of laptops and learning: causal mechanisms and heterogeneity

Universite_Missouri_School_of_Journalism.jpg

The following is a guest post by Jeff Lockhart.

Recently, Cindi May argued in Scientific American that “Students are Better Off without a Laptop in the Classroom.” As with the numerous articles in this vein that preceded it, May’s article was picked up by many academics on social media as proof that they were right to ban laptops in their classrooms. Others have responded that students have always found ways to distract themselves, that banning laptops is infantilizing and that it’s harmful to students with disabilities, among other objections. Although these are important concerns, I want to focus here on a few frustrating trends in the research and reporting on classroom laptop use.

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sunday morning sociology, war on college edition

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Pew reports on a big shift in Republicans’ views towards colleges. More coverage here.

A weekly link round-up of sociological work – work by sociologists, referencing sociologists, or just of interest to sociologists. This scatterplot feature is co-produced with Mike Bader.

Continue reading “sunday morning sociology, war on college edition”

hobby lobby’s parallel universe of antiquity studies

An artist’s sketch of the Museum of the Bible, currently under construction. Source.

The following is a guest post by Fiona Greenland.

Last week’s news that Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby faced civil forfeiture for illegally importing Iraqi antiquities came as no surprise to cultural property experts. The company had been under scrutiny since 2015, when news of the investigation broke. And even before the investigation, scholars, including Roberta Mazza, an ancient historian at the University of Manchester, identified inconsistencies in the provenance histories, or ownership records, of antiquities obtained for Hobby Lobby-backed Museum of the Bible. Equally unsurprising in the wake of the forfeiture announcement were the muddled claims about Hobby Lobby funding ISIS. The forfeited antiquities at the heart of the civil complaint were shipped in late 2010 and early 2011 – prior to the period when ISIS is known to have been associated with archaeological looting in Syria and Iraq. Joel Baden and Candida Moss, two theologians who have closely studied the MoB and Hobby Lobby, rejected the connection in their New York Times editorial on July 6. But the HL-ISIS meme persists, with the frustrating result that the everyday illegal practices of the global antiquities market are overshadowed by ISIS drama.

A lot has been written about Hobby Lobby’s dodgy antiquities deal, and I will defer to the legal experts for analysis of the civil complaint (check out Rick St. Hilaire’s blog). There is good reason to care about this story. The illicit removal of artifacts from archaeological sites destroys information about the objects’ context and history, can damage the artifacts, and is linked with other forms of criminal activity. This is true not just in the Middle East but all over the world. Equally worrisome is the possibility that when a big firm like Hobby Lobby spends big money on antiquities, looters are encouraged to keep digging and dealers are emboldened to sell objects that shouldn’t be on the market in the first place. Those are real problems and yet what I want to focus on here is the rest of the iceberg. Hobby Lobby’s buying power is setting ancient historical studies on a new axis.

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asa blog party: episode xiv, revenge of the blogs

With ASA just a month away, sociologists are setting their sites on Montreal. Apart from scrambling to finish our papers, and struggling to figure out which panels we are supposed to attend, the most important part of prepping for ASA is picking the best parties to attend! In furtherance of that last goal, we at the scatterplot party planning committee are delighted to announce the fourteenth annual blog party, the can’t miss event of the blogger social season. Details:

The 14th Annual Blog Get-Together

Sunday, Aug 13th from 4pm to 7pm

Le Vieux Dublin

636, rue Cathcart, Montreal, about one kilometer from the Palais des Congrès.

Come join us! As Tina put it, “All blog writers, commenters, and readers are welcome, as are folks-who-used-to-write-but-don’t-so-much-anymore-you-know-how-it-goes, lurkers, tweeters, and assorted people who simply would like to come. Please recall that well-behaved sociology faculty will generously purchase a beverage or two for a thirsty graduate student. We may be awkward, but we don’t need to be that awkward.”

of sandwiches and cultural exclusion

David Brooks, liberals’ favorite conservative, came out with an(other) entirely Brooksian column today, this one riffing on Richard Reeves’s important, if flawed, book, Dream Hoarders. Reeves essentially argues that there are lots of structural barriers to the bottom 80% of the US income ladder moving into the top 20%, and that we should therefore pay less attention to the 99%/1% division than to the 80%/20% division. (A better version of a similar argument is in Chris Hayes’ fantastic book, The Twilight of the Elites.)

Brooks, though, knows better than all those zoning laws, rigged college admissions, and so on. Really:

I’ve come to think the structural barriers he emphasizes are less important than the informal social barriers that segregate the lower 80 percent.

Okay, well, not to get too academic about it, but what’s your evidence for rejecting the main thesis of the book in favor of, well, every Brooks column of the past umpteen years?

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

American upper-middle-class culture (where the opportunities are) is now laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class. They play on the normal human fear of humiliation and exclusion. Their chief message is, “You are not welcome here.”

Most of my Twitter sphere has pilloried this (correctly, I think) as mistaking the cause for the expression (or, at most, mechanism) of class-based exclusion. But then there’s a backlash (e.g., here), claiming insensitivity; that cultural capital is “real,” and that those making fun of Brooks are just showing that he’s right.

But here’s the thing. Brooks’ claim isn’t just that cultural capital exists, or that it is one of the ways inequality is expressed. He specifically claims that cultural capital causes the persistent inequality between the 20% and the 80%. That’s utterly implausible, if for no other reason than that learning the names of sandwiches is free (unlike expensive housing and college prep tutors). I believe that people with working-class backgrounds feel uncomfortable in the face of massified sophistication. That doesn’t mean the discomfort causes the inequality.

Other points on the column:

  • It’s not plausible that the sandwich names are “completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class.” Most people, regardless of class background, are able to learn new terms for things (tweet, iPhone, MAGA, e.g.).
  • Because of that, cultural capital is particularly susceptible to “inflation” — today’s highbrow signifier is tomorrow’s Beanie Baby.
  • To wit, those fancy Italian names are kind of passe at this point–at least in my area, it’s stylized working-class food that signifies upper-class hip. Places like Merritt’s Grill and the Saxapahaw General Store.
  • Food is a signifier, yes. It’s also an art form. Like other art forms, its function as signifier can’t be separated from its function as art. That’s the genius of Bourdieu (can’t believe I used those two words in the same sentence). But the way food-as-art is discussed leaves it more open to crudely anti-intellectual/anti-intraceptive positions than other forms of art would be. Could we imagine Brooks claiming that the chief message of Monet is “You are not welcome here?” Of Beethoven, or Hamilton? I’m not saying that whatever second-rate overpriced sandwich shop he went to is the Emperor’s Concerto, but there’s no particular virtue in bad tex-mex any more than in Muzak due to their similar accessibility.

Bottom line: culture matters, and cultural exclusion is real. But structure matters more in reinforcing inequality. If you want a much more serious take on how culture and comparison play in inequality, I’d recommend my colleague Keith Payne’s new book, The Broken Ladder.

sunday morning sociology, panda power edition

When I first saw this image of a new Chinese Panda-shaped solar power plant circulate on Twitter, I was sure it was fake. It’s not. It’s real, it’s adorable, it fights climate change, and it’s somehow weirdly intimidating. Source.

A weekly link round-up of sociological work – work by sociologists, referencing sociologists, or just of interest to sociologists. This scatterplot feature is co-produced with Mike Bader.

Continue reading “sunday morning sociology, panda power edition”