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watercooler democracy: how rumors can democratize information at work – guest post by Katie Sobering

I’m posting this guest post about rumors and workplace democracy on behalf of UNT organizational ethnographer Katie Sobering.  Sobering recently virtually visited my “Organizations, Markets, and the State” grad course to answer questions about her ethnographic research on Hotel BAUEN, a worker recuperated cooperative located in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In response to student questions about her published research, Sobering explained how she decided to focus on Hotel BAUEN over other collectivist-democratic forms.  By studying Hotel BAUEN’s trainings, meetings, everyday activities, and involvement in social movement activities, Sobering shows how we can use this case to understand how organizations pursue equality through practices such as job rotation and decision-making by consensus.  Sobering also depicted the challenges confronting the cooperative: securing ownership of the hotel, expensive, specialized maintenance of the facilities, and recruitment and retention of members. During the Q&A, Sobering traced her intellectual lineage and inspirations back to Joyce Rothschild’s seminal work on collectivist-democratic organizations and Rachel Sherman’s research on service work in hotels.  She currently is revising a book manuscript on her research.

Here’s Sobering’s take on rumors’ roles in workplace transparency, based on her research published in Work and Occupations:

“We’ve all heard rumors. Odds are, most of us have spread rumors every now and again. From the family dinner table to anonymous corners of the internet, people share unverified pieces of information to make sense of their social worlds. Rumors are especially common in the workplace, spurring the now well-known idea of the “watercooler effect.”

Managers, consultants, and academics alike have paid close attention to the role and repercussions of such informal communication at work. Much of this assumes that firms keep secrets. Thus, in lieu of access to information, workers pass rumors among themselves.

In the 21st century, transparency has become a buzzword, as work organizations like tech firms and startups flatten hierarchies, embrace informality, and remove barriers that traditionally limited access to information. Some organizations are experimenting with “radical transparency” while others warn that too much transparency can be counterproductive. Worker cooperatives and other participatory organizations often practice democratic transparency, recognizing that information-sharing is key to democratizing power. All this begs the question: in contexts of increased transparency, what is the role of rumors?

In my recent article published in Work and Occupations, I draw on long term ethnographic research in a worker-run hotel in Argentina to go behind the scenes in an organization in which workers enjoy a far more egalitarian environment than most U.S. employees experience on the job: extensive access to information, voice in the organization, and power over their jobs. I find that transparency does not quell the rumor mill. But rumors do have an important impact on the culture and practice of information-sharing.

Democratic transparency in Hotel Bauen

I conducted my research in Hotel Bauen, a twenty-story conference hotel located in the bustling center of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Built in the 1970s, the private owners declared bankruptcy in 2001 and shut down the property, leaving longtime employees out of work. In 2003, thirty former employees joined the growing movement of worker-recuperated businesses by occupying the abandoned hotel and forming a worker cooperative. Since 2004, Hotel Bauen has been open around-the-clock, hosting events, lodging overnight guests, and offering a meeting place and street-side café for passersby. Despite workers’ ongoing efforts to legalize their use of the hotel, the BAUEN Cooperative has grown from thirty founding members to 130 members in 2015. Today, it is one of the most iconic worker-recuperated business in Argentina.

Hotel Bauen is run by a worker cooperative: an organization in which all members are equal owners and govern through direct and representative forms of democracy. Since its inception, the cooperative has adopted formal policies and practices designed to make information widely available to the group. They have sought to create what Archeon Fung calls “democratic transparency,” an informational environment that allows people to collectively control the organizations that affect their lives.

First, in the BAUEN Cooperative, information is formally accessible to all members. Organizational records are kept in open book system that is available not only for managers or decision-makers, but also for members.

Second, the cooperative makes information proportional by sharing details about that which directly impacts the business and its members. While cooperatives in Argentina must hold as least one assembly each year by law, the BAUEN Cooperative organizes quarterly meetings to provide regular financial snapshots and open forums for discussion.

Finally, information is actionable through formal mechanisms that allow members to question and even overturn managerial decisions. With signatures of ten percent of the membership, members can convene an assembly of all workers to address and evaluate any decision or scenario in the cooperative.

Despite the transparency that the workers enjoyed in Hotel Bauen, rumors were part and parcel of daily working life. These whispers were often interpersonal in nature, passing hearsay about coworkers’ personal lives. But other rumors ventured into the inner workings of the organization itself.

I found that these rumors democratized information in two interrelated ways. First, rumors encouraged workers to participate in decisions, moving decision-making out of formal spaces and into the hallways where members of the cooperative could informally deliberate on the issue at hand. Second, rumors allowed members to oversee the managerial authority and empowered them to exercise their ability to hold the organization accountable.

[Check out more about worker influence after the jump]

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the relational turn in the study of inequalities and organizations – guest post by Dustin Avent-Holt and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey

On behalf of Dustin Avent-Holt and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, I am posting their guest post, a must-read for researchers looking for intersections between organizations and stratification.  In their post, they describe the shortcomings of stratification research’s in focusing on “individual” characteristics and how they build upon organizational theory to examine organizations as inequality-generating mechanisms.  Their post ends with possible research AND policy agendas for a more sustainable and equitable future.

By the end of the 1990s we began to see a relational turn in sociology, perhaps expressed most clearly in Mustafa Emirbayer’s Relational Manifesto. The core claim is that the basic unit of analysis for sociology (or perhaps the social sciences writ large) should be, neither the individual nor macro-level institutions, but the social relations between actors.

This relational claim is, of course, not new. Classical sociologists –Simmel, Marx, Mead, Blumer, Goffman– treated relationality as fundamental. All of symbolic interactionism, the economic sociologies of Granovetter’s embeddedness paradigm and Zelizerian relational work, organizational field theory, and the strong growth in network science are all contemporary exemplars.

But relationality was blurred in the mid-20thcentury though by the growth in statistical techniques and computer software packages that enabled the analysis of surveys of individuals. Blau and Duncan’s pathbreaking American Occupational Structure became the state of the art for stratification research, but it had the side effect of obscuring – both theoretically and methodologically – the relationality that undergirds the generation of inequalities.

Simultaneously, organizational sociology had its own theoretical blinders. The move towards New Institutionalism obscured the older focus on stakeholders and dominant coalitions, refocusing on legitimating processes in the environment through which organizations isomorphically converged. Charles Tilly’s book Durable Inequalities critiqued the status attainment model partly by adopting this view of organizations, treating organizations as inequality machines mechanically matching internal and external categories.

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Written by katherinechen

September 5, 2019 at 6:09 pm

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!

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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.

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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

alumni affairs as institutional stratification

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.

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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.

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Written by fabiorojas

August 10, 2016 at 1:51 am

congratulations to karissa mckelvey

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!

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

Written by fabiorojas

February 1, 2016 at 12:01 am

victor tan chen’s “all hollowed out” in the atlantic

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?

 

Written by katherinechen

January 18, 2016 at 7:51 pm

even more awesome guest posts

We had three official guest bloggers in residence, but there were lots of other people who sent posts in 2015. Check them out:

Have an idea? Send it in!

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

Written by fabiorojas

January 5, 2016 at 12:28 am

thank you, 2015 orgtheory guest bloggers

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.

Written by katherinechen

January 4, 2016 at 5:34 pm

Posted in guest bloggers

race and schools, a talk by leslie hinkson

Guest blogger emeritus Leslie Hinkson has a TEDx talk on race and schools. Check it out!

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

Written by fabiorojas

December 3, 2015 at 12:01 am

asr reviewer guidelines: comparative-historical edition

[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.

Written by epopp

September 8, 2015 at 5:51 pm

the uber-ization of activism

In the NY Times, UCLA sociologist and orgtheorist emeritus Ed Walker had an insightful column about the nature of modern activism. What does it mean when an interest group can just “rent” a bunch of people for a protest? From the column:

Many tech firms now recognize the organizing power of their user networks, and are weaponizing their apps to achieve political ends. Lyft embedded tools on its site to mobilize users in support of less restrictive regulations. Airbnb provided funding for the “Fair to Share” campaign in the Bay Area, which lobbies to allow short-term housing rentals, and is currently hiring “community organizers” to amplify the voices of home-sharing supporters. Amazon’s “Readers United” was an effort to gain customer backing during its acrimonious dispute with the publisher Hachette. Emails from eBay prodded users to fight online sales-tax legislation.

So it’s reasonable to ask whether there’s still a bright line between being a business and being a campaign organization, or between consumer and activist. Tech companies’ customers may think they are being served. But they are often the ones providing the service.

The whole column is required reading and illustrates the nebulous boundary between traditional politics and social movement politics. Self-recommending!

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

PS. “Uberi-zation” is such a weird word…

Written by fabiorojas

August 12, 2015 at 12:01 am

sociologists need to be better at replication – a guest post by cristobal young

Cristobal Young is an assistant professor at Stanford’s Department of Sociology. He works on quantitative methods, stratification, and economic sociology. In this post co-authored with Aaron Horvath, he reports on the attempt to replicate 53 sociological studies. Spoiler: we need to do better.

Do Sociologists Release Their Data and Code? Disappointing Results from a Field Experiment on Replication.

 

Replication packages – releasing the complete data and code for a published article – are a growing currency in 21st century social science, and for good reasons. Replication packages help to spread methodological innovations, facilitate understanding of methods, and show confidence in findings. Yet, we found that few sociologists are willing or able to share the exact details of their analysis.

We conducted a small field experiment as part of a graduate course in statistical analysis. Students selected sociological articles that they admired and wanted to learn from, and asked the authors for a replication package.

Out of the 53 sociologists contacted, only 15 of the authors (28 percent) provided a replication package. This is a missed opportunity for the learning and development of new sociologists, as well as an unfortunate marker of the state of open science within our field.

Some 19 percent of authors never replied to repeated requests, or first replied but never provided a package. More than half (56 percent) directly refused to release their data and code. Sometimes there were good reasons. Twelve authors (23 percent) cited legal or IRB limitations on their ability to share their data. But only one of these authors provided the statistical code to show how the confidential data were analyzed.

Why So Little Response?

A common reason for not releasing a replication package was because the author had lost the data – often due to reported computer/hard drive malfunctions. As well, many authors said they were too busy or felt that providing a replication package would be too complicated. One author said they had never heard of a replication package. The solutions here are simple: compiling a replication package should be part of a journal article’s final copy-editing and page-proofing process.

More troubling is that a few authors openly rejected the principle of replication, saying in effect, “read the paper and figure it out yourself.” One articulated a deep opposition, on the grounds that replication packages break down the “barriers to entry” that protect researchers from scrutiny and intellectual competition from others.

The Case for Higher Standards

Methodology sections of research articles are, by necessity, broad and abstract descriptions of their procedures. However, in most quantitative analyses, the exact methods and code are on the author’s computer. Readers should be able to download and run replication packages as easily as they can download and read published articles. The methodology section should not be a “barrier to entry,” but rather an on-ramp to an open and shared scholarly enterprise.

When authors released replication packages, it was enlightening for students to look “under the hood” on research they admired, and see exactly how results were produced. Students finished the process with deeper understanding of – and greater confidence in – the research. Replication packages also serve as a research accelerator: their transparency instills practical insight and confidence – bridging the gap between chalkboard statistics and actual cutting-edge research – and invites younger scholars to build on the shoulders of success. As Gary King has emphasized, replications have become first publications for many students, and helped launched many careers – all while ramping up citations to the original articles.

In our small sample, little more than a quarter of sociologists released their data and code. Top journals in political science and economics now require on-line replication packages. Transparency is no less crucial in sociology for the accumulation of knowledge, methods, and capabilities among young scholars. Sociologists – and ultimately, sociology journals – should embrace replication packages as part of the lasting contribution of their research.

Table 1. Response to Replication Request

Response Frequency Percent
Yes:   Released data and code for paper 15 28%
No: Did not release 38 72%
Reasons for “No”
    IRB / legal / confidentiality issue 12 23%
    No response / no follow up 10 19%
    Don’t have data 6 11%
    Don’t have time / too complicated 6 11%
    Still using the data 2 4%
    ‘See the article and figure it out’ 2 4%
Total 53 100%

Note: For replication and transparency, a blinded copy of the data is available on-line. Each author’s identity is blinded, but the journal name, year of publication, and response code is available. Half of the requests addressed articles in the top three journals, and more than half were published in the last three years.

Figure 1: Illustrative Quotes from Student Correspondence with Authors:

Positive:

  1. “Here is the data file and Stata .do file to reproduce [the] Tables….  Let me know if you have any questions.”
  2. “[Attached are] data and R code that does all regression models in the paper. Assuming that you know R, you could literally redo the entire paper in a few minutes.”

Negative:

  1. “While I applaud your efforts to replicate my research, the best guidance I can offer
    is that the details about the data and analysis strategies are in the paper.”
  2. “I don’t keep or produce ‘replication packages’… Data takes a significant amount of human capital and financial resources, and serves as a barrier-to-entry against other researchers… they can do it themselves.”

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

Written by fabiorojas

August 11, 2015 at 12:01 am

global borderlands – a guest post by victoria reyes

Victoria Reyes is an assistant professor at Bryn Mawr in the Growth and Structure of Cities Department. Her research is about specific urban sites in the global system. This post addresses her recent article in Theory and Society.

Thanks to Fabio for allowing me to post about my work. I study global inequality through a cultural and relational lens, and am particularly interested in places of foreign-control, by which I mean places that are either foreign-owned or are heavily influenced by foreigners. I have two recent articles about this (see below for citations and abstracts).

In one that was recently published in Theory and Society, I draw and extend work on global cities and cities along geopolitical borders to develop a concept I call “global borderlands”—semi-autonomous, foreign-controlled, geographic locations geared toward international exchange. These are places like overseas military bases, embassies, tourist resorts, international branch campuses (e.g. NYU Abu Dhabi), and special economic zones, where tariff barriers are relaxed. When I speak of global borderlands, I do not necessarily assume negative connotations. Indeed, some people may enjoy or prefer working, visiting, and/or living within global borderlands, while others are excluded from these places.

I argue that these places have three features in common. First, semi-autonomy and foreign-control. These are places where the notion of “who rules?” is fluid and negotiated, and where regulation depends on nationality. Second, like many other places, global borderlands are defined by geographic and symbolic boundaries. Third, these places are built on unequal relations, by which I refer to structural inequality that again, does not necessarily come bundled with negative connotations. For example, in my work, I examine the Harbor Point mall within the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Philippines, and compare it to both the SM mall in Olongapo City—which is 30 feet away, on the other side of the Freeport’s gate—and Hanjin Shipping, a Korean-owned shipping and manufacturing company within the Freeport that is known for human rights violations. Although most Harbor Point mall employees cannot afford to purchase lunch within the mall, they prefer working within it because of the higher wages they earn and the relatively more stable employment, when compared to similar work outside the Freeport.

The Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Philippines was originally the location of the former U.S. Subic Bay Naval Base. In another article, in City & Community, I examine how the legacies of the U.S. military continue to influence present day practices and discourses, and Filipino elites’ role in institutionalizing these legacies.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by fabiorojas

August 10, 2015 at 12:01 am

why do women who do more housework sometimes think it’s fair? an answer from mito akiyoshi

Former guest blogger Mito Akiyoshi has a new article in PLoS One about perceptions of fairness in the family. From the abstract:

Married women often undertake a larger share of housework in many countries and yet they do not always perceive the inequitable division of household labor to be “unfair.” Several theories have been proposed to explain the pervasive perception of fairness that is incongruent with the observed inequity in household tasks. These theories include 1) economic resource theory, 2) time constraint theory, 3) gender value theory, and 4) relative deprivation theory. This paper re-examines these theories with newly available data collected on Japanese married women in 2014 in order to achieve a new understanding of the gendered nature of housework. It finds that social comparison with others is a key mechanism that explains women’s perception of fairness. The finding is compatible with relative deprivation theory. In addition to confirming the validity of the theory of relative deprivation, it further uncovers that a woman’s reference groups tend to be people with similar life circumstances rather than non-specific others. The perceived fairness is also found to contribute to the sense of overall happiness. The significant contribution of this paper is to explicate how this seeming contradiction of inequity in the division of housework and the perception of fairness endures.

Nice application of reference group theory. Once again, more evidence that happiness and grievance don’t always reflect material conditions.

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Written by fabiorojas

July 15, 2015 at 12:01 am

jerry davis on the importance of management research

Harvard Business Review has run a version of Jerry Davis’ essay on the merits of modern management research. A few clips:

Is management research a folly? If not, whose interests does it serve? And whose interests should it serve?

The questions of good for what and good for whom are worth revisiting. There is reason to worry that the reward system in our field, particularly in the publication process, is misaligned with the goals of good science.

There can be little doubt that a lot of activity goes into management research: according to the Web of Knowledge, over 8,000 articles are published every year in the 170+ journals in the field of “Management,” adding more and more new rooms. But how do we evaluate this research? How do we know what a contribution is or how individual articles add up? In some sciences, progress can be measured by finding answers to questions, not merely reporting significant effects. In many social sciences, however, including organization studies, progress is harder to judge, and the kinds of questions we ask may not yield firm answers (e.g., do nice guys finish last?). Instead we seek to measure the contribution of research by its impact.

And:

Management of humans by other humans may be increasingly anachronistic. If managers are not our primary constituency, then who is? Perhaps it is each other. But this might lead us back into the Winchester Mystery House, where novelty rules. Alternatively, if our ultimate constituency is the broader public that is meant to benefit from the activities of business, then this suggests a different set of standards for evaluation.

Businesses and governments are making decisions now that will shape the life chances of workers, consumers, and citizens for decades to come. If we want to shape those decisions for public benefit, on the basis of rigorous research, we need to make sure we know the constituency that research is serving.

Required reading.

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

Written by fabiorojas

June 2, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in ethics, fabio, guest bloggers, management, research

Tagged with

can powerful, elite-led organizations lessen inequality?

Hi all, I’m Ellen Berrey. I’ll be guest blogging over the next few weeks about inequality, culture, race, organizations, law, and multi-case ethnography. Thanks for the invite, Katherine, and the warm welcomes! Here’s what I’m all about: I’m an assistant professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo-SUNY and an affiliated scholar of the American Bar Foundation. I received my PhD from Northwestern in 2008. This fall, I jet off from the Midwest to join the faculty of the University of Denver (well, I’m actually going to drive the fading 2003 Toyota I inherited from my mom).  

As a critical cultural sociologist, I study organizational, political, and legal efforts to address inequality. My new book, The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice (University of Chicago Press)is officially out next Monday (yay!). I’ll dive into that in future posts, for sure. I’m writing up another book on employment discrimination litigation with Robert Nelson and Laura Beth Nielsen, Rights on Trial: Employment Civil Rights in Work and in Court.  These and my articles and other projects explore organizational symbolic politics, affirmative action in college admissions (also here and here), affirmative action activism (and here), corporate diversity management, fairness in discrimination litigation, discrimination law and inequality (and here), gentrification politics, and benefit corporations.

I’ll kick off today with some thoughts about a theme that I’ve been exploring for many years:

How can powerful, elite-led organizations advance broad progressive causes like social justice or environmental protection? I’m not just referring to self-identified activists but also corporations, universities, community agencies, foundations, churches, and the like. Various arms of the state, too, are supposed to forward social causes by, say, ending discrimination at work or alleviating poverty. To what extent can organizational decision-makers create positive social change through discrete initiatives and policies—or do they mostly just create the appearance of effective action? Time and again, perhaps inevitably, top-down efforts to address social problems end up creating new problems for those they supposedly serve.

To the point: Have you come across great research that examines how organizations can bring about greater equality and engages organizational theory?

I think this topic is especially important for those of us who study organizations and inequality. We typically focus on the harms that organizations cause. We know, for example, that employers perpetuate racial, class, and gender hierarchies within their own ranks through their hiring and promotion strategies. I believe we could move the field forward if we also could point to effective, even inspiring ways in which organizations mitigate inequities. I have in mind here research that goes beyond applied evaluations and that resists the Polly Anna-ish temptation to sing the praises of corporations. Critical research sometimes asks these questions, but it often seems to primarily look for (and find) wrongdoing. Simplistically, I think of this imperative in terms of looking, at once, at the good and bad of what organizations are achieving. Alexandra Kalev, Frank Dobbin, and Erin Kelly’s much-cited American Sociological Review article on diversity management programs is one exemplar. There is room for other approaches, as well, including those that foreground power and meaning making. Together with the relational turn in the study of organizational inequality, this is a promising frontier to explore.

More soon. Looking forward to the conversation.

 

Written by ellenberrey

May 13, 2015 at 2:08 pm

does remembering racial violence matter? – a guest post by raj ghoshal and claire whitlinger

Raj Ghoshal (www.rajghoshal.com) is an assistant professor of sociology at Goucher College. Claire Whitlinger (www.clairewhitlinger.com) is a graduate student in sociology at Michigan, starting as an assistant professor at Furman University in August. This guest post discusses racial violence and the sociology of collective memory.

In a new special issue of Race & Justice (http://raj.sagepub.com/content/current) on the legacies of past racial violence, we each consider how commemorative projects can impact present-day views and events. As we discuss broad cultural processes, our articles may be of interest to cultural sociologists generally.

In “What Does Remembering Racial Violence Do?” (http://raj.sagepub.com/content/5/2/168.abstract), I (Raj) consider the Greensboro, North Carolina’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a private group which in the early 2000s revisited the 1979 killings of five communist demonstrators by the Ku Klux Klan. I draw on a survey of 716 North Carolinians and find that the Commission’s efforts had some, albeit modest, impact on stated support for state redress of past racial injustice toward African Americans. But despite this overall effect, two factors shaped the Commission’s effectiveness in surprising ways.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by fabiorojas

May 12, 2015 at 12:01 am

q&a with hahrie han: part deux

We continue our Q&A with Hahrie Han on her new Oxford University Press book, How Organizations Develop Activists.

Question 3. A crucial distinction in your book is mobilizing vs. organizing? What does that mean?

 The highest engagement organizations in my study combined what I call “transformational organizing” with “transactional mobilizing.” The difference between mobilizing and organizing really comes down to the extent to which organizations invest in developing people’s skills, motivations, and such as they do the work. Mobilizers are focused more on breadth–getting more people to do more stuff–so they care only about the “transactional” outcomes: how many people wrote the letter? Organizers believe that they achieve breadth by building depth–how many people became more motivated or more skilled (“transformed”) as activists by being part of the letter writing campaign? So they design work that may be harder at first, but builds more depth over the long-term.

It might be easiest to describe the difference between “transformational organizing” and “transactional mobilizing” through some examples.

Let’s say an organization wants to generate a letter writing campaign to get letters to the editor published around a particular issue. Mobilizers would create letter templates and tools people could use to click a few buttons and send off a letter to their local paper. Organizers might ask people to compose their own letter, using trainings they provide. Or, organizers might match potential letter writers with a partner to compose a joint letter.

Mobilizers would have a few staff people organizing the entire campaign–those staff would create the templates, craft the messages asking people to write the letters, and coordinate any needed follow up. People themselves would not have to do anything more than click the buttons to indicate their willingness to write the letter. Organizers would set up the campaign so that staff people might design the trainings and the goals, but a distributed network of volunteers would be charged with generating letters in their local communities. Then, they would train and support those volunteers in getting those letters.

The organizations that had the highest levels of activism did both–they did organizing AND mobilizing to get both breadth and depth. It’s not that one is better than the other; it’s that organizations need both.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by fabiorojas

November 20, 2014 at 12:01 am

q&a with hahrie han: part 1

hanbook

This week, we are having a Q&A with our recent guest blogger, Hahrie Han. She is a political scientist at Wellesley College and has a new book out on the topic of how organizations sustain the participation of their members called How Organizations Develop Activists. If you want, put any questions you may have in the comments.

How Organizations Develop Activists: Civic Associations and Leadership in the 21st Century

By Hahrie Han (@hahriehan)

Question 1. Can you summarize, for the readers of this blog, your new book’s main argument? How do you prove that?

 The book begins by asking why some organizations are better than others at getting (and keeping) people involved in activism than others. All over the world, there are myriad organizations, campaigns, and movements trying to get people to do everything from signing petitions to showing up for meetings to participating in protest. Some are better than others. Why?

To answer this question, I wanted to look particularly at what the organization does. There are so many factors that affect an organization’s ability to engage activists that the organization itself cannot control. What about the things it can control? Do they matter? So I set up a study of two national organizations working in health and environmental politics that also had state and local chapters operating relatively autonomously. I created matched pairs of these local chapters that were working in the same kinds of communities, and attracted the same kinds of people to the organization. But, they differed in their ability to cultivate activism. By examining differences among organizations in each pair, I could see what the high-engagement organizations did differently. I also ran some field experiments to test the ideas that emerged.

I found that the core factor distinguishing the high-engagement organizations was the way they engaged people in activities that transformed their sense of individual and collective agency. Just like any other organization, these organizations wanted to get more people to do more stuff, but they did it in a way that cultivated their motivations, developed their skills, and built their capacity for further activism. Doing so meant that high-engagement organizations used distinct strategies for recruiting, engaging, and supporting volunteers, which I detail in the book. By combining this kind of transformational organizing with a hard-nosed focus on numbers, they were able to build the breadth and depth of activism they wanted.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by fabiorojas

November 18, 2014 at 12:01 am

ed walker discusses astroturfing on c-span

Recently, former guest blogger Ed Walker appeared on C-Span to discuss his new book, Grassroots for Hire. The interview is very nice in that Ed discusses the main points of his book and there is an interactive feature of the website that allows you to directly click on specific segments of the interview. For previous posts from Ed, click here.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power 

Written by fabiorojas

September 15, 2014 at 2:19 am

learning the secrets behind orgtheory

Hi, everyone, this is Beth. I’ve been reading orgtheory since somewhere near the beginning but have never been much of a commenter. But I’m really looking forward to guest blogging. Thanks to Katherine for extending the invitation and to all the orgtheory folks for producing so much stimulating content over the years.

It feels a bit strange being behind the scenes. I now know that the most popular post of all time is, tragically, about ferrets (critical realism doesn’t even make the top 20!) and that people got here today by searching “why is sociology considered poor” and “famous-sociologist-I-won’t-name sex.” (That’s me not naming him, not what they actually Googled.)

At any rate, I’m going to save the real content for the weekdays, when people aren’t off enjoying the sunshine. But I did want to get a quick intro up.

I’m a recently tenured associate professor in sociology at SUNY Albany, and received my PhD from Berkeley in 2007. I took one of my comp exams in organizations, and I teach it at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.  Most of my work has been been about why university science became more entrepreneurial and market-focused over the last few decades.

The answer — that policymakers started to think that they could use technological innovation to drive the economy, in the process transforming universities’ regulatory and resource environment — got me interested in how the discipline of economics affects the policy process. I’m currently writing a second book, tentatively titled Thinking Like an Economist, about how economics — particularly the center-left, technocratic kind — helped to restructure U.S. public policy in important ways from the 1960s to the 1980s.

More about that later, but for now, a couple of teasers for some of the things I might write about in the weeks to come. I actually bit the bullet on guest posting because of Brayden’s post a couple of weeks about about whether org theory is out of touch with sociology, which kept stewing in the back of my mind, and I’m planning to post some thoughts on that soon.

But I’m also hoping to write a bit about the current challenges — crisis really isn’t too strong — of higher ed in the U.S. and elsewhere, and how org theory can help us to understand (solve?) it. I’m going to share some interesting bits from my book in progress. And I’ve been dying to revisit the most useful orgtheory post I’ve ever read, about what movie clips are good for teaching organizations to undergraduates.

So get out and enjoy spring, if you’ve got it, and I’m looking forward to interacting more soon.

Written by epopp

May 17, 2014 at 6:28 pm

introducing guest blogger Elizabeth “Beth” P. Berman!

Exciting news, dear readers!  Something to look forward to as we barrel towards the end of the spring semester… SUNY Albany’s Elizabeth “Beth” P. Berman has agreed to guest blog for orgtheory, inspired by Brayden‘s and other posts about upcoming discussions of the waxing/waning relationship between sociology and orgtheory.  Berman is the author of the multi-award-winning Creating the Market University: How Academic Science became an Economic Engine (Princeton University Press).  See her other pubs here.

Welcome, Beth!

 

Written by katherinechen

May 17, 2014 at 12:27 pm

centrism and sociology – guest post by chris martin

This guest post on the politics of sociology is written by Chris Martin, a doctoral student in sociology at Emory University.

Conservativism doesn’t seem to be a unipolar thing, according to much of the social psychological research on political attitudes. Rather, you can be conservative by being high in either social dominance orientation (SD) or right-wing authoritarianism (RWA). Of course, the two dimensions are moderately correlated but they’re not the same thing: high-SDO people dislike socially subordinate groups, and high RWO dislike socially deviant (or unconventional) groups. As a centrist, however, I’ve found that there’s a lack of research on the opposite poles of these scales even though there clearly seem to be a subset of liberals who like socially subordinate groups and a subset who like socially deviant groups.  Again, there’s considerable overlap between these two subsets. And there’s a small subset of libertarian liberals who don’t lean toward either pole.

This comes across in social psychological work on religious freedom. Early research showed that high-RWA people are more supportive of Christian than Muslim mandatory prayer, while low-RWA people oppose both types of prayer equally. However, if you change “mandatory” to “voluntary,” you find that low-RWA people no longer disfavor both types. Rather, they more strongly favor Muslim than Christian school prayer space.

To some degree, I’ve found that sociology has become so ideologically homogenous that it’s now the disciplinary norm to avoid using “inequality” to describe preferential treatment of subordinate or deviant groups. In the race domain, in fact, centrists can get accused of supporting colorblind ideology or denying White privilege, even if they have a well-reasoned critique of preferential treatment. And in the gender/sexuality domain, the norm is for 50% of the research to focus on people who are deviant by conventional standards. But this skewness of focus isn’t termed inequality. My point isn’t about race or gender, though, but the large issue of whether there’s place for centrists in sociology—people who neither valorize nor condemn subordinate and deviant groups. Psychological social scientists have begun to address this issue—see Jonathan Haidt and Lee Jussim in particular—focusing on how this political homogeneity harms science. Where does sociology stand?

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

April 26, 2014 at 12:18 am

new guest blogger policy

If you have an idea for a blog post, send it in. We’d like to hear about sociology, management, economics, political science, and related fields. If you have comments on the academic profession, we’ll consider those as well. But please read the archives and make sure we haven’t done it.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz 

Written by fabiorojas

March 20, 2014 at 12:12 am

Posted in fabio, guest bloggers

thank you, guest blogger Barry Wellman!

Please bid a fond farewell and thanks to our most recent guest blogger Barry Wellman.  You can find his guest post about “disbelief in authority” here.

Remember, orgtheory has adopted a new approach to guest blogging, which Fabio will write about shortly.  To wit (I am channeling what I think he is going to write about – we don’t quite have the Vulcan mind-meld set up yet but are perfecting it)… Frustrated that no one is discussing a particular topic?  Or fired up about something in particular?  Start a conversation by sending us a post to share!  Have a burning question that you want feedback on?  Email us a request to put up a bleg post!  Have something to celebrate – perhaps, a recently published article/book culminating several hard years of work?  Tell us the good news!  Remember, an active, vibrant community depends upon you and collective action.  We are looking forward to hearing from you.

Written by katherinechen

March 19, 2014 at 7:38 pm

Posted in guest bloggers

Tagged with

curating PLoS One

On the Facebook group, Jerry finally admitted that PLoS One was not the journal of the cheeto eating antichrist. It has highly cited articles. It has good papers. It has a high impact factor. In other words, it’s gonna be fine. But Jerry did raise one legitimate issue – how to curate the massive stream of PLoS One papers? There will obviously be many papers of low quality in the PLoS One model.

At first, I thought it was a problem. Then, I realized it wasn’t a problem at all. There are fairly easy ways to curate:

  • Self-curation: People can publicize their own work.
  • Crowd sourcing: Papers acquire reputation from informal networks. It’s happening on twitter right now.
  • Citation count: Papers that the community cites get highlighted.
  • Media attention: Papers attracting the media get highlighted.
  • Prizes: PLoS – or any other group – can award prizes for excellence.
  • Editorial/professional curation: People select good papers within their area of expertise. E.g., “Best PLoS Papers in Nuclear Fission 2014.”

Here’s the ironic thing – ASQ – Jerry’s journal – already curates papers for people who won’t read the whole journal. There is the ASQ award. The ASQ staff reports media mentions for specific papers. The ASQ blog summarizes papers for a larger audience. I couldn’t find it on the current website, but I think ASQ editors used to list papers from recent years fitting with a certain topic. ASQ isn’t alone. Other publishers use similar methods. For example, SSRN lists articles by “most downloaded.” Curation already exists and it works. In other words, Jerry should encourage the PLoS One community to emulate ASQ’s curation practices. It would be generous and help PLoS One reach the next stage in its development.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz 

Written by fabiorojas

March 12, 2014 at 12:11 am

what i will be sure to tell my grad students when i find that perfect fitting academic job

This guest post is written by Nicolette Manglos-Weber. She is a research assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame. Her work has appeared in Social Forces, Sociological Perspectives, and Sociology of Religion.

In many of the discussions I hear and read about preparing grad students for the brutal academic job market in sociology, one key point often gets missed or ignored: it’s a very different thing to be prepared in a specialty area with dozens of jobs being advertised each cycle (i.e. criminology, medical/health) than it is to be prepared when the advertisements in your area come in a trickle (i.e. religion, culture). Perhaps it seems so obvious that it doesn’t need to be said, but it’s incredibly important, and something I think more grad students should know about much, much earlier in their programs when they are choosing their thesis topics (or, even better, when they are applying to grad school in the first place).

As was typical, at least in my cohort, I chose my topic purely on the basis of what I found most fascinating and who among the faculty I seemed to be simpatico with. I was certainly informed that focusing on religion in sub-Saharan Africa might make it more difficult to publish, but then in my third year I published my M.A. thesis in a good specialty journal, landed a publication in a top ASA journal as first author, and had an R&R as sole author at a solid mid-tier generalist journal. At the time, I thought to myself, “Phew. So that’s taken care of!” I was doing what I was told to do, getting better and better at it each day, and enjoying myself. I had high hopes of avoiding the post-doc market completely and landing a TT job on my first year out, mainly because as an unpartnered young person I didn’t want to bounce around the country alone for several years.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 11, 2014 at 12:01 am

is “public intellectual” oxymoronic?

A guest post by Jerry Davis. He is the Wilbur K. Pierpont Collegiate Professor of Management at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

By this point everyone in the academy is familiar with the arguments of Nicholas Kristof and his many, many critics regarding the value of academics writing for the broader public.  This weekend provided a crypto-quasi-experiment that illustrated why aiming to do research that is accessible to the public may not be a great use of our time.  It also showed how the “open access” model can create bad incentives for social science to write articles that are the nutritional equivalent of Cheetos.

Balazs Kovacs and Amanda Sharkey have a really nice article in the March issue of ASQ called “The Paradox of Publicity: How Awards Can Negatively Affect the Evaluation of Quality.”  (You can read it here: http://asq.sagepub.com/content/59/1/1.abstract)  The paper starts with the intriguing observation that when books win awards, their sales go up but their evaluations go down on average.  One can think of lots of reasons why this should not be true, and several reasons why it should, all implying different mechanisms at work.  The authors do an extremely sophisticated and meticulous job of figuring out which mechanism was ultimately responsible.  (Matched sample of winning and non-winning books on the short list; difference-in-difference regression; model predicting reviewers’ ratings based on their prior reviews; several smart robustness checks; and transparency about the sample to enhance replicability.)  As is traditional at ASQ, the authors faced smart and skeptical reviewers who put them through the wringer, and a harsh and generally negative editor (me).  This is a really good paper, and you should read it immediately to find out whodunit.

The paper has gotten a fair bit of press, including write-ups in the New York Times and The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/feb/21/literary-prizes-make-books-less-popular-booker).  And what one discovers in the comments section of these write-ups is that (1) there is no reading comprehension test to get on the Internet, and (2) everyone is a methodologist.  Wrote one Guardian reader:

The methodology of this research sounds really flawed. Are people who post on Goodreads representative of the general reading public and/or book market? Did they control for other factors when ‘pairing’ books of winners with non-winners? Did they take into account conditioning factors such as cultural bias (UK readers are surely different from US, and so on). How big was their sample? Unless they can answer these questions convincingly, I would say this article is based on fluff.

Actually, answers to some of these questions are in The Guardian’s write-up:  the authors had “compared 38,817 reader reviews on GoodReads.com of 32 pairs of books. One book in each pair had won an award, such as the Man Booker prize, or America’s National Book Award. The other had been shortlisted for the same prize in the same year, but had not gone on to win.”  And the authors DID answer these questions convincingly, through multiple rounds of rigorous review; that’s why it was published in ASQ.  The Guardian included a link to the original study, where the budding methodologist-wannabe could read through tables of difference-in-difference regressions, robustness checks, data appendices, and more.  But that would require two clicks of a functioning mouse, and an attention span greater than that of a 12-year-old.

Another says:

This is a non story based on very iffy research. Like is not compared with like. A positive review in the New York Times is compared with a less complimentary reader review on GoodReads…I’ll wait to fully read the actual research in case it’s been badly reported or incorrectly written up

Evidently this person could not even be troubled to read The Guardian’s brief story, much less the original article, and I’m a bit skeptical that she will “wait to fully read the actual research” (where her detailed knowledge of Heckman selection models might come in handy).  After this kind of response, one can understand why academics might prefer to write for colleagues with training and a background in the literature.

Now, on to the “experimental” condition of our crypto-quasi-experiment.  The Times reported another study this weekend, this one published in PLoS One (of course), which found that people who walked down a hallway while texting on their phone walked slower, in a more stilted fashion, with shorter steps, and less straight than those who were not texting (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/20/the-difficult-balancing-act-of-texting-while-walking/).  Shockingly, this study did not attract wannabe methodologists, but a flood of comments about how pedestrians who text are stupid and deserve what they get.  Evidently the meticulousness of the research shone through the Times write-up.

One lesson from this weekend is that when it comes to research, the public prefers Cheetos to a healthy salad.  A simple bite-sized chunk of topical knowledge goes down easy with the general public.  (Recent findings that are frequently downloaded on PLoS One: racist white people love guns; time spent on Facebook makes young adults unhappy; personality and sex influence the words people use; and a tiny cabal of banks controls the global economy.)

A second lesson is that there are great potential downsides to the field embracing open access journals like PLoS One, no matter how enthusiastic Fabio is.  Students enjoy seeing their professors cited in the news media, and deans like to see happy students and faculty who “translate their research.”  This favors the simple over the meticulous, the insta-publication over work that emerges from engagement with skeptical experts in the field (a.k.a. reviewers).  It will not be a good thing if the field starts gravitating toward media-friendly Cheeto-style work.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz 

Written by fabiorojas

February 26, 2014 at 12:05 am

getting what we measure

Mikaila Mariel Lemonik Arthur is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Rhode Island College and is the author of Student Activism and Curricular Change in Higher Education. Her current research explores network effects on curricular change in higher education. Her primary teaching responsibilities include social research methods and law and society courses, and this spring she is teaching a new interdisciplinary upper-level general education course on higher education.

One of the hallmarks of modernity is the focus on rationality and efficiency in organizational function: organizations of all types, from hospitals to Fortune 500 corporations, from universities to small not-for-profits, seek to improve their performance in terms of measureable outcomes. But, as the aphorism goes, “What gets measured gets done, what gets measured and fed back gets done well, what gets rewarded gets repeated” (variously attributed to any number of management scholars). For example, pharmaceutical companies’ focus on stock prices, sales figures, and the next blockbuster drug has led to a focus on treatments for common, chronic conditions, such as the umpteenth heartburn medication, and less focus on the development of new antibiotics, a trend that may soon prove to have devastating effects on our attempts to control infections disease.

In higher education, a similar dynamic is occurring. In the past, colleges and universities were primarily measured (and funded) based on enrollments. This meant that encouraging more students to enroll, and keeping them enrolled in classes until after the third week (or whenever official enrollment statistics are due), was often the highest priority, and whether students ever graduated did not matter nearly as much. You get what you measure: students in seats.

More recently, the emphasis has shifted to retention and graduation as measureable outcomes. This change encouraged administrators to consider what was necessary to keep students in school and to improve time-to-degree, but it came with its own perverse incentives. For example, administrators turned to student evaluations as a way to increase student satisfaction; some colleges and universities discourage faculty from failing students because failures decrease graduation rates and increase dropout rates. This leads to colleges in which students can graduate with a 2.0, never having written a paper (a phenomenon discussed in recent books like Arum and Roksa’s Academically Adrift and Armstrong and Hamilton’s Paying for the Party). It also contributes to rampant grade inflation, including elite institutions where over half of all grades awarded are As (happy students=repeat customers). You get what you measure: grads with high grades.

A variety of colleges and universities have thus sought ways to curb grade inflation, such as providing average class grades on transcripts and setting strict grading curves. By encouraging tougher grading standards, these methods may indeed reduce the average GPA of enrolled students, but tougher grading standards do not necessarily translate into better educated graduates—and in any case, most colleges and universities have not chosen to enact these sorts of reforms. Indeed, the ease by which average grades can be manipulated highlights the fact that grades themselves may not be even an adequate proxy measure of student learning, and thus the assessment movement was born.

Today, accrediting agencies require colleges and universities to demonstrate that students meet measurable learning outcomes, and projects like the Lumina Foundation’s Degree Qualifications Profile encourage institutions and departments to clearly state the intended outcomes of their programs in measureable language. Some colleges and universities have gone further, developing competency-based degrees in which students supposedly demonstrate their skills rather than their seat time to graduate. At first blush, many critics argued that these programs are just another kind of teaching to the test. But teaching to the test is only a problem if the test is not actually able to test the desired learning outcomes—you get what you measure: results on the test.

It has already become clear to advocates of competency-based learning that competency is a pretty low floor, and instead they have begun to use the term “proficiency.” One goal of proficiency-based degree plans has been to shorten the time and cost of a degree, particularly by reducing Baumol’s cost disease by disrupting the relationship between seat time, faculty workload, and degree production. So far, competency- and proficiency-based programs are rare and likely appeal only to a particular self-selected group—but as Chambliss and Takacs point out in their forthcoming book How College Works, college only works if it works for all students, including the lazy, the unmotivated, and the perhaps not-so-smart.

So if we get what we measure and what gets rewarded gets repeated—and we measure proficiencies and reward completion—what do we get? Degrees as checklists? Students who cannot earn a college degree because, while they are excellent writers and have superb disciplinary knowledge, they cannot (in Lumina’s language) construct and define “a cultural, political, or technological alternative vision of either the natural or human world,” a key bachelor’s-level competency? An even more extreme bifurcation of the higher education field in which some colleges and universities develop rigorous proficiency measures and provide students with the supports necessary to excel while others assess writing, critical thinking, and speaking with machine- or peer-grading?

Or is it possible to build a system that measures proficiencies in a real, valuable way and which rewards completion without reducing the rigor of these proficiencies? In other words, can find a way to measure what we want to get instead of getting what we happen to have measured?

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

January 29, 2014 at 12:01 am