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who’s afraid of w.e.b. dubois?

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At the Social Science History Association meetings, I was part of the Author Meets Critics panel about The Scholar Denied, Aldon Morris’ book on the career of W.E.B. DuBois and the institutions that shape academic discourse. The panel included Vilna Bashi Treitler and Melissa F. Weiner. The conversation was interesting and focused on how DuBois strove to bring empirical rigor to social science and how he used empirical social science to counter racist social science.

On my account, I offered a few critiques of Professor Morris’ book and he pushed back on one. I argued that he needed to more clearly articulate the question of “who is this for?” He said (correctly) that DuBois is not frequently taught in a lot of graduate sociology programs. Here’s my point – DuBois is no longer a fringe figure, if he ever was:

  • Citation count: Souls, by itself, has 11,000 citations!
  • There is a DuBois Institute at Harvard
  • There is a DuBois journal
  • There is a DuBois award from the ASA (promoted by Professor Morris, by the way)
  • His work is included in all kinds of anthologies and overviews of American letters

I could go on and on. So what’s the issue? My hypothesis is that DuBois is resisted by the sub-specialty of people who use the label “social theorists” and thus DuBois’ work is not appreciated by people outside the sociology of race who take a single theory course. That is why you get this weird situation where DuBois has a big impact across academia but is seen as secondary within sociology. The canonizers haven’t gotten on board, but that doesn’t prevent the rest of us from reading him.

What do you think? Where and how did you read DuBois? Use the comments.

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

Written by fabiorojas

November 29, 2016 at 12:08 am

black mirror’s nosedive episode; also sf and social theory

If you don’t already watch Black Mirror, it’s worth checking out, especially now that you get can get every episode on Netflix. It’s a wonderful science fiction/horror anthology, sort of a modern Twilight Zone, but with more of a focus on technology. The first episode of the latest season, Nosedive (see some reviews here and here, but spoilers!) is truly excellent. Bryce Dallas Howard plays a woman, Lacie, who is at once vulnerable and ambitious, smiling with a too-obvious strain at everyone she passes.  She smiles so hard because she’s literally being rated for each interaction. That’s the amazing premise of this episode: a facebook-like app gives everyone an averaged rating of between 1 and 5, and each interaction is a new chance to change your score.

There’s a lot going on there, and a tremendous amount that’s useful for us to think (and teach) with as sociologists.  First, there’s the obvious connection to the current pressure to like (and be liked!) on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms.  It’s also important that the main character here is a woman, and that so many of the interactions she has are also with women. The increased emotional labor expected of women (from men, of course, but also from women) is an important sociological insight, and it’s not surprising it’s reproduced online.

Yet what struck me even more about this episode is what it shows—albeit totally obliquely—about the micro-macro link.  The rich and powerful all have very high ratings, and while we never really find out how (surely the rich are sometimes jerks?) we get a sense of it through observing the interaction rituals Lacie goes through everyday. She wants to make sure she gets a 5 as often as possible, and a 5 from someone with a higher rating is weighted heavier.  As such, she has an incentive to give a 5 to everyone with higher status than hers, in the hopes that they’ll reciprocate.  Yet they obviously have less incentive to rate her highly, not least because her rating of them carries less weight in the metrics.

Those differences have real stakes: Lacie is basically “middle class” in that she’s in the low 4s.  Once you start getting less than that, many perks and privileges are taken away from you.  I kept thinking of Erving Goffman and Randall Collins as I watched the show, and also of recent work by people like Julia Ticona and Sherry Turkle. Which is to say: there’s a lot there, and I’d be interested in people’s thoughts.

Along those lines, it’s worth thinking about how science fiction as a genre provides great heuristics that push to 11 things that are already happening: in this case, what if everyone was rated on a 1 to 5 scale? What’s great about that is how similar it is to a certain way of thinking about social theory.  A good social theory simplifies a lot of complex social noise into an argument: religion is like opium, say, or cultural reproduction is like the accumulation of economic capital. Much like the science fiction premises, these don’t work in every context, but they can be very helpful ways to think about the world.

Written by jeffguhin

October 23, 2016 at 12:36 am

does making one’s scholarly mark mean transplanting the shoulders of giants elsewhere?

The Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) website has made Neil Fligstein‘s powerpoint slides on the history of economic sociology available for general viewing as a PDF.  (Here are the slides in powerpoint form: 1469704310_imagining_economic_sociology_-socio-economics-fligstein) It’s a fascinating read of the development of a sub-field across continents, and it also includes discussion of a challenge that some believes plagues the sociology discipline:

Both Max Weber and Thomas Kuhn recognized that Sociology as a discipline might be doomed to never cumulate knowledge.

  • Sociology would proceed as a set of research projects which reflected the current concerns and interests of a small set of scholars
  • When the group hit a dead end in producing novel results, the research program would die out only to be replaced by another one
  • Progress in economic sociology is likely to be made by putting our research programs into dialogue with one another to make sense of how the various mechanisms that structure markets interact
  • Failure to do so risks the field fragmenting of the field into ever smaller pieces and remaining subject to fashion and fad

Fligstein’s claim for these field-fragmenting tendencies stems from the current structure of the academic field.  He depicts sociology as rewarding scholars for applying ideas from one area to another area where current theorizing is insufficient, rather than expanding existing research:

  • … the idea is not to work on the edge of some mature existing research program with the goal of expanding it
  • But instead, one should be on the lookout for new ideas from different research programs to borrow to make sense for what should be done next

In short, scholars tend to form intellectual islands where they can commune with other like-minded scholars.  Bridging paths to other islands can generate rewards, but the efforts needed to disseminate knowledge more widely – even within a discipline – can exceed any one person’s capacity.

 

Written by katherinechen

October 10, 2016 at 6:30 pm

Call for papers: Social movements, economic innovation, and institutional change

To be hosted at the UCLA Meyer & Renee Luskin Conference Center

Date: November 3-5, 2016

We invite submissions for a workshop on the intersection of social movements and economic processes, to be held at the new UCLA Meyer & Renee Luskin Conference Center from Thursday November 3 to Saturday November 5, 2016.

This meeting extends the theme of “Social Movements and the Economy,” a workshop that was held last year at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. The goal of the earlier workshop was to bring scholarship on social movements and organizations into closer conversation with political economy scholarship focused on how economic forces and the dynamics of capitalism shape social movements.

For the present meeting, we hope to further develop this dialogue, continuing the focus on both movement effects on the economy as well as economic effects on movements and movement organizations. Although the conference will not at all be limited to these, welcome topics of investigation will include: links between social movements and financialization; changing or innovative organizational forms; the link between economic and technological change in contentious politics; labor organizing; connections between movements and political or economic elites; studies of relationships between movements and firms or trade associations including partnerships, funding, and/or cooptation; cross-national comparative or historical analyses of movements and economic forces.

We welcome scholars from sociology, management, political science, economics, communications, and related disciplines to submit abstracts for consideration as part of this call. As in the previous workshop, this meeting will seek to engage in a thorough reconsideration of both the economic sources and the economic outcomes of social movements, with careful attention to how states intermediate each of these processes.

The keynote speaker will be Neil Fligstein, Class of 1939 Chancellor’s Professor in the Department of Sociology at UC-Berkeley.

The workshop is planned to start with a dinner in the evening on Thursday November 3, to conclude with morning sessions on Saturday November 5. Invited guests will be provided with domestic travel and accommodation support.

Submissions (PDF or DOC) should include:

– A cover sheet with title, name and affiliation, and email addresses for all authors

– An abstract of 200-300 words that describes the motivation, research questions, methods, and connection to the workshop theme

– Include the attachment in an email with the subject “Social Movements and the Economy”

Please send abstracts to walker@soc.ucla.edu and b-king@kellogg.northwestern.edu by August 21, 2016. Review and notification will occur shortly thereafter.

Contact Edward Walker (walker@soc.ucla.edu) or Brayden King (b-king@kellogg.northwestern.edu) for more information.

Written by brayden king

July 21, 2016 at 7:45 pm

state of the field article on field theory in non-profit organizations, by Emily Barman, now available

We’re at the halfway mark in July.  Looking for summer reading that covers the latest sociological theories in non-profit research?  Emily Barman has a “state of the field” article on the use of field theory in the non-profit organizations literature in the Organizations and Work section of Sociology Compass.

Here’s the abstract for her article “Varieties of Field Theory and the Sociology of the Non-profit Sector:”

Abstract

This paper reviews the use of field theory in the sociological study of the non-profit sector. The review first shows how field theory, as a conceptual framework to explain social action, provides a valuable sociological counterweight to prevailing economic and psychological orientations in the interdisciplinary scholarship on the non-profit sector. However, despite its certain shared assumptions, field theory in sociology encompasses three distinct, albeit interrelated, approaches: the Bourdieusian, New Institutionalist, and Strategic Action Fields perspectives. I comparatively outline the key analytical assumptions and causal claims of each version of field theory, whether and how it recognizes the specificity of the non-profit sector and then delineate its application by sociologists to the non-profit sector. I show how scholars’ employment of each articulation of field theory to study non-profit activity has been influenced by pre-existing scholarly assumptions and normative claims about this third space. The article concludes by summarizing the use of these varieties of field theory in the sociology of the non-profit sector and by identifying future directions in this line of research.

Also, Emily has a new book available, titled Caring Capitalism: The Meaning and Measure of Social Value (2016, Cambridge University Press)!  Check out the book blurb here.

Written by katherinechen

July 11, 2016 at 4:49 pm

is asa slowly dying?

In this month’s ASA Footnotes, there is an article called “Is ASA Only for the Rich?” This passage stuck out:

As with most member organizations, ASA’s membership has fluctuated over the last half century. It grew rapidly in the 1960s to an historic high of 14,934 in 1972, and then declined steadily in the 1970s to a low of 11,223 in 1984. A period of resurgence followed with membership reaching just over 13,000 by 1991. While it remained relatively constant across the 1990s, membership dropped to 12,368 by 2001. It then climbed rapidly back to near its historic peak, reaching 14,000 in all but one year between 2006 and 2011. The last four years have again seen declines, with final 2015 membership at 11,949.

Whoa. Let me rephrase this, ASA membership has dropped to the lowest levels in over 32 years. This is amidst a modest economic recovery in the early 2010s and an overall expansion of higher education where many sociologists are working in business schools, education schools, and policy schools.

In the rest of the article, Mary Romero presents data showing that the composition of the ASA hasn’t changed much and that those who are ASA members attend at relatively high rates compared to the past.

Here’s my conjecture: A long, long time ago, ASA fees were probably low, adjusting for inflation. Then, they slowly crept up. As they crept up in the 2000s, people still enrolled since universities would foot the bill. But in the recession of 2008, many universities cut back or eliminated travel budgets for faculty and universities (mine did!). Also, pre-2008, most folks probably were signing up to get journals. Now, almost all university based students and faculty can get the major journals for free from the library. So there is no need to sign up for ASA unless you need to go to the conference, which explains the increase in the proportion of members who attend the ASA. To offset this, fees have to stay high, which drives away people.

I’d like to hear about your decision to sign up/not sign up for ASA. Personally, once travel funds were cut at IU a while back, I just stopped signing up unless I really, really had to go in an official capacity. Also, seeing that the dues are too damn high relative to other associations make me want to sign up even less. What is your reason for signing or not signing up? Use the comments.

 

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

 

Written by fabiorojas

June 29, 2016 at 12:13 am

article discussion: is marriage an all or nothing institution? by finkel et al. (2015)

Starting on July 1, we will discuss “The Suffocation Model: Why Marriage in America is Becoming an All or Nothing Institution” by Finkel et al. This appeared last summer in Directions in Psychological Science. The discussion will be less intense than a full blown book forum, but we will dedicate one or two posts to it. This article was suggested by Chris Martin.

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

Written by fabiorojas

June 17, 2016 at 12:28 am