orgtheory.net

who’s afraid of amazon.com?

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In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Amazon was the industry killer. According to critics, Amazon would wipe out entire entire industries and monopolize online trade. That did happen, but only to one industry. Chain booksellers were destroyed by Amazon. Of the many giants of late 20th century book selling, only one remains – Barnes and Nobles.

Once you move away from chain book stores, the story gets complicated real fast. For example, independent bookstores did contract but now there’s regrowth, especially among used book stores. Then look at other businesses Amazon has targeted. If the business was similar to chain book stores, the business got crushed. For example, most electronics retailers – Radio Shack and Circuit City – got crushed since you can buy stuff like TV’s and laptop computers easily online. But in other areas of Amazon’s business, like video streaming, cloud computing or groceries, there isn’t much evidence that Amazon is becoming the uber competitor.

What’s the lesson? Amazon is run by one of the most talented entrepreneurs in history and he’s not limited to any single business. The first business targeted by Jess Bezos was the book business and it’s a great example of old school retail. The value added by older, smaller firms was service and searching for products. For many products, people don’t need personal service and digitalization makes search very easy. To buy books, all you need is a website, not an old school book store.  That is why the Internet triggered the “retail apocalypse” for chain bookstores.

On the other hand, Amazon has targeted lots of businesses that are not “old school” retail. For example, while Amazon has been successful, it by no means has displaced other grocery stores. Why? Groceries are businesses where the producers matter a ton and you need lots of curation of products and quality control. It’s not just about finding a carrot and shipping it. You gotta find the organic carrot from the right guy, watch it carefully in shipment and then watch it on the floor and then help people eat it… and hope the producer doesn’t disappear next week. Amazon’s video streaming service is another great example. You don’t just find videos and ship them (like selling DVD’s), but you need taste, curation, and you really can’t out compete other content makers to the point of driving them out business. Niches rule.

In a lot of cases, Amazon’s powerful computing resources help them survive in new areas, but it’s probably not enough to turn Amazon into the business killer it was in the book business.

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The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
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Written by fabiorojas

September 10, 2019 at 12:01 am

Posted in uncategorized

posts that tick people off

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The following posts have really annoyed people over the years:

Enjoy!

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The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

September 9, 2019 at 12:02 am

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emily remler, firefly (1981)

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I am a huge jazz head, so I was embarrassed that I did not know who Emily Remler was. She was a top notch jazz guitarist in the 1970s whose life was cut short due to substance abuse. Before her passing, she was hailed as a major up and coming guitarist. Luckily, most of her work can be found on public platforms. Enjoy.

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50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

 

Written by fabiorojas

September 8, 2019 at 5:50 pm

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tip of the iceberg

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It was hard in some ways leaving the ivied hallways of business schools at Chicago and Penn and MIT for a university in France. There’s simply no question that the level of resources available to professors here is orders of magnitude less. It shows up in the quality of buildings, availability of research funds and of course the quality of my salary. My first job after my PhD was at the LSE which had only recently started chasing after serious corporate and alumni (and it turns out non-alumni) funds. Then, just after I left, it came out that Muammar Gaddafi had given them a lot of money as part of the PR effort that ultimately failed spectacularly with his death. The Director lost his job. Rightly so.

Still, I was frustrated when I came to France and found the attitude was far far more guarded about taking money from anyone other than the government. Each offer is met with so much skepticism, it’s very rare to hear about a donation of any size (where that’s a weekly thing for most American and UK schools).

Reading about the budding scandal at MIT—a place I know and care about—I also see some of the wisdom in it.

There is the narrative about giving to universities that is about “giving back” or “investing in the future”. I’m sure there is something to that (maybe Vivianna Zelizer should do a historical study on how corporate donations went from profane to sacred). But as a practicing “economic sociologist” there is simply no better example of the monetary bottom line value of “reputation” and “status” that I can think of. These universities are monetizing their status. Period.

I can make due with shabbier dwellings in the service of keeping the reputation of these places as far away from reflecting on these sorts as possible. And no, it’s not just about Epstein. It’s about all of the compromises needed to chase after those dollars.

Written by seansafford

September 8, 2019 at 5:04 pm

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the relational turn in the study of inequalities and organizations – guest post by Dustin Avent-Holt and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey

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On behalf of Dustin Avent-Holt and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, I am posting their guest post, a must-read for researchers looking for intersections between organizations and stratification.  In their post, they describe the shortcomings of stratification research’s in focusing on “individual” characteristics and how they build upon organizational theory to examine organizations as inequality-generating mechanisms.  Their post ends with possible research AND policy agendas for a more sustainable and equitable future.

By the end of the 1990s we began to see a relational turn in sociology, perhaps expressed most clearly in Mustafa Emirbayer’s Relational Manifesto. The core claim is that the basic unit of analysis for sociology (or perhaps the social sciences writ large) should be, neither the individual nor macro-level institutions, but the social relations between actors.

This relational claim is, of course, not new. Classical sociologists –Simmel, Marx, Mead, Blumer, Goffman– treated relationality as fundamental. All of symbolic interactionism, the economic sociologies of Granovetter’s embeddedness paradigm and Zelizerian relational work, organizational field theory, and the strong growth in network science are all contemporary exemplars.

But relationality was blurred in the mid-20thcentury though by the growth in statistical techniques and computer software packages that enabled the analysis of surveys of individuals. Blau and Duncan’s pathbreaking American Occupational Structure became the state of the art for stratification research, but it had the side effect of obscuring – both theoretically and methodologically – the relationality that undergirds the generation of inequalities.

Simultaneously, organizational sociology had its own theoretical blinders. The move towards New Institutionalism obscured the older focus on stakeholders and dominant coalitions, refocusing on legitimating processes in the environment through which organizations isomorphically converged. Charles Tilly’s book Durable Inequalities critiqued the status attainment model partly by adopting this view of organizations, treating organizations as inequality machines mechanically matching internal and external categories.

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Written by katherinechen

September 5, 2019 at 6:09 pm

fabio v. g abend (2008): another round in the theory teaching wars

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In 2008, Gabriel Abend wrote a really insightful article on “The Meaning of Theory.” His point was powerful and simple: people use the word theory in a whole bunch of different ways. For some people, “theory” might mean “an idea that lets you generate hypotheses.” For others, “theory” might mean the close reading and interpretation of classic texts.

A really nice aspect of Abend’s article is that he doesn’t dump on the different meanings of theory. Rather, he goes the opposite route. At the end of the article, he recommends that sociologists pull back and appreciate that the term is highly polysemic in our discipline and we should engage in “therapuetics,” which means that we should really step back and be chill. Abend (2008: 192):

All sociologists should be fully aware that their disagreements about theory have a semantic dimension, which has important effects on the appropriateness and forcefulness of different kinds of arguments. If this point became common sociological wisdom, that would surely amount to a step forward. For instance, no theory discussion would forget that there are many senses of the word ‘theory’ and no real referent or true meaning; that the many things that the word ‘theory’ is used to express are quite different indeed; or that the ontological, evaluative, and teleological questions in their customary form are problematic. Full consciousness of these facts would just dissolve numerous problems and disputes— namely, those that are ultimately caused by semantic vagueness. Further, it would clarify those (also numerous) problems and disputes that would still persist, pinpoint with more precision what the dispute is about, make discussion easier, and ultimately make substantive progress possible.

Great point. In peer review, or at an academic conference, this makes total and complete sense. For example, when a survey researcher says an article is “theoretical,” they mean tests some hypothesis drawn from an account of social action. This is classic Mertonian “middle range” theory. But that’s a different than “theory” written by the person tracing out the historical roots of DuBois’ sociology. Both are valuable. The exegetical scholar should not trash the middle range theory person.

But here is a problem – theoretical detente breaks down in the classroom. Most students will take maybe 1 or 2 courses called “theory.” You can’t possibly cover all meanings of theory in any deep way. So here is what happens: people default to a particular version of theory. And this has consequences. Why? Some versions of “theory” are more relevant to sociological education than others. All versions of “theory” are valuable in the scholarly sense but they are not equally valuable to the majority of students. The different “theories” do not have equal pedagogical value.

If you buy this argument, then what should you teach? My solution: Ditch the word “theory” and replace a vague word with a much better concrete descriptive. Then, ask yourself what students should learn in your class that will help internalize the key lessons of sociology. Here are my candidate words:

  1. Axioms and deductions (Abend: “you mean by it is a general proposition, or logically-connected system of general propositions, which establishes a relationship between two or more variables”)
  2. Middle range explanation (Abend: “an explanation of a particular social phenomenon”)
  3. Interpretive work (Abend: “the main questions that theory3 sets out to answer are not of the type ‘what x causes y?’ Rather, given a certain phenomenon P (or a certain fact, relation, process, trend), it asks: ‘what does it mean that P?,’ ‘is it significant that P?,’ ‘is it really the case that P?,’ ‘what is P all about?,’ or ‘how can we make sense of or shed light on P?”)
  4. Exegesis (Abend: “The word ‘theory’ and some of its derivatives are sometimes used to refer to the study of and the students of the writings of authors such as Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Simmel, Parsons, Habermas, or Bourdieu.”)
  5. Conceptualism (Abend: “A theory5 is a Weltanschauung, that is, an overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world. Unlike theories1, theories2, and theories3, theories5 are not about the social world itself, but about how to look at, grasp, and represent it.”)
  6. Ethics/Theories of justice (Abend: “some people use the word ‘theory’ to refer to accounts that have a fundamental normative component.”)
  7. Special problems of social explanation (Abend: “it refers to the study of certain special problems [FGR- such as the macro/micro transition] that sociology has encountered.”

Once you drop the loaded word “theory,” then you realize that some things are just honestly low priority. For example, most people, honest to God, don’t care about history of social thought and it honestly won’t help the typical sociologist do better work. So you can safely drop theory 4 (exegesis) from your course. Another easy one is theory 6 – ethics. Important? Sure, but that’s either an elective or a course in the philosophy department.

Then you can easily establish priority in teaching for the rest. Since most sociology majors and graduate students are empirically driven (e.g., demography, health, social movements), then you should heavily emphasize theory 2 and 3 (middle range and understanding) with a health dose of theory 5 (conceptualism) so you have a lot of structure and the material is not ad hoc. That is what I do in Theory for the Working Sociologist.  Theory 7 (“special problems”) can be safely used as an occasional topic to flesh out a course or motivate stronger students.

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A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
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Written by fabiorojas

September 5, 2019 at 4:57 pm

Posted in uncategorized

winning the battle for teaching social theory the right way

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From Seth Abrutyn:

Preach, brother! I could not approve more. Seth has his finger on a fundamental problem with teaching theory – people pretend the humanistic reading of great texts is an effective way of teaching the principles of sociology. It’s not. Seriously.

All you have to lose is your chains! From now on, you shall teach sociological theory in sociology theory classes. Go forth and fill the earth with students who take theory and learn theory. Rejoice!

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BUY THESE BOOKS!!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

September 4, 2019 at 5:05 pm

Posted in uncategorized