Archive for the ‘guest bloggers’ Category
This guest post is by Mikalia Lemonik Arthur, associate professor and chair of sociology at Rhode Island College and a long time friend of the blog. She is an expert in higher education and is the author of Student Activism and Curricular Change in Higher Education.
My colleague Fran Leazes and I recently released a report “How Higher Education Shapes The Workforce: A Study of Rhode Island College Graduates,” funded by TheCollaborative. Our college—Rhode Island College—is a public comprehensive college at which 85% of students come from within the state, a figure no other college in our state can come close to matching. Our project was spurred by an interest at the state policy level in why graduates of colleges in our state leave Rhode Island. But, we argue, students who were not Rhode Island residents when they began college may not be best understood as “leaving Rhode Island” when they are often really going home. Thus, tracking our alumni—who really are from Rhode Island—provides a useful window onto both higher education outcomes and workforce development in Rhode Island.
Our project combines data from a number of sources to come to several conclusions about our alumni, including that we actually retain most of them in state. Those who leave often leave in pursuit of graduate degrees. And the majority of our graduates find employment in fields related to their undergraduate major. While the report makes several state-level policy suggestions (invest in public higher education, including expanded graduate degree offerings; better promote the excellent alumni workforce we have available in the state), our research process and findings also highlight the need for comprehensive colleges like ours to invest more substantially in their alumni offices.
Most elite private colleges have robust alumni offices. These offices work hard to maintain alumni connections to the college, largely in order to pursue fundraising opportunities. But elite private colleges know that alumni offices serve other purposes as well. By maintaining excellent databases of their alumni, elite private colleges are easily able to make claims about the percentage of alumni who have earned graduate degrees, the number living in particular geographical areas, and the representation of alumni in key professional fields like medicine or politics. Comprehensive colleges, in contrast, rarely have the resources or staffing in either the alumni office or the institutional research office to gather and maintain such information. Thus, in order to put together our report, we had to employ a team of five undergraduate research assistants, who spent the entire fall semester combing the Internet for biographical data on our sample of alumni.
Of course, it would have made our lives easier if our college already had access to such data. But more importantly, such data would enable our college to tell its story in a more persuasive fashion. Rather than talking about the kinds of outcome measures the performance funding types tend to value (employment and salaries a year after graduation), a robust alumni database would allow us to document the value our college has to our state by highlighting the number of successful professionals, community leaders, volunteers, and others RIC has educated.
Comprehensive colleges are an often-ignored sector of higher education, but we play a vital role in educating the professionals who keep our states moving—the nurses, teachers, social workers, police officers, accountants, small business owners, local politicians, and others. And we are often the most accessible and affordable colleges for working class students who will go on to do great things in our states and beyond. The fact that our alumni affairs offices are under-resourced may not be the type of educational stratification researchers and policymakers pay attention to, but it is a type of educational stratification with consequences for our reputations and our institutions’ funding streams.
Guest blogger emeritus Karissa McKelvey just won a huuuge award. Her project just won a Knight Foundation grant. Her team is going to build a search engine that allows people to access data and make sure the data is update. Think of it as Bit Torrent for data, not illegal downloads. Good job!
How to disseminate research, so that it reaches a wider audience, is one stage of research that receives less attention.* In a past post, I wrote about what researchers can do to engage potential audiences.
Orgtheory guest blogger Victor Tan Chen has an exemplar article drawing on his research, published in the Atlantic, no less! Have a look at his article “All Hollowed Out: The lonely poverty of America’s white working class.” Here’s a teaser excerpt:
In Stayin’ Alive, his powerful history of the “last days” of the working class, the historian Jefferson Cowie describes how the proud blue-collar identity of previous generations disintegrated during the ’70s. “Liberty has largely been reduced to an ideology that promises economic and cultural refuge from the long arm of the state,” he writes, “while seemingly lost to history is the logic that culminated under the New Deal: that genuine freedom could only happen within a context of economic security.” As working-class solidarity receded, an identity built on racial tribalism often swept in.
With that in mind, it’s interesting that Americans tout the importance of getting an education—an inherently individualistic strategy—as the pathway to success. This view was the ideological backbone of the Clinton administration policies put forth in the ’90s, with their individual training accounts and lifetime-learning credits. To this day, the supreme value of education remains one of the few things that Americans of all persuasions (presidential candidates included) can agree on. But this sort of zeal can lead to the view that those who have less education—the working class—are truly to blame for their dire straits. While many of them will go on to obtain more education, many others will not—because they can’t afford it, aren’t good students, or just (as some of my workers said) prefer working with their hands. But if they don’t collect the educational degrees needed for today’s good jobs, they are made to feel that they have failed in a fundamental way.
* Exceptions exist, of course; see epopp’s recent post on the media’s circulation of questionable studies. In a related vein, check out these past posts by fabio on public sociology: maybe public sociology was better in the 50s and did research grants kill public sociology?
We had three official guest bloggers in residence, but there were lots of other people who sent posts in 2015. Check them out:
- James Iveniuk on soc specialties – https://orgtheory.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/how-sociology-professors-choose-their-specialties-a-guest-post-by-james-iveniuk/
- Raj Ghoshal and Claire Whitlinger on racial violence – https://orgtheory.wordpress.com/2015/05/12/does-remembering-racial-violence-matter-a-guest-post-by-raj-ghoshal-and-claire-whitlinger/
- Jeff Guhin on ASA meeting anxiety – https://orgtheory.wordpress.com/2015/06/05/dont-look-dumb-on-the-anxiety-of-asa-meetings-a-guest-post-by-jeff-guhin/
- Mikalia Arthur on higher education – https://orgtheory.wordpress.com/2015/06/15/what-does-success-mean-in-higher-education-a-guest-post-by-mikalia-marial-lemonik-arthur/
- Victoria Reyes on globalization – https://orgtheory.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/global-borderlands-a-guest-post-by-victoria-reyes/
- Cristobal Young on replication – https://orgtheory.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/sociologists-need-to-be-better-at-replication-a-guest-post-by-cristobal-young/
- Pedro Monteiro on podcasts – https://orgtheory.wordpress.com/2015/12/07/talking-about-organizations-a-guest-post-by-pedro-monteiro/
- Nick Rowland on states – https://orgtheory.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/states-states-and-more-states-a-guest-blog-post-by-nick-rowland/
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Happy 2016, folks. As the new year unfolds and people consider their new year’s resolutions, I’d like to thank three of our 2015 guest bloggers Caroline W. Lee, Ellen Berrey, and Victor Tan Chen for their insightful posts on their studies, conducting research, and the academic career.
- Caroline, who has graciously guest blogged for us twice, shared her thoughts on what makes for a successful career at a SLAC (small liberal arts college). She also discussed her book, which delves into her research on professional facilitators of participatory democratic practices. Here’s a link to her self-introduction, as well as her posts on whether deliberation de-mobilizes and the future of deliberation discussions in higher education.
- Ellen began her orgtheory stint with several thoughts on elite-led organizations. She also discussed her research findings about how diversity is conceptualized in a university, corporation, and neighborhood. Turning to the conduct of research, Ellen discussed gaining access to organizations, as well as the pitfalls and benefits of anonymity for organizations.
- As a journalist turned sociologist, Victor added to our discussions about the practice of disguising informants’ names and identities is warranted and whether anonymity helps or hurts the dissemination of research.
[The following is an invited guest post by Damon Mayrl, Assistant Professor of Comparative Sociology at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, and Nick Wilson, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Stony Brook University.]
Last week, the editors of the American Sociological Review invited members of the Comparative-Historical Sociology Section to help develop a new set of review and evaluation guidelines. The ASR editors — including orgtheory’s own Omar Lizardo — hope that developing such guidelines will improve historical sociology’s presence in the journal. We applaud ASR’s efforts on this count, along with their general openness to different evaluative review standards. At the same time, though, we think caution is warranted when considering a single standard of evidence for evaluating historical sociology. Briefly stated, our worry is that a single evidentiary standard might obscure the variety of great work being done in the field, and could end up excluding important theoretical and empirical advances of interest to the wider ASR audience.
These concerns derive from our ongoing research on the actual practice of historical sociology. This research was motivated by surprise. As graduate students, we thumbed eagerly through the “methodological” literature in historical sociology, only to find — with notable exceptions, of course — that much of this literature consists of debates about the relationship between theory and evidence, or conceptual interventions (for instance, on the importance of temporality in historical research). What was missing, it seemed, were concrete discussions of how to actually gather, evaluate, and deploy primary and secondary evidence over the course of a research project. This lacuna seemed all the more surprising because other methods in sociology — like ethnography or interviewing — had such guides.
With this motivation, we set out to ask just what kinds of evidence the best historical sociology uses, and how the craft is practiced today. So far, we have learned that historical sociology resembles a microcosm of sociology as a whole, characterized by a mosaic of different methods and standards deployed to ask questions of a wide variety of substantive interests and cases.
One source for this view is a working paper in which we examine citation patterns in 32 books and articles that won awards from the ASA Comparative-Historical Sociology section. We find that, even among these award-winning works of historical sociology, at least four distinct models of historical sociology, each engaging data and theory in particular ways, have been recognized by the discipline as outstanding. Importantly, the sources they use and their modes of engaging with existing theory vary dramatically. Some works use existing secondary histories as theoretical building blocks, engaging in an explicit critical dialogue with existing theories; others undertake deep excavations of archival and other primary sources to nail down an empirically rich and theoretically revealing case study; and still others synthesize mostly secondary sources to provide new insights into old theoretical problems. Each of these strategies allows historical sociologists to answer sociologically important questions, but each also implies a different standard of judgment. By extension, ASR’s guidelines will need to be supple enough to capture this variety.
One key aspect of these standards concerns sources, which for historical sociologists can be either primary (produced contemporaneously with the events under study) or secondary (later works of scholarship about the events studied). Although classic works of comparative-historical sociology drew almost exclusively from secondary sources, younger historical sociologists increasingly prize primary sources. In interviews with historical sociologists, we have noted stark divisions and sometimes strongly-held opinions as to whether primary sources are essential for “good” historical sociology. Should ASR take a side in this debate, or remain open to both kinds of research?
Practically speaking, neither primary nor secondary sources are self-evidently “best.” Secondary sources are interpretive digests of primary sources by scholars; accordingly, they contain their own narratives, accounts, and intellectual agendas, which can sometimes strongly shape the very nature of events presented. Since the quality of historical sociologists’ employment of secondary works can be difficult for non-specialists to judge, this has often led to skepticism of secondary sources and a more favorable stance toward primary evidence. But primary sources face their own challenges. Far from being systematic troves of “data” readily capable of being processed by scholars, for instance, archives are often incomplete records of events collected by directly “interested” actors (often states) whose documents themselves remain interpretive slices of history, rather than objective records. Since the use of primary evidence more closely resembles mainstream sociological data collection, we would not be surprised if a single standard for historical sociology explicitly or implicitly favored primary sources while relatively devaluing secondary syntheses. We view this to be a particular danger, considering the important insights that have emerged from secondary syntheses. Instead, we hope that standards of transparency, for both types of sources, will be at the core of the new ASR guidelines.
Another set of concerns relates to the intersection of historical research and the review process itself. For instance, our analysis of award-winners suggests that, despite the overall increased interest in original primary research among section members, primary source usage has actually declined in award-winning articles (as opposed to books) over time, perhaps in response to the format constraints of journal articles. If the new guidelines heavily favor original primary work without providing leeway in format constraints (for instance, through longer word counts), this could be doubly problematic for historical sociological work attempting to appear in the pages of ASR. Beyond the constraints of word-limits, moreover, as historical sociology has extended its substantive reach through its third-wave “global turn,” the cases historical sociologists use to construct a theoretical dialogue with one another can sometimes rely on radically different and particularly unfamiliar sources. This complicates attempts to judge and review works of historical sociology, since the reviewer may find their knowledge of the case — and especially of relevant archives — strained to its limit.
In sum, we welcome efforts by ASR to provide review guidelines for historical sociology. At the same time, we encourage plurality—guidelines, rather than a guideline; standards rather than a standard. After all, we know that standards tend to homogenize and that guidelines can be treated more rigidly than originally intended. In our view, this is a matter of striking an appropriate balance. Pushing too far towards a single standard risks flattening the diversity of inquiry and distorting ongoing attempts among historical sociologists to sort through what the new methodological and substantive diversity of the “third wave” of historical sociology means for the field, while pushing too far towards describing diversity might in turn yield a confusing sense for reviewers that “anything goes.” The nature of that balance, however, remains to be seen.