too.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

April 19, 2016 at 12:01 am