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performativity in engineering: the case of moore’s law

Econtalk recently interviewed Richard Jones, a physicist who is a critic of transhumanism. In this interesting discussion, he makes the argument that Moore’s law was an example of performativity.

He uses the terminology of the self-fulfilling prophecy but his discussion is much closer to performativity. Basically, he, correctly, notes that Moore’s law is not a physical law. Microchips will not become faster by themselves. They only become faster because of the time and effort invested in them.

And why does this happen? The public discussion of Moore’s law, according to Jones. I am not knowledgeable in engineering to know if public discussion of Moore’s law did in fact drive chip development, but the point is well taken. At the very least, a belief in consistent improvement actually led to a real improvement by providing incentives.

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

Written by fabiorojas

April 8, 2016 at 12:01 am

book spotlight: inside graduate admissions by julie posselt

posselt

Inside Graduate Admissions: Merit, Diversity and Gatekeeping by Julie Posselt is an exploration of how faculty in leading doctoral programs choose graduate students. The book is fitting successor to Michele Lamont’s How Professors Think, which was a book about how professors select elite fellowship recipients (see the orgtheory discussion here). The method is the same in each book – observe and interview academics as they deliberate and meet in committees.

Posselt provides a nice overview of how admissions committees operate. The take home points are intuitive and they should resonate with any faculty member who has served on such a committee: there are disciplinary standards; people choose others like themselves; there are internal politics and department level fit issues; people search for a hard to defined “talent” and diversity is paid lip service but doesn’t have much of an impact. There are also nice discussions of international students, conservatives, and students from low status schools.

Overall, a really solid contribution to the ethnographic study of group deliberation and a required reading for students of higher education and the disciplines. My one criticism is that Posselt gets the role of GRE’s wrong and comes to a conclusion that I would not have. She correctly notes that GRE are imperfect but in some sections of the book espouses the view that GRE’s are terribly flawed. Yet, in the conclusion, Posselt comes back to the view that GRE’s have only been “misused.”

As I’ve noted on this blog often, GRE’s are actually quite useful and that is backed up by enormous research. It saddens me to see that Posselt is not familiar with this literature. But there’s a deeper issue. Posselt’s ethnography reveals the importance of GRE scores. If it weren’t for GRE scores, graduate admissions committees would simply replicate themselves by choosing white, male Apple computer fanatics. You think I jest, but Posselt actually has an entire section about how professors like choosing students who mimic their personal style (she calls it “cool” homophily), which includes using a lot of Apple products. So I say this – the GRE’s may be flawed, but a world without them would probably be much worse.

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

Written by fabiorojas

April 7, 2016 at 12:01 am

why i don’t teach polanyi

Marko Grdesic wrote an interesting post on why modern economists don’t read Polanyi. He surveyed economists at top programs and discovered that only 3% had read Polanyi. I am not shocked. This post explains why.

For a while, I taught an undergrad survey course in sociology with an economic sociology focus. The goal is to teach sociology in a way interesting to undergraduate business and policy students. I often teach a module that might be called “capitalism’s defenders and critics.” On defense, we had Smith and Hayek. On offense, we had Marx and Polanyi.

And, my gawd, it was painful. Polanyi is a poor writer, even compared to windbags like Hayek and Marx. The basic point of the whole text is hard to discern other than, maybe, “capitalism didn’t develop the way you think” or “people change.” It was easily the text that people understood the least and none of the students got the point. Nick Rowe wrote the following comment:

35 years ago (while an economics PhD student) I tried to read Great Transformation. I’m pretty sure I didn’t finish it. I remember it being long and waffly and unclear. If you asked me what I was about, I would say: “In the olden days, people did things for traditional reasons (whatever that means). Then capitalism and markets came along, and people changed to become rational utility maximisers. Something like that.”

Yup. Something like that. Later, I decided that the Great Transformation is a classic case of “the wiki is better than the book.” We should not expect readers to genuflect in front if fat, baggy books. We are no longer in the world of the 19th century master scholars. If you can’t get your point across, then we can move on.

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

Written by fabiorojas

April 6, 2016 at 12:05 am

aldon morris book forum #1: pulling dubois from the margins

dubois

April is the sociology of race month at this blog. We will start with a book forum dedicated to Aldon Morris’ The Scholar Denied. This book is bound to be a seminal contribution to the history of social thought and it speaks to how sociologists view race as a central topic in their field. In this first installment, I will discuss what this book is about and how it fits into broader arguments about American intellectual history. Later, I will discuss strong and weak points of the book.

In a nutshell, this is a book about the career and scholarly trajectory of W.E.B. DuBois. This is not a biography. As Morris reminds us, we already have multiple biographies of Dubois. This is not a survey of DuBois’ ideas either. Instead, this book is an investigation into why DuBois got marginalized in the history of sociology.

The basic issue for Morris is that DuBois has been relegated to secondary status in sociology as an interesting sociologist of race. Morris wants to correct this view and argue that DuBois deserves to be remembered as an originator and founder of American sociology, not a footnote. As I’ve written about before, this is puzzling to me since DuBois is considered by most historians to be an extremely important intellectual and activist.

The book is not a biography, but a series of shorter arguments about why DuBois should be at the center of sociology and not at the margins:

  • Precedence: Morris argues that DuBois’ innovated many key ideas and introduced methods before others who normally get credit.
  • Institutional development: DuBois’ created a network of scholars who should rightfully be viewed as the true first school of American sociology.
  • The Weber-DuBois connection: Weber and Dubois were colleagues and friends. Weber was not his mentor or teacher, except that Weber was a TA for a course that DuBois attended and Weber took over the class when the instructor got sick.
  • The Park-Washington conflict: One reason that DuBois was marginalized was theat Robert Park at Chicago was Booker Washington’s former employee and ally and he got a lot of credit for the sociology of race instead of DuBois.

As you can see, this is not biography but rather a historical analysis that undermines the view that DuBois was a secondary figure in early American sociology. If Morris is correct, history of social thought courses should incorporate DuBois just as they do Weber, Durkheim, and Parsons. Next week: More critical discussion of the book. Use the comments for your own thoughts.

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

Written by fabiorojas

April 5, 2016 at 12:01 am

of course, shirley scott

“Don’t Look Back,” composed by Harold Vic.

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

Written by fabiorojas

April 2, 2016 at 12:01 am

commentary on a talk by john cage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Written by fabiorojas

April 1, 2016 at 12:07 am

upcoming book discussions

April is sociology of race month, so I plan to cover The Scholar Denied by Aldon Morris and then The Racial Order by Emirbayer and Desmond. Also, I will discuss Julie Posselt’s new book on graduate admissions and Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s new edition of The Second Machine Age.

If you want another book discussed, put it in the comments or email me. Or if you wrote a book and want to promote it, write a guest post.

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

Written by fabiorojas

March 31, 2016 at 12:13 am

Posted in books, fabio, uncategorized

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