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the post-racist society vs. donald j. trump

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The central tragedy of America is the treatment of non-whites. From Indian wars, to slavery, to segregation, to internment camps, to deportations, to Guantanamo, American society has often betrayed its ideals. But the American story is also one of progress, not stagnation. From time to time, change does happen and it is good.

In my eye, one of the biggest transformations of American society was the de-legitimization of racism in the 1960s. Following a century of eugenics, Jim Crow and all other manner affront to human dignity, the Civil Rights movement managed to create one of the first modern societies where racism began to lose its legitimacy. Not only did African-Americans have their rights returned to them, but the culture around race started to shift as well. For the first time, it was no longer appropriate for public figures to openly disparage American blacks, and many other groups as well.

A while ago I called this new culture “the post-racist society.” Not because I believed race or racism were gone. But rather overt racism was illegitimate. You could be racist, but it had to be expressed in dog whistle politics. It was a submerged belief in the mainstream of American life. My belief in the post-racist society was initially shaken by the rise of Trump. For the first time in decades, a serious contender for the presidency was openly racist. My belief was shaken once again when he won.

But later, as I surveyed the evidence on how Trump rose to power, I realized that the death of post-racist society was greatly exaggerated. For example, Trump won on an electoral college fluke, not because a new nationalist majority propelled him to power. Another key piece evidence. Estimates of the GOP primary vote indicate that 55% of GOP voters preferred someone other than Trump (see the wiki for the basic data). Yes, there is a nationalist and racist strand within the the GOP and Trump essentially dominated that vote. But a causal reading of the GOP primary map shows that Cruz dominated the mountain states and split the Midwest. If you look at the vote tallies in many early states, Trump was winning with vote totals in the low 30% range. Not exactly a resounding victory.

After entering office, there has been no groundswell of nationalism or racism in this country. For example, approval ratings for Trump have been horrid and have sunk to historic lows. Obama’s approval barely dipped below 40% in the Gallup polls but Trump’s is already in the 30% range and has stayed there. Trump is not riding a giant groundswell of nationalism or expressing the outrage of a working class left behind. Rather, he’s an electoral accident propped up by the most recalcitrant elements of the Republican party.

Trump’s limited support in the American polity raises some interesting questions. If only 35% of people approve of Trump (mainly racists and loyal Republicans), then what is everyone else doing? As with many political things, a lot of people have sat out. But we are seeing other parts of the political system slowly respond to Trump.

Perhaps the most insightful example is Trump’s statement that he would ban transgendered individuals from the armed services. The response? The military essentially just ignored him. Just think about that. Another example – after Trump’s statements about the murder of a protester in Charlottesville, conservative GOP senators slowly criticized him and CEO’s started resigning from key committees. Then, of course, there is the disintegration of the GOP consensus in the Senate.

There is the usual resistance from the left that accompanies any Republican administration. I am sure that the events in Charlottesville will continue to mobilize people and surely Trump will offer the left more to be appalled at. His actions will likely sustain the groups behind the Women’s march and the march for science, as well as Obama era groups like Black Lives Matter. And of course, white supremacy groups have seen Trump’s election as a chance to come out of the wood works, which will trigger push back from the left.

One might attribute Republican softness and left resistance to Trumpian incompetence. Perhaps it wouldn’t exist with a more smooth, but equally racist, Republican politician. Maybe. But here’s another hypothesis – people in general aren’t ready to completely ready to ditch the post-Civil Rights cultural agenda. Segregation is not on the table and popular culture has not reverted to a stage where racial slurs are permissible. Black face is not on TV and will not be any time in the near future. We live in the world of Get Out, not Birth of a Nation.

So when white nationalist politicians, like Steve King or Trump, emerge in the GOP, they reflect the will of a sizable, yet limited, constituency. But that group is big enough to win elections in some rural areas, like Arizona or Iowa, and enough to push through a candidate in a split field. At the same time, it doesn’t indicate a slide back to the middle ages.

Does that mean that people should “just relax?” No. Rather, it means that it is possible to defend the post-Civil Rights social order. It is there and it is, haphazardly, pushing back. We need to do what we can to help it out. It’s hard, but it has to be done.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine – It’s Awesome! 

Written by fabiorojas

August 16, 2017 at 5:10 am

at ASA? come to the blog party

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At ASA? Looking for something to do this afternoon? Like free food? Come to the blog party! 4-7pm today (Sunday Aug. 13) at Le Vieux Dublin. Full details here: https://scatter.wordpress.com/2017/07/13/asa-blog-party-episode-xiv-revenge-of-the-blogs/

Hors d’oeuvres sponsored by SocArXiv. Hope to see you there!

Written by epopp

August 13, 2017 at 12:57 pm

Posted in uncategorized

let’s talk theory at ASA

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book cover

Dear Fellow Sociologists: Columbia University Press is kind enough to host a book signing at ASA for the Theory book. If you are around on Saturday 4:30 to 6, come to the book area. Also, my editor, the amazing Eric Schwartz, will announce times where you can meet other amazing sociologists. Check the Columbia U Press twitter feed for news.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street  

Written by fabiorojas

August 9, 2017 at 2:08 am

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we should thank malcolm gladwell and send him flowers

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What if I told you that a popular writer recently published a book that neatly summarizes modern inequality research for the masses and depicts sociology in a very positive light? You’d be happy, right? And you might want to know who that person is, right?

Well, I just spent some time rereading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, his summary of the social science research on high achievement. The public discussion of the book focused way too much on one chapter that discusses the “10,000 hour rule” (experts usually need about four years of full time immersion in a topic to get really good at it). But if you read the book, the message is much more expansive than that and it completely draws on a lot of standard sociology.

For example, Gladwell has a chapter dedicated to Lareau’s theory of class and culture as a factor in status attainment. He talks about how working class people often have an oppositional view of institutions and he directly talks about Lareau. In multiple chapters on family and achievement, he cites sociological studies that trace how families transmit specific knowledge and skills to their children, which allow for social mobility. He is also a fan of ecological theories of success (being in a city where business is booming – New York in the 1910s) and cohort theories of success (being part of the computer revolution in the 1980s). In discussing cultural differences, he offers a fairly conventional Swidler/Weber approach. He argues that work skills that are advantageous in Asian agriculture are also advantageous in Western industrial economies.

So why don’t we pay more attention to Outliers as a great “public sociology” book? The ASA did give Gladwell an outreach award, but the profession seems to have moved on. I think it may have to do with the 10,000 hours chapter. The chapter is a little bit sloppy and slides into exuberant rhetoric. A lot of people focused on it and tried to tear it down. For example, he does actually write that “10,000 hours is the magic number,” which mistakenly gives the impression that anyone can win an Olympic medal if they just practice enough.

This is a false impression if you actually read the entire chapter (and book) and approach the claim with a charitable mind. For example, at multiple points, he openly admits that people have “talent” and that you need that for the coaching and practice to get you to a world class level. The other chapters all suggest that contextual factors matter a great deal as well. Also, many of the critics committed their own errors. For example, they would often point to studies of elite athletes that show that extra practice doesn’t explain success. Yes, but by selecting only elite athletes, you are looking at a group where everyone has already done their “10,000” hours. That is selection bias!

In regards to sloppy writing, what I think Gladwell was trying to say was that yes, people have talent, but you also need to add in other structural factors, such as deep immersion in the field. No one is “born” a genius. High achievement is the result of social structure and individual gifts. If I were Gladwell, I would also add that deep practice would improve almost anyone in absolute terms and make you an “expert” but it wouldn’t erase relative differences between people who have invested the time in practice. For example, if I studied basketball for 10,000 with a pro-level coach, I bet my lay-ups would be amazing – if I did them by myself!! If I had to plow through other taller players on defense, I probably wouldn’t do as well. My innate traits don’t disappear completely and neither do relative difference. But I would still be massively better compared to a person with no training and I would still possess “expert level” knowledge and execution of skills. In my view, Gladwell should have focused a little more on the difference between absolute improvements and relative performance.

Is Outliers perfect? No, but it is a very fair summary of how sociologists think about status attainment and I think it would be a great way to teach undergrads. If you need a nice popular book for an intro course or stratification, this is a good one.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

August 3, 2017 at 4:39 am

how to stop reading rumor websites

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Wasting too much time on gossip web sites? Can’t help yourself from spreading malicious rumors? I have an E-Z solution!!!

  1. Copy this email address: frojas@indiana.edu
  2. Every time you read, or comment, on a garbage rumor website, use PayPal to send $5 to the address listed in step #1.

You might ask, “Why not donate to the Red Cross? Or some charity?” I suppose you could, but, you’d tell yourself that you are helping the world while polluting it. But give me the money and I’ll guarantee negative reinforcement. You will be nauseated by the thought of me using your money to buy a Five Guys double cheese burger with raw onions and bacon on it. Ponder that image enough times and you’ll quit. I guarantee it.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street  

 

Written by fabiorojas

August 2, 2017 at 4:01 am

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zones of the sociology job market

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Academic job markets are odd. They are “thin,” in the sense that there are relatively few buyers. And they are balkanized in the sense that there all kinds of weird niches. And they are fluctuating, in the sense that trends come and go. Despite all that, sociology, like most disciplines, have consistent “streams of jobs” that merit discussion.

  1. The stratification zone: The study of inequality is at the core of field and every year people get hired. In fact, it is so central to the field that advertising a strat job is almost like admitting that you’re really doing an open search.
  2. The health/crim/aging zone: Sociologists don’t say that health, or criminal justice, or gerontology is at the core, but we can’t say no to the enrollments and the grants. The result is that this zone is almost always healthy.
  3. The urban zone: A small zone, but a consistent one. Most urban sociologists can honestly argue that they do race or inequality, so they tend to do well.
  4. The econ soc/institutions/political soc zone: Usually in the middle in terms of jobs. The econ soc/orgs/institutions side of things do well, but the political side can be tough. On the up side, people in this zone can often move into jobs in b-schools,policy or ed schools.
  5. The demography/family zone: Big grants, big jobs. Most programs have these folks and some invest deeply in this zone. Jobs available.
  6. The Prada Bag zone: Named after Monica Prasad’s description of historical comparative scholars, the Prada Bag Zone exists mainly in top 30 programs and some elite liberal arts colleges because they are luxury items. Good to have, and desirable, but they won’t bump off the health/crim zone in less competitive programs. Prada bags include the historical comparative people, hard core ethnographers, and movements people, among other. Tiny zone, few jobs.
  7. Niche zones: Sociology has a number of very small job market zones, for specialties that have limited appeal and meager funding. The great example of sociology of science. Another is old school political sociology. Life in these zone is nasty, brutish and short.

I intentionally left out education, because people in that zone tend to swept up into other zones (stratification or urban or institutions).  What else did I miss? What else should we talk about in terms of the sociology job market?

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

August 1, 2017 at 4:33 am

to bolivia

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50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street  

Written by fabiorojas

July 30, 2017 at 4:38 am