Category Archives: books

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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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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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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becoming a master student.

I often tell my students that the course that changed my life was Introduction to Sociology. Today I realized that I’ve been lying to them, or to myself, all this time. The class that truly changed my life was Human Development 100.

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biernacki, “reinventing evidence”

OrgTheory’s current book forum is on Richard Biernacki‘s Reinventing Evidence in Social Inquiry. I provide my views here to contribute to the discussion.

Biernacki attempts a wholesale indictment of the practice of “coding” texts as a social scientific technique. Through careful attempts to replicate three studies, Biernacki seeks to show that the attempt to bridge interpretive and analytical sociology by sampling and categorizing bits of text is “unfeasible.” Essentially, I believe he hopes to demonstrate a kind of methodological “non-overlapping magisteria” claim: that interpretive approaches are sui generis and uniquely capable of successfully comprehending textual and cultural evidence, and analytical techniques are epistemologically bankrupt. He does so by a cherished if underused scientific technique: replication, in this case of three important works in cultural sociology. The works are Bearman and Stovel’s “Becoming a Nazi: A Model for Narrative Networks” (Poetics, March 2000); John Evans’s 2001 book, Playing God? , on which Biernacki has already commented extensively and very similarly; and Wendy Griswold’s 1987 “The Fabrication of Meaning”.

I say “I believe” that is the point of the book, because unlike his prior book (The Fabrication of Labor, a magnificent historical study demonstrating the independent effect of national culture on early modern economic organization in England and Germany) the argument in Reinventing is hidden behind a smokescreen of arrogant posturing, making it difficult to evaluate the underlying idea and its defense.

In short, while there are some apt points in the book, in general it is pompous in style, muddled in evidence, vastly overstated in scope, mean-spirited in approach, and epistemologically indefensible.

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kloppenberg, reading obama

This is the next in the series of posts on what I read this summer. A friend had given me a copy of James T. Kloppenberg‘s Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition a while ago, but I hadn’t cracked it till this summer. It’s an engaging, sophisticated account of Obama’s intellectual pedigree and the political and academic sensibilities he carried into national politics. Continue reading

butler, parting ways: jewishness and the critique of zionism

This is another in a series of notes on things I read this summer. Toward the end of the summer I read Judith Butler‘s Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism (Columbia UP, 2012). Then, as I was preparing to write these thoughts about it, I ran across the Jerusalem Post’s attack on Butler’s receipt of the Adorno Prize and Butler’s response to that attack. So my post will start with my thoughts on the book, then circle around to discuss the controversy over the Prize.

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wedeen, peripheral visions

This summer I read Lisa Wedeen’s 2008 book, Peripheral Visions: Publics, Power, and Performance in Yemen (University of Chicago Press). I’d read her earlier book on Syria, Ambiguities of Domination, as well as her APSR article on adapting sociological approaches to culture to the study of political science. Both of these were worthwhile: the book, if nothing else, as a non-European case illustrating Vaclav Havel’s case about saturated symbols, the article as a consideration about how to apply culture to the study of politics. Peripheral Visions far exceeds these. It’s an extraordinary book in many ways, and its innovations far exceed the boundaries of its case.

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the 2012 asa blog party: covered in awesomesauce

Please join us at the annual ASA blog party:

Saturday, August 18, 2012
8-10pm
Harry’s Bar in the lobby of the Magnolia hotel
818 17th street between Stout and Champa Streets (just 2.5 blocks from the convention center)

This year, Jenn Lena and Gina Neff have graciously invited us to join their party to celebrate the publication of their brilliant books:

Banding Together Venture Labor

Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music by Jennifer C. Lena

Venture Labor: Work and the Burden of Risk in Innovative Industries by Gina Neff

There are even rumors of appetizers being provided for this fabulous event, and drink specials abound. I look forward to celebrating these great books, seeing old friends and meeting newer blog readers. I hope to see you all there.

bageant, rainbow pie

I very much appreciated Joe Bageant‘s previous book, Deer Hunting With Jesus, so eagerly looked forward to reading Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir. Bageant, who died last year, was a political and social commentator whose overall goal in both books was to explain the political and social effects of white working class despair. Deer Hunting was set in Bageant’s hometown of Winchester, Virginia, and followed people there as they sought to cling to dignity in the face of economic desparation.

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relevant reading assignment.

This semester, I’m teaching the second iteration of a senior seminar I created last year. The class, Socialization and the Life Course, explores social influences on our lives from before birth to after death. The class was wildly successful last spring and it’s shaping up to be just as good – although quite different – this time around. One of my favorite additions to the class is what I call the “relevant reading assignment.” I thought I’d share it here for others to consider.

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reed, interpretation and social knowledge

This is the first in what I hope to be a series of notes on things I’ve read recently. This one opens discussion of Isaac Ariail Reed’s Interpretation and Social Knowledge: On the Use of Theory in the Human Sciences (Chicago 2011), a small but very ambitious book by one of the most interesting young pure theoreticians in sociology now. Continue reading

ginsberg, the fall of the faculty

A few weeks ago I had a long plane ride and used it to read Benjamin Ginsberg‘s The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why it Matters. Ginsberg, a distinguished political Scientist at Johns Hopkins, made headlines with this book and excerpts appearing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and I was eager to read it as I expected to find myself in broad agreement.

Sadly, it is a terrible book. Its evidence consists nearly exclusively of politically-charged anecdotes strung together; its overall claim is only tangentially related to some of those anecdotes; and an inordinate proportion of the anecdotes refer to disputes that took place at the author’s own institution.

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a beautiful method

Steven J. Tepper sent out  a request to various people looking for advice on “particularly good and
compelling examples of creative, parsimonious scholarship.” Here’s what he and those who responded came up with.

(compiled by Steven Tepper: Thanks to Shaul Kelner, Heather Talley, Karen Campbell, Eszter Hargittai, Terry McDonnell, Charles Kadushin, Kieran Healy, Bruce Barry, Larry Isaac, and Brian Steensland)

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ask a scatterbrain: recent theory books

All right folks, it’s spring break which means it’s also time for me to think about what books to order for fall. On the docket this time around: a revamped introduction to sociology and graduate theory. For graduate theory, I’m looking for recommendations for recent (last 2-3 years) important theory books linked to current practice in sociology.  In past years I’ve taught Collins’ Interaction Ritual Chains; Latour’s Reassembling the Social; Jaspers’ Getting Your Way. I’m considering Collins again, maybe Elster, maybe Hedstrom, maybe Swedberg’s edited book on economic sociology and STS. Thoughts, opinions, ideas, all welcome!

Thanks.

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