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let’s argue about social theory

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We had three posts on the value and teaching of social theory. Take a few moments to catch up!

We also recently discussed Julian Go’s book on postcolonial theory and my forthcoming pedagogical book on theory.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($5 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

Written by fabiorojas

February 24, 2017 at 4:11 am

book spotlight: abolish work, edited by nick ford

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abolish_work

Abolish Work: An Exposition of Philosophical Ergophobia is a new anthology of anti-work writings, edited by Nick Ford. The anthology’s goal is simple – to present various arguments against work. They range from socialist anti-capitalist arguments, to left libertarians to people just being pissed off at work. The authors run the spectrum. There are selections from David Graeber (anti-work!) and David Boaz, who tells the reader just to get a job.

What I found fascinating most about the anthology is that is makes you think a lot about the anti-work position. Why do we need work? Are jobs degrading? Why is working considered desirable in comparison to not having a job? For me, the most compelling arguments come from those who correctly argue that work is inherently a negative thing. A number of authors make the correct distinction between work, which should be minimized, and leisure, which does not have to be minimized. They also correctly point out that there is an inherent tension between employers and employees in many cases.

The anthology did not ask if it is necessary for some people to work. Let’s take it for granted that work sucks and we would be wise to avoid it. Let’s further assume that technology will make it easier for more and more people to shift from work to leisure. But still, wouldn’t some people have to work? And is that really such a bad thing?

Still overall, I enjoyed this book very much and it challenges a very central element of the modern ethos, that work is good. Recommended!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($5 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

February 14, 2017 at 12:01 am

book spotlight: postcolonial thought and social theory by julian go

go_postcolonial_book

This is probably the book that Julian Go will be remembered for. For the last forty or fifty years, there’s been a stream of theoretical writings in the humanities that has been ignored by most sociologists and Postocolonial Thought and Social Theory is the book to bring it into sociology. It’s a joy to read and raises important issues. If Go succeeds in persuading sociologists that this is important, it would have a big impact on historical sociology, the sociology of race, urban studies, globalization, and related areas.

So I will briefly summarize the contents and then tell you about the strong and weak points in the book. First, in the humanities, there has been an extended discussion about the role that imperial politics and culture has on the literature, historical writing, and the arts. It might be summarized in the following way. The colonization of the world by European powers from 1500 to the mid-20th left an ubiquitous mark on everything. “Postcolonial” theory is a collection of ideas and claims about how one should incorporate an appreciation of imperial and colonial culture and politics into the study of arts and letters. For example, if a novel discusses brown and black people, you should think about the sense of “otherness” they feel since they are the subordinate class in a colonial society. Another example – the way we interpret “indigenous” cultures is wrapped up in our desire to either conform to narratives that support imperial power or the narratives that nationalists offer.

What does colonial theory offer positivist social science? Roughly speaking, Go suggests that social science should refine and amend its empirical focus. For example, there is a “metropolitan bias.” We use the imperial center as our model of global society. There is also an elaboration of standpoint theory, which suggests that there is great value to be had in exploration the social world of non-elites in the empire.There is a lot more in the book and I suggest you read it if you have an interest in the issues I raised.

Here, I’ll praise the book and critique it. One extremely strong feature of the book is that it is very well written. This is important to say because so much postcolonial theory is written like garbage. If Go’s only contribution to social theory were to produce a lucid account of Spivak, Bhabha, and others, it would be well worth reading. I use a social theory anthology when I teach, which includes a selection from Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” and, frankly, it’s horridly written. This book will help me explain it better.

Another praiseworthy feature of the book is that Go does not get tangled up in the critical aspects of postcolonial writings. I have often found that authors in the postcolonial tradition spend too much time complaining about the Enlightenment, positivism, and science. This is bad for two reasons. One is that critique is valuable, but limited. I need the “so what?” Second, quite simply, a lot of these authors seem to know very little about intellectual history or the philosophy of science. Like a like of “critical theory,” they don’t really engage in the literature and often attack straw man versions of their opponents.Thankfully, Go reviews their arguments and moves on.

This brings to me some criticisms. Perhaps the biggest one is that Go let’s a lot of authors off the hook when they deserve more scrutiny. He takes a lot of postcolonial claims for granted. One example: the critique of the Enlightenment. Yes, it is absolutely true that many Enlightenment figures profited from or were active participants in colonialism. But it is also true that the Enlightenment also birthed the classical liberal tradition. For example, Adam Smith was an opponent of slavery, John Stuart Mill fought in parliament for relief for Jamaicans who were subject to colonial abuse, and Herbert Spencer was an anti-colonialist. So, yes, the Enlightenment included many hypocrites, but it included a lot of genuine criticism of slavery, servitude, and colonialism. Similarly, a lot of postcolonialists have other empirical and historical claims that should not be taken at face value.

Bottom line: If you like social theory, buy this book. Recommended!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($5 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

Written by fabiorojas

January 27, 2017 at 12:22 am

book forum 2017: turco and granovetter

Hi, everyone! As the year winds up, I’d like to announce two book fora:

Please order the books now!**

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

* Holy smokes, yes, the Granovetter book is coming out. We have heard of this sacred text for years and now… my precious… my precious…

** And yes, editors who read this blog should send me free copies!!

Written by fabiorojas

December 22, 2016 at 12:15 am

book highlight: Digital Kenya

Now is the time of year when we are wading through the flotsam of the passing semester (grading, entering grades, firefighting “emergency” cases, etc.) and preparing for the next semester (more of the same?).

Nonetheless, a new semester always brings the prospect of joining the cutting edge…

Inside Africas Hubs-17.jpg

For those of you looking to update syllabi or reading lists on technology and  organizations, have a look at Bitange Ndemo and Tim Weiss‘s co-editted new book Digital Kenya: An Entrepreneurial Revolution in the Making  (2016, Palgrave), which with the support of the Ford Foundation is (bonus alert!) also available as an open access PDF.

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The book’s press release (digitalkenyapressrelease_december2016-final) promises insiders’ perspectives of what it takes to launch and sustain organizations in a growing tech sector.  Its conversations with social entrepreneurs and founders of leading organizations rounds out research that is usually conducted of high-tech firms  in North America.  For example, in conversation #3, Anne Githuku-Shongwe explains how she founded Afroes to counter negative Western stereotypes with positive images of heroes and heroines for her children.  In conversation #6, Su Kahumbu Stephanou, creator of the mobile App iCow, recounts her journey, along with various setbacks, towards sustainable, organic farming.

Inside Africas Hubs-16.jpg

For the open access publication, visit www.tinyurl.com/DigitalKenya-free.

To order the book in print, visit www.tinyurl.com/DigitalKenya.

 

Written by katherinechen

December 20, 2016 at 6:37 pm

why obama won 53 counties in iowa and clinton won 6

Iowa in 2008, Iowa in 2016

So there are a thousand reasons Trump won the election, right? There’s race, there’s class, there’s gender. There’s Clinton as a candidate, and Trump as a candidate, the changing media environment, the changing economic environment, and the nature of the primary fields. It’s not either-or, it’s all of the above.

But Josh Pacewicz’s new book, Partisans and Partners: The Politics of the Post-Keynesian Society, implies a really interesting explanation for the swing voters in the Rust Belt—the folks who went Obama in 2008, and maybe 2012, but Trump in 2016. These voters may make up a relatively small fraction of the total, but they were key to this election.

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Written by epopp

December 1, 2016 at 3:48 pm

scary stuff trigger alert

Well, it’s the scariest time of year.  For some, the scariest stuff reaches its apotheosis on Election Day, Nov. 8, while for others, Halloween is the celebration of choice.  For a sociological take on the Oct. 31st festivities, check out Sociological Images’s compendium of Halloween blog posts.

I’ve been counting down these weeks to recommend reading  Margee Kerr‘s book Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear (hat-tip to a neuroscientist friend for the rec), about the mechanisms underlying fear among humans.   In her book, Kerr takes readers on a worldwide journey to investigate fear in different contexts, from a derelict prison where inmates served their time in solitary confinement to Japan’s notorious Suicide Forest.

Kerr is also a practicing sociologist who also designs and refines an experimental haunted house,  ScareHouse, located in Pittsburgh.  In chapter 8 of her book, she describes how people want to bond with others after being scared and how she and colleagues have channeled that intense emotional energy with an anonymous “confessional” room where people can unload secrets.  Overall, Kerr’s experiences shows how sociology and related research can directly inform and shape experiences.

To learn more about fear from Kerr, read the Jezebel interview with Kerr here or watch this video on about how fear evolved and “Why is being scared so fun?”:

Now for some of our social scientists’ fear… Trigger warning !!! after the jump, courtesy of Josh de Leeuw.

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Written by katherinechen

October 25, 2016 at 11:07 pm