Archive for the ‘culture’ Category
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!!!!
As some of our dear orgtheory readers know, I am always on the look-out for interesting articles about how organizations use collectivist or participatory-democratic practices. One recent publication I would like to highlight involves a collectivist group fueled by a common love of cola, coffee, and beer.
Fans of a caffeinated soft drink, frustrated by Afri-Cola new owner’s refusal to change the recipe back to the original*, became the new owners and producers of the drink. Not only did they band together to revive the original product using what they considered to be more ethical market standards, they organized using the practice of decision-making by consensus.**
Participatory-democracy invariably elicits conflicts that might be avoided or suppressed under more hierarchical organizations. Members have to learn how to manage contention if they wish to stay cohesive. Premium Cola‘s members had to learn how to do this via a discussion email list.
Husemann, Ladstaetter, and Luedicke’s (2015) “Conflict Culture and Conflict Management in Consumption Communities” examines the types of conflicts and actions taken to address these conflicts within Premium Cola. The authors note the generative qualities of routinized conflict, including the reaffirmation of commitment to a collective mission:
When analyzing the Premium community’s conflicts, we found that the community’s conflict culture involved a limited set of routinized and recurring conflict behaviors. Members use behaviors such as inviting conflict, showing respect for otherness, or releasing aggressions to argue different topics, but use them in similar ways. Many of these behaviors are known from normative conflict sociology as conflict cultivation practices, i.e. routinized behaviors that conflict parties use to perform conflicts in civilized and productive, rather than destructive, ways. Through inventing, selecting, abandoning, enacting, or improving such routinized conflict behaviors, Premium community members are able to produce value rather than destroy value through uncontrolled or abusive conduct.
In contrast, transgressive conflict, in which participants break multiple norms, can lead to abusive interactions. These lead to more active interventions, including the eventual expulsion of a member over his repeated sexist comments about the hiring of a female intern and insults of other members. While the exchanges threatened corrosion, the subsequent actions taken reaffirm Premium Cola’s identity and commitment to community.
* The original recipe had less sugar and more caffeine than the newer recipe.
**More about the fascinating history and ethos of Premium Cola is available here, where the Ladstaetter and Luedicke describe Premium Cola as follows:
…the Premium Cola community can be seen as a group of “productive activists,” e.g.,
prodactivists, that combines the roles of producers, consumers, and social activists to promote change in the capitalist market system by demonstrating how market exchange can be both successful and ethical.
When I was finishing grad school, I thought we were done with institutionalism. At that time, folks were publishing study after study of diffusion within organizational communities. Didn’t seem like there was much more to say. Then, there was an explosion of interest in contentious politics and organizational fields. Brayden is part of that cohort, as was Huggie Rao, Lis Clemens, Marc Schneiberg, Sarah Soule, Michael Lounsboury, and myself. Later, people like Tom Lawrence and Roy Suddaby articulated the idea that effort needed to be expended to create or attack institutions, which is now the foundation of the “institutional work” branch of institutional theory. The idea was simple. Institutions not only regulate behavior, but they can become the target of politics.
Then, again, I thought we were done with institutionalism. What else could be said? Well, I realize that I was very, very wrong. The next stage of the theory is linking the main ideas of institutionalism to other more established areas of sociology. For example, I was reading Melissa Wooten’s book, In the Face of Inequality, which looks at race and institutions through the example of HBCs. My suspicion is that institutionalism 3.0 (or 4.0 if you consider the Selznick/Merton/Parsons generation) will be about theoretical and empirical integration with core sociology like stratification, small group processes, and a re-engagement with the “Measuring Culture” generation of scholars. Overall, this makes me happy. Early on, I thought that institutional theory was too inward looking and only cited external authors in a ritualistic fashion. With this new effort, I hope that institutionalism will be more strongly enmeshed in wider sociological discussions.
While at a conference in California during grad school, a fellow attendee had to run back to her hotel room at mid-day. To me, she explained that she had to pump breastmilk for her baby, who was back at home in the Midwest with the other parent. This was one of my first encounters with breastfeeding workers, one that “normalized” the amalgamation of parental and work responsibilities. Given pediatricians’ recommendations of breastfeeding until babies reach at least 6 months or preferably 1 year old, if possible, and parents’ return to work after a 3-month-long leave (or earlier), employers and employees are likely to confront the practicalities of pumping – how to pump, when to pump, where to pump, and how to store the milk.
Despite changes to legislation and workplace policies, some workers still face daily challenges when pumping. As recounted in a freshly minted Culture and Organization publication by Prof. Noortje van Amsterdam at Utrecht School of Governance, the Netherlands, finding a place to pump and storing the milk was fraught with anxieties (i.e., “have I produced enough?”, “will the students notice if I have changed my shirt?”) and shame, as well as awkward exchanges with gatekeepers to offices and the canteen fridge.
After hitting the 6 month milestone, van Amsterdam ended pumping. To her surprise, one of the building workers, in charge of the canteen fridge, tells her that he misses their previous interactions over the milk storage. Such an exchange evidences how what might feel difficult or awkward to one party becomes part of a welcomed routine for another party.
One morning, I run into Ben in the hallway. “You’ve stopped expressing, haven’t
you?” he asks.
“Yes. I’m all done,” I reply.
“I do miss you, you know”
And in spite of everything that happened, this makes me feel a little better.
When American Sniper was released, there was a lot of debate about the message of the film. Here is my view. American Sniper is definitely a conservative film, but it is a conservative film that situates itself in a larger conversation.
So what counts as a “conservative film?” There are lots of ways you could approach this, but here is one way. A film is conservative if the plot and treatment of subject matter reflects an important strain of conservative social thought and sentiment. For American Sniper, it is very obvious. The entire film is about a solider who is dedicated to the concept of service. At times, it means serving his country. At other times, it means serving his fellow soldiers. Even after he returns from Iraq, he spends his time with veterans who has disabilities and injuries. Another theme, more subtly stated, is that the service is done with integrity and honor. At no point in the film, is there any sense of exploitation or critique of military service.
For a lot of people, that is enough, but there is more to the film that qualifies the major point. For example, at least two scenes have fellow soldiers openly critique the Iraq mission. One is more direct and simply asks if it is worth it. A second scene has Chris Kyle reunite with a friend who is simply tired of it all: “Fuck Iraq.” An even more profound critique comes from the portrayal of the spouse who must raise their children by herself as he goes through four (!) tours of duty. In the middle of the film, she challenges him about his absence. In the final stages of the film, he shows symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome. In the end, he is murdered by another veteran.
American Sniper is by no means an antiwar film. But it is a smart film that, however briefly, acknowledges that war is hell and its cost is high. It is also a film that hints at the savagery of it all, as it shows children being maimed. Even Kyle’s arch-enemy in battle is shown to have a family that deserves our sympathy. In the future, I hope that more films will probe the Iraq War in new and interesting ways.
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.