choice gives “theory for the working sociologist” a thumbs up!!

It is very nice to get a vote of confidence from Choice magazine. In the October 2017 issue, Peter Kivisto writes:

Kivisto review50+ 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

September 27, 2017 at 4:01 am

Posted in uncategorized

intersectional protest in science advances

Dana Fisher and my dear friend Rashawn Ray were featured in Science Advances for work that documents the current anti-Trump movement using the theoretical lens of intersectionality theory. From the abstract:

Can a diverse crowd of individuals whose interests focus on distinct issues related to racial identity, class, gender, and sexuality mobilize around a shared issue? If so, how does this process work in practice? To date, limited research has explored intersectionality as a mobilization tool for social movements. This paper unpacks how intersectionality influences the constituencies represented in one of the largest protests ever observed in the United States: the Women’s March on Washington in January 2017. Analyzing a data set collected from a random sample of participants, we explore how social identities influenced participation in the Women’s March. Our analysis demonstrates how individuals’ motivations to participate represented an intersectional set of issues and how coalitions of issues emerge. We conclude by discussing how these coalitions enable us to understand and predict the future of the anti-Trump resistance.


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Written by fabiorojas

September 26, 2017 at 4:01 am

surviving, completing, understanding, engaging, correcting

I tend to speak my mind at parties, especially when I feel like someone has said something inappropriate. I recognize it can get obnoxious and that there’s often not a lot of daylight between the big white guy sticking up for social justice and the big white guy pleased at the sound of his own righteousness. So I try to be careful about this, about the nature of terms like “correction” and “holding accountable” and “entering a dialogue,” all of which can too easily be a mask for a preening sanctimoniousness and, anyway, are a bit too heady when we’re having drinks at someone’s house or at some family thing and really it’d just be easier to talk about what somebody’s kids are up to this summer.

Sometimes when my partner senses I’m about to go off, she asks me to treat the situation like an ethnographer. Instead of disagreeing, ask questions: Why do you think that is? How does that work? Get a sense of how the world works.  It’s a trick I told her about five or six years ago, right when I was starting my first field work project, and it’s a method that makes any conversation interesting.  Everyone has a story, and everyone has a world.

Yet there’s a problem with treating the world we encounter like an ethnographer, and it’s helped me to realize that, as a sociological ethnographer, I have five different ways I can approach the world.  And bear in mind I’m a big white guy married to a woman, with a Ph.D. and a good job in a coastal American city, so privilege obviously affects all my interactions as well.  But I’ll talk about that more below.  So, here are the kinds of interactions I’m interested in: (1) surviving, (2) completing, (3) understanding, (4) engaging, and (5) correcting.  There’s a bit of a scale between them but they all blend into each other as well.

The first, surviving, is the scariest, and one I rarely have to deal with, especially now that I’m an adult.  These are interactions in which the balance of power means the situation is quite precarious for usually one of the actors but possibly both. Think of a woman dealing with a sexual harasser or an African-American dealing with an aggressive cop.  Or two people meeting each other in a Hobbesian state of nature. Trust isn’t clear and the point is just to get through it alive and with your health and dignity.

The second, completing, is pretty straightforward and is probably the one must studied by Goffman and Garfinkel inspired sociologists.  It’s the regular interactions we have when we meet people, some of which might well give us a kind of Randall Collins style emotional energy, but not necessarily. Thinking about using a cab, checking out at the grocery store, saying hello to coworkers as you walk past each other in the hall. Importantly, these can go in multiple directions. Completing can easily turn into surviving if the situation gets difficult (say the cab driver gets aggressive or says something bigoted).  It can also turn into engaging, which we’ll turn to later.

The third method of interaction, understanding, to some degree exists within each of these (after all, to survive an interaction you have to understand the person you’re surviving). However, for the other four methods of interaction, understanding is a means to an end.  In contrast, understanding as a category of engagement has understanding as its end.  This is what I mean when I talk about “becoming an ethnographer”: the goal is to figure out how people work: why they do what they do, how their multiple value spheres work together, how their networks and organization and institutions interact and build upon each other (or don’t).  That effort at understanding is not necessarily because you support them or agree with them, mind you.  It’s just because you want to understand.

The fourth, engaging, is what we usually talk about when we talk about democratic dialogue and Habermasian coffee shops and that kind of stuff. It obviously depends on understanding, but the goal is to be able to learn from others and an openness to being corrected not just on methods but even on deep commitments.  What’s critical here is that all sides are willing to have their minds changed.  You have to believe the best argument really can win.  Now this gets tricky for a host of reasons, not least ancient debates about sophism vs. the Truth with a capital T. Yet even more important is the question of whether it’s ever possible to have a conversation that’s even relatively autonomous from power.  For what it’s worth, I think it’s too convenient for academics to be completely cynical about this. Of course power colors everything, but if we didn’t believe better and worse arguments do, at least to some degree, matter, then we’ve all chosen a quite peculiar career.  But this is a much larger conversation I don’t have space for here. The point is that engaging is a means of talking in which both sides are willing to be corrected and come from a position of relative equality, if not equality of social position then at least equality as interlocutors.

The fifth, correcting, is pretty clear. It’s telling people they’re wrong. I’m not sure many of us are actually willing to be corrected, especially regarding things that are salient to our moral commitments. But we are willing to tell people they’re wrong, especially on social media. Yet the problem with correction is also an old philosophical one: who corrects the correctors? Also, how do I know what’s a non-negotiable that will bump my goal of completing, understanding, or engaging up to correcting? If you’re doing field work and someone says something offensive, do you just write it down? Do you say something? Do you critique it later when you’re writing up your notes?

And that gets to the tricky part for those of who do ethnography because we might well be doing “understanding” in our field work, but once we write, we’re not really doing “engaging” so much as “correcting”: the way we describe our respondents, in print, doesn’t give them (or folks reading the book who identify with them) much of a chance to write back.  That’s not necessarily a problem, but it is a tension.

These tensions aren’t just for ethnographers. All five of these kinds of interactions probably happen multiple times a day, maybe even multiple times in a single conversation.  Yet what’s tricky about them for me as an ethnographer (or even just me as a person at a party) is figuring out when to do which, when to lay down my ethnographer habits of understanding and pick up the citizenship work of engagement, and then when to go from engagement to correction, or to drop it all and try to just get by through completing the interactions that I have to do, talking about traffic and TV as I go to get another round.

How do these questions relate to our separate duties as citizens and scholars? It’s tempting to say the answer is that we all need to have a bit more courage to understand, engage, and even correct, especially those of for whom it’s not as common for interactions to suddenly turn into questions of surviving. But that’s also exhausting, and citizenship is a marathon, not a sprint.  And often there is something aesthetically pleasing in just figuring out how things work without always immediately turning a conversation into a moral struggle. (But then, given the inequalities our social world is built upon, those moral struggles are always there to be seen if we’re willing to see them.)

I’m not sure what the correct answer is here (as usual).  But it is something I’m trying to understand, and even, if I can, engage.



Written by jeffguhin

September 24, 2017 at 9:50 pm

more crumhorn consort (die vie branlen)

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Written by fabiorojas

September 24, 2017 at 4:01 am

why is it bad to retract non-fraudulent and non-erroneous papers?

It is bad to demand the retraction non-fraudulent papers. But why? I think the argument rests on three intuitions. First, there is a legal reason. When an editor and publisher accept a paper, they enter into a legal contract. The authors produces the paper and the publisher agrees to publish. To rescind publication of a paper is to break a contract, except in cases of fraud. The other exception is error in analysis that invalidates the paper’s claim (e.g., a math paper that has a non-correctable flaw in a proof or mis-coded data whose corrections leads to an entirely new conclusion – even then, maybe the paper should just be rewritten).

Second, there is a pragmatic reason. When you cater to retraction demands, outside of fraud and extreme error, you then undermine the role of the editor. Basically, an editor is given the position of choosing papers for an audience. They are not obligated to accept or reject any papers except those they deem interesting or of high quality. And contrary to popular belief, they do not have to accept papers that receive good reviews nor must they reject papers that receive bad reviews. Peer review is merely advisory, not a binding voting mechanism, unless the editor decides to simply let the majority rule. Thus, if editors ceded authority of publishing to the “masses,” they would simply stop being editors and more like advertisers, who cater to the whims of the public.

Third, I think it is unscholarly. Retraction is literally suppression of speech and professors should demand debate. We are supposed to be the guardians of reason, not the people leading the charge for censorship.

So what should you do if you find that a journal publishes bad, insulting or inflammatory material? Don’t ask for a retraction. There are many proper responses. Readers can simply boycott the journal, by not reading it or citing it. Or they can ask a library to stop paying for it. Peers can agree to stop reviewing for it or to dissociate themselves from the journal. A publisher can review the material and then decide to not renew an editor’s contract. Or if the material is consistently bad, they can fire the editor.

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

September 21, 2017 at 4:01 am

third world world quarterly should not retract “the case for colonialism”

Third World Quarterly recently published an article by Bruce Gilley called “The Case for Colonialism (TCfC)” The article makes a few related claims, but it boils down to:

  1. Many anti-colonial movements were horrible.  (see pp. 5-6)
  2. Colonialism rests on “cosmopolitanism” and this is a a good thing. (see p. 8)
  3. Thus, when you properly consider the costs and benefits, you should rethink the value of colonialism.

I’ll address these claims below, but I first wanted to address the movement to retract TCfC – see here. Basically, the retraction advocates think the article is offensive and appalling. It may be, but that doesn’t mean it should be retracted.

The job of a journal editor is to select articles that they think advances their field and raise interesting issues. If they think “The Case for Colonialism” does so, they should not retract the article. It represents an argument they think should be debated. Retraction should not be done simply because the article is bad or offensive. Retraction should only happen if the article turns out to be fraudulent. Otherwise, if an editor thinks the article has value, let it be. Critics can write their own response. Or, if they think the level of scholarship is horrid, they can stop reading it and ask the library to drop it.

Now, what about the argument? Does colonialism get a bad rap? Let’s start with what I think is correct. I believe it to be true that many anti-colonial movements and post-colonial governments were horrible. For every leader like Ghandi, we get other leaders who, simply put, were savage killers, from the corrupt Mobutu Sese Seku of Congo to the Marxist movements of Ethiopia and North Korea, which brought mass death. So yes, the reflexive praise of anti-colonial movements often overlooks the grotesque outcomes

Here is what I disagree with. Analyses like Gilley’s often overlook the massive death brought by Western colonizers. Let’s take just one example – the colonial government in the Belgian Congo is thought to have killed 10 million people. This is murder on Hitlerian and Stalinist proportions. Belgian Congo is not an isolated case. Mass murder accompanied Western colonization in many places. Even if Gilley is correct in that colonial governments may have brought some values, it is hard to believe how they would balance out this massive loss of humanity.

Let me end on a constructive note. As written, Gilley’s article is an intellectual failure. But we can extract a valuable insight. Colonialism wasn’t about bringing the best of the West to the world. It brought the worst of the West to the world. Western culture has produced amazing things – the belief in human rights and equality and modern science. But that is not what was brought to the people of the world. If Western governments had truly prioritized the best of Western culture, then Gilley might have a point. Similarly, the critics might be right if anti-colonialists had rejected the worst of the West and brought the best of the West. Instead, many anti-colonial movements retreated into Marxism, Maoism and other ideologies that killed and impoverished millions. They should have espoused tolerance, liberal culture and markets.

Bottom line: Debate, don’t retract. And in terms of colonialism, it deserves its reputation. it was horrible. In opposing repression, we can do better than what happened in the post-colonial era.

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Written by fabiorojas

September 20, 2017 at 4:01 am

i declare complete victory in the more tweets, more votes debate

In 2013, my collaborators and I published a paper claiming that there is an empirical correlation between relative social media activity and relative vote counts in Congressional races. In other words, if people are talking about the Democrat more than the Republican on Twitter, then the Democrat tends to get more votes. Here’s the regression line from the original “More Tweets, More Votes” paper:


People grumbled and complained. But little by little, evidence came out showing that the More Tweets/More Votes model was correct. For example, an article in Social Science Quarterly showed the same results for relative Google searches and senate races:


Latest evidence? It works for wikipedia as well. Public Opinion Quarterly published a piece called “Using Wikipedia to Predict Election Outcomes: Online Behavior as a Predictor of Voting” by Benjamin Smith and Abel Gustafason. From the abstract:

We advance the literature by using data from Wikipedia pageviews along with polling data in a synthesized model based on the results of the 2008, 2010, and 2012 US Senate general elections. Results show that Wikipedia pageviews data significantly add to the ability of poll- and fundamentals-based projections to predict election results up to 28 weeks prior to Election Day, and benefit predictions most at those early points, when poll-based predictions are weakest.

Social media DOES signal American election outcomes! I spike the football. I won. Period.

It’s pretty rare that you propose a hypothesis, your prove it’s right and then it is proved right a bunch of times by later research.


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Written by fabiorojas

September 19, 2017 at 4:01 am