Archive for the ‘sociology’ Category
This post is a commentary on the controversy around Saida Grundy’s tweets. Recently, Grundy, posted tweets about the legacy of racism. The gist of Grundy’s tweets was that there is a legacy of racism and privilege that is not addressed in American society. At the AAUP blog, Arianne Shavisi summarizes the tweets well: “Grundy … an incoming sociology faculty member at Boston University, tweeted a set of remarks and rhetorical questions regarding white supremacy, slavery, and misogyny in the US.” The tweets generated controversy because they were written in an informal fashion and were interpreted by some as racist.
I want to focus on a few issues that have so far have not received much attention. Before I do, I want to be explicit about my own views. There is nothing wrong in asking if the majority in this country have enjoyed privilege or if people have truly acknowledged the history of racism in America. It is also not controversial to note that some ethnic groups, such as Whites, may be over represented on some issues. In terms of style, I would have been more careful. Twitter is the type of media where things can easily be taken out of context. What is funny, or witty, in person can go bad online. There is also a bit dispute over the administration’s response. My view is that university administrators should support an environment of academic free speech, but remain agnostic on particular faculty members.
There are two issues that I’d like to address: the history of controversy in African-American Studies and internet shaming. I’ve written previously in the Teachers College Record, and a little in my book, about the pattern of controversy around African-American Studies. This is relevant since Grundy is jointly appointed in African-American Studies and sociology. Since the beginning, the field has been the target of conservative critics who periodically use African-American Studies as an example of all that is wrong on higher education. During the 2012 Naomi Schaefer Riley incident, a journalist plucked titles of incomplete dissertations and made fun of them. One can go through the pages of conservative opinion journals and books to see periodic critiques of African-American Studies from the likes of John Derbyshire and Dinesh D’Souza (see page 238p, note 5 of the book). In an earlier era, scholars like Martin Kilson would go to the mainstream press to air complaints.
What is new is that these critics now have access to the social media output of African-American Studies scholars. An enterprising critic could comb Facebook, Twitter, and blogs to find the most outrageous things. They can quickly go viral and trigger a wave of outrage overnight. Still, one should keep in mind that it still fits an overall pattern of external critics obsessing over African American Studies as a symbol of the liberal rot of academia. The only difference is the speed at which this can happen. Thus, as I noted above, it is wise to exercise prudence in such a hostile environment.
Second, there is an element of Internet shaming happening here. The journalist Ron Jonson has a new book called “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” that describes how in the modern age people can use comments and social media to instantaneously tarnish a person’s reputation. The normal punishment for an off-color joke or poorly worded remark is a mild reprimand. Now, the very same minor offense can lead to losing one’s job and a potentially irreparable mark on one’s reputation. Jonson also notes that Internet shaming often is highly unequal in that Internet rage is often directed at women. Here, the insult is compounded. Grundy is an early career scholar and this incident has already been a serious burden.
This incident reflects a number of factors coming together. Twitter can translate wit into rancor; social media magnifies mistakes; and there is a ready to go outrage machine just waiting for the jarring statement from an ethnic studies professor. I hope in the future that we can better deal with this phenomena and that this scholar can start a fruitful research career.
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
I recently reviewed a paper for Social Problems. The decision letter noted that they accept 8% of papers. That is roughly in the ball park of ASR, AJS and other journals. On the Facebook page, I asked if Social Problems is so competitive, then why doesn’t it get the same profile or respect as ASR/AJS in the sociology job market/promotion system? Some answers make sense. For example, there could be self-selection and people send stronger papers to the association’s journals. Another issue is that Social Problems simply accepts different types of papers. For example, Social Problems does not publish “pure theory” as would be found in AJS or Sociological Theory and it rarely publishes methods papers, which can be big citation generators.
Still, it seems like there is quite a bit of overlap between Social Problems and AJS/ASR/SF. See for your self. Can you identify which papers are Social Problems from the following list?*
- Race, Space, and Cumulative Disadvantage: A Case Study of the Subprime Lending Collapse
- Is Love (Color) Blind? The Economy of Race among Gay and Straight Daters
- The Best Laid Plans: Social Capital in the Development of Girls’ Educational and Occupational Plans
- Work-Family Context and the Longevity Disadvantage of US Women
- Executive Compensation, Fat Cats, and Best Athletes
- The Dynamics of Opportunity and Insurgent Practice: How Black Anti-colonialists Compelled Truman to Advocate Civil Rights
- Emergent Ghettos: Black Neighborhoods in New York and Chicago, 1880–1940
- The Paradox of Legitimacy: Resilience, Successes, and the Multiple Identities of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Turkey
My point isn’t to say that all journals are publishing the same stuff, but even a casual perusal of the journals suggests a lot of overlap. I think self-selection and the prestige orders creates different pools that lead to actual differences in quality. My point is more modest: the difference between AJS/ASR and other journals is probably exaggerated. I’d like to see sociology move to a system of top 4 journals (or more), like most other disciplines.
* Answers: SP, SF, SP, SF, ASR, ASR, AJS, SP.
Sadly, I could not be present at the SSS meetings, so I wrote out my comments about Jerry Jacobs’ wonderful In Defense of Disciplines. Go buy the book!
I want to start by thanking Sarah Winslow and the Southern Sociological Society for organizing this session. Jerry is a leading sociologist of higher education and his work merits sustained attention and critique. It is an honor to be allowed to participate in this event.
In a way, this is an awkward critique to write because I agree with much of what In Defense of Disciplines has to say. For example, on the basic conceptual issue of what counts as a discipline, Jerry’s definition is very close to my own feeling on the subject – disciplines are closed social fields of self-certifying intellectuals who are institutionalized in universities. In my work on the Black Studies movement, I found this approach to be very useful in that it identifies how interdisciplinary fields like Ethnic Studies are different than older fields like history or sociology. They haven’t yet achieved closure and rely on allied disciplines for personnel. I call fields like Black Studies “permanent inter-disciplines” because they can’t quite reach the status of a discipline and they don’t seem to be going anywhere.
This is the last post for now about The Triumphs of Experience. In today’s post, I’d like to focus on one of the book’s major findings: the extreme damage done by alcoholism. In the study, the researchers asked respondents to describe their drinking. Using the DSM criteria and respondents’ answers, people were classified as occasional social drinkers, alcoholics and former alcoholics. Abstainers were very few so they receive no attention in the book. People were classified as alcoholics if they indicated that alcohol drinking interrupted their lives in any significant way.
The big finding is that alcoholism is correlated with nearly every negative outcome in the life course: divorce, early death, bad relationships with people, and so forth. I was so taken aback by the relentless destruction that I named alcoholism the “nuclear bomb” of the life course. It destroys nearly everything and even former alcoholics suffered long term effects. The exception is employment. A colleague noted that drinking is socially ordered to occur at night, so that may be a reason people can be “functioning” alcoholics during the day.
The book also deserves praise for adding more evidence to the longstanding debate over the causes of alcoholism. This is possible because the Grant Study has very rare, and detailed, longitudinal data. They are able to test the hypotheses that development of alcoholism is correlated with addictive personality (“oral” personality in older jargon), depression, and sociopathy. The data does not support these hypotheses.By itself, this is an important contribution.
The two factors that do correlate with alcoholism are having an alcoholic family member and the culture of drinking in the family. The first is probably a marker of a genetic predisposition. The second is about education – people may not understand how to moderate if they come from families that hide alcohol or abuse it. In other words, the family that lets kids have a little alcohol here and there are probably doing them a favor by teaching moderation.
Finally, the book is to be commended for documenting the ubiquity of alcoholism. In their sample, alcoholism occurs in about 25% of the sample of men at age 20. By the mid 40s, alcoholism reaches a peak, with about half of men being classified as alcoholics. After age 50, it then declines – mainly due to death and becoming a “former alcoholic.” If there is any generalizability at all to these findings, it shows that alcoholism has probably been wrecking the lives of millions and millions of people, somewhere between a quarter and half the population. That’s a profound, and shocking, finding.
Today, we’ll continue discussing George Vaillant’s The Triumphs of Experience, the 70 year long life course study. One of the major findings of the study is the importance of early childhood family conditions. The initial phases of the study asked participants to describe their childhood environment. Were their parents open and warm? Cold and removed? Divorced or still married? Also, the Grant study investigators had the opportunity to interview parents and other family members on occasions. Did the interviewer think the mother was involved or removed?
Using these data, the Grant Study investigators coded a number of variables reflecting family environment. The recorded stratification variables (employed v. unemployed, working class v. upper class), structure (divorced v. married) and emotional content (warm parents vs. cold parents). Then, they looked at the associations with a number of key life course variables.Two answers:
- First, having a warm father was associated with almost every positive life course outcome – flourishing in late age, not getting divorced, income. In some cases, the association is striking. In retirement, having a warm parent is associated with tens of thousands of dollars in additional income. That is amazing once you consider that this is an insanely biased sample of male Harvard grads. To push your income even higher in a batch of doctors, executives, and attorneys is stunning.
- Second, stratification variables don’t matter much. In other words, in this sample, having wealthy parents isn’t much of an asset.
- Third, divorce of parents does not seem to matter either once you account for having warm parents and having positive coping strategies.
Bottom line: Social networks seem to be very crucial for the life course. Not for their direct instrumental features (aka social capital), but mainly for allowing people to maintain an emotional composure that allows them to solve problems and thrive.
This week, I will spend quite a bit of time discussing a book called The Triumphs of Experience by George Vaillant. I’ve written briefly about the book before, but I didn’t appreciate the magnitude of the book until I assigned it for a class. Roughly speaking, the book follows a cohort of college men from the 1940s to the mid 2000s. Thus, the book tracks people from young adulthood to old age. It’s a powerful book in that it uses enormously rich data to analyze the life course and identify factors that contribute to our well being. You won’t find many other books that have such deep data to address one of life’s most important questions – What makes us happy? What is the good life?
In this first post, I want to briefly summarize the book and then note a few drawbacks. Later this week, I want to delve into two topics in more detail: alcoholism and parental bonds. To start: the Grant Study of Human development randomly selected a few hundred male Harvard undergrads for a long term study on health and the life course. It’s a biased sample, but it’s well suited for studying long life and work (remember, many women became home makers in that era) while controlling for educational attainment. The strength of this book is an ability to mine rich qualitative data on the life course and then mapping the associations over decades. The data is rich enough that the authors can actually consider alternative hypotheses and build multi-cause explanations.
A few drawbacks: Rhetorically, I thought the book was a bit wordier and longer than it needed to be. Also, I wish that the book had a glossary or appendix where one can look up definitions. More importantly, this book will note be convincing to folks who are obsessed with identification. It is very “1960s” in that they collect a lot of data and then channel their energies into looking at cross-group differences. But still, considering that doing RCT with your family is not possible and the importance of the data, I’m willing to forgive. Wednesday: The importance of your family.