Posts Tagged ‘sociology

sykes-picot is 100 (with a nod at fanon at the end)

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As we approach the 100th anniversary of Sykes-Picot, some interesting analysis (and defenses) from around the web:

From the Economist (they have a larger section but you have to be a subscriber):

A second wrong-headed notion is that redrawing the borders of Arab countries will create more stable states that match the ethnic and religious contours of the population. Not so: there are no neat lines in a region where ethnic groups and sects can change from one village or one street to the next. A new Sykes-Picot risks creating as many injustices as it resolves, and may provoke more bloodshed as all try to grab land and expel rivals. Perhaps the Kurds in Iraq and Syria will go their own way: denied statehood by the colonisers and oppressed by later regimes, they have proved doughty fighters against IS. For the most part, though, decentralisation and federalism offer better answers, and might convince the Kurds to remain within the Arab system. Reducing the powers of the central government should not be seen as further dividing a land that has been unjustly divided. It should instead be seen as the means to reunite states that have already been splintered; the alternative to a looser structure is permanent break-up.

From The New Yorker:

For a century, the bitter reaction to the Sykes-Picot process has been reflected in the most politically powerful ideologies to emerge—Nasserism, in Egypt, and Baathism, in Iraq and Syria—based on a single nationalism covering the entire Arab world. For three years, Egypt and Syria, despite being on different continents, actually tried it, by merging into the United Arab Republic; the experiment disintegrated after a 1961 coup in Damascus.

Even the Islamic State seeks to undo the old borders. After sweeping across Syria and Iraq in 2014, Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced, “This blessed advance will not stop until we hit the last nail in the coffin of the Sykes-Picot conspiracy.”

From The New York Times:

That Western imperialism had a malignant influence on the course of Middle Eastern history is without a doubt. But is Sykes-Picot the right target for this ire?

The borders that exist today — the ones the Islamic State claims to be erasing — actually emerged in 1920 and were modified over the following decades. They reflect not any one plan but a series of opportunistic proposals by competing strategists in Paris and London as well as local leaders in the Middle East. For whatever problems those schemes have caused, the alternative ideas for dividing up the region probably weren’t much better. Creating countries out of diverse territories is a violent, imperfect process.

From Foreign Policy:

The “end of Sykes-Picot” argument is almost always followed with an exposition of the artificial nature of the countries in the region. Their borders do not make sense, according to this argument, because there are people of different religions, sects, and ethnicities within them. The current fragmentation of the Middle East is thus the result of hatreds and conflicts — struggles that “date back millennia,” as U.S. President Barack Obama said— that Sykes and Picot unwittingly released by creating these unnatural states. The answer is new borders, which will resolve all the unnecessary damage the two diplomats wrought over the previous century.

Yet this focus on Sykes-Picot is a combination of bad history and shoddy social science. And it is setting up the United States, once again, for failure in the Middle East.

There’s a lot more.  This is an important anniversary.

The Foreign Policy article above is, at least for me, the more interesting one, especially as it ties into important sociological conversations about the invention of tradition and imagined communities.

For what it’s worth, it’s of course true that Sykes-Picot can sometimes get too much blame (or at least be given too much causal power) for the entirety of the problems in the Arab world (and the broader Middle East). For that matter, I’m quite sure there are many other borders that would have been just as bad.  Yet it’s sometimes easy to forget that even more than the lines themselves, it was the imperialist capacity to render those lines that has caused so much anger.  Someone like Fanon (and postcolonial theory more broadly) helps show there’s something important about the power dynamics in which you are named and recognized, and sometimes discussions of Sykes-Picot (and, for that matter, talk of the United States drawing up the map again) utterly ignore this distinction, framing a problem of recognition as simply a problem of categorization. Also for what it’s worth, I’ve written a bit about how Edward Said helps us think about this stuff here.

Addition: My colleague Kevan Harris pointed me to the really impressive work of Sara Pursley.  Here’s an interview with her about Sykes-Picot, among other things:

But I’m not just contesting the Sykes-Picot narrative. I’m contesting all the narratives that say Iraq’s borders were “drawn” by Europeans in the years around World  War I, whether they locate that moment in Sykes Picot, or the Paris Peace Conference, or San Remo, or the Cairo Conference. These last three tend to be more popular with scholars and Iraq experts, who often know that Sykes-Picot doesn’t really work. But actually none of them work. The supposed map the Europeans drew of the Middle East—it doesn’t exist. Iraq’s borders were created like most nation-state borders have been created, through a drawn-out of process of resolving competing claims to territory through war, diplomacy, and other uses of power. It took many years and involved many actors. To begin with, a border requires mutual recognition of the authorities on both sides—that’s what a border is. You can’t just create one by yourself.

Written by jeffguhin

May 15, 2016 at 12:22 am

what has to be true about humans for sociology to work?

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Because we start at the level of the social, sociologists tend to think questions of human universals are either irrelevant or wrong-headed. It’s empirically obvious that what appears to be universal usually is not and what might well be fundamental to all humans is generally pretty banal.

Often, but not always. And even if the first few steps in a proof are crushingly obvious, they’re still necessary for the later, more interesting stuff. So what do we need? And why does it matter? I’d suggest four starting points. First, to what degree can we understand humans as fundamentally self-interested? Second, to what degree can we understand them as tribal? Third, to what degree can we understand humans as fundamentally habituating? And beneath all of these, do we have a right to assume human life is fundamentally social?

 I don’t have space here to get into all of these, but I hope it’s clear that these arguments have real stakes. For example, much of the hubbub over  Jerolmack and Khan’s provocative article, “Talk is Cheap” came from their situationalist assumption about human nature (and, to be clear, even though I disagree with the article, I appreciate the conversations it encouraged, and I’m a big fan of both authors’ projects). The problem with situationalism is that it’s a nuclear bomb to sociology’s structuralist assumptions, including, ironically enough, Khan’s own argument in Privilege. If it’s true that human behaviors are basically situationally contingent (to which ethnographers, fairly enough, have the best access), then we have no idea what St. Paul’s is like the year after Khan left his fieldsite, nor do we have any reason to believe that the students he profiles will maintain the formation they have received. The Bourdieusian architecture his book depends upon would be blown to smithereens.  Jerolmack and Khan might respond that their argument is not against habituation so much as that talk is poor evidence of habituation, and it’s a fair enough point that there’s a difference between behaviors and verbal self-descriptions. Yet that difference is not nearly as clean as it appears (what is a verbal self-description but a kind of behavior?) and much of their evidence for their argument is a series of situationalist critiques that are pretty devastating to any form of habituation, however it’s revealed (not to mention that much of the evidence in ethnography is, well, talk, albeit talk within situations in which the ethnographer has an interpretive understanding).

To be clear, social psychologists have been thinking about these questions for a long time, and the “Talk is Cheap” conversation originated in Steve Vaisey borrowing an argument about human universals from Jonathan Haidt. That’s a welcome development (even if I’m not at all convinced by those particular human universals), and it would be helpful to see more sociologists interested in larger (socially contingent) structures thinking about our social psychological assumptions of human action. You could easily think of similar assumptions about humanity that undergirds all sorts of sociological arguments, including boundary-work (tribalism), field position (self-interest, whatever that means), and sociology itself (sociality). Chris Smith has already started thinking about these things in Moral Believing Animals and the much longer What is a Person? (for my money the former is a sharper, cleaner argument). More importantly, the often criminally under-read subfield of social psychology has been asking these questions all the way back to Mead. So it’s not as though these conversations aren’t happening. But I think we would benefit from having more of them.

Written by jeffguhin

May 10, 2016 at 4:50 pm

what makes the wire (or any other work of art) sociological?

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What makes a novel or a movie or a television show sociological?

The quick answer is I don’t know. But I have thoughts, some of them relevant to the the topic at hand, and others wondering how my hair looks.

Every sociologist I talk to about The Wire says it’s one of the most sociological shows they’ve ever seen. What does that mean? In its last season,The Wire throws around the adjective Dickensian in the newsroom it portrays, a wink at the critics who used the word to describe the show’s vast sweep and interest in the urban poor.

So is Dickens sociological by the transitive property? Maybe, but I’m not sure Dickens gets at what makes The Wire so interesting to sociologists, which is that it shows the overwhelming social force of institutions, organizations, and cultural inertia. I’ve always thought of sociology as an explanation for why you’re not as free as you think you are, and you just don’t get that in Dickens, for whom success really does seem to be the result of character. Dickens is obviously aware of the power of the environment, but he just can’t quite commit to the depressing certainty of it (The Wire is nothing if not depressing).

I know, I know: sociology is more than structural constraint. But the problem is that if sociology is the study of the social, then what show or movie or book isn’t sociological? I’m not sure what the answer to that is, but I’d be interested in people’s thoughts. Can a comedy be sociological? I’d say Veep is, and, in fact, I’d say it’s a better politics show than Scandal, The West Wing, or House of Cards precisely because of its sociological awareness of bureaucracy’s absurdity. But again, this gets back to the core importance of institutions, organizations, and inequality to North American sociology. One could do a sociological analysis of Friends pretty easily, but it’s hard to see how the show could itself be called sociological, except to say that sociological things happen in it, which is true for basically any work of art or entertainment about people.

So does anyone have a better idea or what makes a show, movie, play, book, sociological? Or a good example? Please share in the comments.

(By the way, thanks to Garnette Cadogan and Anne Marie Champagne for helping me make sure I’m not wrong about Dickens!)

Written by jeffguhin

May 6, 2016 at 1:29 pm

a warm welcome to guest blogger Ellen Berrey

Please join us in welcoming sociologist Ellen Berrey, who will be guest blogging about her hot-off-the-press book The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Diversity and the Limits of Racial Justice  (2015, University of Chicago Press).

Here’s the blurb for the book:

Diversity these days is a hallowed American value, widely shared and honored. That’s a remarkable change from the Civil Rights era—but does this public commitment to diversity constitute a civil rights victory? What does diversity mean in contemporary America, and what are the effects of efforts to support it? 

Ellen Berrey digs deep into those questions in The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice (University of Chicago Press, May 2015). Drawing on six years of fieldwork and historical sources dating back to the 1950s, and making extensive use of three case studies from widely varying arenas—affirmative action in the University of Michigan’s admissions program, housing redevelopment in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, and the workings of the human resources department at a Fortune 500 company—Berrey explores the complicated, contradictory, and even troubling meanings and uses of diversity as it is invoked by different groups for different, often symbolic ends. In each case, diversity affirms inclusiveness, especially in the most coveted jobs and colleges, yet it resists fundamental change in the practices and cultures that are the foundation of social inequality. Berrey shows how this has led racial progress itself to be reimagined, transformed from a legal fight for fundamental rights to a celebration of the competitive advantages afforded by cultural differences.

Powerfully argued and surprising in its conclusions, The Enigma of Diversity reveals the true cost of the public embrace of diversity: the taming of demands for racial justice.

Berrey’s other publications on this and related topics are available here.

Written by katherinechen

May 10, 2015 at 10:40 am

t-t assistant professor opening at CCNY

My dept. is hiring for a t-t assistant prof line – please download this: (Job_Announcement_2014 final) or see below.  Best wishes to everyone on the job market.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by katherinechen

October 1, 2014 at 12:41 pm

Posted in academia, sociology

Tagged with

money, money, money … at Yale

Yale is hosting a conference on $$$, which is open to the public, next Fri., Sept. 12th at Yale.

The line-up is both impressive and exciting, not least of all because it involves our orgtheory crew plus beloved colleagues and dear orgtheory readers!

Friday, September 12, 2014
Hosted by:
Nina Bandelj ~ Sociology, University of California at Irvine
Daniel Markovits ~ Yale Law School
Frederick F. Wherry ~ Sociology, Yale University

With papers from:
Bruce Carruthers ~ Sociology, Northwestern University
Christine Desan ~ Harvard Law School
Nigel Dodd ~ Sociology, London School of Economics
Akinobu Kuroda ~ Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, Tokyo
Simone Polillo ~ Sociology, University of Virginia
Akos Rona-Tas ~ Sociology, University of California at San Diego
Alya Guseva ~ Sociology, Boston University
Rene Almeling ~ Sociology, Yale University
David Grewal ~ Yale Law School
Kieran Healy ~ Sociology, Duke University
Marion Fourcade ~ Sociology, University of California at Berkeley
Supriya Singh ~ Sociology, RMIT, Australia
Stephen Vaisey ~ Sociology, Duke University
Shane Frederick ~ Psychology, Yale School of Management
Daniel Markovits ~ Yale Law School

The Social Meaning of Money
Turns 20
Nancy Folbre ~ Economics, University of Massachusetts
Arlie Hochschild ~ Sociology, University of California at Berkeley
Eric Helleiner ~ Political Science, University of Waterloo
Bill Maurer ~ Anthropology, University of California at Irvine
Jonathan Morduch ~ Economics, New York University

Co-Sponsored by The Office of the Provost, Yale University ~ Yale Center for Cultural Sociology
Center for Organizational Research at the University of California, Irvine
Yale Center for Comparative Research ~ Yale Law School ~ Yale School of Management

Here’s the program:

Money Talks: A Symposium at Yale
Friday, September 12, 2014

Morning Sessions:Yale School of Management, Evans Hall, 165 Whitney Avenue. Class of 1980 Classroom, 2400
Afternoon sessions: Yale Law School, 127 Wall Street, Room 127 (TBC).

9:00 ~ 9:15 AM Welcome
Richard Breen ~ Yale University, Chair of the Department of Sociology
Daniel Markovits ~ Yale Law School, Symposium Co-host
Frederick Wherry ~ Yale University, Symposium Co-organizer
Nina Bandelj ~ University of California, Irvine, Symposium Co-organizer
9:15 ~ 10:45 AM Panel 1: Money and Markets
Bruce Carruthers ~ Northwestern University
Some A-B-C’s of Financial Fables: Rethinking Finance and Money
Akinobu Kuroda ~ Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, University of Tokyo
The Characters of Money: A Historical Viewpoint from Complementary Currencies
Simone Polillo ~ University of Virginia
A Macro-Sociology of Money
Alya Guseva ~ Boston University & Akos Rona-Tas ~ University of California, San Diego
Money Talks, Plastic Money Tattles
Moderator: Alice Goffman ~ University of Wisconsin, Madison
10:45 ~ 11:00 AM Coffee Break
11:00 AM ~ 12:30 PM Panel 2: Money and Morals
Rene Almeling ~ Yale University
Money, Technology, and Bodily Experience: Comparing the Production of Eggs for Pregnancy or for Profit
David Grewal ~ Yale Law School
The Meaning of the Mirage: Money and Sin in Early Political Economy
Marion Fourcade ~ University of California, Berkeley & Kieran Healy ~ Duke University
Seeing Like a Market
Supriya Singh ~ RMIT University, Australia
Money and Morals: The Biography of Transnational Money
Moderator: Olav Sorenson ~ Yale School of Management
12:30 ~ 2:00 PM Lunch Break
2:00 ~ 4:00 PM Panel 3: The Social Meaning of Money, 20 Years Later
Nancy Folbre ~ University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Accounting for Care
Arlie Hochschild ~ University of California, Berkeley
Going on Attachment Alert: Paying Money, Managing Feeling
Eric Helleiner ~ University of Waterloo, Canada
The Macro Social Meaning of Money: From Territorial Currencies to Global Money
Bill Maurer ~ University of California, Irvine
Zelizer for the Bitcoin Moment: The Social Meaning of Payment Technology
Jonathan Morduch ~ New York University
Economics, Psychology, and the Social Meaning of Money
Moderator: Nina Bandelj ~ University of California, Irvine
4:00 ~ 4:15 PM Coffee Break
4:15 ~ 6:00 PM Panel 4: The Moralities, Solidarities, and Meanings of Money
Stephen Vaisey ~ Duke University
What Would You Do For a Million Dollars?
Shane Frederick ~ Yale School of Management
Positional Concerns
Christine Desan ~ Harvard Law School
Money as a Constitutional Practice
Daniel Markovits ~ Yale Law School
Economic Inequality and the Meaning of Money
Nigel Dodd ~ London School of Economics
Is Bitcoin Utopian?
Moderator: Frederick Wherry ~ Yale University
6:00 PM A Conversation With Viviana Zelizer
Moderators: Nina Bandelj ~ University of California, Irvine & Frederick Wherry ~ Yale University
6:30 PM Reception ~ Yale Law School, The Alumni Reading Room

Written by katherinechen

September 5, 2014 at 2:47 pm

sociology compass article by Liz Gorman now available: “Professional Self-regulation in North America: The Cases of Law and Accounting”

UVA sociologist Elizabeth “Liz” Gorman has recently published a state-of-the-field article on self-regulation among lawyers and accountants in the Organizations and Work section of Sociology Compass:

Professional Self-regulation in North America: The Cases of Law and Accounting

Professional and expert work holds the potential for misconduct that can harm clients or the public. According to the traditional model of professional self-regulation, developed during the “golden age” of the professions in the mid-20th century, societies grant professional communities freedom from external regulation in return for their commitment to regulate their members’ conduct. Professions were said to cultivate distinctive ethical norms, socialize new practitioners, and engage in social control of deviant behavior. In light of dramatic changes in the professional world since that time, this essay reviews research on the legal and accounting professions in North America to assess the extent to which this traditional model still holds. The two professions continue to resemble the traditional model in some respects but diverge from it in others, and on some points, there is insufficient evidence to draw a conclusion. The traditional model of self-regulation is probably best viewed as an ideal type that can serve as a standard of reference, not as an accurate representation of social reality. This conclusion opens up new topics for research and opportunities to inform policy.

This is a great overview for thinking through how effective internal governance units (from SAF theory), ethics courses, and peers are for monitoring professionals’ conduct.


"For lawyers, the fundamental ethical principle is “zealous advocacy” on behalf of the client" (Gorman 2014: 492)

HLS graduates celebrate: “For lawyers, the fundamental ethical principle is “zealous
advocacy” on behalf of the client” (Gorman 2014: 492)


Written by katherinechen

June 19, 2014 at 12:54 pm


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