Archive for the ‘books’ Category
My new book, The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice (University of Chicago Press), is officially out today. Yay! The book is about diversity—that word, diversity—the organizational politics that coalesce around it, and the implications for the struggle for racial justice. I’m going to paste some excerpts here that highlight the main (empirical) argument. I’m working on a variation of this for an op-ed. Reactions welcome!
Talk of “diversity” is ubiquitious in the twenty-first-century United States, from the Oval Office to celebratory neighborhood festivals. A national sociological survey found that nearly all respondents said they valued diversity in their communities and friendships. Popular diversity interventions include affirmative admissions policies, mixed-income housing programs, and corporate training.
I have spent more than a decade answering these questions through ethnographic and historical research. My investigation has taken me to various settings—a university, a neighborhood, and a corporation—that all proactively identify as diversity champions. There, I found that some of the most passionate advocates of diversity are CEOs, university presidents, elected officials, and other leaders with stature and power. This presented a riddle: what, exactly, do decision-makers accomplish when they take on the goal of diversity?
In the post–civil rights period, many decision makers face a new race problem: racial representation and the potential stigma of not representing race properly. They confront a widespread expectation that some people of color, especially African Americans, will be present in a predominantly white context, measured either numerically or by racial minorities’ visibility or authority. Having at least one token person of color on a governing board has become, in many places, crucial for an organization’s legitimacy. Just as racial representation has become an issue—and, in part, because racial representation has become an issue—the representation of other marginalized groups has become important as well, particularly that of women.
The decision makers in this study have responded by advocating diversity. They have constructed identities for their organization or community as distinctive for its diversity—as one of its distilled, essential features and compatible with other fundamental characteristic of that locale. University administrators, for instance, touted the University of Michigan as “excellent and diverse.” At Michigan and elsewhere, leaders have deliberately cultivated a diversity image in hopes of shaping other people’s views and experiences of cross-racial interaction. They may be sincerely trying to improve intergroup relations and increase minority representation or just creating the appearance of such. These leaders certainly hope to create the impression that they, themselves, can manage group differences successfully.
There are both promises and pitfalls in treating race as diversity. The drive for diversity disavows discrimination. It helps to justifies some organizational policies, like affirmative action, that are proven to be effective at moving racial minorities and women up the economic ladder. It also affirms a basis of commonality—a shared, self-reinforcing commitment to social cohesion—across group-based differences that normally divide Americans deeply.
But diversity advocates’ efforts to minimize group divisions and expand the bounds of social membership have focused on symbolism more than on social causes. They have resisted fundamental change in the structures, practices, or cultures that guide day-to-day interactions and shape determinations of merit and value. The push for diversity is, by and large, a mechanism of containing and co-opting equality, as it largely leaves untouched persistent racial inequities and the gulf between rich and poor. This is the taming of the civil rights movement’s provocative demands for racial justice.
Sadly, I could not be present at the SSS meetings, so I wrote out my comments about Jerry Jacobs’ wonderful In Defense of Disciplines. Go buy the book!
I want to start by thanking Sarah Winslow and the Southern Sociological Society for organizing this session. Jerry is a leading sociologist of higher education and his work merits sustained attention and critique. It is an honor to be allowed to participate in this event.
In a way, this is an awkward critique to write because I agree with much of what In Defense of Disciplines has to say. For example, on the basic conceptual issue of what counts as a discipline, Jerry’s definition is very close to my own feeling on the subject – disciplines are closed social fields of self-certifying intellectuals who are institutionalized in universities. In my work on the Black Studies movement, I found this approach to be very useful in that it identifies how interdisciplinary fields like Ethnic Studies are different than older fields like history or sociology. They haven’t yet achieved closure and rely on allied disciplines for personnel. I call fields like Black Studies “permanent inter-disciplines” because they can’t quite reach the status of a discipline and they don’t seem to be going anywhere.
Looking for insight into the informal economy, the relationship between a lack of jobs and criminal activity, or ethnographic methods? UToronto sociologist (and CCNY and Graduate Center sociology alum!) Randol Contreras has agreed to do a virtual question and answer session here, at orgtheory, about his book The Stick Up Kids: Race, Drugs, Violence, and the American Dream (University of California Press 2013). Read the book (ch. 1 excerpt is available here). Check back with orgtheory to post your questions during the week of April 6!
A blurb about the book:
Randol Contreras came of age in the South Bronx during the 1980s, a time when the community was devastated by cuts in social services, a rise in arson and abandonment, and the rise of crack-cocaine. For this riveting book, he returns to the South Bronx with a sociological eye and provides an unprecedented insider’s look at the workings of a group of Dominican drug robbers. Known on the streets as “Stickup Kids,” these men raided and brutally tortured drug dealers storing large amounts of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and cash.
As a participant observer, Randol Contreras offers both a personal and theoretical account for the rise of the Stickup Kids and their violence. He mainly focuses on the lives of neighborhood friends, who went from being crack dealers to drug robbers once their lucrative crack market opportunities disappeared. The result is a stunning, vivid, on-the-ground ethnographic description of a drug robbery’s violence, the drug market high life, the criminal life course, and the eventual pain and suffering experienced by the casualties of the Crack Era.
Provocative and eye-opening, The Stickup Kids urges us to explore the ravages of the drug trade through weaving history, biography, social structure, and drug market forces. It offers a revelatory explanation for drug market violence by masterfully uncovering the hidden social forces that produce violent and self-destructive individuals. Part memoir, part penetrating analysis, this book is engaging, personal, deeply informed, and entirely absorbing.
A colleague emailed me to ask whether I thought hiring a PR specialist would be helpful for getting the word out about a forthcoming university press book. While a university press will send books to venues at the author’s request and place ads in academic venues like the Chronicle of Higher Ed, the author may consider doing more, usually using his/her own resources. Looking at the book publicist’s webpage, buying this person’s services would mean access to radio talk shows.
Based on conversations with book authors over the years, I know that opinions vary about how much effort authors should expend to publicize their work:
At one end, one colleague thought that the “work should stand on its own.” While it’s possible that an audience will flock to an unpublicized book, not doing anything to announce the arrival of a book could effectively consign years of work to the remainders shelf of a bookstore basement or warehouse.
At another end, a few colleagues might go on the radio talk show circuit, give talks at universities, book stores, and other venues, do interviews with high profile magazines (possibly in exchange for a pricy ad placed), and have ads on public transit stations. The trade-off here is emotional energy expended and the opportunity cost of working on other projects, spending time with family/friends, etc.
For my book, I adopted a middle route:
– made a webpage
– joined facebook
– made postcards of the book cover and handed these out to colleagues at ASA and Burning Man attendees
– bought books (at author’s discount) to gift and share
– asked colleagues at universities to order the book for their libraries (note: this was during the financial meltdown, so some libraries were unable to order)
– said yes to invitations to give talks for classes
– guest-blogged on orgtheory and other venues
– did “author meets critics” sessions at regional association meetings
Colleagues have also noted that depending on a professional association’s rules, authors can self-nominate books for section or professional association awards.
So, orgtheory readers, soliciting your experiences and thoughts here:
What’s the sweet spot?
Is it worth a couple $K to hire someone to do publicity?
What tangibles and intangibles does an author get with this extra effort?
Please do share in the comments.
My former colleague Elizabeth Armstrong and IU alum Laura Hamilton have won the ASA Distinguished publication award for Paying for the Party, their much discussed book on the effects of the party scene on college students. Their book use ethnographic data to describe how the party scene disproportionately affects working class students and mitigates the returns on education. A must read for anyone interested in higher education.