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october book forum and blogcation

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I will be dealing with deadlines and I am in the field, so I will be on vacation till next week. But I did want to list the books that I intend to review in October. First, I will do a book forum on Jacob Levy’s Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom. Then, I plan on covering in October and November the following books:

Want something else on the menu? Send  me a copy!

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 

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Written by fabiorojas

September 12, 2017 at 4:29 am

Posted in books, fabio, uncategorized

democracy in chains symposium

Over at Policy Trajectories Josh McCabe has organized a great symposium on Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains, the most dramatic book on public choice theory you are ever likely to read.

Featuring economist Sandy Darity, political scientist Phil Rocco, and your truly, the essays try to get beyond some of the sturm und drang associated with the book’s initially glowing critical reception and intense subsequent backlash. Instead, they ask: How is political orthodoxy produced and challenged? What responsibility do individuals bear when their actions reinforce institutionalized racism? And what explains increasing efforts to put limits on democracy itself?

MacLean’s book may itself be highly polarizing. But the conversations she has opened up will be with us for a long time to come. Check it out.

Written by epopp

August 24, 2017 at 12:15 pm

we should thank malcolm gladwell and send him flowers

What if I told you that a popular writer recently published a book that neatly summarizes modern inequality research for the masses and depicts sociology in a very positive light? You’d be happy, right? And you might want to know who that person is, right?

Well, I just spent some time rereading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, his summary of the social science research on high achievement. The public discussion of the book focused way too much on one chapter that discusses the “10,000 hour rule” (experts usually need about four years of full time immersion in a topic to get really good at it). But if you read the book, the message is much more expansive than that and it completely draws on a lot of standard sociology.

For example, Gladwell has a chapter dedicated to Lareau’s theory of class and culture as a factor in status attainment. He talks about how working class people often have an oppositional view of institutions and he directly talks about Lareau. In multiple chapters on family and achievement, he cites sociological studies that trace how families transmit specific knowledge and skills to their children, which allow for social mobility. He is also a fan of ecological theories of success (being in a city where business is booming – New York in the 1910s) and cohort theories of success (being part of the computer revolution in the 1980s). In discussing cultural differences, he offers a fairly conventional Swidler/Weber approach. He argues that work skills that are advantageous in Asian agriculture are also advantageous in Western industrial economies.

So why don’t we pay more attention to Outliers as a great “public sociology” book? The ASA did give Gladwell an outreach award, but the profession seems to have moved on. I think it may have to do with the 10,000 hours chapter. The chapter is a little bit sloppy and slides into exuberant rhetoric. A lot of people focused on it and tried to tear it down. For example, he does actually write that “10,000 hours is the magic number,” which mistakenly gives the impression that anyone can win an Olympic medal if they just practice enough.

This is a false impression if you actually read the entire chapter (and book) and approach the claim with a charitable mind. For example, at multiple points, he openly admits that people have “talent” and that you need that for the coaching and practice to get you to a world class level. The other chapters all suggest that contextual factors matter a great deal as well. Also, many of the critics committed their own errors. For example, they would often point to studies of elite athletes that show that extra practice doesn’t explain success. Yes, but by selecting only elite athletes, you are looking at a group where everyone has already done their “10,000” hours. That is selection bias!

In regards to sloppy writing, what I think Gladwell was trying to say was that yes, people have talent, but you also need to add in other structural factors, such as deep immersion in the field. No one is “born” a genius. High achievement is the result of social structure and individual gifts. If I were Gladwell, I would also add that deep practice would improve almost anyone in absolute terms and make you an “expert” but it wouldn’t erase relative differences between people who have invested the time in practice. For example, if I studied basketball for 10,000 with a pro-level coach, I bet my lay-ups would be amazing – if I did them by myself!! If I had to plow through other taller players on defense, I probably wouldn’t do as well. My innate traits don’t disappear completely and neither do relative difference. But I would still be massively better compared to a person with no training and I would still possess “expert level” knowledge and execution of skills. In my view, Gladwell should have focused a little more on the difference between absolute improvements and relative performance.

Is Outliers perfect? No, but it is a very fair summary of how sociologists think about status attainment and I think it would be a great way to teach undergrads. If you need a nice popular book for an intro course or stratification, this is a good one.

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

Written by fabiorojas

August 3, 2017 at 4:39 am

granovetter book forum – part 2: what economic sociology is all about

We’ve been discussion Mark Granovetter’s new Society and Economy: Framework and Practices. It’s a book that a lot of us in economic sociology/organization theory have been looking forward to – a synthetic treatment of the scholarly field hashed out by Granovetter and his followers. In this post, I’ll focus on what I liked the most. The next post, I’ll lay out some critiques.

First, this will clearly become the “go-to” book in economic sociology. If you trained in this area, or a related area (like organizational behavior), you know that we sorely need a book like this. Sure, there are a fair number of anthologies of economic sociology, but not a single book that lays it out.

I don’t think there is anyone more suited to writing such as book than Mark Granovetter. He’s probably the most highly regarded economic sociologist and his work is wide reaching. Most importantly, he operates in the mainstream of American sociology. He’s not a fancy model builder, nor an importer of obscure European social theory. He asks fairly intuitive questions about how economic processes depend on rules and norms.

He’s also the person to write this book because his main theoretical article, 1985’s “Economic Action and Social Structure,” is the best explanation of how sociologists ought to approach economic behavior. He rejects the “over-socialized” view of (some) sociologists, who think that choice is meaningless. He also rejects the “under-socialized” view of (many) economists, who think that morals and values are not important. The 1985 article succinctly (if densely) argues that economic action is “inside” social relations, in the sense that larger structures provide opportunities and create incentives.

This leads me to my next point – the big strength of Society and Economy is in Chapters 1 and 2. In very direct language, Granovetter argues against the view that social relations are an thing that is incidental in economic action. Rather, social relations shape and enable action. The “economic” and the “social” are always happening together and they affect other. Then, in chapter 2, Granovetter offers a more general presentation of economic sociology as a field – it is how “mental constructs” (power, authority) are present in the economy and are affected by the economy. Perhaps these two chapters can be read as an argument against the view found among many economists that the “social” is essentially an error term in economic analysis.

Another chapter that I enjoyed reading is chapter 5, on the economy and social institutions. In modern sociology, we often use the framework created by Stinchcombe, DiMaggio and Powell, Scott, and Meyer and Rowan to articulate what we mean by institutions. Granovetter approaches it in a sort of different way. Rather making the focus of analysis the axis of organization and environment, Granovetter adopts the “institution” as durable ways of doing things at the national level. This is a bit closer to how many economists would see it, such as Douglas North or, today, Daron  Acemoglu. Then,  Granovetter delves a bit into institutional logics when he needs to get more detail oriented in the text. Not the way one would do it if trained in the canon of neo-institutionalism, but certainly a valuable way to think about institutions, as manifestations of national cultures.

Later this week, some critiques and more about the future of economic sociology.

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  

Written by fabiorojas

May 30, 2017 at 12:16 am

granovetter book forum, part 1: review

Gran book

There are three books that economic sociologists have been expecting for decades and all three of them are finally here. First, Padgett and Powell published The Emergence of Organizations and Markets in 2012. This book brought Padgett’s network perspective on the creation of roles and positions in markets to the broader sociological audience. Second, at about the same time, Fligstein and McAdam published a Theory of Fields, which was their attempt to synthesize scholarly writing on conflict in organizations and states. Finally, we have the third book, the long awaited Society and Economy, by Mark Granovetter. This book summarizes Granovetter’s celebrated career and introduces the reader to the field of economic sociology.

What is this book about? I want to be clear up front about what you’ll read. This is not an academic monograph that reports on some research project. Nor does it present new arguments. Rather, it is a collection and synthesis of Granovetters major works and the most noted work in economic sociology written by others. It is the book I wish I had in 1997 when I started graduate school and I wanted to understand the difference between economics and economic sociology. It collects in one handy text the various theoretical strands of main stream economic sociology, such as institutionalism and network theory.

The book itself is directly written and confidently goes through various topics in a point by point fashion. It starts with a discussion of what economic sociology is all about and how its all about the impact of mental or cognitive processes on economic decisions. Thus, in Granovetter’s telling, economic sociology is about how social processes processes seep into economic behavior and how economic processes feedback into society.

In the next two installments of the book forum, I will discuss the book’s strengths and weaknesses. But here, I want to answer the question – “who is this book for?” If you are a practicing economic sociologist or organizational scholar, it probably has limited mileage. That is because you’ve probably read most of Granovetter’s major articles and you already know most of the material. That’s what I felt when I read it. Not a bad feeling, but as I said earlier, this is a much better book for people who are new to the area.

Instead, I think the ideal audience for this book is the first year graduate student in sociology, management, and economics. I also think that a lot of post-PhD economists might enjoy reading this book to see how “economic sociology” matches, or does not match, up with their attempts to account for social processes, like behavioral economics or game theory.

Finally, let me end with some good news for Granovetter’s fans. Near the end of the book, he mentions a sequel multiple times. He suggests that it will be about the empirical applications of the book to topics such as corruption and job search. So let’s hope that Society and Economy Part II comes out soon.

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 

Written by fabiorojas

May 23, 2017 at 12:08 am

want to know how academic books are published? listen to eric

Eric Schwartz, of the Columbia University Press, gives a nice summary of how academic publishing works. From the Emory University Center for Faculty Development and Excellence.

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  

Written by fabiorojas

April 25, 2017 at 12:22 am

top secret: get 30% off new theory book

Written by fabiorojas

April 24, 2017 at 12:42 am