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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

response to lizardo on the death of theory in sociology

A little while back, Omar released a pamphlet called The End of Theorists. It’s an essay on the state of theory in sociology and some possibilities for the future. Originally given as address to the junior theorist’s symposium, he expanded it into an essay. Omar’s bad news is that the official role of “theorist” has been eroded in sociology. The good news is that one can come up with a new role for theorists that creates a new position for them in the profession. My summary is pithy and leaves out a lot, so I strongly recommend that you read the original.

My comments: First, there’s a conceit in the profession that Omar takes at face value. That we need a separate group of people called “theorists” who do things that other sociologists don’t do. Classically, this wasn’t the case. Max Weber (usually) didn’t do “theory.” He did political economy, though he had some writings that were purely theoretical in character. Durkheim had some purely theoretical texts, like Rules of Sociological Method, but his greatest works were focused on issues like political economy, religion, or social psychology.

So why are these people lumped into “theory?” Very good, or very interesting, answers to important questions have a prolonged impact because future readers try to draw more general lessons.* That fits one common definition of theory – general principles that guide a wide range of cases (e.g., gravity applies to all physical objects, supply and demand curves apply to markets in general). For this reason, I’ve always thought that we shouldn’t have separate theory developers. Instead, we should make our most wide ranging answers into our theory. That’s typically (but not always) how people enter into the “theory canon.”

Second, theory in modern times seems to correlate with some other attributes in sociology – qualitative, history of thought, verbal expression. This can be seen in many ways. For example, people who are heavy in theory tend to do things like historical work, ethnography and culture, which is often but not always qualitative in approach. Just check out the list of speakers for the junior theorist symposiums, or the empirical foci of now classic “theorists” like Bourdieu. Thus, what happens in heavily quantitative areas like criminology, public opinion, or demography has little influence on what the canon of sociological theory should be.

More might be said, but here is what I thought after reading Omar’s essay – The theorist is dead? Good riddance. I’m tired of old books, a balkanized sociology, and posturing. Instead, let’s create theory that distills what is learned from across the profession. That’s a theory that we all can use.

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

* There is also a political story as well, in that some scholars have big cheering sections while others do not. See Mannheim steamrolled.

Written by fabiorojas

March 4, 2015 at 12:16 am

Posted in fabio, sociology

congratulations to the new asr editors!

Ding dong!

Congratulations to Rory McVeigh, Omar Lizardo, and Sarah Mustillo on being named the incoming editors of the American Sociological Review. I wish them all the best and I look forward to being rejected by them!

A few interesting notes: First, if you ever wondered whether blogging damages your career chances, this should put your fears to rest. Second, on Twitter, I asked Omar about the problem of endless R&R’s, rotating reviewers, and other problems that have plagued the current incarnation of the journal. Omar directed me to the proposal that he submitted with Rory and Sarah. A few choice quotes:

  • “We aim to maintain that standard, while also seeking out new ways to improve on past performance. We will address the issue of efficiency by strategically using members of the editorial board during the review process and by making a judicious use of the initial R & R decision. Our aim is to use the R & R decision exclusively on papers for which there is strong consensus on the part of the entire editorial team (inclusive of the deputy editors and members of the editorial board assigned to each paper) with regards to potential for publication and the feasibility of the revisions required by the reviewers. We believe that an astute use of the R & R decision will do a lot to improve the efficiency of the review process at ASR.”
  • “Our plan is to address this issue by limiting the number of R & R decisions to a maximum of two and by being exceedingly sparing with the practice of granting second R & R decisions. There may be cases where a second R & R decision will be needed, particularly in cases where authors may be somewhat inexperienced and need an additional opportunity to improve the paper or address a critical point. Early editorial intervention, however, should reduce the need for second R & R decisions. However, in no case will we issue a third R & R decision. The decision after a second R & R will be rejection, acceptance, or conditional acceptance. “

Thank flippin’ gawd. The only down side is that I will no longer be banned from the reviewer pool. C’est la vie.

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

Written by fabiorojas

March 3, 2015 at 3:13 am

Posted in academia, fabio, sociology

free grad skool rulz book….

… if you attend any of the book talks listed below. I’ll send a free copy to a friend if you live tweet the talk w/photo.

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

Written by fabiorojas

March 2, 2015 at 7:08 am

party in the street: new york, chicago and washington, DC!!! come to the talks!

My friend and co-author Michael Heaney will be speaking about Party in the Street this week. Here is the info:

  • On Monday, Michael will be in Washington, will be at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC. 6:30 pm, catch it if you can.
  • On Tuesday, Michael will be in Chicago at the Seminary Coop bookstore. They will be starting a series called “Fresh Ayers” where Chicago activist Bill Ayers will host a series of book talks. Michael will be is the first guest.
  • On Wednesday, Michael will be in New York (yes, I know, he’s a busy guy) at Books and Culture. He will be hosted by Dan Wang of the Columbia Business School.

Come out and support the book. We’d love to see you there!

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

Written by fabiorojas

March 2, 2015 at 4:33 am

party in the street: social identities and policy continuity

One of the issues that we draw attention to in Party in the Street is that there was a great deal of continuity in war policy between the Bush and Obama administrations. This is an example of a broader theme in American government: domestic disputes are not brought into foreign policy. The phrase for this is “politics ends at the water’s edge.”

The water’s edge idea has important implications for social movements, especially progressive movements that are often participating in anti-war activism. Normally, we think of movements responding to some sort of stark contrast in policy and they expect different political actors to have distinct views on policy. For example, it is pretty safe to say that Democrats and Republican leaders promote very different abortion policies.

In contrast, the “water’s edge” theory suggests that there will be a fair amount of continuity between administrations in terms of foreign policy. It doesn’t mean total similarity, but a great deal of overlap. For example, the Iraq withdrawal was initially negotiated by the Bush administration and then carried out by Obama’s administration. Similarly, both the Bush and Obama administrations, at various times, sought to extend US involvement in Iraq. Did both administrations have identical policy? Definitely not, but there is a lot of continuity and overlap.

If you believe that movements closely follow policy, then the overall path of the antiwar movement might seem puzzling. When Bush surged, the movement began its decline. As Obama sought extensions in Iraq, there was little protest. Antiwar activists did not focus on the main instrument of withdrawal, the Status of Forces Agreement, initiated by Bush. The War on Terror involved over 100,000 troops “on the ground” from 2003 till about 2010.

We argue in Party in the Street that the overall growth and decline of the antiwar movement can be better explained by the tension of activism and partisanship instead of policy shifts. Early on, the antiwar movement’s identity did not conflict with its ally, the Democratic Party. So the movement could draw partisans and grow during the early stages of the Iraq War. As elections changed the landscape, partisanship asserted itself and the movement ebbed. And that is how we get a declining movement as the US intervention in Iraq is sustained, then incrementally reduced during a multi-year withdrawal phase and the vastly expanded in Afghanistan.

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

Written by fabiorojas

February 6, 2015 at 12:01 am

asian american privilege? a skeptical, but nuanced, view, and a call for more research – a guest post by raj ghoshal and diana pan

Raj Andrew Ghoshal is an assistant professor of sociology at Goucher College and Yung-yi Diana Pan is an assistant professor of sociology at Brooklyn College. This guest post is a discussion of Asian Americans and their status in American society.

As a guest post last month noted, Asian Americans enjoy higher average incomes than whites in the United States. We were critical of much in that post, but believe it raises an under-examined question: Where do Asian Americans stand in the US racial system? In this post, we argue that claims of Asian American privilege are premature, and that Asian Americans’ standing raises interesting questions about the nature of race systems.

We distinguish two dimensions of racial stratification: (1) a more formal, mainly economic hierarchy, and (2) a system of social inclusion/exclusion. This is a line of argument developed by various scholars under different names, and in some ways parallels claims that racial sterotypes concern both warmth and competence. We see Asian Americans as still behind in the more informal system of inclusion/exclusion, while close (but not equal) to whites in the formal hierarchy. Here’s why.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by fabiorojas

February 4, 2015 at 12:01 am

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