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student protest photos at maryland-college park

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Last week, I was visiting the University of Marlyand to meet with the current Contexts editors, Syed Ali and Phillip Cohen, and my editorial partner, Rashawn Ray. While I was taking a stroll with Syed, I saw a student protest. Over the weekend, a noose was found at a fraternity house and it triggered a backlash. I took these photos of the students who were arguing with administrators.  The photo series begins with me being across the street, then moving into the crowd, then the administrator and the administration’s photographer and a final shot of the students.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 19, 2017 at 3:22 am

hackers demand ransom in bitcoin: a guest post by nina bandelj, fred wherry, and viviana zelizer

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Money Month guest blogging continues with UC Irvine’s Nina Bandelj, Yale’s Fred Wherry and Princeton’s Viviana Zelizer

Imagine getting this message at a hospital or a bank. ““Oops, your files have been encrypted!” and [we] demand $300 in Bitcoin.” That is exactly what just happened to the National Health Service in Britain. (Last February, it happened to a hospital in Los Angeles as well.)

Not only has money multiplied, but so too its surprising effects. Chapters by Nigel Dodd and Bill Maurer in Money Talks, respectively, help us sort through the surprising social life of alternative currencies and new payment systems.

We reached out to Bill Maurer about the ongoing ransom demands, and he had this to say.

Bill Maurer:  “Well, they certainly picked a good time for this ransomware attack. Bitcoin is currently trading at over $1800–the highest it’s ever been, and it’s just been going higher. I can’t help but think that this was part of the underlying motivation to launch these attacks now. Why has there been such a rush to bitcoin? It’s complicated. Different versions of the underlying database behind bitcoin–a distributed ledger or blockchain–are being used by a number of startups as well as large financial consortia to power new infrastructure for everything from title registry to securities clearance. This is part of the general trend of increasing diversification in payment technologies. But in order for these specific blockchain systems to work, they need their own cryptographic token. This in turn has expanded the market for all cryptocurrencies, including the most well known, bitcoin. In addition, the “hard fork” in the bitcoin blockchain that some feared–don’t ask!–never came to pass, bolstering confidence in bitcoin. Politics plays a role, too—and not just regulatory decisions, like Japan’s recent decision to allow payment in bitcoin–but political instability (Trump here, Brexit there, and an uncertain future for the EU) stoking goldbug-like skepticism of the future value of fiat currencies. Zelizer was right: money multiplies!”

Check out also Bill Maurer’s new book (with Lana Swartz), Paid: Tales of Dongles, Checks, and Other Money Stuff (MIT Press 2017).

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

May 18, 2017 at 3:48 am

grad students can join the asa theory section for free!!!

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From the home office in Toronto, Daniel Silver sends me the following announcement:

ASA Theory Section Offering Free Student Memberships

The ASA Theory Section is looking to reach out to graduate students who may have theoretical interests but have not joined the section.  To this end, we have secured a number of graduate student memberships, which we can offer to any graduate student who is currently a member of ASA but not Theory.  The section is large, vibrant, and open to any and all forms of sociological theory.

Graduate students who are interested – or faculty who know graduate students that might be interested – can contact Dan Silver, at dsilver@utsc.utoronto.ca.  Act fast while supplies last!

This is an amazing offer. Dan told me that when grad students sign up, they get a free AGIL key chain, their choice of three intersecting social identities, a framed picture of Ann Swidler and a free pass to “Ritual Chains,” the Theory Section’s secret “after hours” dance party.*

And you know what? I’m feeling generous today. I will give a free copy of Theory for the Working Sociologist to the first three grad students who email Dan and take up this offer. Just send proof that you signed up and your snail mail address.

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

* Ok, none of that is true but the book give away is 100% the truth.

Written by fabiorojas

May 17, 2017 at 12:01 am

recent randall collins

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One of sociology’s best kept secrets is Rand Collins’ blog. Occasional but high quality posts. Recent topics:

Each is a novella, but worth the read.

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

May 16, 2017 at 12:45 am

Posted in blogs, fabio, uncategorized

why we aren’t behavioral economists: a guest post by nina bandelj, fred wherry, and viviana zelizer

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This month is “Money Month” on the blog. We have three utterly amazing and HUGE guests – UC Irvine’s Nina Banelj, Yale’s Fred Wherry and Princeton’s Viviana Zelizer. This first guest post investigates the boundary between economic sociology and allied disciplines. 

Rather than retreat to disciplinary corners, let us begin by affirming our respect for the generative work undertaken across a variety of disciplines. We’re all talking money, so it is helpful to specify what’s similar and what’s different when we do. That’s what we tried to do in our just born volume Money Talks: Explaining How Money Really Works where we brought together scholars from sociology, economics, law, political science, anthropology, history, and philosophy. In this post, we address our closest cousins: behavioral economics and cognitive psychology. (Mind you, the first chapter’s author is Jonathan Morduch who has co-authored a widely used textbook on behavioral economics with Dean Karlan. Morduch’s essay in our book develops the first sustained comparison between economic and sociological approaches to money.)

In our introduction to Money Talks, we illustrate differences between mental accounting and relational approaches with the following example. Consider the case of a child’s “college fund.” Marketing professors Soman and Ahn recount the dilemma one of their acquaintances, who is an economist, faced with the option of borrowing money at a high rate of interest to pay for a home renovation or using money he already had saved in his three-year-old son’s low-interest rate education account. As a father, he simply could not go through with the more cost-effective option of “breaking into” his child’s education fund. Soman and Ahn use this story to frame how consequential the emotional content of a particular mental account can be. And by mental account, we mean the “set of cognitive operations used by individuals and households to organize, evaluate, and keep track of financial activities” (Thaler 1999: 183).

How does the sociological approach differ?

Note that when managing these accounts, individuals are really managing their relationships with others. The account is thus relational as well as psychological as individuals engage in what we call relational work. In the anecdote of the college savings account, for instance, we find the parents reluctant to dip into money earmarked for their children’s education. Why? Because these funds represent and reinforce meaningful family ties: they include but transcend individual mental budgeting; the accounts are therefore as relational as they are mental. Suppose a mother gambles away money from the child’s “college fund.” This is not only a breach of cognitive compartments but involves a relationally damaging violation. Most notably, the misspending will hurt her relationship to her child. But the mother’s egregious act is likely to also undermine the relationship to her spouse and even to family members or friends who might sanction harshly the mother’s misuse of money. These interpersonal dynamics thereby help explain why a college fund functions so effectively as a salient relational earmark rather than only a cognitive category.

We hope that the volume and our ongoing discussions this month encourage other scholars to ask how we can compare, contrast, but also complement our sociological approaches with those of behavioral economists and cognitive psychologists.

What will follow will be some focused discussions of how emotions and morality shape money and why all this matters from a policy perspective.

Forward! Adelante! Let’s Talk!

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

May 15, 2017 at 12:40 am

wes montgomery

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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

May 14, 2017 at 12:47 pm

the democratic party sucks hard, a scholarly analysis

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Let us start with some basic data. First, the Democratic party has won the plurality or majority of the Presidential vote 6 out of 7 times since 1992. Yet, they won the Electoral College only 4 out of 7 seven times. Second, the Gallup polls shows that the Democratic party has a modest advantage in identification, with Democratic identifiers and leaners getting about 46% of the population vs. 40% for the Republicans. Yet, the Democrats only control 32% of the governorships (16 out of 50) and they control  29% of the state legislative chambers (29 out of 99). In the national Congress, Democrats do OK. Democrats have 48% of the Senate (48 of 100) and 44% of the House (194 of 435).  If we assume that non-party identifiers evenly split, the Democrats are somewhat under-performing, but just a little. So, in terms of party control, it is only in Congress where Democrats perform as expected, or perhaps slightly under-perform, but in the Presidency and the states, they really do suck. Hard.

Why?

And, please, no, it is not gerrymandering – the Presidency and the governorships are not gerrymandered. Gerrymandering has a modest effect at best. There really is a consistent under-performance.

I’ve been reading a few books that shed light on this really big structural feature of American politics. Each book offers a discussion of an issue in party politics and when you piece them together, you see how the Democratic and Republican parties differ:

  • In Local Party Organizations, Douglas D. Roscoe and Shannon Jenkins report on a survey of 1,220 party officials at the state and local levels and they ask a number of questions about the operation of local parties. First, how did state parties help locals? GOP advantage – website development, newspaper buys, campaign expenses, social media; Democratic advantages – computer support, record keeping, staff. (page 30). Second, GOP local parties were more likely to have “clear strategic goals” and a well managed organizational culture. (page 42). Third, GOP organizations are more likely to have a complete set of officers, by laws, and headquarters, whiles Democrats are more likely to have a phone listing. (page 52). Also, Democrats also tend to focus on labor intensive actions, like door-to-door and voter registration. (page 55). Fourth, these activities often (but not always) correlate with electoral success (see all of chapter 4). Bottom line: GOP organizations appear to be a little more focused, organized, and strategic. Democrats seem to concentrate a bit more on things people can do (door to door, for example and record keeping).
  • In Asymmetric Politics, Matt Grossman and David Hopkins delve deep into the culture of the GOP and Democratic parties to argue that they are very different beasts. The GOP is ideologically driven and policy oriented, while Democrats are more oriented toward group solidarity and coalition maintenance. The book is massive and presents lots of data, such as public opinion data, voting patterns, and publications by interest groups and think tanks. Even though I disagree with some points, it is well taken. Democrats have a diffuse ideology and work on the coalition, while the GOP is more “mission oriented.”
  • David Ricci’s Politics without Stories is a study of political rhetoric and it has a simple message. Look at the philosophers, wonks and orators of the Democratic party and you see nuance and sophistication. Look the the GOP and you see more direct narratives. To quote the great Kieran Healy, Republicans “fuck nuance.

What do we learn from this overview? From top to bottom, the Democratic and Republican parties show important and consistent differences. Not just ideological differences, but qualitative differences in how their parties are organized and how they behave. Democrats, to simplify, are “people oriented” and focus on social practices and ideology that fits that general perspective. In contrast, Republicans are a little more task oriented, which translates into more focused and digestible rhetoric and more of an institutional interest in concrete results. There is probably more to this story, but this is a good start.

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

May 12, 2017 at 12:01 am