let’s all just mellow out

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Written by fabiorojas

April 14, 2017 at 12:16 am

race and sovereignty in the american republic

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Isaac Arial Reed, associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, has a lengthy blog post up at Public Seminar about the interplay of race and government in post-colonial America. His post is a reflection on the military career of Anthony Wayne, an early American general who wages war in the Northwest Territory:

But Wayne had done for the USA what two previous military leaders of the early 1790s, Josiah Harmar and Arthur St. Clair, could not — he secured the Northwest Territory. Wayne had defeated the allied tribes in the Ohio Valley at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, slashed and burned towns and cornfields afterwards, but wisely stopped short of engaging the British. He had then, in 1795, negotiated the Treaty of Greenville, a massive expansion of U.S. territory, which was now open for settlement.

The life of General Wayne points to the highly racialized history of the Republic:

Wayne was also white. In the history of the USA, the use of racial criteria to judge and violently enforce who is inside and who is outside the republic is deep and extensive. This judging of inside and outside can be about physical borders, but it can also be about social and symbolic borders to citizenship as well (e.g. treatment by police and courts). Importantly, this is not the only logic that has governed the trajectory of the republic — and I will discuss others in part 2 of this analysis — but it is one that has a long history and has been particularly powerful, and whose reappearance we are witnessing now. In Anthony Wayne’s view, the Native Americans he battled and with whom he negotiated would never be part of the band of brothers that made up the citizenry. And, importantly, this was not just about the nation as imagined community, but also about the authority of the state as an organization to govern and settle territory.

Read the whole thing!!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($5 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist/From Black Power/Party in the Street  

Written by fabiorojas

April 13, 2017 at 12:05 am

let charles murray speak

with 9 comments

On Tuesday evening, Charles Murray will speak at Indiana University. Not surprisingly, his visit has resulted in a bit of discussion on campus. A number of people have immediately wanted to protest the meeting and, like at many campuses, people want “answers.” A lot of my colleagues have acted honorably. While some have jumped to wild conclusions and recommended strong actions, most have done what scholars are supposed to do. They are asking questions, they are discussing the scholarly responses to Murray’s work, and they are organizing their own events.

Here, I want to lay out how I think about campus free speech. Basically, campus free speech is really about the ability of the owners, managers, and employees of an academic institution to discuss whatever they want in a civil environment. There is a lot of trust and tolerance built into this view of free speech. There are no boards that police campus events. There is no party that the campus represents. It is not the Indiana University of Liberals and it is not the Indiana University of Conservatives. It is simply Indiana University. Thus, if a small group of students and faculty obtain their own funding to bring in an outside speaker, so be it.

In this discussion, two important issues are raised and they deserve an answer. First, does permitting Murray to speak somehow legitimize or bring attention to “hate speech?” The answer is clearly no. Lots of ideas are taught and discussed in universities, including hateful ones, but that doesn’t legitimize them. For example, many Western Civilization classes and history classes will read Mein Kampf, in an attempt to understand national socialism and related movements.

Furthermore, it is not clear to me that Murray’s talk would even fit the definition of hate speech, which is that it is speech that “attacks” or “disparages” a minority group. His speech is about his book, Coming Apart. I have not read it, but it appears to be about the differences between working and middle class Whites. It may be right or wrong, but does not appear to be hate speech, as normally understood (“disparaging” or “attacking” remarks about an ethnic group). Finally, it would be unwise for universities to directly police speech. I rue the day that a committee of professors and students directly intervene in invited talks and seminars.

Second, people ask whether it is good or bad that conservative groups sponsor a talk. Once again, I return to the foundation of higher education. A university is not a community of liberals or conservatives. It is a community of scholars. Thus, funding – from any source – is not a problem so long as the funding is consistent with the ideals of independent scholarship. It is totally ok if a group funds scholarship that they like, so long as the student or faculty member is free to come to the conclusion they feel best reflects the evidence.

This is the standard that should be applied to liberal groups, like the Soros Foundation, or conservative groups, like the American Enterprise Institute, which often donate to campuses. In terms of the Murray talk, the faculty who helped organize the talk – some of whom I know personally – have also invited liberals, such as E.J. Dionne, and conservatives, such as a recent talk by Bill Kristol. The Murray talk seems to be consistent with inviting a fairly broad spectrum of commentators, even those who are in the opposite camp.

Finally, let me end with a discussion of the source of Murray’s notoriety. It is not Coming Apart, it is The Bell Curve.  That is the book that most people are alluding to when he is accused of hate speech. In all honesty, it is the only work by Murray I have read in its entirety. I read it in the 1990s to see what all the controversy was about.

It’s a mixed bag in my view. The book’s main goal is to argue that IQ research is not a sham and that it is a variable of importance for studying life outcomes. This is actually a fair point and it is consistent with a lot of sociological practice, but not its rhetoric. For example, how many models of achievement or status control for “academic ability?” Answer: tons. In the mid-20th century, it wasn’t unusual for sociologists to have a regression with IQ in it, such as Blau and Duncan’s The American Occupational Structure. Even today, many surveys will include measurements of cognitive ability. The GSS even has a verbal test in it so the researcher can adjust for IQ.

But The Bell Curve goes farther than that and makes many dodgy claims. For example, it claims that American cities will become segregated by cognitive ability, which may or may not be true. Then, there is the very short section on group differences – including racial differences – in IQ, which should be treated with great caution. But, for me, most people skipped over the most non-sequitur claim in The Bell Curve, which is that cognitive limits should be the basis of public policy (e.g., cutting social support makes sense since it won’t change IQ and thus behavior). This strikes me as bizarre. If low IQ individuals have limited life course chances, shouldn’t they be the first to get help? Even on its own terms, The Bell Curve stretches a lot of evidence and argument to reach the authors conclusions on policy.

The bottom line is that the university should be a place of free speech, even speech that may disgust us. There is a difference between unpopular opinions or distasteful opinions and truly hateful speech. Murray says a lot of things I disagree with (e.g., his recent move to restrict migration, which is a bad policy) but he is not in the realm of the politician who incites people to violence (e.g., see Trump’s infamous “Get ’em out of here!” moment), the student who loses their temper, the student’s who physically attacked and injured a professor at Middlebury College, or the faculty member who directly calls for brute force against journalists.

Let him speak. Show up if you want to, or not. Either is fine.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($5 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

Written by fabiorojas

April 11, 2017 at 12:17 am

book forum: the conversational firm by catherine turco, part 3

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Catherine Turco’s The Conversational Firm. The book reports on field work conducted at a tech firm and the goal was to understand how social media was reshaping the internal structure of the firm. As I said before, it is a good book that is of strong interest to organizational ethnographers.

Here, I want to focus on one issue that bugged me about the book. Throughout the book, social media is treated as this interesting thing that allows communication to be less hierarchical and thus (possibly) nudge the firm in more democratic directions. What bugged me about this account is that Turco, I think, never considers an alternative explanation for why managers are democratizing things – laziness.

One of the things that you appreciate about firms is that entrepreneurs often lack the skills needed to run larger, more mature organizations. When firms are small, the entrepreneur is the person who brings endless energy and can jump in to many roles. This is simply not possible in larger firms. Successful entrepreneurs either exit the firm to focus on the world of start ups, or they must learn the art of delegating and managing people.

Social media and the egalitarian culture of modern firms allows entrepreneurs to avoid or postpone this difficult process. They don’t have to go through the process of establishing lines of authority and command, which is painful and results in hurt feelings. Social media may be less a tool for democratizing things and more of a way for firm leaders to postpone or avoid difficult personnel issues. It’s an important hypothesis that needs more attention.

So overall, good book. Strongly recommended to internet and society scholars and orgheads everywhere.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($5 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

Written by fabiorojas

April 10, 2017 at 1:57 am

how to know if you’re scott, and why you should keep posting things

So I’m reading James T. Kloppenberg’s magisterial (and very, very long) Toward Democracy for a long overdue book review. One of his central arguments is that democracy requires certain kinds of virtues that, paradoxically, democracy can also help to destroy.  Which gets me thinking about this skit:

On balance, last night’s SNL was good but not groundbreaking. Louis CK is always solid and I laughed a lot at his opening monologue, but there were no amazing insights this time around: he talked about race again, but not in a way his fans haven’t heard before. Baldwin-as-Trump is getting old, even though Baldwin double-dipping as Trump and O’Reilly is pretty impressive (I’m entirely willing to admit that maybe it’s just that Trump-as-president is getting old. I’m ready for the joke to be over). But there were two skits especially worth seeing, both off-set productions: the first was, as Matthew Dessem wrote at Slate, a “strong finish” to the “conversation” about that terrible Pepsi ad (you know, the one where we can all just get along if a famous reality star gives a cop a Pepsi). But the other skit, also getting some media buzz, is “Thank you, Scott,” in which singers thank a self-righteous couch potato for his social media posts. If you’re like me (and lots of other folks apparently), the skit stung a little bit. It’s funny cuz it’s true!

Except it’s not necessarily true. At least, not exactly. The skit seems to imply that the only meaningful way to participate in politics is direct democracy. Now of course going to protests, door knocking for campaigns, attending community meetings: all of that matters! A lot! But so, in fact, does conversation. Habermas and Arendt got a lot wrong in their (admittedly distinct) commitments to the public realm, but a big piece for both of them is doing just what folks like Scott (or, you know, blog writers and blog readers) might well be doing. I made a commitment to teach Arendt in my theory course for exactly this reason. To risk taking a line from a terrible Pepsi commercial—the “conversation” does in fact matter. In fact, these kinds of conversations are just as important as direct democracy, because they provide the opportunity to change your mind without having already invested in a previous commitment. Democracy works precisely because it’s members are willing to be corrected, to recognize better arguments or flaws in their own thinking. That kind of conversation is much harder when you’re at a protest, or even when you’re in a city council meeting or what have you, because you’re probably already there with a concrete agenda and it’ll be harder to dissuade you from it.

Of course power and misrecognition are big pieces of this story, things about which folks like Habermas and Arendt are often stunningly naive. (Look at Arendt on race, for example).  But just because conversations can be handled in better or worse ways doesn’t mean we don’t still need them.  And we need them in a spirit of willing self-correction and relative humility with an awareness that the conversation is itself a constitutive internal (rather than external) good.

This is where both Pepsi and Scott get it wrong. Because Pepsi (obviously) doesn’t actually care about “the conversation.” They care about selling Pepsi. And Scott cares about selling Scott. He wants to be seen by his social media followers as virtuous, on the right side of history, whichever history that may be. Scott is the worst kind of Goffmanian character: the above link was to MacIntyre, and I’m on drawing MacIntyre’s critique of Goffman from the beginning of After Virtue here. Such a character cannot meaningfully participate in democratic politics, at least not in a way that isn’t depressingly cynical and ultimately self-defeating. It’s no longer about ideas or arguments anymore, let alone harder slogs like justice, equality, and liberty: it’s just about looking good to get something (Pepsi sales, esteem, etc.).  Even the sorts of sympathy or pity the more “realist” Scottish Enlightenment types thought would save us are gone.  All we have is its veneer.

As Kloppenberg, and in different ways, Andrew Perrin and Nina Eliasoph, describe, there are forces within the history of capitalist democracy that move from the need to internalize virtue towards only the desire to look like we care. This is an old story of course—told most famously by Hirschman—but it’s worth acknowledging how a certain way of thinking about citizens as self-interested, profit-maximizing individuals forces exactly this false dichotomy between slacktivists and the true citizens in the streets.

Of course, I think it’d be great if more people participated in direct democracy. But it’d also be great if more people really did think of our civic life as a series of ongoing public conversations, for which social media is actually an excellent venue. Posting an article doesn’t make you a “Scott” but posting an article as a means of showing how great you are does. The point of posting an article should always be to open the door to a conversation, a conversation with people different from you who might well change your mind. That should be coupled with explicit participation in other forms of government and civil society too of course. But that doesn’t mean the conversation isn’t important in and of itself. Thank you Scott? Maybe not. But thank you to those of you who do care about maintaining a public sphere. The conversation does, in fact, exist. And it’s not just there to sell Pepsi (or ourselves).


Written by jeffguhin

April 9, 2017 at 4:32 pm

jts 2017!

11th Annual Junior Theorists Symposium

Friday, August 11, 2017

Université du Québec à Montréal

Pavillon De-Sève, 320 St Catherine St E, room DS-R520


8:30 – 9:00 | Coffee and Bagels

9:00 – 10:50 | Panel 1. Discussant: Richard Biernacki (University of California – San Diego)

Pablo Gaston
(UC Berkeley)
Conflict and the Moral Economy: The Moral Dilemmas of Economic Conflict in California Hospitals, 1946-1974
Till Hilmar
(Yale University)
Knowing what it’s like. Theorizing Moral-Economic Reasoning and Notions of Deservingness in Newly Capitalist Societies
Allison Ford
(University of Oregon)
Self-sufficiency: Emotional-Cultural-Material Trajectories of Environmental Practices

 10:50 – 11:00 | Break (coffee & tea provided)

 11:00 – 12:50 | Panel 2. Discussant: Raewyn Connell (Professor Emerita, University of Sydney)

Paige L. Sweet
(UI Chicago)
Ideology, Bodies, and Trespass between Feminist Theory and Critical Realism
Eric Royal Lybeck
(University of Exeter)
Ajurisdiction and the Fragmentation of Academic Sociology
Michael Roll
Southern Movements: States and Vigilante Collective Action in Peripheral Spaces

 12:50 – 14:00 | Lunch (provided on site)

 14:00 – 15:50 | Panel 3. Discussant: Julian Go (Boston University)

Ricarda Hammer
(Brown University)
Decolonizing the Civil Sphere: Race, Colonial Difference and Historical Claims for Inclusion in France
Amanda Shriwise
(University of Oxford)
Field Theory and Welfare State Regimes
Ben Merriman
(University of Kansas)
Extralegal violence in the emergence of modern social fields

15:50 – 16:00 | Break (coffee & tea provided) 

16:00-17:30 | After Panel: Theory, the Good Society, and Positionality

Gabriel Abend
(New York University)
Seth Abrutyn
(Univ. of British Columbia)
Hae Yeon Choo
(University of Toronto)
Claire Decoteau
(UI Chicago)


17:30 – ? |Theory in the Wild: Libations and Good Conversation (off-site)

* In order to coordinate logistics, including lunch orders, the organizers request that you please RSVP at this link: JTS is a donation-based event, and we kindly suggest donations of $20 per faculty member and $10 per graduate student, which can be made at the event or in advance through PayPal (to the account) or by contacting us via email to arrange payment by check.

Written by jeffguhin

April 7, 2017 at 6:08 pm

Posted in sociology

Tagged with ,

the relevance of organizational sociology for higher education accountability (a guest post by Joshua Brown)

(Joshua Brown is a doctoral candidate at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education)

*if you’d like to write a guest-post, contact Jeff or any of the other bloggers.

A different type of impact

There has been ongoing discussion about the influence of organizational sociology in broader spheres such as the discipline of sociology itself or public policy.  I had a few additional thoughts on this matter in writing a piece about the field of higher education accountability.

First, in select contexts organizational sociology has the potential to influence or even reshape dominant narratives.  For example, the field of higher education accountability is a sector heavily influenced by econometric and psychometric paradigms.  Although useful, these two perspectives are limited by their focus on individual level data.  The hierarchical schema that organizational scholars find useful (e.g. organizations, fields, and institutions) are rarely used by the individuals in the higher education accountability context and the schema alone provide an opportunity for new ways of thinking about an important topic.

Second, organizational sociology has the potential to systematize the complex bureaucracies that maintain, regulate, and enforce public policies.  For example, the field of higher education accountability is comprised of different actors embedded within different fields.  Moreover, each field possesses its own unique definition of accountability and perspective on what type of data are deemed legitimate.  As the figure below illustrates, employing an organizational framework provided an opportunity to systemize the complexity across multiple fields.

Finally, the diffusion of organizational frameworks into broader spheres of society—particularly public policy—may require non-traditional strategies of publication. Berman recently suggested that ethnographic approaches may be particularly effective for this.  In a similar vein, King recently highlighted that the scarcity of books by organizational sociologists limits the broader influence of the field.  He urged that, “If organizational sociology wants to be relevant, not only to the discipline but also to those who will build the organizations of the future, then we must be willing to step outside of our own small corners of the academy and ask big questions about the past, present, and future or organizing.”

I would also argue that stepping out of the “small corners of the academy” requires a strategic diffusion of ideas in the publications read by “those who will build the organizations of the future.”  More specifically, it requires intentionally placing ideas where they might be stumbled upon more frequently by industry leaders and practitioners who are embedded within the specific context we are examining.  Such an approach looks beyond the impact rating of a given publication to the diffusion of ideas. It is a different type of impact.  For example, I chose to strategically write and submit the higher education accountability piece to an open-access publication that is predominantly read by university administrators and higher education policy makers because it is not pay-walled.  While it was certainly a challenge to reduce the organizational jargon within the article, readers were still exposed to fundamental principles of organizational sociology such as the embeddedness of actors and social institutions.  As industry leaders and practitioners become more familiar with these principles we take for granted, it is possible they may also become more accepting of, or interested in, organizational sociology.

Written by jeffguhin

April 4, 2017 at 2:29 pm