Archive for the ‘just theory’ Category
As usual, the Junior Theorists Symposium has an amazing line up. Day before the ASA. Check it out!
Junior Theorists Symposium
University of Chicago
Social Sciences Room 122
My first ever journal publication was an article called “A Game Theoretic Model of Sexually Transmitted Disease Epidemics.” It appeared in the journal Rationality and Society in 2002. As the title suggests, the goal of the paper is to model network diffusion using agents that play games with each other. Specifically, let’s assume people want to have sex with each other. The catch is that some people have HIV (or another disease) and some don’t. Further, let’s assume that people will estimate the probability that the partner has HIV based on the type of sex they offer and the current disease prevalence. In other words, offering unprotected sex in a world without STD’s is interpreted way differently than the same offer in a world where lots of people have infections. In this post, I want to briefly discuss what I learned by writing this paper. Tomorrow, I will talk about the small, but interesting, literature in biology and health economics that has referenced this paper.
Lesson #1: Interdisciplinary work doesn’t have to be garbage. The paper uses ideas from at least three different scholarly areas – game theory/economics; social networks/sociology; and probability theory/epidemiology. Orgtheory readers will be familiar with game theory and networks. But the paper uses a cool idea from probability theory called “pairs at a party model” – to model diffusion, you draw people from a pool and match them. I added these ideas: people can only be paired with people they know (the network) and then to decide if they have intercourse, they play a signalling game (game theory).
Lesson #2: Working with your buddies is amazing. My co-author on the project was Kirby Schroeder, who now works in the private sector. We developed the idea by thinking about his personal experience. Gay men often encounter the signaling problem – say you meet a partner and he offers unprotected sex. What does that suggest? We then joined forces to write the paper. Great experience.
Lesson #3: People can get angry at your research. During conferences and peer review, we experienced great hostility because we relied on the literature showing that sometimes, people don’t tell partners about STD’s and thus put them at risk. One woman, who claimed to be a researcher from Massachusetts General Hospital, literally yelled at me during an ASA session. The paper got rejected from Journal of Sex Research, after an R&R, because one reviewer got very upset and claimed that were defaming gay people and that “you don’t know what love means.” Do any of us, really?
Lesson #4: Long term matters. The paper was published in Rationality and Society and then quickly disappeared. But it had an interesting after life. It got an ASA grad student paper award from the Math Soc section. During the first couple of years on the job, it was the only journal publication on the CV, which saved me from complete embarrassment. In one review of my work, it was the *only* paper that the committee actually liked. Later, a member of the RWJ selection committee said that the paper was the only reason that they invited me for an interview, because it showed a genuine commitment to health research. Even better, starting around 2010, researchers rediscovered the paper and now it is part of a larger literature on sexual risk spanning biology, economics, and health. So even though it didn’t have an immediate impact, a well written paper can pay off in ways you might not expect.
Tomorrow: What people get from the Risky Sex Game paper.
Nicholas Rowland is an associate professor of sociology at Penn State – Altoona. He is a sociologist of science and an Indiana alumnus. In this guest post, he asks for your help in exploring how social scientists imagine the state.
Greetings Orgtheory community,
I write to ask for help, help in hunting-down states. I am in the middle of compiling a list of different state concepts from all over academia. By “state concepts” (specifically plural) I am referring of concepts that appear to be crafted according to the formula “[select key term] state” wherein “[s]tate activity related to [select key term] becomes the definition of the self-referential term” (2015). Many of you are doubtlessly familiar with these sorts of concepts, for example, Adams’ “spectacular state” or Karl’s “petro state” of Guss’s “festive state” or Geertz’s “theater state” and so on. While some of these terms are esoteric and perhaps only used once or only by one scholar, others – such as “modern state,” “bureaucratic state” or “administrative state” – are so commonplace they almost appear to have no progenitor at all.
If you are familiar with concepts not featured below, please do leave a quick comment with the name of the concept and, if possible, some idea of where it comes from – even a vague idea of its origins helps. So far, this is the list of state concepts, and “thank you in advance” to those who offer to help.
[Ed. – It gets real statey and fun below this page break… you’ve been warned.]
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.
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.
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:
- Public opinion
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.