Author Archives: andrewperrin

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

reflexive anti-geneticism

This is my contribution to the ongoing symposium on genetics,race, and sociological theory as well as its twin on that other blog. A quick disclaimer: I was in graduate school with J. Shiao, lead author of the paper being discussed, and we talk occasionally at conferences.

My view of the original paper is that its contribution is real but quite modest in the scheme of theory. The best way to read it is as a social-constructionist “friendly amendment” to constructivism’s tacit, yet stubborn, insistence that there is no biological basis for racial categorization. Genetic information can be used “to distinguish race/ethnicity from the existence of genetic clusters” (emphasis mine). Shiao et al. suggest that constructivist approaches to race need not cling to a strong no-genetic-clustering claim in order to maintain most of the findings of constructivism (“In sum, relatively little of the empirical explanations made by sociologists of race/ethnicity require the claim of biological nonreality traditionally associated with racial constructionism.”). In short, race is a

social reality that is historical, processual, stratified, and analytically multilevel but that is also entangled with biological inputs inherited from the geographic distribution of humans in genetic watersheds over the past 50,000 years.

While I’m no fan of genetic essentialism, I don’t think that’s what’s actually going on in the Shiao et al. article, and overall I find the critiques in the special issue quite disappointing because by and large they respond reflexively to something else instead of engaging the article’s actual contents. I actually think the most important criticism of Shiao et al. is that it’s not really all that important of a finding: the idea that minor, generally meaningless, and ancient genetic variations produce phenotypes that then become inputs to the social construction of race and ethnicity is a minor correction to social constructionism. It becomes important enough for an article in ST because of the sheer symbolic importance of race and the reflexive anti-geneticism in the field. And the character of much of the responses provide further evidence that the objections are to the symbolic affront of the article instead of to its content.

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big data hubris

A not-very-important, yet instructive, series of events on Friday offers a cautionary tale about the allure of big data and the fashionable mistrust of local knowledge.

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korteweg and yurdakul, the headscarf debates

The Headscarf Debates: Conflicts of National Belonging,by Anna C. Korteweg and Gökçe Yurdakul, is a detailed and thoughtful work of comparative cultural sociology. It focuses on four debates in Europe about the wearing of headscarves (in all four cases, actually niqabs, misrepresented as burkas, as the book nicely explains). Using extensive analysis of media and legal discourse, it shows similarities but, more interestingly, differences among the debates in France, Turkey, the Netherlands, and Germany. These differences highlight persistent cultural differences in the relationship between state, citizens, and religion: differences the book describes as “conflicts of national belonging.”

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kurzman, missing martyrs

I’m teaching my colleague Charlie Kurzman’s book The Missing Martyrs for the second time this semester in my Sociology 101 course. It’s a great book, and the students appreciate both its counterintuitive (to them) claims and its accessibility. (It doesn’t hurt that the book opens with a recounting of the all-but-forgotten botched attack on UNC’s campus in 2006.) Continue reading

his honor wants more truck drivers

Our governor, bless his heart, has come out with his latest education-is-overrated statement:

“We’ve frankly got enough psychologists and sociologists and political science majors and journalists. With all due respect to journalism, we’ve got enough. We have way too many,” McCrory said to laughter from the audience.

He said we have too many lawyers too, adding that some mechanics are making more than lawyers.

“And journalists, did I say journalists?” he said for emphasis.

My favorite neocon friend/mentor/correspondent wrote me to ask:

What say you to your Governor about this? In fact, he is always partly right. In fact, your Univeristy [sic] Entitled Ones are always more wrong than right.

Here’s my answer:

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posner’s same-sex marriage ruling

The Seventh Circuit appeals court ruling on Indiana and Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage bans is out, and is of interest for several reasons. It is absolutely dispositive — really no ambiguity at all. It rests on Richard Posner and colleagues’ “law and economics” paradigm instead of the more traditional rights paradigm. And finally, it is written so clearly, and with significant humor, as to be a pleasure to read. I’ll paste in some of my favorite passages below the fold.

I’ve also got a question for law-and-society and social movements people. The question is this: the legal trend toward same-sex marriage, even in hostile environments, seems nearly a juggernaut. What explains this enormous change over the course of a very short time, in the context of a legal regime that is understood to be, in a certain sense, timeless? In other words, all the materials were available for the court to find this, say, 30 years ago, but that would have been unthinkable. This seems, also, to contradict the main finding of a political science classic, The Hollow Hope, which argued that courts rarely lead social change.

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sociology’s sacred project

(Reposting this to allow Chris Smith to post his response.)

After reading Philip Cohen’s thorough and entirely apt review of Chris Smith’s new book, I did what any self-respecting academic would do. I bought the book and read it.

I’m not going to offer a thorough review here; Philip’s is, characteristically, at once substantive and devastatingly accurate. In the main, it’s a profoundly silly book by an author who has the intellectual chops, professional history, and resources to do a much, much better job. The evidentiary base is irresponsibly haphazard, interpreted disingenuously, and in several cases factually inaccurate. And the pages are filled mostly with score-settling, as if Smith has spent his illustrious career keeping an enemies list of those who have insulted him and his friends and has committed to publishing it here. There are numerous basic editing mistakes (authors’ names misspelled, idioms incorrect, verbs forgotten). In short, it reads like an extended, incoherent blog post: a particular irony since Smith spends a considerable amount of space fretting that blogging has been bad for sociology, based mostly on Sherkat‘s admittedly obnoxious style.

Rather than a review, though, I want to ask whether there is a nugget or two of interest to be extracted from the book.

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coding, language, biernacki redux

Dylan Riley’s Contemporary Sociology review (paywall, sorry) of Biernacki’s Reinventing Evidence is out, and an odd review it is. H/T to Dan for noting it and sending it along. The essence of the review: Biernacki is right even though his evidence and argument are wrong. This controversy, along with a nearly diametrically opposed one on topic modeling (continued here) suggest to me that cultural sociology desperately needs a theory of language if we’re going to keep using texts as windows into culture (which, of course, we are). Topic modeling’s approach to language is intentionally atheoretical; Biernacki’s is disingenuously so.

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against active learning

I’m against active learning. Well, maybe not against it. Would you settle for “less for it than others are?” Here’s why.

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you could be the new theory newsletter editor

NEW PERSPECTIVES EDITOR SOUGHT

The Theory Section is looking for a new editor or editorial team for its newsletter, Perspectives. We are now soliciting self-nominations from faculty members or students currently enrolled in a sociology PhD program. Teams of 2 or 3 people are very welcome to apply.

Previous issues of Perspectives can be viewed at http://www.asatheory.org, but prospective editors are free to innovate in terms of content and form. Tenure is for a 3-year term.

Please submit a CV and a 2-page letter of interest (including a short description of how you envision the newsletter) to the members of the Advisory Board:

We look forward to hearing from you!

check out rodney benson’s challenge to ‘new descriptivism’

In case you missed it, Rodney Benson has an excellent piece here, delivered as a response on a panel at the Qualitative Political Communication preconference. It’s well worth the read, in part because the case he makes deserves to be considered and incorporated in many areas of sociology well beyond communication research. It’s also refreshing to see substantive, synthetic, and critical points raised in a panel response — #ASA14 discussants, read, consider, and emulate! Continue reading

talk may be cheap, but meaning is pricey

For those who haven’t yet seen it, there’s a very interesting article by Colin Jerolmack and our own Shamus Khan, along with critiques and rejoinder. The article, “Talk is Cheap,” examines the fact that what people say is not the same as what they do (the problem of “Attitude-Behavior Consistency,” or ABC). They argue that ethnography is therefore the better way to ascertain behavior because ethnographers actually observe behavior itself instead of actors’ often-inaccurate accounts of behavior.  And since sociologists are held to be concerned primarily with social action — an assumption I’ll address below — ethnography (along with, by the way, audit studies such as Quillian and Pager’s) is the better approach.

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the unc athletics scandal in context

[I apologize in advance to regular Scatterplot readers and authors, as this post, like my last one, has an awful lot of "inside baseball." I plan to return to writing on matters of academia and social science soon.]

A few years ago I was part of a group of UNC faculty who began meeting in the aftermath of the revelations about fake classes. Horrified at the misconduct perpetrated by a colleague and upset about the apparent disregard for academic quality that disproportionately helped student-athletes stay eligible to play, our group—which eventually became the Athletics Reform Group (ARG)—met and discussed how to voice our disapproval and advocate for educational opportunities and academic integrity with respect to athletes. I was proud to be one of the signatories of a statement we released at the first game of UNC’s new football coach, Larry Fedora, and of a set of principles we put out later. We had many discussions about the problems of college athletics and the compromises that are required. These included experts in the field of college sports as well as many of us who are simply concerned, informed faculty. We met with outside figures like Taylor Branch and Joe Nocera as well as current and former Carolina athletes. The group included many faculty leaders at Carolina, many of whom have ended up on different sides of the debates that have followed since.

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media sociology from the other side

I was quoted in last Sunday’s New York Times in an article about UNC’s ongoing athletics scandal. This article was specifically about the relationship between UNC and Dan Kane, the reporter from the Raleigh News & Observer assigned to cover the scandal. Predictably, the article amounted to one reporter fawning over another for just how important and groundbreaking the latter’s work has been, with my quote pretty much the only countervailing position offered. Later in the post I’ll paste in the full extent of what I told Sarah Lyall (the reporter on the story), and later this week or next I’m planning a much longer post about the state of the scandal. But here I want to think a little about my experiences with the media’s miserable coverage of this set of stories in relief with what we know, and I appreciate, about the current sociology of the media.

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american democracy

Perrin-AmericanDemocracy-2My new book on American Democracy is out (hooray!). I tried to write it as an accessible argument for understanding democracy as essentially a social and cultural achievement: the back-and-forth interactions among citizens and institutions of government, structured through rules, ideas, and technologies that foster the formation of publics. Below the break are a few points and ideas from the book – not so much a summary as some provocative claims to consider. I don’t consider these claims as proven or demonstrated, just interesting and hopefully generative.

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