guest post: asa session organizers should accept extended abstracts

The following is a guest post by Daniel Laurison.

There are three things that bug me about the ASA conference submission system. I want to tell you briefly about each of them, and then what I’m trying to do about one of them. Over the years since I started really paying attention to ASA (sometime in 2007 or 2008, I think) I’ve asked many people over various media if they have an argument FOR any of these three elements of the system, and haven’t heard anything that convinced me, but I am entirely open to the fact that I’m missing something.

(TL;DR = I’m going to accept extended abstracts at my session on elites at ASA 2020; I hope other session organizers will do the same; if you’re on board, go to bit.ly/AbstractsASA)

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the democratic electorate

The current conventional wisdom, expressed for example in this NYT Upshot piece, as well as by Bret Stephens on MSNBC yesterday (June 5) is that the vocal “left” of the Democratic party has lost touch with the authentic base of the party, and therefore risks re-electing Trump by veering too far left.

I believe this analysis suffers from a theoretical mistake that enables its pundit providers to ignore certain empirical evidence while trumpeting other such evidence. Here’s why.

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intersectionality as a public idea

In a forthcoming ASR paper, Tim Hallett, Orla Stapleton, and Michael Sauder introduce the concept of public ideas. Hallett et al are interested in that subset of ideas that are produced by social scientists and enter into mainstream public discourse. They define public ideas as those with the following properties:

mediators use them as an object of interest (being the news), (b) mediators use them as an interpretant (making sense of the news), and (c) the ideas are used as objects and interpretants in a variety of ways as part of an unfolding career.

In the paper, Hallett et al focus on seven public ideas ranging from “bowling alone” to the “second shift”, tracing the citations to each idea in 12 mainstream newspapers for the 10 years after its initial publication. They categorize the seven ideas studied into a few main clusters based on the trajectory of the number of citations and the trajectory of the share of citations that treat the public idea as an object of interest or an interpretive tool. For example, “culture of fear” is a “coaster” (meaning a relatively steady flow of cites) and is “interpretant heavy” (meaning it’s mostly used as a tool for interpreting other events, rather than a focus of the news story itself – journalists were not writing stories about the culture of fear, but using it to make sense of, say, reactions to terrorist attacks). Hallet et al offer several observations and propositions about the sources and trajectories of public ideas (noting that their sample came from elite institutions, often in books published by crossover/trade presses, etc.), without proposing a full-fledged theory.

Over on Twitter, Beth Popp Berman wondered what their analysis would have looked like if they’d extended their timeframe beyond 2011 and in particular if they’d included intersectionality. Beth pointed to a recent write-up of intersectionality from Vox, pointing to its ubiquity as both a rallying cry on the left and a target of demonization on the right (a great example of an article citing the concept as an object of interest, in Hallett et al’s terms). In this post, I’ll try to see what we can learn by thinking about intersectionality as a public idea.

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open letter: asa jessie bernard award committee

The following is an open letter published by the undersigned members of the ASA Jessie Bernard Award Committee, dated April 29, 2019.

Dear Esteemed Members of the American Sociological Association:

Last year, controversy over the recipient of the 2018 Jessie Bernard Award raised important questions regarding the ethics of ASA members and issues of sexual harassment, work theft, and power imbalance among junior and senior members, as well as the proper procedures for revoking past awards. These are important issues that we understand the ASA leadership is working to address and which may take time to sort through. This letter is not intended to address those issues. Instead, the purpose of this letter is to promote transparency around events surrounding the 2018 award, to share the recommendations of the 2019 and 2020 Jessie Bernard Award Committees, and to reaffirm our commitment to the Jessie Bernard Award as a feminist intervention within sociology.

In August 2018, the members of the Jessie Bernard Award committee unanimously voted to rescind the award to Michael Kimmel and forwarded a letter explaining its decision to the ASA Council the following month. The ASA announced that it had selected Kimmel for the Jessie Bernard award at its annual awards ceremony; the Council thereafter sent an email to its membership stating that they had voted unanimously to defer delivery of the award. In March and April 2019, the ASA Council responded to our letter, reiterating its decision to defer delivery and in the meantime, focus its efforts on preventing and responding to sexual misconduct, including a procedure to revoke awards.

While the ASA sets up this process, the undersigned members of the JB award committee want to make public the recommendation to rescind the 2018 award to Kimmel and our intent to formally forward this recommendation once the proper procedures are in place. Although we understand such changes take time and careful consideration, we urge the ASA to address these issues before the continued lack of clarity and action threatens irreparable damage to the esteem of the award and the larger association.

The members of the committee would also like to announce its intent to move forward and unconditionally stand by its commitment to recognize the exceptional achievements and contributions of deserving sociologists–including this year’s co-recipients. In so doing, we hope to honor Jessie Bernard’s legacy, reinvigorate the spirit of the award and continue to recognize those whose research is dedicated to disrupting the complex manifestations of inequality within academia and beyond.

Sincerely,
The Undersigned Members of the Jessie Bernard Award Committee

Angie Y. Chung, Chair
Emily Fairchild
Lyndi N. Hewitt
Katie Linette Acosta
Sara L. Crawley
Ivy Ken
Carla A. Pfeffer

I received this open letter today through the ASA Sexualities Section listserv. I assume it went out to other section listservs as well. I post it here with permission of one of the authors. -Tina

 

reply: ethnographers are not lawyers, and nobody ever said they should be

The following is a guest post by Steve Lubet.

There is a story often told in the Cook County Criminal Courts Building about a young defense lawyer who was determined to do everything possible for a burglary defendant. After meticulous research, exhaustive investigation, and conscientious preparation, the attorney presented an airtight alibi, showing virtually minute-by-minute, and through multiple witnesses, that the client could not possibly have been at the scene of the crime. There was only one thing standing in the way of an acquittal. The elaborate alibi had been established for the wrong day, and counsel’s painstaking effort was all for naught. As with most such mythic accounts, this tale is probably apocryphal, or at least broadly exaggerated, but it still serves a valid teaching purpose. Even the most carefully developed argument will fail if it is based on a faulty premise.

So it is with Prof. Mikaila Mariel Lemonik Arthur’s recent response to my own essay on ethnography in Contexts. It would be a powerful riposte if only it had addressed my actual views. My essay is about comparative means assessing reliability – using multiple real life examples from law, history, and journalism – but you would never know that from reading Arthur’s piece. Her rejoinder of over 1500 words quotes only a single four-word passage from my work. Everything else is ill-premised spin. As I will explain below, there is nothing easier than presenting an alibi for the wrong day, nor simpler than refuting the imagined arguments of a straw person.

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selective college admissions games

Alongside the well-publicized scandal of super-rich parents covertly buying their kids entry into super-elite colleges (as distinguished from super-rich parents overtly buying entry through donations, and just-pretty-rich parents doing so through opportunity hoarding), I am interested in two more general patterns in selective-college admissions these days:

  • The incredibly low admissions percentages at elite colleges (public and private), publicized and often understood as indicators of college quality; and
  • Many colleges closing for lack of financial resources, and many others below capacity (in these cases generally, though not entirely, less-selective institutions)

Finally, meanwhile, the “oversupply” of Ph.D.s, particularly in the humanities and some social sciences, is well-documented and anxiety-producing.

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the distribution of student loan debt

Sometimes it’s hard to find basic descriptive statistics. Even when data exist that could provide the relevant descriptives, it still takes work to analyze them. Social scientists don’t have much incentive to produce high quality descriptive statistics, except as incidental by-products of our typical, more complicated statistical analyses (usually aimed at teasing out causation or explanations). And yet, sometimes, all you (or, in this case, a friend) wants to know is, something seemingly straightforward like: What’s the relationship between income and having student loan debt? How much do people owe in student loans given their incomes?

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