Archive for the ‘books’ Category
As the yearly season for academic hiring opens, and as students consider applying to graduate program, now is the time to reflect on one’s place and prospects in the academic pipeline. Written by two economists who also are parents, Professor Mommy: Finding Work-Family Balance in Academia raises important issues germane to those who are entering, navigating, or exiting the academic pipeline. While the book is aimed at academic women, a general audience would benefit from tenure-track tips. (Examples: the authors suggest working on and submitting grant proposals so that senior colleagues who serve on grant panels can become acquainted with junior colleagues’ work. The authors also recommend against co-authoring with colleagues who might be able to write tenure review letters, as co-authorship will preclude letter-writing.)
Like Fabio in his Grad Skool Rulz book, the co-authors Rachel Connelly and Kristen Ghodsee have a brutal and blunt chapter (“Know Thyself, part 1”) urging those unsure about academia to understand the limits of the academic job market, such as being expected to move where the jobs are and facing continual rejection. They warn that applicants should expect to spend between 3 to 5 years on the job market and that any job prospect might become THE job.
One especially illuminating section addresses how some job applicants may take positions at particular kinds of institutions, assuming that these allow for a work-family balance, without understanding that other institutions may have the resources better suited to support working parents. Although the authors don’t go into this in great detail, some employers are prepared to dole out substantial resources to faculty – funds that can cover all of conference travel expenses, a book allowance, a guaranteed spot in a desired school for a child, subsidized housing in a good school district, college tuition payments for children, etc. – that other employers cannot.
The book excels in revealing strategies used by academic parents to manage the limitless demands of academia and parenting. The one quibble that I have concerns a section where the authors offer a composite case of a “good student” who embarks upon an academic career as a default. The hypothetical academic struggles with the everyday challenges of academia and parenting; she eventually resigns from her tenure-track position to stay at home to raise children, supported by a husband who agrees to be the bread-winner for the family. Using this case, the authors invite readers to assess whether they truly enjoy “the life of the mind,” which include self-managing an academic career where deadlines can be postponed up until a point. The authors urge readers not to opt out of the pipeline in the way that the composite case’s academic does. They want readers to examine their “motivation” for considering an academic career.
While the authors’ advice adopts a realist perspective, as we know from Herbert Simon’s work on decision-making, people often don’t know what their preferences are (or fully understand the consequences associated with certain choices), until they try them. My added suggestion is that students and tenure-track faculty try cultivating certain habits – namely, formulating research questions, writing regularly, and meeting publication deadlines – as early as possible.* If these don’t jibe, move onto other career paths.
* As an analogy, read Dan Chambliss’s “The
Mandanity Mundanity of Excellence” article about swimmers.
John Levi-Martin is one of sociology’s most fertile thinkers. His book, Social Structures, was discussed at length on this blog and The Explanation of Social Action was a well discussed investigation of how social scientists try to approach causality. His new book, Thinking Through Social Theory, is a tour of foundational issues in social science and should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand current debate over the status of social explanation.
Roughly speaking, there is a long standing dispute among scholars about what constitutes a proper explanation of social action. The argument has many facets. For example, there is a dispute over realism, the view that people have fairly direct access to reality which can the be leveraged into causal explanation. There is a related argument about social norms and whether it makes sense to say that a rule “caused” or “forced” someone to act. And of course, there are arguments over the sufficiency of various schools of thought like functionalism, rational choice, and evolutionary theory.
Thinking Through Social Theory is Levi-Martin’s review of these issues. It not only summarizes the landscape, but offers answers drawn from one of his most theoretically rich articles, “What is Field Theory?” It is truly difficult to summarize this tome (e.g., there is multi-page analysis of the “gentlemen open doors for ladies” custom) but I can indicate some high points. First, there is a good review of the issues surrounding realism. And no, he does NOT side with those pesky critical realists. Second, there is an examination of two theories (rational choice and evolutionary psychology) that try to offer “ultimate” accounts of human action. Third, Levi-Martin offers a field theoretic alternative to theories of action that are found in schools as diverse as functionalism, institutionalism, and Swidlerian toolkit theory. The basic intuition is that individuals aren’t carrying around norms, but they are working in fields of action that push people into situations that generate behavioral, or even cognitive, regularities. Sounds like actor-network theory to me, but more meso-level.
So who is this book for? I see a few good audiences. One are social theory grad students. After marching PhD students though the history of soc up the present, it is good to sit back and think about the (lack of?) progress that has been made in building social theory. I also think that the philosophy of social science crowd would enjoy this, as would scholars in cultural sociology who often run into the issue of motivation. Thumbs up.
The accounting firm of Weber, Durkheim and Simmel has carefully counted the votes from last week’s book naming contest. The winner will get $20 (via PayPal or ASA handoff) or one my sociology books (From Black Power or Party in the Street) or ten copies of Grad Skool Rulz mailed to friends. The winner will also be given a place of honor in the acknowledgements should the book ever get published. Drum roll, please…
You don’t see a lot of books linking cultural sociology and gerontology. An ethnographic study of elderly people in four neighbrohoods, The End Game is a study of the coping strategies that people use and how those are related to race and social class. For example, there are those who try to preserve their health so as not to be a burden on others, while others “use up” their health while enjoying themselves (e.g., by drinking). Abramson also pays close attention to the processes that normally occupy stratification scholars, such as how wealth affects how people access food, healthcare, and social support.
What I found most compelling about this book is the careful attention paid to the combination of class based resources and “toolkits” that are driven by culture or simply variations in personality. For example, health isn’t simply a matter of who can pay for a doctor. Health is also affected by the view that medical intervention is constantly needed to maintain a deteriorating body. One thing that I wish had received more attention is the link to outcomes – there should be more discussion of exactly which traits might be conducive to longer live, healthier life, or happier life.
Near the end, Abramson discusses a mildly disturbing encounter with a sociologist who asked why we should care about the elderly. The answer is that old age is a growing feature of human life after industrialization. It can also be a long stage of life. A 90 year old person has 25 post-retirement years! Thus, we should care about what is an extremely common experience and we want people to live well. Abramson’s text is an important contribution to that vital research task. Recommended!!!!