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emirbayer and desmond book forum iii: from fields of action to fields of people

Last week, I was a little harsh on The Racial Order because I think its reading of the sociology of race was very misleading. Still, I think the book has much to offer because it articulates a useful application of Bourdieusian field theory to race.

Before I get into what Emirbayer and Desmond are trying to do with respect to race, let me take a step back and explain why the book gets off to such an odd start. It is flat out wrong to say that there is no sociological theory of race, but it is true that to say that the canonical sociologists, which now includes Bourdieu, didn’t really think about how their ideas applied to race. The major exceptions are Weber and DuBois. But it stops there. The “theory” tradition in sociology didn’t pick up race much after that and race became its own specialized area (e.g., you don’t see a guy like Hans Joas obsess over Patricia Hill Collins). What I think gets lost in E&D’s account is this subtle point. There is absolutely race theory in sociology, but there is not race in “sociological theory ” (= long, wordy books written at a high level of generality mainly by Europeans).

I think if E&D had said that more clearly up front then a lot of people might be more receptive to the book’s genuine contributions. “There’s a lot to be gained by taking the insights of canonical theorists into race” is a statement that a lot of folks would probably agree with.

Ok, so now let’s get to the real core of the book – “the racial order,” which is the translation of interactionist and Bourdieusian theory into the realm of race. I think the book works best when it is read as an attempt to take a number of ideas in the theory canon and build a multi-layered account of the social classification system that we call “race” or “ethnicity.” The major parts of the theory are the following:

  • Consistent with constructionist approaches to race, race is a classification based on perceived ancestry and phenotype.
  • Race is created and maintained on multiple levels – moods/habitus/emotions, interactions, behavioral patterns. Racial order theory is a lot like institutionalist theory that builds org fields from routines and practice on up (see Scott 2000).
  • The aggregate result of this something akin to a field in Bourdieu’s sense, but not localized to specific material practices. Race is ubiquitous while fields are normally about more clearly demarcated fields of action (e.g., education or the arts).
  • The racial orders contains elements of social solidarity.

This application of various ideas in the theory canon (“PDIB” – pragmatism, Durkheim, interactionism and Bourdieu) has a lot going for it. For example, it recognizes that racial classifications are enacted at different levels of causation. Another nice feature is that Bourdieu’s classic discussion of different types of capital has an intuitive translation into the racial order, which provides a number of tools for approaching various cultural and discursive phenomena. If I were to excerpt one passage for an undergrad class, I’d happily assign the discussion of the field of Blackness in America around page 90. It would be very easy for undergrads to take various pop culture examples and break down how they relate to the cultural and economic dimensions of the field of Blackness.

The main accomplishment of The Racial Order is not so much its application of canonical theory to race, but doing so in a way that shifts attention away from a rigid view of race as simply group divisions. Normally, a lot of social scientists (even critical race scholars, sometimes) will take a racial division as given and then move to what happens when people of group X enter situation Y (e.g., why there is a Black achievement gap in colleges).

The Racial Order, if I am reading it correctly, flips this around. It’s not the people that are of interest, it’s the racial schema that can be inserted into other fields. This re-arrangement allows E&D to make some headway where other social theorists have not. For example, Fligstein and McAdam argue in A Theory of Fields that there is not a distinct racial field, even when they spend quite a bit of time discussion Civil Rights mobilization in field theory terms. But E&D show that there is definitely a field of race and it is very important to map and understand and they clearly explain how fields of race cross other fields,  like activism.

I’ll conclude with a big picture commentary about race theory in sociology. My side by side comparison of The Racial Order, The Scholar Denied and Golash-Boza’s “A Critical and Comprehensive Sociological Theory of Race and Racism” has shown me the different ways that one could develop the sociology of race. DuBois’ approach was to apply theory to a very specific situation – American black-white conflict (though he did work on a more general, but unpublished, race theory according to Aldon Morris). Emirbayer and Desmond go the “high theory” route. They by-pass the deep empirical research on race and try to translate “high theory” into a specific research area. Golash-Boza digs deep into the “normal science” side of things and comes up with a structuration approach to race. It would be hard to dismiss any of these approaches as I have learned enormously from each of them. Instead, the real challenge is for scholars to recognize this complex and massive landscape and climb its steepest mountains.

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

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Written by fabiorojas

May 12, 2016 at 12:01 am

emirbayer and desmond book forum 2: they could have been nicer

This is part 2 of our book forum on Emirbayer and Desmond’s The Racial Order. Here, I’ll discuss the first 80 pages of the book, which starts with an amazingly ill advised sentence: “there has never been a comprehensive and systematic theory of race.” This is a really bad starting point because even a non-specialist such as myself can easily come up with three (!) major systematic and comprehensive theories of race:

  • Race is a socially constructed group division based on ancestry and physical appearance: This theory was articulated in classical theory, such as Weber’s discussion of caste and DuBois’ work on American race relations. It has many, many proponents.
  • Race is a biological variation in human beings: The modern version of this theory comes from studies of genetic variation. In sociology, the journal Sociological Theory (ahem) had a massive symposium on genomic theories of race, which we discussed here.
  • Race is a social category meant to signal a group’s place in the means of production or political system: This theory is less discussed in sociology, but is a popular theory in anthropology. For example, John Comaroff is a well known anthropologist who explores this argument as do many others.

So, from my view, the problem isn’t that we lack a theory of race. Rather, we have *tons* of theories of race and *tons* of empirical evidence.The problem is sorting it all out.

Adding to this issue is the avoidance of work that would seem to help bolster various parts of the book. For example, one crucial element of Emirbayer and Desmond’s theory is work on race that its insistence on an unconscious and interactional dimension of race, as would be suggested by Bourdieusian theory. The modern “racism without racists” school actively draws on Bourdieusian sociology very clearly, as does the work on race, cultural capital and status attainment. Yet, the work of Eduardo Bonilla-Silva or Prudence Carter are barely mentioned in text. Another example: In the recent Theory of Fields (2012), Neil Fligstein and Doug McAdam actually have an entire chapter applying field theory to civil rights mobilization. These are not obscure points. This is a major issue: why does a supposedly systematic treatment of race avoid the many major scholars whose work defines race scholarship in modern sociology? I am puzzled.

Before I wrap up, a stylistic point and a nit picky point. Stylistic: I think one drawback of the book is that it employs a classical “theory bloat” style of writing. For example, it doesn’t actually tell you it’s theory of race for 80 pages!! It also takes detours into reflexivity theory and a bunch of other issues. I really suggest that readers skip directly to Part II for the good stuff. This reminds me of the time I read Jeffrey Alexander’s Neofunctionalism and After – which doesn’t tell you what neofunctionalism is until page 110!

Nit picky: the book occasionally has some points of intellectual laziness. For example, at one point, there is a detour about the evils of regression analysis. Bizarre. Given that sociology is moving into a comfortable mixed method approach to data, we don’t need grad school seminar cheap shots. Regression analysis is fine and it’s perfectly good for studying trends in data, assuming you’ve put in the effort to collect high quality data. That sort of cheap shot is below these authors.

Next week: We’ll discuss Part II of The Racial Order. Spoiler: I like it!

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

Written by fabiorojas

April 29, 2016 at 12:01 am

emirbayer & desmond book forum 1: two books, two verdicts

E&D Book

This book forum will focus on another widely discussed book in the sociology of race – The Racial Order by Mustafa Emirbayer and Matthew Desmond. The book has attracted a lot of attention for multiple reasons. It makes bold claims about the history of sociology, it offers an interactionist approach to race, and its authors are among some of the most highly regarded sociologists in the profession right now.

So what is the content of The Racial Order? In my reading, the book has two parts. First, the book argues that there literally (and I mean literally) is no over arching theory of race in sociology. Second, the book offers a theory of race drawn, in parts, from pragamatism, Durkheim, various interactionists, and Bourdieu, which I call PDIB theory. Roughly speaking, they imagine race as existing on multiple levels from interactions to aggregate social structures and that this can be synthesized into a Bourdieu style theoretical construct called “the racial order.”

Personally, I found this book forum very tricky to write about because these two parts elicited very different reactions from me. So I settled on “split decision” – I really think that the first 80 pages of The Racial Order are really off base but I think PDIB theory is a nice way to synthesize a number of trends in the study of race and inequality more generally. This, I think, explains the very diverse reactions to the book in the discipline. I think the sociology of race and ethnicity crowd is correct in thinking that the first chunk of the book is a limited, even distorted and misleading, approach to the current scholarship on race. In contrast, I think a lot of people might enjoy PDIB theory as a way to generalize some of the ideas found in the “racism without racists” school of thought and other types of sociology that build on field and habitus theory as a starting point for discussing race.

The next part of the book forum will focus on the first claim about what has, or has not been achieved, in the sociology of race. So it’s going to be critical because E&D were really uncharitable. Then, I’ll finish on a high note and discuss what I think PDIB has to contribute. In between, I’ll discuss the structures of racism literature as the second part of a commentary on the article by Tanya Golash-Boza that was recently published in the The Sociology of Race and Ethnicity.

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

Written by fabiorojas

April 26, 2016 at 12:10 am

Posted in uncategorized

IRB blues: s. venkatesh v. new york sex workers

A group of sex workers in New York city has openly criticized Sudhir Venkatesh’ recent ethnography of New York sex workers. There are many criticisms, one stands out for me. An article from the Museum of Sex blog relates how SWOP-NYC and SWANK, two sex worker groups thought that Venkatesh’ work increased the risk to prostitutes by reporting that clients could opt out of condoms for a 25% surcharge:

His conclusions, for example about large numbers sex workers advertising on Facebook, were easily shown by other researchers and commentators to be incorrect. Other conclusions such as the fiction that “there’s usually a 25% surcharge” to have sex without a condom not only bore no relationship to reality but also endangered sex workers and public health programs working with them.

 We were so concerned by what we uncovered that in October 2011we wrote a letter to the Columbia IRB to the Columbia University Institutional Review Board (IRB) and to the Sociology Department asking for some clarity about Sudhir Venkatesh’s research. Specifically, we asked for the research project titles, dates of research, and IRB approval numbers for each of the years he claimed to have conducted research while at Columbia University. We also wished to make Columbia University’s IRB and the Sociology Department aware of that the research appeared to create additional harms and risks for sex workers in the New York area. Our action is an example of the degree to which communities of sex workers have organized and the degree to which we will question research that we find harmful. We are no longer a “gift that keeps on giving” for Venkatesh, we are a community that speaks for itself.

For me, the IRB issue sticks out for legalistic reason. How exactly does a third party appeal to an IRB board? It’s obvious if the aggrieved person is a research subject. But what about third parties? Let’s say that SWOP & SWANK are correct that this book/article increases risk, what responsibility (if any) does an IRB board have?

The issue is unclear because IRB’s themselves are muddled institutions. They don’t operate through statute or contract. It’s an ad hoc administrative unit set up by universities to make sure research complies with federal guidelines. At most, they can inTterfere in research if you cross them. But they aren’t penal institutions – there’s no IRB police.  There’s no “human subjects 9-11.” Even though I am sympathetic to the claim that ethnographic publications may endanger at risk groups, it is unclear to me how third parties may leverage genuine concern into an actionable complaint.

Book advertisments: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

November 11, 2013 at 2:24 am

irb misconceptions

Last Fri., I attended a talk by Sarah Babb of Boston College. In her talk, titled “Beyond the Horror Stories: Non-Experimental Social Researchers’ Encounters with Institutional Review Boards (IRB),” Babb revealed findings that included misconceptions about federal guidelines for human subjects. Contrary to what some IRB review boards demand from principal investigators (PIs) undertaking qualitative research, the federal guidelines do not require:
– signed consent from a low risk population
– an institutional research permission slip
To repeat, the above two are “not in federal regulations at all.”

Babb noted that at larger institutions, IRB boards often involve nonprofessionals – that is, those who don’t have appropriate professional expertise – in the decision-making processes about proposals. Moreover, qualitative research don’t fit well into the one-size-fits-all medical template often used to vet research proposals. Compounding these challenges is the lack of accountability in terms of IRB review boards’ responsibilities to PIs. Only 20% of IRBs that Babb examined had an appeals procedure that would allow PIs to contest decisions.

Not surprisingly, this talk evoked spirited discussion of the myriad problems encountered by researchers going through the IRB process at their institutions, as well as the unintended consequences of a review process ostensibly intended to protect human subjects. The audience noted the following unintended and undesired consequences: (1) normalized deviance,* (2) chilling effect upon the types of research undertaken, and (3) mission creep in which IRB review boards critique the suitability or worth of the research design, rather than evaluating risk to human subjects. In particular, senior researchers worried that tenure-track faculty and graduate students face great uncertainty about whether their project proposals will successfully navigate the IRB process in a timely fashion.

Audience members asked whether the sociologists’ professional association, the American Sociological Association (ASA), had taken an official position on IRB guidelines. None present were aware of any such activities (if you know of anything brewing from this or other associations, do write them in the comments). Attendees noted that because a tenured faculty member may be more able to surmount IRB issues on his/her own (or not need to go through the IRB process because of the type of research conducted), fashioning IRB standards that are more appropriate for a wider variety of research methods is a collective action problem.

I opined that these identified problems need to be considered a commons issue. Those with more power should consider it a professional responsibility to help budding researchers – undergraduate students, graduate students, junior faculty – go through an IRB process that is appropriate to their research methods and questions, especially if researchers hope to have future generations of audiences and colleagues. Unfortunately, dark humor may not be sufficient to get the point across – when a psychology colleague sent his IRB board a proposal to reproduce the Stanley Milgram experiment on April Fool’s Day, an IRB staffer called to inquire if the proposal was serious.

* One of my past posts discussing the IRB draws a steady stream of traffic from those searching for the answer to one of the quiz questions on the online Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI), a certification program mandatory for researchers and students at some institiutions.

Written by katherinechen

May 17, 2013 at 4:07 am

Posted in academia, research

Tagged with ,

discussing the irb, human subjects, and qualitative research

Recently, at a faculty meeting of professors and graduate students from several disciplines, discussion turned to the IRB’s interpretation of human subjects guidelines and the implications for students’ efforts to document phenomena for class assignments. Participants pointed out a variety of problems, including changes over the years in IRB decisions about whether results of projects could be publicly shared – in this case, whether students’ videorecorded interview of a retired elected official could be publicly shared under today’s IRB guidelines. Faculty and graduate students also described delays in getting feedback from their IRBs, raising concerns about how the lack of accountability on the part of some IRBs increases the uncertainty of planning class research, students’ timely graduation, and faculty productivity.

At orgtheory, we’ve discussed how researchers face challenges concerning the IRB here and here. Although the IRB offers detailed guidelines that can protect human subjects in medical research, how the IRB and human subjects concerns can contribute to the conduct of qualitative research, particularly organizational ethnography, is less clear.

Several recent publications offer researchers’ experiences with these issues.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by katherinechen

December 27, 2012 at 12:01 am

is the irb getting ready to screw you over again?

I’m actually a fan of IRBs. It is generally a good thing that universities have rules addressing ethical conduct for research. However, IRBs become a burden and nuisance when they overstep their boundaries. While I’ve been lucky in getting my studies approved with little hassle, I have heard from too many colleagues who have had projects delayed with all kinds of petty issues.  The problems seem to come in a few flavors:

  • Treating social science/humanities research like medical research. In medicine, we are often subjecting people to risky treatments in an institutional setting. That’s why you want to get people’s signatures. In social science, we are usually not exposing people to risk in that way and we interact in places where getting a signature would be bizarre (e.g., doing ethnography in a “real” situation).
  • Dropping common sense. For example, it is common to pay people for research participation. Strangely, many IRBs consider payment a form of coercion. Another example is when IRBs ascribe risk to all kinds of innocuous activities. For example, one IRB delayed me because they thought I could use a zip code to track down individual people, even though zip codes usually contain thousands of people.
  • Bureaucracy and delays. IRBs now require approval for just about anything, so they are swamped with everything from major medical trials to freshman oral history projects.
  • Acting as a judge of scientific merit. IRBs are about protecting human subjects, but they sometimes reject projects simply because they don’t like them. It is not the job of the IRB to judge the scientific merit – only risk to human subjects. The stupidest project in the world should be approved without question as long as it conforms with guidelines that protect human subjects.
  • Inconsistency and vagueness. The rules are often vague and hard to follow. Campuses vary widely in their application of the rules. Trying to get multiple campuses to agree on an IRB approval for intermural research can be a nightmare.

In response to these problems, the Office for Human Research Protections, a federal agency, is now trying to revamp the rules. The New York Times reports:

Researchers in the humanities and social sciences are pleased that the reforms would address repeated complaints that medically oriented regulations have choked off research in their fields with irrelevant and cumbersome requirements. But they were dismayed to discover that the desire to protect individuals’ privacy in the genomics age resulted in rules that they say could also restrict access to basic data, like public-opinion polls.

The issue is that the Feds suggested a rule that said data can only be analyzed for the purpose for which it was collected. So, for example, a survey on religion could never be used to study, say, race.

Once again, it seems like the Feds are doing the “one size fits all” approach which will leave the humanities and social sciences in a mess. A federal official is quoted as saying:

Dr. Menikoff said, “We want to hear all these comments.” But he maintained that when the final language is published, critics may find themselves saying, “Wow, this is reasonable stuff.”

Gee, I hope so. The last version left us 5,000 IRBs who can’t agree on anything. What could go wrong?

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

October 26, 2011 at 12:45 am

Posted in academia, fabio

unusual irb requests

I’m reposting this from Scatterplot:

And another question on behalf of someone else. My IRB thinks it is not possible for them to approve to network research using a methodology in which subjects are handed a list of names and asked which people on the list they know. The reason for this, per IRB, is that people have to sign a consent form before their names can be put on any such list. Thus the researchers are being told that everyone has to sign two consent forms, first for the compilation of the list, and second for doing the survey. This IRB regularly says that organizations cannot turn over lists of their employees or members to researchers for the purpose of initiating a request to be in a research project.  Is this a common objection? Does anyone have examples of research with a similar methodology getting approval from other IRBs? Would it make a difference if the list in question is public or semi-public, i.e. a paper neighborhood or school directory that is delivered to everyone in a neighborhood or school, or a web site that lists all of a group’s members? Please cross-post elsewhere if you know of another pool of people who might know the answer. (I’m thinking of orgtheory here, but there may be other groups.)

This seems like an abnormally aggressive position for an IRB. Any suggestions for OW? Has anyone else had a similar experience working with their IRB?

It seems like the real privacy issue is protecting the people on the list from knowing if ego picked him or her as a friend. It’s not as if ego doesn’t already know who works in his or her company. As long as you were able to protect the anonymity of subjects once the data were compiled in a data set, I’m not sure why this is a concern at all.

Written by brayden king

February 10, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Posted in academia, brayden, networks

before the irb

A 1940 Time Life photograph (from the google archive) that I ran into.  The caption reads: “A baby climbing pedestals which he has pushed together to reach the lolli-pop hanging from the ceiling.”

Written by teppo

November 28, 2009 at 6:40 pm

Research, the IRB, and Risk: “known knowns,” “known unknowns,” and “unknown unknowns”

Just over a decade ago, going through the IRB process seemed relatively new and simple:
While in graduate school, I took the required research methods class, which included discussions of research ethics. For both my qualifying paper and dissertation, I designed my study and submitted my research plans to Human Subjects, Harvard’s Institutional Review Board, or IRB, which reviews research proposals to ensure that the rights and well-being of human subjects are adequately protected. If my memory serves me correctly, a consent forms for interview was not yet standard. However, an anthropology student told me that her book publisher had asked her to get written permission to publish quotes from their interviews. She was having difficulties re-contacting people she had previously interviewed for a study. This made a big enough impression upon me that I developed my own consent form that not only explained my study and interviewees’ rights, but also outlined how the research might be used for future publications. Now, these kinds of forms are standard.

Currently, the IRB process is rationalized, with a “one size fits all” approach:
As a new professor at a state university, I was required to complete and pass multiple-choice quizzes for the on-line course Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI). Several of the modules concerned medical research, which is the main “model” for the IRB process.

Because I changed institutions and my original CITI certificate will soon expire, I took a new set of modules and multiple choice quizzes yesterday afternoon. Interestingly, I missed the same trick question that I probably got wrong 3 years ago:

“Where can student researchers and/or student subjects find reliable additional resources regarding the IRB approval process?

A. IRB

B. Student Advisor

C. “Gray’s Anatomy”

D. The Student Union

E. Compliance Office.”

I chose A., but according to CITI, the correct answer is B.

While I have learned a few new esoteric facts (example: educational testing is exempt from review), the main lesson I’ve learned over the years is that IRBs, like many institutions, are demanding more assurances of predictability and rationality. Just like Donald Rumsfeld’s quote about “known knowns,” “known unknowns,” and “unknown unknowns,” researchers face an on-going conundrum: anticipate and articulate risk, even before the research has started, and reevaluate and adjust as the research progresses.

Ethnographic research and risk

In their 2004 article “Bureaucracies of Mass Deception: Institutional Review Boards and the Ethics of Ethnographic Research” (The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 595: 249-263), Charles L. Bosk and Raymond G. De Vries explain how this anticipation of risk is an especially difficult task for ethnographers. Bosk and De Vries also make a number of suggestions, including learning from the example of the Netherlands, which exempts social science research from review, barring “a demonstratable psychological or physical burden” (259).

During my Burning Man research, one of the decisions that I made about risk was (1) whether or not to disguise the Burning Man event, and (2) whether or not to automatically disguise the identities of interviewees. I decided that disguising Burning Man was too difficult given that only one temporary arts event in the desert exists. This decision linked to my next decision: I also decided to give interviewees a choice of whether to have a pseudonym and disguised characteristics. Most chose to use their real names, but a few noted information that they wanted kept confidential or requested that I check with them before using quotes, which I respected. In my writings, I felt that as long as the information conveyed was not potentially harmful to individuals, it was important to use people’s real names in reporting their experiences.

Years later, with the book and articles in print, I revisited that decision. Several follow-up conversations with new volunteers and interviewees reinforced my decision to use real names. One interviewee expressed surprise and delight about reading about creative work that she had forgotten. Another interviewee who no longer volunteers worried that if he returned to the organization, he would be turned away by new volunteers and staffers who were unfamiliar with his previous contributions. A new volunteer recounted to me her realization that an organization would continue, despite her departure, and that no visible trace of her contributions would remain.

A conventional organizational history might reduce these people’s experiences to a few key figures and facts. For new volunteers, the opportunity to read and understand details about their predecessors’ experiences humanizes an otherwise unknowable void. For longtime volunteers and organizers, remembering their own words and experiences provides a much-needed moment to reflect on the past, the present, and the future.

Readers, your comments, please:

(1) Does your institution require you to get a CITI certification or to otherwise demonstrate IRB “competency”?
(2) Your thoughts on the IRB process, particularly in relation to ethnography?
(3) Your or others’ experiences with follow-up or returns to the field?

Written by katherinekchen

September 18, 2009 at 6:42 pm

the relational turn in the study of inequalities and organizations – guest post by Dustin Avent-Holt and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey

On behalf of Dustin Avent-Holt and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, I am posting their guest post, a must-read for researchers looking for intersections between organizations and stratification.  In their post, they describe the shortcomings of stratification research’s in focusing on “individual” characteristics and how they build upon organizational theory to examine organizations as inequality-generating mechanisms.  Their post ends with possible research AND policy agendas for a more sustainable and equitable future.

By the end of the 1990s we began to see a relational turn in sociology, perhaps expressed most clearly in Mustafa Emirbayer’s Relational Manifesto. The core claim is that the basic unit of analysis for sociology (or perhaps the social sciences writ large) should be, neither the individual nor macro-level institutions, but the social relations between actors.

This relational claim is, of course, not new. Classical sociologists –Simmel, Marx, Mead, Blumer, Goffman– treated relationality as fundamental. All of symbolic interactionism, the economic sociologies of Granovetter’s embeddedness paradigm and Zelizerian relational work, organizational field theory, and the strong growth in network science are all contemporary exemplars.

But relationality was blurred in the mid-20thcentury though by the growth in statistical techniques and computer software packages that enabled the analysis of surveys of individuals. Blau and Duncan’s pathbreaking American Occupational Structure became the state of the art for stratification research, but it had the side effect of obscuring – both theoretically and methodologically – the relationality that undergirds the generation of inequalities.

Simultaneously, organizational sociology had its own theoretical blinders. The move towards New Institutionalism obscured the older focus on stakeholders and dominant coalitions, refocusing on legitimating processes in the environment through which organizations isomorphically converged. Charles Tilly’s book Durable Inequalities critiqued the status attainment model partly by adopting this view of organizations, treating organizations as inequality machines mechanically matching internal and external categories.

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Written by katherinechen

September 5, 2019 at 6:09 pm

answering the “so what?” question: chuck tilly’s 2003 guide

One of the perennial issues for novice and expert researchers alike is answering the “so what” question of why bother researching a particular phenomena.  In particular, sociologists must justify their places in a big-tent discipline, and orgheads swim in the murky expanse of interdisciplinary waters.  For such researchers, this question must be answered in presentations and publications, particularly in the contributions section.

While it’s easy for expert researchers to melt into a potentially crippling existential sweat about the fathomless unknown unknowns, novice researchers, unburdened by such knowledge, face a broader vista.  According to Chuck Tilly,* researchers need to decide whether to enter existing conversations, bridge two different conversations, initiate a new conversation, or…???**

Since I couldn’t remember Tilly’s exact quote about conversations despite hearing it at least twice during his famous Politics and Protest workshop (before at Columbia, now at the GC), I pinged CCNY colleague John Krinsky.

Krinsky responded to my inquiry by sharing this great questionnaire and chart of low/high risk/reward research: TillyQuestionnaire_2003.  This document offers helpful exercises for discerning possible contributions for research projects at all stages.

*For Krinksy’s (and others) tribute to Tilly’s mentorship and scholarship, go here.

** If anyone remembers Tilly’s exact quote about conversations, please share in the comments.

Written by katherinechen

October 24, 2018 at 3:16 pm

book cover explorations 1-4

Reruns:

  1. From Black Power to Black Studies (cover by Bill Owens)
  2. Party in the Street (cover by William B. Plowman)
  3. Grad Skool Rulz (cover by Kirby D. Schroeder)
  4. Theory for the Working Sociologist (cover by Elijah Burgher)

In August: the first year of Contexts covers!

++++++++

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

July 13, 2018 at 4:01 am

Posted in uncategorized

book cover exploration #3: the grad skool rulz

GSR cover

I went to two graduate programs where mentoring was less than perfect. In some cases, it was so incredibly bad that I often wondered if some faculty actually wanted students to fail. So, after I finished my degree and started blogging, I began writing up my views on graduate education in a series of posts known as “grad skool rulz.” They were so popular that people insisted that I write a book. I did and self-published it with Smashwords Press, the best platform for self-publishing.

Smashwords requires that all authors provide a high resolution book cover. So I asked my friend Kirby Schroeder to provide the cover. I did so for two reasons. First, Kirby is a person dear to me and we worked together in graduate school. He was the co-author of my first article on HIV transmission, which actually won an award from the ASA Mathematical Sociology section. It has even spawned a small literature around it from mathematical modellers interested in disease transmission.

Second, after graduate school, Kirby turned to creative forms of work. When not paying the bills with more mundane jobs, Kirby does graphic design, ceramics, craft work, and so forth. He gladly took the project. This cover he produced is simple – it is him walking through the UCLA campus. I like the soft lighting and I like the idea of movement. Because, really, graduate school should be all about moving you into a career. As an added bonus, by standing next to a reflective surface, Kirby creates some nice symmetry within the photo.

++++++++

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

July 5, 2018 at 6:20 pm

Posted in uncategorized

robert bellah and people of color in habits of the heart

Habits of the Heart is simply a great book. Period. It’s not only a classic statement on American character, it’s also the first major book that employs a “cultural toolkit” framework, as developed by Swidler, Bellah, Tipton, and others. Still, that does’t mean that it’s without limitations. This post is a strong criticism of Habits‘ research methodology and how these problems lead to incorrect conclusions.

When I teach Habits, usually to graduate students, a common criticism is that the book only reflects the lived experiences of White Americans. One student said that after reading the book, you come away with the impression that the book is really about urban yoga fanatics.

I see what they mean. The book’s data is incredibly biased. In the preface to the first edition, the authors basically throw away standard social science data collection techniques. Each author did field work in a “community,” which is not specified. There is literally no discussion of how the field work was conducted (how long? auto-ethography? participant observation? field site selection?). Each author chose a “representative form” of public life, such as love and marriage.

They also offer therapy (page xliii) as a “increasingly important” aspect of middle class life. Wow! There is no argument or information presented about how common therapy is. Furthermore, there is a massive selection bias. If one of the issues you address is coping and pragmatic responses to particular life situations, then selecting therapy participants biases you towards a very specific kind of person. And don’t bother looking for descriptions of how interviews are conducted, or what the differences between populations might be.

When we read about data collection, it gets worse. Sample quote from the 1st edition:

“We do not claim that we have talked to average Americans or a representative sample. We have read a great many surveys and community studies, enough to know that those to whom we talked are not aberrant.” (page xliv)

Which studies? None mentioned. How did they measure the difference? No details, either.

Ok, now let’s get to racial differences. If you search the text for discussions of Blacks, you get very few, and only in reference to segregation or the Civil Rights movement (e.g., page 203). For a book about how people think about individualism, it is shocking to have so little discussion of how race may affect how people think about freedom and autonomy.

Someone drew  my attention to a 2007 Sociology of Religion article by Bellah where he answers critics. You can read it here. What he says on page 190 is that (a) he claims there is no difference and that (b) he addressed any differences in The Broken Covenant.

Let’s examine each point: (a) The critics are correct and Bellah is wrong. If you sample 200 people and interview them (see pages xlii-xliv), you will get about 30 Blacks – not enough statistical power to make any firm inference. It might be the case the he doesn’t understand statistical inference. With sample sizes that small, you simply will have a tough time picking up effects. But he admits he doesn’t have a representative sample to start with! Frankly, this is a mess.

(b) Bellah is wrong again. The Broken Covenant is a historical review of civil religion in America. To his credit, he does talk about race, a few times. But it is not an empirical examination of how Blacks and Whites deal with civil religion. There is nothing that I could find in this book that would lead me to believe that Whites and Blacks experience civic life in just about the same way. Heck, there are passages which suggest the opposite! A central message of The Broken Covenant is that civic religion has often come up short in America, which would suggest that some people feel left out.

Let me wrap up with a theoretical argument. One of the major innovations in the study of race and ethnicity is the application of habitus theories. This comes out with Bonilla-Silva and the “race without racism” school and it also comes out in more recent books like Emirbayer and Desmond’s treatment of race. If we understand habitus as being aligned with structures of inequality, our theoretical expectation is that whites and blacks would have very different situational responses to everyday problems. This theory may be wrong and maybe Bellah et al. might be right, but they simply don’t have the data to prove the null is true. Race (probably) matters.

Bottom line: Habit’s is commendable for many reasons, but research methodology is not one and it leads to some dodgy inferences.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome! 

Written by fabiorojas

April 25, 2018 at 4:40 am

teaching archival methods for graduate students

In an interesting twist, I am teaching a graduate course in qualitative methods. Because many of our ethnographers are on sabbatical, someone needed to offer qualitative methods. So I am offering a course on archival methods.

It’s very, very rare that a sociology program will offer a course on this topic. It is also fairly rare that library science programs will offer one because most librarians and archivists are trained in records management, not research applications. So I basically just had to develop the course from scratch.

  1. Textbook: I decided to treat this as a research method course. So I chose one book that was a nice overview of conceptual issues in social research  methods. I chose Thinking Through Methods, by John Levi-Martin. Informal, fun and packed with good thinking.
  2. Other readings: Each week we’ll read a chapter or two from Martin’s book but I also added other topics. For example, the newsletter of the ASA section on historical comparative research had a great symposium circa 2005 where people discussed access issues. Another week, we’ll do some basic readings about IRB and human subjects issues.
  3. Course topics: Aside from general discussions of research method, we’ll cover the following,
    • Traditional archival work – how to identify, access, search, and analyze paper documents.
    • Content analysis – a few lectures on taking qualitative materials and reliably coding them.
    • Computational methods – a lecture or two on the basic of how to upload textual materials in large quantities and analyze them.
  4. Assignments: As usual, there is class participation and weekly summaries of the readings. But we have three major assignments:
    • The instructor will assign you a book based on archival materials. Read it, summarize and discuss how well the archival materials were used.
    • The instructor will pick an online archive (The Martin Luther King, Jr. Archive) and you will develop and answer a sociological question using the archive.
    • The student will develop their own social science question and topic for a term paper. But they must answer it with archival research from a collection housed at the Indiana University archives.

We have ten students, most from sociology & education, a few from library science and two miscellaneous students. I think it will be very interesting.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

Written by fabiorojas

January 11, 2018 at 5:01 am

cfp: “Seeking a More Just and Egalitarian Economy: Realizing the Future via Co-operatives, Communes, and Other Collectives” at SASE in Lyon, France- cfp deadline extended to Feb. 17, 2017!

The Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) has extended the abstract submission deadline for all the mini-conferences and networks to Feb. 17, 2017!*

Just as a reminder: Joyce Rothschild and I are co-organizing a mini-conference at the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) in Lyon, France.  Please consider submitting an abstract, due to the SASE submission site by Feb. 17, 2017 (updated deadline!).  Accepted presenters will need to provide a full paper by June 1, 2017 for discussion.  Please circulate to this cfp to interested persons!

Seeking a More Just and Egalitarian Economy: Realizing the Future via Co-operatives, Communes, and Other Collectives

Forty years ago, as the most recent wave of economic collectives and cooperatives emerged, they advocated a model of egalitarian organization so contrary to bureaucracy that they were widely called “alternative institutions” (Rothschild 1979). Today, the practices of cooperative organizations appear in many movement organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and even “sharing” firms. Cooperative practices are more relevant than ever, especially as recent political changes in the US and Europe threaten to crush rather than cultivate economic opportunities.

Cooperative groups engage in more “just” economic relations, defined as relations that are more equal, communalistic, or mutually supportive.  The oldest collectives – utopian communes, worker co-operatives, free schools, and feminist groups – sought authentic relations otherwise suppressed in a hierarchical, capitalist system.  Similar practices shape newer forms: co-housing, communities and companies promoting the “sharing economy,” giving circles, self-help groups, and artistic and social movement groups including Burning Man and OCCUPY. While some cooperatives enact transformative values such as ethically responsible consumerism and collective ownership, other groups’ practices reproduce an increasingly stratified society marked by precarity. Submitted papers might analyze the reasons for such differences, or they might examine conditions that encourage the development of more egalitarian forms of organization.

Submitted papers could also cover, but are not limited, to exploring:

  • What is the nature of “relational work” (cf. Zelizer 2012) conducted in these groups, and how it differs – or is similar to – from relational work undertaken in conventional capitalist systems?
  • How do collectivities that engage in alternative economic relations confront challenges that threaten – or buttress – their existence? These challenges include recruiting and retaining members, making decisions, and managing relations with the state and other organizations. Moreover, how do these groups construct distinct identities and practices, beyond defining what they are not?
  • How are various firms attempting to incorporate alternative values without fully applying them? For instance, how are companies that claim to advance the sharing economy – Uber, airbnb, and the like – borrowing the ideology and practices of alternative economic relations for profit rather than authentic empowerment? What are the implications of this co-optation for people, organizations, and society at large?
  • How do new organizations, especially high tech firms, address or elide inequality issues? How do organizing practices and values affect recognition and action on such issues?
  • What can we learn from 19th century historical examples of communes and cooperatives that can shed insight on their keys to successful operation today? Similarly, how might new cooperatives emerge as egalitarian and collective responses to on-going immigration issues or economic crisis generated by policies favoring the already wealthy?
  • Are collectives, cooperatives and/or firms that require creativity, such as artists’ cooperatives or high tech firms, most effective when they are organized along more egalitarian principles? How do aspects of these new modes of economic organization make them more supportive of individual and group creativity?

Bibliography

Graeber, David.   2009. Direct Action: An Ethnography.   Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Rothschild, Joyce. 1979. “The Collectivist Organization: An Alternative to Rational-Bureaucratic Models.” American Sociological Review 44(4): 509-527.

Rothschild, Joyce and J. Allen Whitt. 1986. The Cooperative Workplace: Potentials and Dilemmas of Organizational Democracy and Participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Zelizer, Vivianna A. 2012. “How I Became a Relational Economic Sociologist and What Does That Mean?” Politics & Society 40(2): 145-174.

Questions about the above cfp may be directed to Joyce and myself.

Here is info about the mini-conference format:

Each mini-conference will consist of 3 to 6 panels, which will be featured as a separate stream in the program. Each panel will have a discussant, meaning that selected participants must submit a completed paper in advance, by 1 June 2017. Submissions for panels will be open to all scholars on the basis of an extended abstract. If a paper proposal cannot be accommodated within a mini-conference, organizers will forward it to the most appropriate research network as a regular submission.

More info about mini-conferences here.

The 2017 SASE conference in Lyon, France, hosted by the University of Lyon I from 29 June to 1 July 2017, will welcome contributions that explore new forms of economy, their particularities, their impact, their potential development, and their regulation.

More info about the SASE conference theme, a critical perspective on the sharing economy, is available at “What’s Next? Disruptive/Collaborative Economy or Business as Usual?

Joyce and I look forward to reading your submissions!

*Note: If you have problems with submitting your abstract for our mini-conference, please let us and the SASE/Confex staff know.

Bonus: Curious about how contemporary worker cooperatives operate?  This website has video and other resources that profiles several cooperatives.

 

 

 

 

Written by katherinechen

February 3, 2017 at 4:12 pm

cfp: “Seeking a More Just and Egalitarian Economy: Realizing the Future via Co-operatives, Communes, and Other Collectives” at SASE in Lyon, France – abstracts due Feb. 17, 2017 (updated)

Joyce Rothschild and I are co-organizing a mini-conference at the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) in Lyon, France.  Please consider submitting an abstract, due to the SASE submission site by Feb. 17, 2017 (updated deadline!).  Accepted presenters will need to provide a full paper by June 1, 2017 for discussion.  Please circulate to this cfp to interested persons!

Seeking a More Just and Egalitarian Economy: Realizing the Future via Co-operatives, Communes, and Other Collectives

Forty years ago, as the most recent wave of economic collectives and cooperatives emerged, they advocated a model of egalitarian organization so contrary to bureaucracy that they were widely called “alternative institutions” (Rothschild 1979). Today, the practices of cooperative organizations appear in many movement organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and even “sharing” firms. Cooperative practices are more relevant than ever, especially as recent political changes in the US and Europe threaten to crush rather than cultivate economic opportunities.

Cooperative groups engage in more “just” economic relations, defined as relations that are more equal, communalistic, or mutually supportive.  The oldest collectives – utopian communes, worker co-operatives, free schools, and feminist groups – sought authentic relations otherwise suppressed in a hierarchical, capitalist system.  Similar practices shape newer forms: co-housing, communities and companies promoting the “sharing economy,” giving circles, self-help groups, and artistic and social movement groups including Burning Man and OCCUPY. While some cooperatives enact transformative values such as ethically responsible consumerism and collective ownership, other groups’ practices reproduce an increasingly stratified society marked by precarity. Submitted papers might analyze the reasons for such differences, or they might examine conditions that encourage the development of more egalitarian forms of organization.

Submitted papers could also cover, but are not limited, to exploring:

  • What is the nature of “relational work” (cf. Zelizer 2012) conducted in these groups, and how it differs – or is similar to – from relational work undertaken in conventional capitalist systems?
  • How do collectivities that engage in alternative economic relations confront challenges that threaten – or buttress – their existence? These challenges include recruiting and retaining members, making decisions, and managing relations with the state and other organizations. Moreover, how do these groups construct distinct identities and practices, beyond defining what they are not?
  • How are various firms attempting to incorporate alternative values without fully applying them? For instance, how are companies that claim to advance the sharing economy – Uber, airbnb, and the like – borrowing the ideology and practices of alternative economic relations for profit rather than authentic empowerment? What are the implications of this co-optation for people, organizations, and society at large?
  • How do new organizations, especially high tech firms, address or elide inequality issues? How do organizing practices and values affect recognition and action on such issues?
  • What can we learn from 19th century historical examples of communes and cooperatives that can shed insight on their keys to successful operation today? Similarly, how might new cooperatives emerge as egalitarian and collective responses to on-going immigration issues or economic crisis generated by policies favoring the already wealthy?
  • Are collectives, cooperatives and/or firms that require creativity, such as artists’ cooperatives or high tech firms, most effective when they are organized along more egalitarian principles? How do aspects of these new modes of economic organization make them more supportive of individual and group creativity?

 

Bibliography

Graeber, David.   2009. Direct Action: An Ethnography.   Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Rothschild, Joyce. 1979. “The Collectivist Organization: An Alternative to Rational-Bureaucratic Models.” American Sociological Review 44(4): 509-527.

Rothschild, Joyce and J. Allen Whitt. 1986. The Cooperative Workplace: Potentials and Dilemmas of Organizational Democracy and Participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Zelizer, Vivianna A. 2012. “How I Became a Relational Economic Sociologist and What Does That Mean?” Politics & Society 40(2): 145-174.

Questions about the above cfp may be directed to Joyce and myself.

Here is info about the mini-conference format:

Each mini-conference will consist of 3 to 6 panels, which will be featured as a separate stream in the program. Each panel will have a discussant, meaning that selected participants must submit a completed paper in advance, by 1 June 2017. Submissions for panels will be open to all scholars on the basis of an extended abstract. If a paper proposal cannot be accommodated within a mini-conference, organizers will forward it to the most appropriate research network as a regular submission.

More info about mini-conferences here.

The 2017 SASE conference in Lyon, France, hosted by the University of Lyon I from 29 June to 1 July 2017, will welcome contributions that explore new forms of economy, their particularities, their impact, their potential development, and their regulation.

More info about the SASE conference theme, a critical perspective on the sharing economy, is available at “What’s Next? Disruptive/Collaborative Economy or Business as Usual?

Joyce and I look forward to reading your submissions!

Written by katherinechen

December 13, 2016 at 9:16 pm

three cheers for matt bevin and the hair braiders of kentucky

hairbraiders.jpg

I’m not the Tea Party type, but I give credit where credit is due. Bravo to Matt Bevin, governor of Kentucky, for signing a bill to legalize hair braiding without a license. Like many states, Kentucky has required that hair braiders obtain an expensive license to practice their craft. Hair braiding license laws are not only ridiculous on their face, but they impose an undue hardship on low income African American women. Hair braiding is a craft that poses little risk, requires little capital investment and can be a good living for those who are good at it. Before Governor Bevin signed the bill, a resident of Kentucky needed to attend 1,800 hours of cosmetology school, which normally runs about $20,000. In other words, to braid hair for a living, you needed to get a college degree.

This is a good step because many license laws regulate occupations that are genuinely low risk and that provide much needed income to poor people. In addition to hair braiding, you need about a year of training to learn how to install garage doors, about $1000 in fees in Nevada to operate a floor sander, and some states require a 70 day training program to shampoo hair at a salon. These may seem like small things, but to a poor person, each license is another closed door.

The Obama administration has made this one of their issues and I commend them. Removing unneeded license laws not only helps poor people and minorities, but can also help those with a criminal record re-enter the workforce, as many entry level jobs have licenses that can’t be obtained with a felony conviction.

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

Written by fabiorojas

June 30, 2016 at 12:02 am

Posted in uncategorized

forum on data analytics and inclusivity, part 2

This post is the second part of our forum on data analytics and inclusivity. The forum was inspired by an essay written by Michael Wilbon about African Americans and analytics. I’ve asked several people who work in analytics to comment on the problems with and opportunities for inclusivity in data analytics, especially as it relates to sports analytics.  The first set of essays can be found here.

Today’s essays are written by three contributors who have direct experience in data analytics and sports. The essays all deal with, in some way, root causes of a racial gap in analytics. Michael Lopez is a statistician at Skidmore College who has written extensively about sports analytics at places like Sports Illustrated and Fivethirtyeight. Jerry Kim is an economic sociologist, who has been at Columbia University since 2006 and will soon join the business school at Rutgers University. His research focuses on the consequences of status for evaluation and he has written about about the effects of status bias on umpires’ decision-making in the MLB (a paper that I can say with zero bias is amazing). Our final contributor is Trey Causey, a computational social scientist who has done considerable work as a data analyst and consultant for the NFL and who is now a data scientist at ChefSteps.

I know that this won’t be nor should it be the last word on this topic. Going forward we need more discussions of this type, especially as analytics becomes increasingly central to how business and sports operate.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by brayden king

June 15, 2016 at 12:24 am

race month wrap up

April was the sociology of race month on the blog. Here are some posts:

Thanks for reading.

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

Written by fabiorojas

May 13, 2016 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, race, uncategorized

a theory of race and racism – more comments on an article by tanya golash-boza

Last week, we discussed an article by Tanya Golash-Boza that discusses the state of race theory. Her points are simple -despite claims to the contrary, sociology has developed a theory of race. Today, we’ll discuss the theory of race as Tanya sees it. You can read the article here.

Her argument is that modern theories of race focus on two mutually constituting processes: “racist structures” and “racist ideologies.” Behavioral patterns and individual actions lead to racist structures. Simultaneously, there are belief systems that are expressed in attitudes and prejudices. These two social processes affect each other:

Racist ideologies lead to controlling images, discourses of hegemonic whiteness, and racialized identities, which in turn lead to racist practices on the micro and macro level, which themselves reinforce racial identities and discourses. These structures and ideologies thus reproduce one another in a dialectical manner. One clear empirical example of the articulation between ideology and structure comes from the work of Wendy Leo Moore (2008: 27) who argues that ideologies of white supremacy and a history of racial oppression work together to produce “white institutional spaces” in elite white schools. For Moore (2008), law schools are white institutional spaces both because of the fact that the upper administration is (and has always been) primarily white and because of how discourses about whiteness and the law are disseminated within the law school.

This strikes me as a Giddens style structuration argument. It is important to understand that ideas and structures affect each other and neither comes first, just as individual agency and social structure depend on each other.

Another big part of Tanya’s article is the explicit integration of intersectionality theory, which is another big them in modern analyses of race:

At a certain level of abstraction, we can talk about racist ideologies and structures without mentioning class or gender. As Barbara Risman (2004: 444) argues, “Each structure of inequality exists on its own yet coexists with every other structure of inequality.” In this sense, we can think of Figure 1, which laid out the theoretical framework for this essay, as one pillar of oppression, with similar pillars of gender and class oppression having their own frameworks yet working in conjunction with structures and ideologies of racial oppression. This is similar to arguments made by Omi and Winant (2015: 106) that “race is a master category” and that race, class, and gender oppression are produced in tandem. Nevertheless, once we move beyond abstractions and begin to think about lived experiences, an intersectional framework becomes necessary. The racist discourses that circulate about black men and black women are distinct, and therefore lead to distinct acts of individual and institutional racism. For example, the discourse of black men as dangerous leads to white women crossing the street when they see a black man approaching and also leads to police officers shooting black boys like Tamir Rice for holding a toy gun. The typical white reaction to black women is not marked by the same kind or level of fear. Similarly, the barriers that black women and black men face in employment are not the same and an examination of these barriers requires an intersectional framework (Wingfield 2012).

In my view, the synthesis offered in this articles captures a lot of the key concepts in modern race theory – race is a social construction; it is institutionalized; it informs attitudes; people, policies, and organizations become racialized; race is enacted in popular medial; the ideological and structural features of race are integrated; and race is a social process that depends on other classifications of people such as gender and class.

On Friday, we’ll review the theory in Emirbayer and Desmond’s The Racial Order to identify commonalities and differences.

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

Written by fabiorojas

May 5, 2016 at 12:01 am

race – sociology’s groundhog day: comment on an article by tanya golash-boza

Tanya Golash-Boza has a new article called “A Critical and Comprehensive Sociological Theory of Race and Racism,” in The Sociology of Race and Ethnicity. In it, she makes two arguments. First, sociologists say over and over and over that there is no theory of race. Then, she outlines the theory of race as it actually exists in the literature. I’ll get to this next week, but for now, let’s start with the groundhog day approach to the sociology of race.

Tanya starts off with the groundhog day issue – people keep insisting there is no theory of race and they say it endlessly. I quote here from Tanya’s article

  • Bonilla-Silva (1997): “the area of race and ethnic studies lacks a sound theoretical apparatus.”
  • Winant (200): “The inadequacy of the range of theoretical approaches to race available in sociology at the turn of the twenty-first century is striking.”
  • Faegin (2001): “in the case of racist oppression, … we do not as yet have as strongly agreed-upon concepts and well-developed theoretical traditions as we have for class and gender oppression.”
  • Emirbayer and Desmond (2015): “there has never been a comprehensive and systematic theory of race.”
  • Omi and Winant (2015): “Despite the enormous legacy and volume of racial theory, the concept of race remains poorly understood and inadequately explained.”

So why do people keep saying this? Why does each generation claim that there is no theory, then offer a theory that the next generation refuses to recognize?

Two hypotheses. First, there may be a systematic undervaluing race research by minority scholars. In The Scholar Denied, Morris makes this claim about DuBois. Second, perhaps the sociology of race, more than other areas, attracts scholars with want to rush into an area and not engage with it.

This sentiment is puzzling given that it is surprisingly easy to find theoretical treatments of race. The search term”sociology theories of race” yields in the top 10 results the following texts: Race Relations in Sociological Theory by John Rex, Sociological Theory and Race Relations by E. Franklin Frazier, and Theories of Race and Racism edited by Back and Solomos. Those who teach or specialize in the sociology of race could easily produce a list of texts that survey theories of race or offer their own.

Next week, we’ll dive into this issue, and others, as we review Emirbayer and Desmond’s The Racial Order.

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

Written by fabiorojas

April 22, 2016 at 12:09 am

upcoming book discussions

April is sociology of race month, so I plan to cover The Scholar Denied by Aldon Morris and then The Racial Order by Emirbayer and Desmond. Also, I will discuss Julie Posselt’s new book on graduate admissions and Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s new edition of The Second Machine Age.

If you want another book discussed, put it in the comments or email me. Or if you wrote a book and want to promote it, write a guest post.

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

Written by fabiorojas

March 31, 2016 at 12:13 am

Posted in books, fabio, uncategorized

april will be sociology of race month on this blog

I had a long discussion on my Facebook page about some issues in the sociology of race. This suggested to me that the blog should have an extended discussion on race. So April will be about the following on the blog:

  • Book forum on The Scholar Denied by Aldon Morris.
  • Book forum on The Racial Order by Emirbayer and Desmond.
  • Extended commentary race and institutional theory.
  • Possible guest posts.

I figure a lot of readers will know the basic ideas of these texts and might be interested in the discussion. If not, go the library or buy the books. This will be interesting.

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

Written by fabiorojas

February 5, 2016 at 12:10 am

new book Handbook of Qualitative Organizational Research Innovative Pathways and Methods (2015, Routledge) now available

At orgtheory, we’ve had on-going discussions about how to undertake research.  For example, I’ve shared my own take on dealing with the IRB, gaining access to organizations, undertaking ethnography , timing and pacing research, writing for wider audiences, and what is ethnography good for?  Guest blogger Ellen Berrey elaborated her thoughts on how to get access to organizations, and we’ve had at least three discussions about the challenges of anonymizing names and identities of persons and organizations, including guest blogger Victor Tan Chen’s post, guest blogger Ellen Berrey’s post, and Fabio’s most recent post here.

Looking for more viewpoints about how to undertake organizational research?  Preparing a research proposal?  Need a new guide for a methods or organizations class?  Rod Kramer and Kim Elsbach have co-edited the Handbook of Qualitative Organizational Research Innovative Pathways and Methods (2015, Routledge)

HandbookQualitativeOrgResearch

In the introduction, Kramer and Elsbach describe the impetus for the volume:

There were several sources of inspiration that motivated this volume. First and foremost was a thoughtful and provocative article by Jean Bartunek, Sara Rynes, and Duane Ireland that appeared in the Academy of Management Journal in 2006. This article published a list of the 17 most interesting organizational papers published in the last 100 years. These papers were identified by Academy of Management Journal board members—all of whom are leading organizational scholars cognizant of  the best work being done in their respective areas. A total of 67 board members nominated 160 articles as exceptionally interesting; those articles that received two or more nominations were deemed the most interesting. Of these exceptional articles, 12 (71%) involved qualitative methods.

This result strongly mirrors our own experience as organizational researchers. Although both of us have used a variety of methods in our organizational research (ranging from experimental lab studies and surveys to computer-based, agent simulations), our favorite studies by far have been our qualitative studies (including those we have done together). One of the qualities we have come to most appreciate, even cherish, about qualitative research is the sense of discovery and the opportunity for genuine intellectual surprise. Rather than merely seeking to confirm a preordained hypothesis or “nail down” an extrapolation drawn from the extant literature, our inductive studies, we found, invariably opened up exciting, unexpected intellectual doors and pointed us toward fruitful empirical paths for further investigation. In short, if life is largely all about the journey rather than destination, as the adage asserts, we’ve found qualitative research most often gave us a road we wanted to follow.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by katherinechen

December 18, 2015 at 5:27 pm

naming your ethnographic informants: a talk by colin jerolmack

It is rare that I sit through a talk and just agree with about 99% of it. That is what happened when Colin Jerolmack visited IU last week and gave a talk about naming people and locations in ethnography. The argument is simple: the standard practice of masking people and places should not be the default for ethnography. Instead, the presumption should be naming people. Fake names should be the exception not the rule.

Colin’s paper, co-authored with Michigan’s Alex Murphy, makes the following points against masking:

  • Promising anonymity is not honest. A lot of ethnographies can be hacked pretty quickly.
  • Masking people deprives them of the benefit of having their names listed in print. In most cases, people appreciate seeing their names in a book or article. Once in a while, people get a specific pay off from being in a book (e.g., one of Colin’s informants lists his appearance in a book on his website selling pigeons).
  • In practice, most respondents are not worried about privacy. They are concerned about how they are portrayed. Colin and Murphy use evidence from Annette Lareau’s follow up from her study. Some folks were angry about what she said about them, not the level of privacy.
  • Masking suppresses the voices of research subject. It is very hard to dispute an anonymous characterization of yourself.
  • Masking prevents accumulation of knowledge. Follow ups, return visits, verification, and longitudinal studies are made impossible. Colin has a nice example from his current research. He happens to be doing field work in an area that is covered in an earlier book. He wants to compare, but the IRB prevents that.
  • Access is not as restricted as you might think. If a journalists can write on Amazon, the White House and ISIS using real names and places, an academic ethnographer can at least ask if the respondent wants to use their name.

Now, you shouldn’t misrepresent Jerolmack and Murphy’s argument. They are not against anonymity in all cases. Rather, they want identification to be the default. If you really need anonymity, so be it. But at least seriously consider identification as your first option.

I’ll conclude with a few thoughts as someone who has done some field work and often uses qualitative methods. In general, when I interview people, I have a specific protocol where I ask people at the end whether they want their name used. In my black power project, I interviewed 19 people and 12 gave me permission to use names. And this includes activists who did some controversial things and spoke about some sensitive issues.  Of course, for public records, I used names. For the antiwar project, we also gave the option of going public or remaining anonymous. Most people used their name and we used names for all people speaking in public (for an example of our fieldwork, see here and yes, names were used). In both projects, the locations are well known, whether they are contemporary or historical. So overall, I feel that identification is a fairly intuitive default. I hope that other sociologists seriously consider this position.

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

 

 

Written by fabiorojas

December 18, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, mere empirics

prosumption: from parasitic to prefigurative

Many of you practice prosumption everyday without realizing it.  If you bus your own table after a fast food meal, do self-check out at a store, or review a manuscript for an academic journal, you are engaging in simultaneous production and consumption.  Organizations are increasingly introducing prosumption into routines without corresponding compensation, or, as George Ritzer notes in his essay in this The Sociological Quarterly summer 2015 issue, savings, for the prosumer.

Here’s the start of Ritzer’s “Prosumer Capitalism” essay:

This essay involves a further, albeit still early and provisional, analysis of the relationship
between prosumption and capitalism. It is made necessary by the rapid changes
in the nature of prosumption, its relationship to the changing capitalist economic
system, as well as the growing literature on them (Piketty 2014; Rifkin 2014;
Ritzer 2014). Like its predecessor (Ritzer and Jurgenson 2010), this analysis
deals with the ever-expanding prosumption on the Internet, but it goes beyond
the now antiquated notion of Web 2.0, as well as devoting greater attention to
prosumption in more traditional settings. It also reflects significant changes in
my own conceptualization of prosumption, especially the idea of the prosumption
continuum (see Figure 1). The poles of the continuum involve a needed
reconceptualization of production as prosumption-as-production (p-a-p) and of
consumption as prosumption-as-consumption (p-a-c). More attention is devoted to
three types of capitalism (producer, consumer, and prosumer), as well as to the
“grand narrative” of producer capitalism > consumer capitalism > prosumer capitalism.
New to this analysis is another grand narrative relating to exploitation in
capitalism: singly exploitative producer capitalism > doubly exploitative consumer
capitalism > synergistically doubly exploitative prosumer capitalism. From a Marxian
perspective, prosumer capitalism is seen as an even more “magical” system than its
predecessors, at least as far as the capitalists are concerned. There is also a reexamination
of capitalism in light of other important recent characterizations of that economic
system. While others foresee the decline or even demise of capitalism (Rifkin
2014) or shift the focus to increasing inequality (Piketty 2014), this analysis foresees
the continuation of capitalism,2 albeit in the form of prosumer capitalism. The conclusion
takes a pessimistic perspective on the fate of the prosumer in contemporary
capitalism (in contrast to Toffler [1980] and Rifkin [2014]), although some thoughts
are offered on a more optimistic scenario. The essay ends pessimistically with some
recent examples of capitalist expansions and incursions in prosumer-dominated businesses
(Zopa in banking, Airbnb in short-term domicile rental, and Uber in the taxi
business).

While Ritzer has a largely pessimistic view of where prosumption will lead, I have written a cautiously optimistic commentary covering the varieties of prosumption, which I dub “from parasitic to prefigurative.”  Many of the examples that Ritzer and I discuss come from the so-called sharing economy, including the controversial pay-for-street-parking info apps discussed by epopp in this orgtheory post.

Here are my commentary’s central claims:

Ritzer’s analyses have mostly focused on organizations that deploy prosumption
as a means toward the end of profit. However, by studying organizations and groups
that view prosumption as both a means and an end, we can gain deeper insight into the
impact of prosumption. Thus, I examine several types of prosumption across the three
sectors of the market: for-profit organizations, the state, and nonprofit organizations/
voluntary associations. I further Ritzer’s critique by arguing that prosumption shifts
what used to be organizational and state responsibilities and risks upon individual
persons, emiserating workers and overloading individuals’ decision-making capacities.
While this shift has been portrayed as enhancing market efficiency and empowering
consumers, it can widen inequality, as it allows organizations to simultaneously overwork
employees and clients while understaffing. Those with resources can opt in and
out of prosumption when they please, reinforcing the illusion that prosumption is a
freely made choice, rather than one that is imposed for the ends of profits or efficiency.
However, not all individuals have the means to prosume, and their communities may
be unfairly stigmatized by prosumption. Moreover, attempts to promulgate parasitic
prosumption threaten to undercut access to public goods.
On the other hand, Ritzer’s (2015) mention of “dangerous giants” suggests that not
all persons will mindlessly prosume according to convention (p. 439). I elaborate on
three forms of prosumption that present potential counterpoints to conventional
prosumption. With transformative prosumption, prosumers engage in agentic action
and meaning-making. In violating prosumption conventions, the practice of disruptive
prosumption counters the push for profits and efficiency. When coupled with democratic
or collectivist ways of organizing, prosumption assumes a prefigurative cast,
enacting a society that prosumers desire rather than replicating the status quo.

I quite enjoyed writing the commentary, as it allowed me to reflect on additional ground beyond a previous prosumption article.

You can read Ritzer’s article on prosumption here. Ritzer’s essay is followed by commentaries by:

Ritzer follows with a response to the commentaries in “Dealing with the Welcome Critiques of “Prosumer Capitalism.”

Bonus: all items are ungated!!!  Happy reading!

Written by katherinechen

October 2, 2015 at 7:42 pm

Posted in culture

Tagged with

To Anonymize, or Not to Anonymize

The Journalist and the Ethnographer textMy responses to the comments on my post about ethnography and journalism were getting way too long (apologies), so I thought I’d throw them into a separate post, and also encourage more people to chime in. Thanks for all the thoughtful comments, folks, which brought up new issues from provocatively different vantage points. (If you haven’t read their comments, I’d encourage you to do so!)

I agree with @krippendorf’s comment that the use of anonymity can make it possible to exploit our respondents and twist their words, and that’s probably the biggest problem that my inner journalist has with this prevalent practice that ethnographers (myself included) engage in. (A caveat: there is clearly variation in how ethnographers do their work, as @olderwoman pointed out, which would even include the degree of anonymity we use. I’ll get into this more in a second.) At the same time, it’s interesting how journalism opens itself up to pernicious forms of exploitation of a different kind—what I think Janet Malcolm was getting at—in terms of using people and not considering more carefully the consequences of quoting them in a story. So it seems both fields have their own Achilles heels, and perhaps we just need to accept they go about things in different ways that are ethical on their own terms (though I do think that both fields can learn from the other and maybe find a happier middle ground).

Thomas Basbøll makes a good point that an ethnographer needs to be very cautious in making claims because of the inability in many cases to prove that what you wrote is, without a doubt, true. (Of course, in part that’s not even up to you, because of the ethical/IRB need or norm of protecting respondent identities that we’ve been talking about.) However, I do think one of the strengths of ethnography is its ability to stumble across unexpected situations or outcomes, which in turn can help refine or challenge our theories (with all the caveats that the sample is almost always small and unrepresentative, etc.). But those findings will naturally lead to skepticism because they don’t fit with people’s preconceptions—and, if they’re unflattering to certain people or groups, they may also lead to vicious pushback, however unwarranted it is.

As a former newspaper reporter, I would add that print journalism, as it is practiced from day to day, operates routinely with a pretty low standard of verifiability. Yes, sources often get recorded on tape or video, providing documentary evidence, but most of the time reporters are just writing things down in their spiral notebooks. They simply don’t have the time to do much else, given deadline constraints. Also, recording an interview changes the dynamic—encouraging the source to use her bland “on the record” voice—and journalists don’t want that. As a result, they typically reserve taping for remarks by politicians or other elites. But the result is that, in many stories, they quote people who then go on to say they were misquoted, and it becomes a he-said-she-said situation. (That happened to me once: a low-level government official made an off-the-cuff comment that he later regretted, and afterward started telling people I made up the quote. I called him and chewed him out for doing that, but there was no way for me to “prove” to other people he had lied because I hadn’t recorded him.) Nevertheless, this is something that happens more often than you’d think, and that’s because journalists (like ethnographers) are dealing with messy real-world constraints.

Now, to bring us back to that earlier point about variations in the practice of ethnography: it’s interesting how many different approaches you can find among the most ethical of ethnographers—all of whom, let’s stipulate, are trying to do right by both their respondents and their research. As @olderwoman pointed out, some people just use pseudonyms, some people change details (but only a little), and some people go all out and create composite characters. I can see the ethical rationale for all these approaches. (And in any case, I can’t imagine a room full of ethnographers could be forced to pick any one strategy as the professional best practice, even under pain of death.)

On the other hand, as one of the commenters in the Alex Golub piece that Thomas recommended wrote, perhaps we’re kidding ourselves that any of these strategies truly do protect our respondents’ confidentiality. Even if you create composites and change certain details, I think you’re still divulging a pattern of data that someone close to the respondent would recognize, and that person would therefore be able to figure out that their friend, etc., provided at least some of those details to the ethnographer.

Also, as another commenter discussed in the Golub piece, respondents are often disappointed to learn their real names won’t be published. When I was working as a journalist, I found that people would divulge sensitive details to me or other reporters—for example, about some trauma they’d experienced—and afterward they would tell us they were happy to see their name in print. It gave them a sense of validation to see their story out there and have other people know they actually experienced this. Sometimes, they were contacted afterward by people who related to their story or wanted to help them, and they said they were grateful for that opportunity.

Now, it’s also very true that many people need a promise of confidentiality in order to feel comfortable telling their story completely and truthfully. And it goes without saying that sources—even nonelites—will exploit the fact that their real names are being used in order to profit from the attention in some way. For example, a few times I had the hunch that someone was telling me a sob story in order to garner sympathy and get donations from the newspaper’s readers.

I suppose my overall, personal stance on the conundrums we’ve been talking about is that it’s important to recognize the various ethical and practical tradeoffs of all these approaches—and not just the distinct practices of journalism and ethnography, but also the different ones used within each tradition. I know that’s wishy-washy of me, but life, as they say, is multivariate.

Written by Victor Tan Chen

September 24, 2015 at 4:35 pm

Posted in ethics, ethnography

replication and the future of sociology

Consider the following:

Sociology, we can do better. Here is what I suggest:

  • Dissertation advisers should insist on some sort of storage of data and code for students. For those working with standard data like GSS or Ad Health, this should be easy. For others, some version of the data should accompany the code. There are ways of anonymizing data, or people can sign non-disclosure forms. Perhaps universities can create digital archives of dissertation data, like they have paper copies of dissertations. Secure servers can hold relevant field notes and interview transcripts.
  • Journals and book publishers should require quant papers to have replication packages. Qualitative paper authors should be willing to provide complete information for archival work & transcription samples for interview based research. The jury is still out on what ethnographers might provide.
  • IRB’s should allow all authors to come up with a version of the data that others might read or consult.
  • Professional awards should only be given to research that can be replicated in some fashion. E.g., as Phil Cohen has argued – no dissertation awards should be given for dissertations that were not deposited in the library.

Let’s try to improve.

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

Written by fabiorojas

August 17, 2015 at 12:01 am

the uber-ization of activism

In the NY Times, UCLA sociologist and orgtheorist emeritus Ed Walker had an insightful column about the nature of modern activism. What does it mean when an interest group can just “rent” a bunch of people for a protest? From the column:

Many tech firms now recognize the organizing power of their user networks, and are weaponizing their apps to achieve political ends. Lyft embedded tools on its site to mobilize users in support of less restrictive regulations. Airbnb provided funding for the “Fair to Share” campaign in the Bay Area, which lobbies to allow short-term housing rentals, and is currently hiring “community organizers” to amplify the voices of home-sharing supporters. Amazon’s “Readers United” was an effort to gain customer backing during its acrimonious dispute with the publisher Hachette. Emails from eBay prodded users to fight online sales-tax legislation.

So it’s reasonable to ask whether there’s still a bright line between being a business and being a campaign organization, or between consumer and activist. Tech companies’ customers may think they are being served. But they are often the ones providing the service.

The whole column is required reading and illustrates the nebulous boundary between traditional politics and social movement politics. Self-recommending!

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

PS. “Uberi-zation” is such a weird word…

Written by fabiorojas

August 12, 2015 at 12:01 am

sociologists need to be better at replication – a guest post by cristobal young

Cristobal Young is an assistant professor at Stanford’s Department of Sociology. He works on quantitative methods, stratification, and economic sociology. In this post co-authored with Aaron Horvath, he reports on the attempt to replicate 53 sociological studies. Spoiler: we need to do better.

Do Sociologists Release Their Data and Code? Disappointing Results from a Field Experiment on Replication.

 

Replication packages – releasing the complete data and code for a published article – are a growing currency in 21st century social science, and for good reasons. Replication packages help to spread methodological innovations, facilitate understanding of methods, and show confidence in findings. Yet, we found that few sociologists are willing or able to share the exact details of their analysis.

We conducted a small field experiment as part of a graduate course in statistical analysis. Students selected sociological articles that they admired and wanted to learn from, and asked the authors for a replication package.

Out of the 53 sociologists contacted, only 15 of the authors (28 percent) provided a replication package. This is a missed opportunity for the learning and development of new sociologists, as well as an unfortunate marker of the state of open science within our field.

Some 19 percent of authors never replied to repeated requests, or first replied but never provided a package. More than half (56 percent) directly refused to release their data and code. Sometimes there were good reasons. Twelve authors (23 percent) cited legal or IRB limitations on their ability to share their data. But only one of these authors provided the statistical code to show how the confidential data were analyzed.

Why So Little Response?

A common reason for not releasing a replication package was because the author had lost the data – often due to reported computer/hard drive malfunctions. As well, many authors said they were too busy or felt that providing a replication package would be too complicated. One author said they had never heard of a replication package. The solutions here are simple: compiling a replication package should be part of a journal article’s final copy-editing and page-proofing process.

More troubling is that a few authors openly rejected the principle of replication, saying in effect, “read the paper and figure it out yourself.” One articulated a deep opposition, on the grounds that replication packages break down the “barriers to entry” that protect researchers from scrutiny and intellectual competition from others.

The Case for Higher Standards

Methodology sections of research articles are, by necessity, broad and abstract descriptions of their procedures. However, in most quantitative analyses, the exact methods and code are on the author’s computer. Readers should be able to download and run replication packages as easily as they can download and read published articles. The methodology section should not be a “barrier to entry,” but rather an on-ramp to an open and shared scholarly enterprise.

When authors released replication packages, it was enlightening for students to look “under the hood” on research they admired, and see exactly how results were produced. Students finished the process with deeper understanding of – and greater confidence in – the research. Replication packages also serve as a research accelerator: their transparency instills practical insight and confidence – bridging the gap between chalkboard statistics and actual cutting-edge research – and invites younger scholars to build on the shoulders of success. As Gary King has emphasized, replications have become first publications for many students, and helped launched many careers – all while ramping up citations to the original articles.

In our small sample, little more than a quarter of sociologists released their data and code. Top journals in political science and economics now require on-line replication packages. Transparency is no less crucial in sociology for the accumulation of knowledge, methods, and capabilities among young scholars. Sociologists – and ultimately, sociology journals – should embrace replication packages as part of the lasting contribution of their research.

Table 1. Response to Replication Request

Response Frequency Percent
Yes:   Released data and code for paper 15 28%
No: Did not release 38 72%
Reasons for “No”
    IRB / legal / confidentiality issue 12 23%
    No response / no follow up 10 19%
    Don’t have data 6 11%
    Don’t have time / too complicated 6 11%
    Still using the data 2 4%
    ‘See the article and figure it out’ 2 4%
Total 53 100%

Note: For replication and transparency, a blinded copy of the data is available on-line. Each author’s identity is blinded, but the journal name, year of publication, and response code is available. Half of the requests addressed articles in the top three journals, and more than half were published in the last three years.

Figure 1: Illustrative Quotes from Student Correspondence with Authors:

Positive:

  1. “Here is the data file and Stata .do file to reproduce [the] Tables….  Let me know if you have any questions.”
  2. “[Attached are] data and R code that does all regression models in the paper. Assuming that you know R, you could literally redo the entire paper in a few minutes.”

Negative:

  1. “While I applaud your efforts to replicate my research, the best guidance I can offer
    is that the details about the data and analysis strategies are in the paper.”
  2. “I don’t keep or produce ‘replication packages’… Data takes a significant amount of human capital and financial resources, and serves as a barrier-to-entry against other researchers… they can do it themselves.”

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

Written by fabiorojas

August 11, 2015 at 12:01 am

Organizational ethnography: How to gain access

This post is intended to provide concrete tips for researchers looking to gain initial access to an organization, particularly for those doing fieldwork or qualitative interviews (but perhaps the suggestions will apply for survey research, as well). It extends Katherine Chen’s earlier post on gaining access to organizations.

If you have experience in this area, I hope you will contribute suggestions. I imagine that corporations will be of most interest to readers, but of course there can be challenges to accessing non-profits such as universities and the government, so please chime in if you have insights to contribute.

Here’s my experience: To successfully gain access to a multinational corporation to do an ethnography, I identified appropriate companies to study and then took the following steps:

  • Network with anyone that had connections to the companies. This actually didn’t get me anywhere.
  • Work to access multiple companies at one time. This was time-consuming but worthwhile because it took 6+ months to get into the company I studied, from my first efforts to reach out to a company to the day I was in the door.
  • Prepare a research proposal document that looks like a business proposal. It includes my research objectives, what I would need from the company, potential “deliverables,” and my credentials. I researched business proposals to look at how they are formatted. My proposal was about 5 pages long, with lots of white space and just a few bullets on most pages. I put my university’s logo on the bottom of every page. I packaged it in a glossy folder from my university, along with my business card and a letter from my dissertation chair, on university letterhead, attesting to my abilities and trustworthiness. I attached a brief cover letter to the front. If you can demonstrate any connections to a business school, I imagine that would help
  • Identify the right person in the organization, send them my proposal, and follow up. It may take a phone call or two to identify the right person because contact information often isn’t online.  

Ultimately, two of the four companies I approached agreed to let me in, and I ended up studying one of them, “Starr Corporation.” I got lucky—around the time I approached the company, the director of diversity management was planning to do an internal evaluation of the company’s diversity programs, but the department’s budget was limited. She saw me as potentially fulfilling that role, and she saw my proposal as serious and professional.

After Starr said yes, we negotiated:
1. A letter, approved by their legal department, outlining the company’s anonymity and guidelines for my access. My university IRB provided no assistance whatsoever at this stage, which I thought was outrageous. I ended up consulting a lawyer I knew to look over the letter (I strongly recommend doing that), and I got someone in the university’s patents office to review it, as well… I gave the company the option of being anonymous, and they wanted that. The company added a sentence stating that I would not be paid to do my research. I didn’t anticipate this, but in retrospect it is not surprising at all.

2. An understanding that I would produce a final internal report (i.e. Powerpoint presentation) on the company’s diversity programs.

Once I was in the door, my status was analogous to a consultant. I got an ID, an identity and password, my own cubicle with a computer and, crucially, access to the company’s intranet, including its computer program for scheduling interviews. I had a point of contact within the diversity department who identified appropriate events for me to attend and individuals to interview.

How did you gain access?

Also, do you have suggestions of books or articles on gaining access to organizations? I only am familiar with general discussions of this topic. I particularly like Gaining Access: A Practical and Theoretical Guide for Qualitative Researchers, which is what the title suggests.

Written by ellenberrey

June 15, 2015 at 1:46 pm

Posted in ethnography, workplace

the risky sex game paper – impact on current research

Yesterday, I described a paper written by Kirby Schroeder and my self on infection networks. Yesterday’s post addresses the professional lessons I learned. Today, I want to talk about the impact of the paper on current work. For a long time, the paper, literally, got zero citations in peer reviewed journals. Then, the citations increased around 2010, with people in economics, health, and biology discussing the paper.

Economics: The main commentary among economists is that this is a model of interaction, which can then be used to assess the impact of policy. For example, a paper in the American Law and Economics Review notes that the paper models risky behavior but does not model the law. Other economists are attracted to our prediction about infection knowledge and epidemic plateaus (once the disease becomes common knowledge, people shift behavior and transmission stalls).

Health: The Archives of Sexual Behavior has an article that discusses our article in the context of trying to expand models of disease transmission. For example, we critique the health belief model for ignoring interaction. We criticize sexual scripting theory for ignoring risk and strategic action.

Biology: Perhaps the most interesting impact of the paper is the impact on mathematical biology. In The Journal of Theoretical Biology, a team of mathematicians use the model to address group formation. In a model derived from our Risky Sex Game model, they show that the population, under certain conditions, will separate into specific groups based on HIV status.

Bottom line: People sure hated the paper when I wrote it, but its children are a joy to behold.

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

Written by fabiorojas

April 29, 2015 at 12:01 am

the risky sex game paper – professional lessons

My first ever journal publication was an article called “A Game Theoretic Model of Sexually Transmitted Disease Epidemics.” It appeared in the journal Rationality and Society in 2002. As the title suggests, the goal of the paper is to model network diffusion using agents that play games with each other. Specifically, let’s assume people want to have sex with each other. The catch is that some people have HIV (or another disease) and some don’t. Further, let’s assume that people will estimate the probability that the partner has HIV based on the type of sex they offer and the current disease prevalence. In other words, offering unprotected sex in a world without STD’s is interpreted way differently than the same offer in a world where lots of people have infections. In this post, I want to briefly discuss what I learned by writing this paper. Tomorrow, I will talk about the small, but interesting, literature in biology and health economics that has referenced this paper.

Lesson #1: Interdisciplinary work doesn’t have to be garbage. The paper uses ideas from at least three different scholarly areas – game theory/economics; social networks/sociology; and probability theory/epidemiology. Orgtheory readers will be familiar with game theory and networks. But the paper uses a cool idea from probability theory called “pairs at a party model” – to model diffusion, you draw people from a pool and match them. I added these ideas: people can only be paired with people they know (the network) and then to decide if they have intercourse, they play a signalling game (game theory).

Lesson #2: Working with your buddies is amazing. My co-author on the project was Kirby Schroeder, who now works in the private sector. We developed the idea by thinking about his personal experience. Gay men often encounter the signaling problem – say you meet a partner and he offers unprotected sex. What does that suggest? We then joined forces to write the paper. Great experience.

Lesson #3: People can get angry at your research. During conferences and peer review, we experienced great hostility because we relied on the literature showing that sometimes, people don’t tell partners about STD’s and thus put them at risk. One woman, who claimed to be a researcher from Massachusetts General Hospital, literally yelled at me during an ASA session. The paper got rejected from Journal of Sex Research, after an R&R, because one reviewer got very upset and claimed that were defaming gay people and that “you don’t know what love means.” Do any of us, really?

Lesson #4: Long term matters. The paper was published in Rationality and Society and then quickly disappeared. But it had an interesting after life. It got an ASA grad student paper award from the Math Soc section. During the first couple of years on the job, it was the only journal publication on the CV, which saved me from complete embarrassment. In one review of my work, it was the *only* paper that the committee actually liked. Later, a member of the RWJ selection committee said that the paper was the only reason that they invited me for an interview, because it showed a genuine commitment to health research. Even better, starting around 2010, researchers rediscovered the paper and now it is part of a larger literature on sexual risk spanning biology, economics, and health. So even though it didn’t have an immediate impact, a well written paper can pay off in ways you might not expect.

Tomorrow: What people get from the Risky Sex Game paper.

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

Written by fabiorojas

April 28, 2015 at 12:01 am