Category Archives: Uncategorized
I’m an unapologetic fanboy for Kieran Healy, but he’s really outdone himself this time. In this week’s post, he takes on the NSA “metadata” story, and the spin that we citizens shouldn’t be too, too worried since this is just data that conversations happened, not on their content. NO WORRIES.
In response, Healy has written this brilliant analysis that shows if the British had metadata (and computers! and a sociologist) on the organizations radical colonists belonged to, they could have picked out Paul Revere as the most likely to do the midnight ride.
I know the NSA is now listening (and other critters too, I hope), and I suppose I know they always were, but I hope there’s someone at the Times or the Atlantic who will try to hire Healy so at least he gets paid for this sort of thing.
My current landlord (this is institutional real estate, so also my employer for 20 more days) gave me less than one month’s notice for the end of my lease. The lease is actually a “license” which, if you know NYC rent laws, has particularly wonderful benefits for property owners. Why didn’t I know further in advance? Basically, I asked for a short extension of the license (a month) and just found out I couldn’t have it (only a week) which was fine in the end since my next landlord (also institutional/employer/license) moved my move-in date up by a month.
The point of all that background:
In the email informing me of the “drop dead move out date” why did my landlord/almost former employer chastise me for not yet informing them of my move date? Is someone in their office stroking out? Is the time/space continuum warping? Did someone put something fun in the punch bowl? Are they tripping their balls off?
I have other complaints, of course, (and am generally in quite a good mood despite all the hassles of late and moving being one of the “5 most stressful life events” which is the sort of pat commentary almost anyone offers when you tell a story that deals with some stressful aspect of a move) but this is the only one that involves people that are basically no longer going to have any influence on or over me.
Sociologists in the US and abroad have been watching the slow erosion of freedom of speech and thought in Russia for some time. In 2008, many of us moved to the defense of Russia’s best postgraduate research university. Now we should act in defense of the Lavada Center, an independent polling group manned (and womaned) by sociologists.
The Center has been (with other non-profit organizations) asked by its government to identify itself as a “foreign agent” because it receives money from outside Russia and engages in political activity. As this NY Times article on the crack-down on Levada makes clear, approximately 3% of the Center’s funding comes from abroad, namely, grants from MacArthur, Ford, and the Open Society Institute. The Center provides us with the only social scientific polling data on Russians I’m aware of that isn’t generated by the state. The Center’s origins actually lie in conflict with the state over political attitudes:
The center’s founder, Yuri Levada, incurred Mr. Putin’s wrath a decade ago by publishing polls that showed waning approval of the United Russia party and the Chechen wars. When Kremlin officials tried to assert control over his organization by appointing a new board of directors in 2003, Mr. Levada resigned and formed a private company, the Levada Center. His employees followed him.
Consequently, the Levada Center staff went about their business, sorting out what Russians really think about their country.
An April survey, for instance, found that 51 percent of Russians agree with a derisive nickname for United Russia, “the party of swindlers and thieves.”
Levada’s data often tells a different story from that of Kremlin-affiliated pollsters. For instance, Levada has reported that around 20 percent of Muscovites support Mr. Putin, far lower than the 64 percent found by a Kremlin-affiliated pollster that included only respondents who voted.
There’s an excellent page of resources on the Center & the crackdown on NGOs, with materials available in English, Russian, and German (plus others, in a “multilingual” section), which I strongly recommend you examine.
I’d like to ask that sociologists and social scientists in particular educate themselves about the Levada Center, and consider signing a petition, linked here: http://www.change.org/petitions/president-of-the-russian-federation-stop-the-stigmatisation-of-the-levada-center-as-a-foreign-agent
I hope you’ll join me in signing. And I hope you’ll pass this along to others.
Would that there were some kind of feedback loop in which the lack of qualified senior scholars who can review sociological research on music (especially rap) actually produced new, qualified entrants to the field. Instead, there are 12 of us (and I’m still junior), and 467,000 students and young faculty producing work.
About three years ago I went through an extremely rough patch: a close friendship dissolved, I lost my job, and I was surrounded by illness and death. Within a few months’ time I had to put my cat down, my grandfather died, my friend and colleague Pete Peterson died, and my good friend’s brother committed suicide.
I’m in another one of those periods–my two remaining grandparents are both in end-stage care, my cousin remains in the hospital after a very bad car accident, and a close friend is battling cancer. And so–although it is not my usual style on the blog to discuss these things, I’m compelled to share this lovely piece of writing about loss from one of my favorite writers:
Did you read the wonderful Irretrievably Broken on her grandmother? It’s a raw and wonderful piece of writing and I commend it to you, even though it will leave you limp and drained. Persephone has been writing exceptionally beautifully about the death of her father too recently (that one I linked to is extraordinary. I went back and read it and it floored me again). And talking to IB, I was sent back, in search of anything that captured those feelings, to Matthew Parris on his father’s death: on embracing the hard edged and durable nature of loss.
I love these kinds of writing, difficult as they are to read. There’s a clarity, a sense of emotions pinned down and powerfully expressed. I read them greedily, greedy for insight or catharsis; because I wish I felt, or had felt, something, anything, that clear. It will be ten years this year since my mum died and I can’t shake the sense that I did grief wrong, somehow: that I didn’t really allow myself to feel anything. The abrupt, shocking finality of an accident – far away, in another country – is quite a different experience (not better or worse, just different) from an expected death of someone nearing the end of their life, or after illness, but I’m not sure that accounts for my reaction. That whole period – and I’ve been trying to write about it for this stupid cake project – feels grey and small and tired. You expect grief to be operatic, unbearable, an emotion equal to the love and the loss. Instead I was left with something pinched and suffocating, frightening feelings suppressed under layers of constantly-reapplied sponge cake (hence the cake theme) and the humdrum rhythms of looking after small children.
I was scared, I know: scared to think of her; scared to conceive of a world where this had happened, unsure of my ability to process those thoughts. My stepfather would try and talk about her, and I’d shy away, hide behind practicalities. I even went to a grief counsellor for a while and managed not to talk about any of the things that frightened me, filling the hours with tiny worries to distract her. Instead I had dreams: horrible, angry dreams where my mother was dying and things or people were stopping me from seeing her; dreams in which I’d shout and shout and from which I’d wake with every muscle clenched with a desperate, confusing fury.
Very occasionally, something would penetrate – usually music, once my stepmother’s beautiful eulogy at her own mother’s funeral a couple of years later – and I would cry “properly”, real blinding floods so I’d have to pull over driving, sit down, surrender. They were a rare relief, compared to the stuttering half-strangled hiccups, the fatigue and the emptiness. Clearly it’s pointless to fret about how you could have done bereavement “better”: you do what you can with the version of yourself you have at your disposal at any given moment. People react differently, of course they do, and rationally, if I am still here and still functioning, I can’t have done anything catastrophically ‘wrong’. These feelings of unease aren’t constant or paralysing, more an occasional background twitch; the dreams are far rarer.
But now I find myself in one of those strange, angsty periods where I’m constantly beset by Big Thoughts. I can’t lie down to sleep, or go for a walk, or spend a quiet twenty minutes in the bath without the Big Thoughts creeping up on me. You know, the ‘what is it all for‘ thoughts, the terrors for an imponderable future, the dread. The sense of time slipping away. The inevitability of more loss. Perhaps it’s because of spending my days trying to dredge up the time just after my mother died out of my memory, perhaps it’s just mid-life, I don’t know. They’re not big thoughts in the sense of being even remotely lucid or penetrating, I’m no Mary Midgley, there’s no philosophical clarity, rather a grey fog of confusion, a sweaty-palmed panic.
I hate it, hate the big thoughts. Bleurgh. I don’t want to think about death, thanks. I want to think tiny, comfortable, ordinary thoughts; thoughts as mundane and satisfying as tidying the kitchen cupboards. lipstick. Sandwiches. Should I start drinking green tea? Are there any bagels left? Do I need to get that unsightly stain on my front teeth removed again? What new foundation will I buy? What kind of cake shall I make for L’s party this weekend and will it rain? (please, no) (yes) Will I ever own a fat pony? Why is there an ant farm on the landing?
But perhaps the only way not to end up pinched and suffocated and grey is to actually look this stuff straight in the eye from time to time? And if that is the case, I actually feel very lucky and grateful we have the Internet to help us explore the Big Questions. Personal blogs, with their immediacy and their concern with the quotidian, are a good place to explore the day to day business of loss and grief and death as much as they are more joyful things.
I think, initially, I felt uneasy with my own motives for reading blogs about death and terminal illness – it felt voyeuristic, unnecessary – but ultimately I reasoned that if people were putting it out there, they were doing so in the hope and on the understanding that it would be read, and it wasn’t disrespectful or prurient to do so. People seek out and want to know about the extremes and the universals of human experience in all kinds of art forms: fiction, film, the graphic arts. It’s perhaps not surprising we seek it out online too, and I do think it helps. Sometimes there’s that answering echo (Alexa talks about this very eloquently) – someone expressing a feeling you barely knew you had until you see it in someone else’s words – sometimes it’s just a way of getting a wider, deeper, more compassionate sense of the world and human experience. Sometimes you see how incredibly much more shitty things could be and you’re chastened and thankful to your bones for your lot in life. As well as the wonderful Persephone and Irretrievably Broken, I have gained huge amounts from reading about other types of loss, raw, reflective, anticipated, distinct: they all have something universal, something to teach.
So this, I suppose is a thank you for everyone who allows it out there, who trusts in the compassion of distant digital strangers at their darkest times. It’s appreciated, really it is.
There’s a new kid on the block, and she’s lean and smart. Sociological Science is a new, open-access journal that promises 1 month turn-around times, and editorial decisions will be “up” or “down”–no multiple R&Rs. There will be no paywalls, and space for moderated discussion of the published articles. And the editors are NO JOKE–it’s a who’s who of people whose work I respect (and people I like…as people):
- Jesper Sorensen
- Delia Baldassarri
- Stephen L. Morgan
- Olav Sorenson
- Sarah Soule
- Kim Weeden
- Ezra W. Zuckerman
I can’t tell you how excited I am by this. It’s an entrepreneurial response to the deadlocked, 3 R&Rs problem and to the severing of public debate and published science. The quality of research and professionalism among members of the editorial board means they’re sure to entice tenured faculty doing high-impact research to forsake the existing (paper) journals to send their good papers to Sociological Science. I wish them well, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. And friends–if you need help, you know where to find me.
The word went out last night that our ASA Culture Awards have been decided. Here are the winners in each of three categories:
The Mary Douglas Prize for Best Book in the Sociology of Culture is awarded to Lynette Spillman for Solidarity in Strategy: Making Business Meaningful in American Trade Associations (University of Chicago Press, 2012). Honorable Mentions go to Cheris Shun-ching Chan for Marketing Death: Culture and the Making of a Life Insurance Market in China (Oxford University Press, 2012), and to Andreas Wimmer for Ethnic Boundary Making: Institutions, Networks, Power (Oxford University Press, 2012).
The Clifford Geertz Prize for the Best Article in the Sociology of Culture is awarded to Lauren Rivera for “Hiring as Cultural Matching: The Case of Elite Professional Service Firms,” American Sociological Review 77(6), 2012.
Suzanne LangerRichard A. Peterson Prize for Best Student Paper in the Sociology of Culture is awarded to co-winners Charles Seguin, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, for “The Mathematics of Superstars: Two Theories of Cultural Consumption” and Phillipa K. Chong, University of Toronto, for “Legitimate Judgment in Art, The Scientific World Reversed?: Critical Distance in Evaluation.” An honorable mention goes to Xiaohong Xu,Yale University, for “Belonging Before Believing: Ethical Activism, Sectarian Ethos, and Bloc Recruitment in the Making of Chinese Communism.”
Having served as a committee member on the “best article” prize, I had the opportunity to read many really excellent pieces of research. Although we could only have one winner, I wanted to recommend to you the other articles/chapters I read and enjoyed (and please keep in mind that I did not read all the submissions to the prize committee–I exactly was not assigned 1/3 of them–so there are many meritorious articles I’ve missed):
Fred Turner, “The Family of Man and the Politics of Attention in Cold War America.” Public Culture, 24(1): 55-. This extremely well-written piece documents the 1955 photography exhibition, The Family Of Man, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was one of the most widely seen, and roundly criticized, exhibitions ever mounted. For the last 40 years, critics have decried the show as a model of the psychological and political repression of Cold War America. Turner disagrees, and shows how the immersive aesthetics of the exhibition actually emerged from the WW2 fight against fascism. Turner argues that the show aimed to liberate the senses, and enable viewers to embrace racial, sexual, and cultural diversity. I want to emphasize that this is extremely well-written, and I feel it’s an ideal reading assignment for undergrads learning about American politics, political culture, and the arts.
Jennifer M. Silva. “Constructing Adulthood in the Age of Uncertainty.” American Sociological Review. 77 (4): 505-522. Silva leverages 93 interviews with black and white working-class young people (in their 20s and 30s) to understand what cultural markers of adulthood they employ. The traditional cultural touch-stones–marriage, home ownership, stable employment–are increasingly unavailable to working-class youth. She demonstrates that these young people use therapeutic language drawn from popular culture and the “self help” industry to identify or mark their transition to adulthood–characterized by having overcome a painful family past. It’s a great piece on cultural capital, and culture in the post-industrial workforce.
Susan S. Silbey. “J. Locke, op. cit.: Invocations of Law on Snowy Streets.” Journal of Comparative Law. Vol. 5 (2): 66-91. The context of the study is amusing to anyone, like myself, who grew up in a New England or snow-belt city: the practice of shoveling out street-side parking spots, and “saving” them using a piece of furniture, a traffic cone, or other object. The case unfurls into a fascinating discussion of legal cultures, and how we “do” rights on the ground, quite literally.
Isaac Reed. “Charismatic Performance: A Study of Bacon’s Rebellion.” American Journal of Cultural Sociology. Forthcoming, 2013. Reed sees a rebellion in the English colony of Virginia, in 1676, as an opportunity to reconceptualize Max Weber’s concept of charismatic domination. He would have us think of this kind of domination as a function of temporality and interpretation, and begins to build a predictive theory of the phenomena, by suggesting some of the circumstances under which charismatic performances are more likely. Plus, the whole Bacon episode is like a madcap comedy–everyone running around trying to take advantage of being at the edges of empire.
John Mohr and Craig Rawlings. “Four Ways to Measure Culture: Social Science, Hermeneutics, and the Cultural Turn.” Pp. 70-113 in the Oxford Handbook of Cultural Sociology, Ed. Jeffrey Alexander, Ronald Jacobs and Philip Smith. 2013. Oxford UP. The authors wrote a handbook chapter–essentially like an encyclopedia entry–but do much more than that: they present an analytic model of four ways of measuring culture and then explore a case study that exemplifies each approach. These include Alfred Kroeber’s 1919 study of the length of women’s ball gowns, Claude Levi-Strauss’s (1963) study of the logic of the Oedipus myth, Paul DiMaggio’s (1982) study of the impact of cultural capital on educational success, and Mohr and Neely’s (2009) study of NYC’s “poor-house” era. What sociologists reading this post will most want to know is the following: the piece marks the authors’ intervention into the critiques made by Richard Biernacki in Reinventing Evidence in Social Inquiry, knowing that the Handbook would pair the Mohr and Rawlings piece with one by Biernacki titled “Rationalization Processes inside Cultural Sociology.” This is the Mohr and Rawlings defense of the utility of formal measurement in studies of culture. A must-read if you’re invested in that debate, and extremely useful to graduate students of culture preparing for exams.
Caroline W. Lee, Kelly McNulty, and Sarah Shaffer. 2013. “Hard Times, Hard Choices: Marketing Retrenchment as Civic Empowerment in an Era of Neoliberal Crisis.” Socio-Economic Review. Vol. 11: 81-106. I first want to note that the second and third authors are recent (’11) graduates of Lafayette, and I really want to congratulate young scholars on producing a work of such distinction. The article examines “deliberation practitioners”–people who sell their services to businesses and local governments as a salve for the problems of neoliberalism, and as an alternative to protest. Yet they also talk about the deliberation events they sell to clients as an antidote to the market ethos they believes has turned citizens into self-interested, passive consumer-citizens. I was unaware these professionals existed, before Francesca Polletta wrote about this article in a chair’s newsletter, and it still makes me shudder to think of how they are influencing our democratic process.
Olessia Kirtchik. 2012. “Limits and Strategies for the Internationalization of Russian Economic Science: Sociological Interpretation of Bibliometric Data.” Laboratorium: Russian Review of Social Research 4(1):19–44. In this article, Kirtchik examines the economics profession in post-Soviet Russia employing data on English-language publications of Russian economists, often used as a proxy to measure “internationalization” and “excellence,” and a survey on foreign degrees holders in contemporary Russian academia. She performs a bibliometric analysis & demonstrates that economic papers from authors in Russia are essentially assigned to regional or “area studies” periodicals which do not belong to the core of the discipline. Publication in top economic journals requires a specific “international” competence generally obtained through doctoral training at Anglo-American programs, and it generally implies a delocalization of research objects and questions. This is a straight sociology of knowledge piece, but with heightened relevance given the current discussions of how “facts” are created by economists.
Congratulations to everyone for their hard work this year!
A friend of mine asked for reading suggestions for his daughter, as she grows from ages 8 to 18. I started a list and then solicited suggestions from friends. In case you’re looking for smart reads for your young child/teenager, I’m going to post the list here, and update it as new suggestions emerge. Feel free to add yours in the comments.
- 1984: George Orwell
A Heartbreaking Work…/Zeitoun: Dave Eggers
A Prayer for Owen Meany/Garp/The Cider House Rules: John Irving
A Separate Peace: John Knowles
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Betty Smith
A Wrinkle in Time: Madeline L’Engle
Animal Farm: George Orwell
Anne of Green Gables: Lucy Maud Montgomery
Beloved: Toni Morrison
Catcher in the Rye: J D Salinger
Daddy long legs: Jean Webster
Dandelion Wine: Ray Bradbury
Dave at Night: Gail Carson Levine
Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank
E. B. White
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler: E. L. Konigsburg
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Harriet the Spy: Louise Fitzhugh
Heidi: Johanna Spyri
Huck Finn: Mark Twain
I capture the castle: Dodie Smith
Into the Wild: John Krakauer
Invisible Man: Ralph Ellison
Jane Eyre: Charlotte Bronte
Lemony SnicketLittle Women: Louisa May Alcott
Middlesex: Jeffrey Eugenides
My family and other animals: Gerald Durrell
Night: Elie Wiesel
Of Mice and Men: John Steinbeck
Persuasion: Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice: Jane Austen
Ramona (series): Beverly Cleary
Siddhartha: Herman Hesse
Tale of Two Cities: Charles Dickens
Testimony: Anita Shreve
The Beat Reader: ed. Ann Charters
The Bell Jar: Sylvia Plath
The Borrowers: Mary Norton
The Bridge to Teribithia: Katherine Patterson
The Chosen/The Promise/In the Beginning: Chaim Potok
The Chronicles of Narnia: C S Lewis
The Entire Original Maupassant Short Stories
The Grapes of Wrath: John Steinbeck
The Great Brain: J. D. Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby: F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Harry Potter series
The Human Comedy & My Name is Aram: William Saroyan
The Little House on the Prairie: Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Miss Marples Mysteries: Agatha Christie
The Mysterious Benedict Society: Trenton Lee Stewart
the nancy drew mysteries
The Phantom Tollbooth: Norton Juster
The River: Rumer Godden
The Secret Garden: Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Source: James Mitchener
The Stories of Eva Luna: Isabel Allende
The Westing Game: Ellen Raskin
To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee
To the Lighthouse: Virginia Woolf
Who was that masked man anyway: Avi
Wuthering Heights: Emily Bronte