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the sociologist in despair: a guest post by john c. holley

John C. Holley is an associate professor of sociology at Suffolk University. This guest post is a reflection on overlooked theories in sociology.

At university as an undergraduate, I thought that since the founding fathers Marx, Durkheim and Weber said nothing about sociologically important topics like marriage (the family), society being sociological (as distinct from just political-economic), and because it didn’t yet exist, the popular-culture-using generation … because of these absences, I entered this profession believing that it was my job to provide sociological bases for all these things.

I set to work. I studied the economic and social history that created modern society. I theorized and conceptualized, fitting pieces to together and throwing out ideas that didn’t fit. And finally, I had what I considered a worthwhile contribution to the sociology of society – I wanted to talk about all the stuff that was previously missing from our explanations.

But when I lifted my head up from my work and looked around I found that none of my topics appeared in sociology at all. The American Sociological Association* has no sections on society or on generations. Introductory textbooks have nothing constructive to say about wedding and marriage, generations as popular culture are absent, and nothing can be found suggesting that society as a whole is sociologically constructed.

From the absence of these topics in the profession, am I right to conclude that sociologists really aren’t interested in these questions? Do academics not want to listen to something new or to consider what has been left out of the profession? If so, it rather looks as though I have wasted my time. Today, the profession sends the message that my work is irrelevant and useless. Intellectually speaking, this means logically that my work deserves to go unpublished and unnoticed and I should despair. The current anti-Trump and anti-Brexit concerns do not explain sociology’s professional avoidance of love, generations and big sociology. These weren’t discussed under previous presidents or in earlier decades either.

It seems one must despair of sociology. I should add that my personal life and career are going fine; I’m a grandfather and employed at a university. My despair is logical and confined to intellectual endeavors to change social science. Apparently, I was wrong to think that sociology knew it needed improvement. On the contrary, the profession evidently doesn’t want to discuss its own deficits; it certainly presents no forums for doing so.

I’d like to be proven wrong. I hope we soon see throngs discussing new areas of sociological understanding. But at this moment the evidence of our profession makes for despair and, if enthusiasm for new learning ever arises, this seems a long time off in the future.

*The British Sociological Association has no streams on these topics either

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Written by fabiorojas

February 2, 2018 at 5:37 am

so long, sweet money: guest post by nina bandelj, fred wherry and viviana zelizer

Final (I promise!) installment of money month, hosted by Nina Bandelj, Fred Wherry, and Viviana Zelizer. Read the whole series here!

Thank you very much for the opportunity to discuss money in May for Org Theory. We hope our posts have enticed you to check out Money Talks: Explaining How Money Really Works.

We also want to let you know that Princeton University Press published a new edition of The Social Meaning of Money, with a preface by Nigel Dodd and afterword by Viviana Zelizer.  Plus, this summer Columbia University Press is publishing a new edition of Zelizer’s Morals and Markets: The Development of Life Insurance in the United States, with a preface by Kieran Healy.

A fun fact: Viviana was the ASA Economic Sociology Section‘s first chair, Nina was chair in 2013-14 and Fred is incoming section chair. If you are not a member, now is a time to join.

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

June 5, 2017 at 2:28 am

money month wrap up

We had a lot of interesting stuff on the blog this month. First, the sociology of money posts by Nina Bandelj, Viviana Zelilzer and Fred Wherry:

  1. We are not behavioral economists.
  2. Hackers want bitcoin.
  3. A giving mood.
  4. Policy monies.
  5. Money takes the stage.

Also, we discussed Mark Granovetter’s new book summarizing his approach to economic sociology:

  1. Summary statement
  2. What I like
  3. What I didn’t like

Check it out!

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

June 2, 2017 at 12:09 am

policy monies: a guest post by nina bandelj, fred wherry, and viviana zelizer

Money Month guest blogging continues with UC Irvine’s Nina Bandelj, Yale’s Fred Wherry and Princeton’s Viviana Zelizer

In The Social Meaning of Money we see how welfare monies have been argued over and policed. While a more efficient solution would be to provide simple cash transfers rather than attaching strings that cost money to monitor, most service delivery programs have paid more attention than seems prudent to how the poor and the otherwise disadvantaged use and understand their funds. In Money Talks, we extend this conversation to address this proliferation of policy monies.

Our introduction draws on work by Jennifer Sykes, Katrin Kriz, Kathryn Edin, and Sarah Halpern-Meekin on Earned Income Tax Credit, which is one kind of policy money. It is not welfare. This is a crucial distinction that explains why EITC as a policy program has gained greater legitimacy among policy makers than welfare cash transfers. And this is not because EITC is a less expensive policy than welfare cash transfers. It is the way the money is given and what it means. Welfare has such poor connotations among Americans. It goes so counter to American values of work ethic and pulling yourself up by the bootstraps. The Earned Income Tax Credit, which was developed by the Clinton administration, with bipartisan support, was intended for low income working families, in a form of a small tax credit, and administered by the IRS.  As such, because of its form and for what is intended, it was more acceptable than a cash welfare program. Not only for policy makers but by low income recipients themselves, who perceive it as a more dignified transfer. Kathryn Edin, H. Luke Shaefer and Laura Tach, reported on how those claiming the credit at tax time, expressed feeling “like a real American,” like they are part of society, rather than discarded from it. They also noted how they wanted their children to have experiences like those of other children. Having the right kind of money made a big difference.

Parents used their EITC money to pay bills or to pay down debts, to increase their savings, to offer their children special treats, and to subsidize a family trip to see relatives.  The purposes to which recipients put the money and its intended beneficiaries (family members) meant that these lump sum payments would be disaggregated and some of its parts deemed nearly non-fungible. This was not simply the outcome of a cognitive process of classification as the mental accounting perspective would suggest. Rather, monetary differentiation was wrapped in relationships and moral concerns, as people managed their EITC monies to work on their relationships.

While Kathy Edin, Luke Shaefer, and others examine the dignity-enhancing ways of framing and delivering social service assistance, Fred Wherry, Kristin Seefeldt and Anthony Alvarez have begun to ask these questions of credit, credit scoring, and programs at the Mission Asset Fund intended to improve the credit histories and financial lives of its participants. (This work is ongoing.) Is there a way that the “lending circle” monies are used that differ from other monies? How is credit talked about, understood, and relationally marked by its users? What lessons might there be for other alternative financial services as well as those services delivered by credit unions and mainstream banks?

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 31, 2017 at 8:45 am

money takes the stage: a guest post by nina bandelj, fred wherry, and viviana zelizer

Money Month guest blogging continues with UC Irvine’s Nina Bandelj, Yale’s Fred Wherry and Princeton’s Viviana Zelizer

Stephen Dubner’s Tell Me Something I Don’t Know invited Fred Wherry (from minute 13:34 to 18:50) and Lisa Servon (from 31:55 to 37:30) to the stage to talk about money. From a playful take on dirty money to the hidden monetary practices uniting seemingly unconnected people, their discussions remind us just how social money is. Dubner’s panel of judges had Brian Koppelman (creator of Billions on Showtime), Cheryl Dorsey (president of Echoing Green), and Hari Kondabolu (comedian and co-host of Politically Re-Active) with A.J. Jacobs (host of Twice Removed) as the fact-checker.

Dubner: Ok, tell me something I don’t know.

Wherry: On average, how long does a dollar stay in circulation? And how does that compare to a $100 bill?

Dubner: I don’t know…

Wherry: Let’s take the New York region as an example. About 5 million bank notes per business day go into an incinerator at the New York Fed’s special facility just outside the city in East Rutherford, New Jersey. They have to get rid of so many bills because they’re too dirty or too torn to keep in circulation.

There are lots of other reasons for burning money. Some dirty banknotes have antibiotic resistant bacteria on them. An estimated 3,000 different types of bacteria are living on our paper money, according to a group of researchers at NYU. And the flu virus lives for up to 17 days on our money. That’s why I try to use electronic payments as much as I can in the flu season.

Funny enough, dirty money also compels us to spend it faster. We want it out of our pockets, according to researchers in Canada. But when money is morally dirty (as opposed to physically dirty), we don’t want to use it much at all.

After a discussion of how more money can mean less money, it was time for Lisa Servon to take the stage. She’d just published Unbanking America.

Servon: What do an Ethiopian-American cab driver, a tamale vendor in the South Bronx, and an administrator at a community college have in common?

Check the answer to this question — and more on money — at the Money, Money, Money show!

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 26, 2017 at 12:12 am

a giving mood, a meaningful relationship: a guest post by nina bandelj, fred wherry, and viviana zelizer

Money Month guest blogging continues with UC Irvine’s Nina Bandelj, Yale’s Fred Wherry and Princeton’s Viviana Zelizer

Although it will come as no surprise that women are more generous than men when asked if they would like to donate to charity, what may be surprising, however, is that men can be as charitable as women when the cause reminds them of their close social ties. In Money Talks, the second chapter (authored by Nina Bandelj and colleagues) presents the results of an experiment that brings insights from behavioral economics and relational sociology (or Zelizerian relational work) together. The researchers gave students 100 tokens worth $3 and asked them how much they would donate to one of four charities, while they could also decide to keep (some of) the money for themselves. Their options were Amnesty International, the United Nations Children’s Fund, Doctors Without Borders, and the American Cancer Society, which are the top most recognized charities among the college population.

Not surprisingly, and as much existing research shows, the women were more generous than the men overall, donating more of their dollars, and most female students who donated picked the United Nations Children’s Fund. However, this generosity evened out for the American Cancer Society.

Why? Researchers actually asked students to write in the reasons for their charity decisions. Those responses revealed that having close relatives or dear friends who have been affected by cancer motivated students’ choices. And both men and women have such experiences. When relationships were considered, empathy crossed gender boundaries. In other words, while it is easy to use gender (or race, or class, for that matter) as a predictor for who is more likely to give to charity, it is important to attend to the social relationships that inform the giving mood.

Relational work goes beyond emphasis on categorical differences because of gender, race or class. Rather, how are these social positions implicated in the kinds of interpersonal relationships that people form and negotiate? How do these dynamics inform charitable giving or other economic decisions to save, to invest, to spend, or to borrow? And how can different theoretical perspectives be brought into the arena of empirical investigations so that more robust explanations can be generated?

These are the money talks we hope to inspire.

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 24, 2017 at 12:05 am

rhacel parrenas discusses global labor

Former guest and all around cool person Rhacel Parrenas gave a lecture summarizes her extensive work on global flows of migrant domestic labor. Self recommending!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($5 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

March 29, 2017 at 12:09 am