orgtheory.net

Archive for the ‘just theory’ Category

rational choice bleg

with 6 comments

Question for the weekend: I am searching for an example of a theory or empirical work that combines rational choice theory with some other style of social theory. A few candidates:

  • Analytical Marxism
  • Michael Chwe’s theory of ritual and interaction
  • A friend recommended Anthony Giddens’ structuration, as it has goal oriented actors who behave in endogenously created social structures

Other suggestions? Bonuses for recent work, work that is empirical, or accessible to general educated readers.

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

Written by fabiorojas

March 20, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, just theory

the fabio test, or how to judge “social theory”

with 5 comments

I am often asked, why do I relentlessly criticize obscure theory yet find a place in my heart for Foucault? The answer is simple. I judge rhetoric separately than intellectual content. I think it is possible, and often helpful, to separate how an idea is discussed from the idea itself. How do I do it? Simple – take some tangly-talk and then translate it into the simplest language possible. If the idea is still interesting after decontamination, I give a thumbs up. If I get a platitude, or worse, thumbs down.

So let’s get back to Foucault. What happens if we drop Foucault in solvent? I’d say that some of Foucault’s biggest insights are:

  • Discipline and Punish: Western society has moved from punishing people through physical force to having people regulate themselves.
  • History of Sexuality: Sexuality varies greatly over time and is more diverse than people expect. Then, people created a science to make sexuality intelligible to intellectuals.
  • Archaeology of Knowledge/The Order of Things: There is an order, or structure, to how people understand things and we can see that through a close reading of intellectuals of various eras.

These hypotheses can be debated, but, at the very least, they are hypotheses that make sense and can be assessed. There are hypothesis which are falsifiable (e.g., maybe Foucault’s description of the history of corporal punishment is simply wrong). My beef with much theory is that when you translate and simplify, you either get platitudes, obvious points, extremely wrong points, or a modest point dressed up in confusing verbiage.

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

Written by fabiorojas

March 17, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, just theory

social theorists: i challenge you!!!

Last week, we discussed Omar’s essay on the end of the “theorist” in sociology. I share the concern of many people who don’t use the label of “theorists.” Theory is often presented in a way that obscure and appears disconnected from the core concerns of sociologists. In the comments, Omar responded to me, and others, by noting that one legacy of Parsons was the creation of the “theorist.” In other words, now that we have theorists, we need to give them something useful to do.

Here is my suggestion: Take a field that is empirically deep and important, but under developed theoretically. Then, work on a synthesis that ties it together and integrates it with current “theory.” Here are my candidates:

  • Demography
  • Public opinion
  • Health
  • Criminology

In each case, the topic is hugely important and well developed but even practitioners admit that it is fairly atheoretical. They need your help, theorists. So put that Judith Butler back on the shelf and return that Zizek to the library and show me what you can do.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/F

Written by fabiorojas

March 9, 2015 at 12:12 am

junior theorist symposium

Announcement from one of the hippest groups in sociology:

CALL FOR ABSTRACTS

2015 Junior Theorists Symposium

Chicago, IL

August 21, 2015

 

SUBMISSION DEADLINE: FEBRUARY 13, 2015

We invite submissions for extended abstracts for the 9th Junior Theorists Symposium (JTS), to be held in Chicago, IL on August 21st, 2015, the day before the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA). The JTS is a one-day conference featuring the work of up-and-coming theorists, sponsored in part by the Theory Section of the ASA. Since 2005, the conference has brought together early career-stage sociologists who engage in theoretical work.

We are pleased to announce that Patricia Hill Collins (University of Maryland), Gary Alan Fine (Northwestern University), and George Steinmetz (University of Michigan) will serve as discussants for this year’s symposium.


 

In addition, we are pleased to announce an after-panel on “abstraction” featuring Kieran Healy (Duke), Virag Molnar (The New School), Andrew Perrin (UNC-Chapel Hill), and Kristen Schilt (University of Chicago). The panel will examine theory-making as a process of abstraction, focusing on the particular challenge of reconciling abstract “theory” with the concrete complexities of human embodiment and the specificity of historical events.

We invite all ABD graduate students, postdocs, and assistant professors who received their PhDs from 2011 onwards to submit a three-page précis (800-1000 words). The précis should include the key theoretical contribution of the paper and a general outline of the argument. Be sure also to include (i) a paper title, (ii) author’s name, title and contact information, and (iii) three or more descriptive keywords. As in previous years, in order to encourage a wide range of submissions we do not have a pre-specified theme for the conference. Instead, papers will be grouped into sessions based on emergent themes and discussants’ areas of interest and expertise.

Please send submissions to the organizers, Hillary Angelo (New York University) and Ellis Monk (University of Chicago), at juniortheorists@gmail.com with the phrase “JTS submission” in the subject line. The deadline is February 13, 2014. We will extend up to 12 invitations to present by March 13. Please plan to share a full paper by July 27, 2015.

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

Written by fabiorojas

November 10, 2014 at 12:11 am

Posted in academia, fabio, just theory

judith butler explained with cats

butler1

butler2

From Binary This.

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

Written by fabiorojas

October 25, 2014 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, just theory

of dead sociologies

I am now old enough that I have seen three traditions in American sociology die. In describing them, I am not necessarily saying that I don’t like them. In fact, I am a published practitioner in one of them. Rather, these traditions have not been able to reproduce themselves at the core of the profession. They may be popular in other fields, but not in soc:

  • Functionalism/neo-functionalism
  • Postmodernism
  • Rational choice

Each promised a lot and had a moment in American sociology. Munch, Alexander, and others led the charge on neo-functionalism in the 1990s, and Luhmann has a following. Rational choice still has notable adherents, like Doug Heckathorn at Cornell or Richard Breen at Yale. And the AJS and ASR had their share of articles discussing postmodernism (here, for example). But still, it’s hard to say that these traditions aren’t dormant in American sociology. Few students, few placements.

The question is whether there is any commonality. Is American sociology resistant to certain types of theory? If these three cases indicate a deeper process, then I’d make the following guesses:

  • “Strong assumptions” – American sociologists don’t like models with what appear to be overly strong assumptions. Rational choice models have smart actors; postmodernism has overly complex actors; and the various functionalisms had actors that were hyper sensitive to social norms and communities were overly structured.
  • “High tech” – With the exception of applied statistics, American sociologists don’t like fancy things. The AGIL system in functionalism; math for RCT; European philosophy/social theory for post-modernism.

So the ideal theory would be one with weak assumptions and requires little machinery. Many of the dominant theories these days seem to fit this: institutionalism/field theory; intersectionality theory; theories of racial privilege; etc. Network theory rests on simple, but weak, assumptions and uses only stats.

It is unclear to me if this is a good or bad state of affairs. However, if you think it’s bad, then you have a real problem. The most obvious way to change it is to recruit different kinds of people into the profession who like demanding theory or high tech tools. That seems like a tall order given our undergraduate audience, which is the major talent pool for the profession.

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

Written by fabiorojas

August 11, 2014 at 12:01 am

how social movement theory and org theory became friends

Klaus Weber and I have a chapter in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Sociology, Social Theory, and Organization Studies, in which we discuss the history of the connection (or lack thereof) between social movement theory and organizational theory. In writing the chapter we wanted to go back to the roots of each theory and talk about missed opportunities for intellectual cross-fertilization. Both literatures are, after all, primarily concerned with group behavior, problems of collective action and coordination, and dynamics of stability and change. Why did it take so long for the two theoretical areas to engage one another? (I should note that social movement theory has for some time borrowed ideas from org. theory, but this doesn’t really amount to full engagement in my mind.)

We argue that in the early years of American sociology, social movements and formal organizations were viewed as very distinct phenomena – social movements are irrational and disruptive and formal organizations are rational and stability-inducing – and that this characterization prevented scholars from seeing potential empirical overlap.

Research on both social movements and formal organizations was thus sparked by an interest in how individual behaviour—embedded in traditional family and societal structures as well as self-interests—is transformed in collective contexts. However, the two emerging fields focused on rather different forms of transformation. Social movement theory evolved from a subfield that saw collective action as irrational, spontaneous, emotional, and emergent (Blumer, 1957; Smelser, 1963; Turner & Killian, 1957); whereas organizational theory was largely focused on the rational pursuit of collective goals within the walls of bureaucracy (Crozier, 1964; Gouldner, 1954; Weber, 1947). Moreover, early collective action research saw spontaneous crowd behaviour as disruptive of social order, while organization theorists saw formal organizations as sources of social domination and stability. To the eyes of sociologists at the time, social movements were typically ephemeral, deviant, and potentially destructive (Couch, 1968). Formal organizations, in contrast, were purposefully organized, stability-inducing, and functional. It is no surprise that collective behaviour and organizational scholars in the 1950s and 1960s saw few commonalities.

In doing research for the paper we uncovered a really fascinating quote from a 1959 Social Problems article by Lewis Yablonsky, a sociologist studying gangs as a form of social organization. (Interestingly, before becoming a sociologist, Yablonsky claimed to have grown up on the streets and became a proficient dice and card hustler. Naturally, once he became an academic he gravitated to the study of deviant behavior.) In the article, Yablonsky explicitly compares collective behavior, like crowds and mobs, and formal organizations.

At one extreme, we have a highly organized, cohesive, functioning collection of individuals as members of a sociological group. At the other extreme, we have a mob of individuals characterized by anonymity, disturbed leadership, motivated by emotion, and in some cases representing a destructive collectivity within the inclusive social system. (Yablonsky, 1959: 108)

Yablonsky, a keen observer of social life, came to the conclusion that there are many types of organizations that exist in the middle of this continuum. Yablonsky’s insight, although he meant it to apply specifically to gangs, has since become widely shared by both social movement and organizational scholars. Social movements are much more organized, routinized, and rational than previously thought, but they are still frequently characterized by intense emotions and contagion-like processes. Formal organizations are much less permanent and stable and more emotional than a previous generation of scholars believed, but it is the  existence of routines and collective identity that allow them to resist environmental threats. The more we understand both phenomena, the more we recognize similarities. Pioneers in the field like Mayer Zald and John McCarthy realized this early on and helped make those connections. In more recent years, the bridge between the two fields has been developed more fully as organizational scholars have gone to social movement theory to re-conceptualize the organization as a political actor that is shaped by various ongoing kinds of collective action.

Our paper talks about how the two fields became friends and offers a few insights about where we think the fields are heading and what might be gained from further merging. Check it out if you’re interested.

Written by brayden king

July 24, 2014 at 5:11 pm

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,361 other followers