the challenge in teaching behavioral genetics

In some of my courses, I will include a lecture or two on behavioral genetics, as a way to let students know about the area of research where we use biological ideas to understand human behavior. I am usually frustrated because students always take away the wrong lesson. Examples:

  • Fabio: Shared parents explain more of the variance than shared family.
  • Students: It’s all genetically determined.


  • Fabio: Our DNA is a random mix of genes inherited from both parents.
  •  Students: It’s all genetically determined.


  • Fabio: Shared family doesn’t even explain 50% of the variance in most models, which means that there must be non-family environmental factors at work.
  • Students: It’s all genetically determined.


  • Fabio: The expression of certain traits can depend on numerous social and environmental variables.
  • Students: It’s all genetically determined.

Oddly, it doesn’t even matter whether it’s a random undergrad who wants to think “its’s all genetically determined” or a cynical soc grad student who thinks all is socially constructed. They both take away the same message! Weird!

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

December 20, 2017 at 7:08 pm

cfp ‘Alternatives to Capitalism’ SASE Research Network Conference, due Jan. 29, 2018 (note extended deadline!)

As you may remember the cfp I posted almost a year ago, Joyce Rothschild and I co-organized a mini-conference “Seeking a More Just and Egalitarian Economy: Realizing the Future via Co-operatives, Communes, and Other Collectives” at the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) 2017 annual meeting in Lyon, France.  We had a great turn-out from researchers who came from around the world to attend and present at our sessions.

We have now joined up with Lara Monticelli and Torsten Geelan to form the ‘Alternatives to Capitalism’ research network at SASE.  The June 23-25, 2018 SASE conference meets in Kyoto, Japan!

Please consider submitting a paper, session, or “author meets critic” session to our research network.  Or, have a look at the other SASE research networks and mini-conferences, including a mini-conference on organizational inequality.

[Update: For tips on how to submit, click  on this guide SASE-Submitting-a-Proposal.]

You can download our research network’s cfp here: RNAlternativestoCapitalismCfPSASE2018.  Or, you can just read the below:

‘Alternatives to Capitalism’
SASE Research Network Conference
Doshisa University
Kyoto (Japan), 23-25 June 2018


The theoretical foundations of this new research network, that will run for five years from 2018 to 2022 at the annual conference of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE), lie in the contemporary debate about the future of contemporary capitalism and the urgent need to start prefiguring alternatives that can help tackle the multiple crises we currently face: high and rising inequality of income and power, eroding democracy, irreversible environmental destruction and human-induced climatic change, increasing racism(s), right-wing extremism(s) and various forms of discrimination, and new forms of worker exploitation within the gig economy.
The goal of this new research network is to advance the international, comparative and interdisciplinary study of theories, practices, social movements, communities and other organizations that are advocating, experimenting with and constructing alternatives to contemporary capitalism.
More specifically, the research network has three goals:
1) To bridge the disparate interpretative frameworks that exist by engaging in a theoretical systematization of the literature;
2) To map existing alternatives embedded within various socio-economic, political and geographic contexts;
3) To encourage the use of innovative research methods that can provide new insights and reach broader audiences.

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to: Prefigurative social movements and real utopias; Political and ethical consumerism; Alternative futures; Digital capitalism, technology and the future of work; Independent trade unions and political parties; Eco-villages, autonomous and sustainable communities; Community and practice-based initiatives; Radical lifestyles; Cooperatives (worker/producer/consumer) and cooperativism; Direct democracy and municipalism; The commons and commoning practices; Alternative forms of organisation and governance; Transformative social innovation; Alternative media, and Other forms of alternative social reproduction.

We welcome paper presentations, sessions (min. 3 participants) and book review symposia (“authors meet critics” sessions) which can be submitted through the SASE website by choosing the Research Network: I (‘Alternatives to Capitalism’).
To submit your abstracts or session proposals, please visit the website:
DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSIONS: JANUARY 29, 2018 (updated deadline)

Please note that several Early-career Scholar Awards are available each year to cover the costs of travel, accommodation and membership fees. For information on how to apply, please visit the website at:

You are very welcome to contact the research network chairs below to discuss paper and panel submissions or any questions you may have:
Dr. Lara Monticelli (lara.monticelli      [  at];
Dr. Torsten Geelan (tkg22   [at];
Professor Katherine Chen (kchen   [at]
We look forward to meeting you in Kyoto in June 2018!

Written by katherinechen

December 15, 2017 at 5:35 pm

why contemporary architecture sucks and why economic sociology is the future we’ve been waiting for

Biranna Rennix and Nathan Robinson have a long, but well-written essay called “Why You Hate Contemporary Architecture, and If You Don’t Why You Should”.  The hook: name one example of a building built in the last 70 years that stands up to anything built before the War?  You, like me, probably have a hard time thinking of an answer.

The explanation they offer is that this isn’t just a question of taste.  It is that computers have allowed architects to do things now that weren’t possible before the war.  So we don’t design buildings anymore, we engineer them.  And the engineering possibilities far outstrip normal human capability.  Combine that with capitalism’s emphasis on efficiency and what you get is buildings that are both ugly and inhuman.

As I started reading it, I was thinking to myself “it is so nice to read something long and thoughtful that has nothing to do with Donald Trump.”  But of course, it’s not that simple.  Eventually, I found myself substituting the phrase “public policy” for “architecture.” And in doing so, I found myself coming to an explanation for the “populist moment” we are living through: Just as post-war architecture became more and more focused on efficiency and technical superiority at the expense of feelings and human needs, public policy in the post-War period has become more distant, abstract and technical.

I sympathize with the reaction of elite architecture professors who resist the idea that the solution to the problem of contemporary architecture is to retreat into “nostalgic” buildings.  Similarly, I resist the idea that the response to the critique of contemporary public policy is to go back to a nostalgic pastiche of an vaguely defined golden era.

But here’s the thing: even if I don’t agree with the treatment for the illness I can’t ignore the underlying diagnosis.  Massive policy projects—whether the European Union or reforming the American health care system—are Le Corbusian in their ambition and intelligence as well as their capacity for mass alienation.  And that policy alienation has produced a real and consequential backlash that we should not ignore (despite our moment of joy over the results in Alabama–go ‘Bama!).

The upshot of the architecture article is a call to reintroduce fallibility and limited human capacity into processes by which buildings get built.  Venice and Bruges resulted from the work of builders who contributed in ways that improved on what was already there.  They did so with tools and technologies that suffered from human limitations.  But the result was architecture that is human and even sometimes beautiful. These places evolved in response to—and, were limited by—the people and communities that inhabited them, not the other way around.  Can we find a way to make public policy that takes the same lesson to heart without retreating to a past that never actually existed?

This is where economic sociology comes in.  I don’t go too much for economist bashing.  I like economists.  Some of my best friends of economists.  The strength of their insights is undeniable.  But there is no doubt that the quantitative turn in economics is the equivalent of the arrival of CAD technology in architecture.  It has lead to an exceptionally technocratic era of policy analysis the goal of which is to rationalize and to engineer policy-making on a superhuman scale.  Intellectually, it’s good stuff.  But over-reliance on it, in combination with embracing a certain form of capitalism the last fifty years, has introduced a lot of the same problems that CAD technology introduced into architecture.  We have extracted humans and history from the process of making policy and Trump (and Brexit, and Marine Le Pen) are a result.

Economic sociology, if it doesn’t get itself too distracted by fancy tools, has a contribution to make.  Or more than a “contribution”, economic sociology could become the intellectual basis on which to build a new approach to thinking about public policy.  One that reintroduces a focus on human interactions—with their faults and frailties, as well as their capacity for beauty and insight—as the central actor in the process by which strong societies—not just policies (i.e.,buildings) but societies—are built.  It is not just a matter of understanding the behavioral psychology of people in response to the engineered policies in which they live.  It is understanding how the interaction of human beings produces and evolves social institutions.

The irony of ironies is that Donald Trump—the guy who brought the idea of “look at me” architecture to its tackiest heights when he demolished the perfectly nice 1929 Art Deco Bonwit Teller building in order to build a minimalist brass-tinted-glass monument to value engineering—should be leading the populist policy “movement”.  We can and should reject both his facile, anti-intellectual nostalgia and also the technocratic policy elitism of the second half of the 20th century.  Economic sociology, or at least some version of it, seeks to understanding how institutional fabrics emerge and evolve.  Yet we have not really figured out how to translate that knowledge to a wider audience.  But, we need to (because if we don’t someone else will)

Yes we can.

Written by seansafford

December 13, 2017 at 3:19 pm

one possible policy to address harassment in the academy

It is hard to prevent or control harassment in the academy because graduate students and post-docs often rely exclusively on a single person for professional support. Thus, if your adviser or supervisor acts inappropriately, it is very, very hard to find a replacement without wrecking your career.

This fits with a more general theory that harassment is facilitated by situations where men monopolize a resource. In the academy, we give a monopoly to the adviser or lab directors, in the case of post-docs. This is what prevents many graduate students from lodging complaints. While the university slowly adjudicates a complaint, the adviser can ruin one’s life and there isn’t much you can do.

One possible solution is to institute a policy of “adviser bankruptcy” and an “adviser credit rating.” Bankruptcy is what is sounds like. If the university receives credible evidence that a faculty member is abusing graduate students, their chairmanship of the dissertation committee is dissolved and the university actively seeks a replacement, possibly from another school. This last issue is important. If a whole department is toxic, or the university believes that the faculty will seek revenge within the department, or simply that there is no qualified member within a program, an external chair may be needed.

The credit rating policy is what it sounds like. All graduate faculty start with a “good” rating but if the university receives credible evidence of harassment or other misconduct, they are down graded. Downgraded faculty are suspended from the graduate faculty until (a) all charges are cleared or (b) an appropriate punishment has been served.

I don’t claim that this sort of policy will magically make a severe problem disappear, but it opens up options for victims abuse where there aren’t any right now.

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

December 13, 2017 at 5:01 am

harassment, destroyed careers, and returns to human capital

One of the consequences of #metoo is the burst of media stories about victims of harassment and abuse. One such story is about the actress Anabelle Sciora, whose career was on the rise before she was allegedly assaulted by Harvey Weinstein. Friends describe her withdrawal and decline in Hollywood.

This story shares much in common with our reports of violence and abuse. One feature of the experience is that people often withdraw from their social or work world after assault. I am not an expert on violent crimes, but this seems to be a very understandable reaction.

This leads to the major question of this post. If harassment and violence are common occurrences in many workplaces and withdrawal is a common response, to what degree are women’s, and men’s to a lesser extent, careers destroyed by workplace harassment and violence? I have no idea what the answer would look like, but it could potentially be high. In a hypothetical situation, if, say, 10% of men in a workplace are constantly harassing people with impunity, it could very easily decimate the female workforce in that organization or profession. And considering that many institutions, like universities, have poor track records in limiting or responding to even very serious harassment, it is worth considering how workplace environments may lead to notable wage and attainment gaps.

This is a tough question, and I welcome comments that can help address 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 / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

Written by fabiorojas

December 11, 2017 at 5:01 am

Posted in fabio, gender, workplace

comparone plays scarlatti

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

December 10, 2017 at 5:01 am

book spotlight: the work of art by alison gerber


The Work of Art is a new book by Alison Gerber, a sociologist who studies the sociology of culture. The book is a great exploration of how artists manage the self. This is an important issues because artists are pulled in different directions. Sometimes, artists are supposed to by guided by aesthetic values, at other times market values. The profession of the visual arts is a great place to explore this tension since the art profession in the West has undergone three phases – craftsperson, romantic genius, and art world professional. The book explore how these logics are expressed and blended with interviews with about 80 living, contemporary artists.

So what do we learn? First, Gerber reminds us, as many scholars have, that artists don’t starve, but they usually don’t make a lot of money either. In fact, they often make a loss when it comes to the production and sale of art. So while there are narratives of investment, they are about investment in values and biographical trajectories, less often about “making it” in a traditional sense. Second, there seems be a clustering of values among artists, where particular attitudes about the financial and aesthetic tend to go together. I thought this was a very subtle discussion of how conflicting attitudes toward the art world and pricing of art are expressed.

For me, and for most readers I suspect, the highlight of the book is a concluding chapter called “The Audit of Venus,” which recounts the tale of an artist named “Venus” who got into a dispute with the IRS. A musical performer and visual artist, Venus would submit to the IRS expenses related to touring and the production and sale of art. The IRS office in Venus’ area did not buy it and tried to reclassify the activity as a “hobby” so that Venus couldn’t claim it and thus have to pay taxes. Venus eventually and rightly won but the questioning of art as a real job has not only economic but also social consequences. It caused many people anxiety. Since so much of art is a business with scant financial rewards, having it recognized as a real job or profession offers a certain level of respect and consolation. To remove that designation is not only economic damaging, but needlessly maligns a group of people whose only sin is pursue an activity that isn’t as profitable as some others.

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

December 8, 2017 at 5:01 am