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internet shaming and african american studies

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This post is a commentary on the controversy around Saida Grundy’s tweets. Recently, Grundy, posted tweets about the legacy of racism. The gist of Grundy’s tweets was that there is a legacy of racism and privilege that is not addressed in American society. At the AAUP blog, Arianne Shavisi summarizes the tweets well: “Grundy … an incoming sociology faculty member at Boston University, tweeted a set of remarks and rhetorical questions regarding white supremacy, slavery, and misogyny in the US.” The tweets generated controversy because they were written in an informal fashion and were interpreted by some as racist.

I want to focus on a few issues that have so far have not received much attention. Before I do, I want to be explicit about my own views. There is nothing wrong in asking if the majority in this country have enjoyed privilege or if people have truly acknowledged the history of racism in America. It is also not controversial to note that some ethnic groups, such as Whites, may be over represented on some issues. In terms of style, I would have been more careful. Twitter is the type of media where things can easily be taken out of context. What is funny, or witty, in person can go bad online. There is also a bit dispute over the administration’s response. My view is that university administrators should support an environment of academic free speech, but remain agnostic on particular faculty members.

There are two issues that I’d like to address: the history of controversy in African-American Studies and internet shaming. I’ve written previously in the Teachers College Record, and a little in my book, about the pattern of controversy around African-American Studies. This is relevant since Grundy is jointly appointed in African-American Studies and sociology. Since the beginning, the field has been the target of conservative critics who periodically use African-American Studies as an example of all that is wrong on higher education. During the 2012 Naomi Schaefer Riley incident, a journalist plucked titles of incomplete dissertations and made fun of them. One can go through the pages of conservative opinion journals and books to see periodic critiques of African-American Studies from the likes of John Derbyshire and Dinesh D’Souza (see page 238p, note 5 of the book). In an earlier era, scholars like Martin Kilson would go to the mainstream press to air complaints.

What is new is that these critics now have access to the social media output of African-American Studies scholars. An enterprising critic could comb Facebook, Twitter, and blogs to find the most outrageous things. They can quickly go viral and trigger a wave of outrage overnight. Still, one should keep in mind that it still fits an overall pattern of external critics obsessing over African American Studies as a symbol of the liberal rot of academia. The only difference is the speed at which this can happen. Thus, as I noted above, it is wise to exercise prudence in such a hostile environment.

Second, there is an element of Internet shaming happening here. The journalist Ron Jonson has a new book called “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” that describes how in the modern age people can use comments and social media to instantaneously tarnish a person’s reputation. The normal punishment for an off-color joke or poorly worded remark is a mild reprimand. Now, the very same minor offense can lead to losing one’s job and a potentially irreparable mark on one’s reputation. Jonson also notes that Internet shaming often is highly unequal in that Internet rage is often directed at women. Here, the insult is compounded. Grundy is an early career scholar and this incident has already been a serious burden.

This incident reflects a number of factors coming together. Twitter can translate wit into rancor; social media magnifies mistakes; and there is a ready to go outrage machine just waiting for the jarring statement from an ethnic studies professor. I hope in the future that we can better deal with this phenomena and that this scholar can start a fruitful research career.

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

Written by fabiorojas

May 22, 2015 at 12:01 am

open borders: it might be your issue

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In this post, I’d like to explain why you might want to adopt open borders as one of your issues. First, open borders is an issue that affects all people. Any one of us might want to travel to another country for work or enjoyment. For millions of people, migration represents the only plausible avenue out of poverty.

Second, open borders is a “common grounds” issue. It is a policy position that is consistent with most political ideologies. Liberals should favor free migration because it is the easiest way to address poverty and global inequality. Conservatives should support it on the grounds that moving to find work is an example of self-reliance. Conservatives should also support any policy that allows families to be reunited. Libertarians should support free migration because they favor open labor markets. Marxists should support any policy that allows poor workers to travel freely to be in places with the strongest labor practices.

Third, open borders is cheap. No need to build schools, roads, tanks, or anything. All you need to do is tell the border guards to take the day off and go protect things that need protecting.

Fourth, open borders is easy to understand compared to most policy topics. Honestly, most people don’t understand climate science or Keynesian macro-economics. In contrast, most arguments about the pros and cons of migration can be understood by nearly any educated person. The empirical evidence is also relatively straightforward.

If you have ever wondered how you can change the world, adopt open borders as one of your political issues and tell other people.

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

Written by fabiorojas

May 21, 2015 at 12:01 am

junior theorists symposium 2015

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As usual, the Junior Theorists Symposium has an amazing line up. Day before the ASA. Check it out!

Junior Theorists Symposium
University of Chicago
Social Sciences Room 122

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Written by fabiorojas

May 20, 2015 at 12:01 am

commentary on social problems (the journal)

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I recently reviewed a paper for Social Problems. The decision letter noted that they accept 8% of papers. That is roughly in the ball park of ASR, AJS and other journals. On the Facebook page, I asked if Social Problems is so competitive, then why doesn’t it get the same profile or respect as ASR/AJS in the sociology job market/promotion system? Some answers make sense. For example, there could be self-selection and people send stronger papers to the association’s journals. Another issue is that Social Problems simply accepts different types of papers. For example, Social Problems does not publish “pure theory” as would be found in AJS or Sociological Theory and it rarely publishes methods papers, which can be big citation generators.

Still, it seems like there is quite a bit of overlap between Social Problems and AJS/ASR/SF. See for your self. Can you identify which papers are Social Problems from the following list?*

  • Race, Space, and Cumulative Disadvantage: A Case Study of the Subprime Lending Collapse
  • Is Love (Color) Blind? The Economy of Race among Gay and Straight Daters
  • The Best Laid Plans: Social Capital in the Development of Girls’ Educational and Occupational Plans
  • Work-Family Context and the Longevity Disadvantage of US Women
  • Executive Compensation, Fat Cats, and Best Athletes
  • The Dynamics of Opportunity and Insurgent Practice: How Black Anti-colonialists Compelled Truman to Advocate Civil Rights
  • Emergent Ghettos: Black Neighborhoods in New York and Chicago, 1880–1940
  • The Paradox of Legitimacy: Resilience, Successes, and the Multiple Identities of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Turkey

My point isn’t to say that all journals are publishing the same stuff, but even a casual perusal of the journals suggests a lot of overlap. I think self-selection and the prestige orders creates different pools that lead to actual differences in quality. My point is more modest: the difference between AJS/ASR and other journals is probably exaggerated. I’d like to see sociology move to a system of top 4 journals (or more), like most other disciplines.

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

* Answers: SP, SF, SP, SF, ASR, ASR, AJS, SP.

Written by fabiorojas

May 19, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in academia, fabio, sociology

gettin’ my alt.folk on

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

Written by fabiorojas

May 17, 2015 at 12:01 am

book spotlight: in defense of disciplines by jerry jacobs

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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.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 15, 2015 at 12:01 am

how to fight from a minority position in academia

Over the years, I have been asked by people if academia is hospitable toward minorities. Sometimes, they mean racial minorities or sexual minorities. Other times, they mean ideological minorities in the academy. Once, a student confessed to me that she believed she would be excluded due to her religion (Latter-day Saints, in that case). What all these people have correctly observed is that academia can be an unforgiving place. It’s a place where only half of doctoral students ever finish and only half of those make it into the tenure track. Many spend years working as adjuncts and never get a stable position. The basic truth of academia is that supply outstrips demand, so buyers have leeway to discriminate.

Still, unpopular opinions and people are not always doomed. Rather, it means that you can’t take things for granted. You have to be very careful about how you do things. In fact, it is not terribly hard to find cases where minority people and opinions do well. We can look at those cases and learn. In this post, I want to offer some advice for people in the unpopular position.

  • First, be at peace with the fact that there will be a double standards. While complaint may sooth our feelings, bemoaning double standards is not a productive strategy.
  • Second, fight from a position of strength. Example: James Coleman’s famous report went against the grain in sociology and he was hounded for years. However, he won out because he used the best possible data. In fact, that 1966 data is probably a stronger data set for studying school effects than what many use today.
  • Third, do not fight from a position of weakness. Example: The Gentleman from Texas* decided to fight a contentious battle using very weak data. Result? Two sociologists (IU chair Brian Powell and alum Simon Cheng) found that the data contained serious errors. When the analysis is conducted without data errors, the original conclusions do not follow. Even if Powell and Cheng had not found rather obvious errors, The Gentleman from Texas still had to stretch the data to reach his result. I would not stake my personal reputation on such data.
  • Fourth, cultivate a reputation for mainstream excellence. I have often noticed that people who succeed from unpopular positions are also known as people who have really mastered the mainstream of their discipline. Example: Gary Becker. The original econo-troll said more than enough to ruffle feathers, but no one could question his mastery of traditional economics. You need “street cred.”
  • Fifth, be nice. You will need lots of help to succeed. If you are in an unpopular position, you will need even more than the average. Don’t alienate people with rude behavior. These people will help you later in life. A related point – be useful. If you volunteer in the lab, on the journal board, or in other ways, people will like you and help you back.
  • Sixth, don’t hide, but don’t be a flagpole for the freak show. This is a subtle point. Often, people think there is a dichotomy between the “closet” and “flaming.” That is false. There is lots of space in between. You will be surprised. “Fly causal” and they may lower the shield.

Bottom line: Academia is tough on unpopular people. Be smart, be nice, and you may live to tell the tale.

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

* Sorry, I can’t write his name because it automatically attracts this insane commenter who once emailed me to tell me that I was responsible for the murder of LBGT people in the Ukraine.

Written by fabiorojas

May 14, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in academia, fabio

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