what ever happened to…

That idea of Jeremy’s where grad students ask questions about things they’ve heard about the discipline, the job market, navigating grad school, etc.? And then folks who’ve been around the block chime in and answer. Wasn’t that going to be a regular feature of this blog? I really liked the idea. It was first suggested here. This could be one of our niches in the sociology blogosphere. And I could list it as “service” for my reviews. We could call it our, “question of the week (or weak)”.

14 Comments

  1. Dan Hirschman
    Posted January 29, 2008 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I have a question, if you are taking submissions. :)
    A colleague of mine in graduate school interested in social theory claimed there were no longer job postings available for specialists in theory. Instead, budding theorists have to masquerade as ‘cultural sociologists’ or something like it. Does that hold up to your impressions of the Sociology job market? What advice would you give to a budding sociology PhD who wanted to concentrate on social theory?

  2. Posted January 29, 2008 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    I’ll bite on this one. Not because I know a lot about the market, but because I applied to “theory” and non theory jobs. My basic view is that “theory” has become a smaller and smaller area of the discipline, not because no one is interested in theory, but because “theory” as an area has become increasingly specialized. People who do “theory” basically read and talk about theory. I think of it as intellectual history and/or synthesis. There are two things I would note about this:

    1.) As an enterprise it would be largely foreign to those who we think of as our grand theorists. Suicide is an empirical study. Economy and Society is not an exposition on theories of economy and society, but instead most often a treatment of historical cases that get generalized into types. Bourdieu wrote only one book that I know of that is “theory” (or better, theory-laden). That’s “The Political Ontology of Martin Heidegger”. Never heard of it? You’re not alone. What we do know is the theory that emerged from empirical studies.

    2.) It is also an enterprise that isn’t that common in sociology, and not that heavily rewarded on the job market.

    But there’s hope! Why? Because everyone does theory in some way or another. And people really do care about the theoretical contributions of your work. So you can certainly do theory without being one who does “theory”.

    So, if you want to do theory as intellectual history/synthesis I think you may be facing major challenges. But if you are interested in theory but recognize the importance of placing that interest in the context of the social world, I think you’ll have many places to look for jobs (and hopefully people who will be looking for you!).

    My two cents

  3. Posted January 29, 2008 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    I still vote for it being called “Line of Best Fit.”

  4. peelpel
    Posted January 29, 2008 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Ok, game on. My question is tangentially one on dispelling/confirming grad student myths, but one directly relevant to professionalization. So I think it works for this thread:

    Why do some people use pseudonyms in their blog posts?
    None of the usual sociological suspects (cohort/age, status, gender) seem to explain this puzzle, it seems to me.

    My answer stems from the differences between the way I think about my scholarly and personal selves. As in, I don’t talk about my family crises, weight, TV-watching habits in places where I might be evaluated by professional peers. This is simply an extension of managing my professional self online, I guess – I also try to keep non-scholarly elements of my identity out of places google-able. Of course this is impossible, but having a pseudonym is one way of preventing my self from being wholly judged on one dumb thing I say.
    In other words, I guess anonymity prevents present & future embarrassment. Goffman nailed this – I don’t want other people to see a different dimension of my self, thereby branding me a phony in the domain I want professional colleagues to evaluate. And even if I could charm the small subset of the field that reads and comments here, there are still plenty whose professional opinion I care about that may google me and find my discussion of topics here unprofessional.
    *And to be clear, whether such judgment “should/shouldn’t” happen or whether this is “fair/unfair” is a separate topic, and not necessarily the one I’d prefer to discuss with this question. Unless, of course, it is the intention of non-pseudonym-users to change norms constituting acceptable presentation of one’s professional self…*

    The subject of managing the professional self on the internet seems as important as it is in other contexts discussed on this blog (e.g. job market, classroom). So I’ve offered my question and answer. Anyone who does or doesn’t use a pseudonym care to contribute their reasoning?

  5. Posted January 29, 2008 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    I’ve blogged under a pseudonym in the past which I think was nice to reduce my google-ability but did little to hide my identity. Of course, I could have been more careful with that.

    As far as blogging under my real name now, there might be consequences. I do try to watch what I blog about or comment on (and for what it’s worth, I study impression management), but I find myself more concerned with accurately representing who I am and what I believe here than I am with representing what I think should be my professional self. I realize, too, that who I am personally and professionally are deeply intertwined.

  6. olderwoman
    Posted January 29, 2008 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Re theory, we have no shortage of people to teach theory. It seems like pretty much all qualitative sociologists and half of all quantitative sociologists are interested in teaching & talking about theory. The idea of “theory” as an area in itself, rather than theory as a tool for understanding some aspect of social reality, is a little puzzling to many of us.

    Re pseudonyms, I started that way because I don’t want this blog to come up in a google search on my name. I’m still deciding how I want this persona to relate or not relate to my more public persona. But I assume that most of the readers of this blog either know who I am or can figure it out, so I don’t feel any license to say anything I would not otherwise say.

  7. Posted January 29, 2008 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    Shamus: You should coordinate Question Of The Week. I think it’s a good idea but every time Wednesday (which was the day I was going to do it) has come around I haven’t had the cognitive wherewithal to launch it. I think I had a previous post in which I talked about how I’m not very good about posting about things I plan to post, versus ideas that are spur of the moment.

    Also, I blog under a pseudonym because it throws the packs of snark-bloggers off my scent, and because the real Jeremy doesn’t seem to care.

  8. Posted January 29, 2008 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    I use a pseudonym for the same reason as olderwoman above… I’m not quite sure how this blogging thing is going to shake out, I’m bound to say something stupid, and my public persona is still very much in progress. Most people who know me well KNOW it’s me (without asking) and I definitely watch what I say (esp. re: my new department) but it’s still comforting that no one can know for sure. (Speaking of this, olderwoman, I had no idea who you were until you left a comment on my blog. Turns out, we know each other a bit — if you haven’t idenitifed me yet, I’ll be sure to out myself next time I see you at ASA.)

    Re: theory. I work in a fairly undervalued area of soc, especially when it comes to theory. I got job offers because of the methods I use but people are always pleasantly surprised when I say I’d like to teach theory (in my area, we have a shortage). Again, I second olderwoman when I say that talking about theory as an “area” is weird to me.

  9. peelpel
    Posted January 30, 2008 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the thoughtful posts, all.
    Sounds like it seems to come down to level of risk aversion. And, perhaps, the range of topics one wants to be able to discuss online (see OW’s comment in the ‘race names 2′ thread).

  10. Posted January 31, 2008 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m still in grad school, and one reason I use a pseudonym is because I don’t want blogging to affect my job opportunities. And, like everyone else, of course, if I say something stupid then people won’t know it’s me.

  11. Posted February 4, 2008 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    Kieran Healy’s response to Dan Hirschman’s question above is, predictably, a smart one (as is the longer article from which it draws). Among the various sources Kieran’s article mentions is a short piece by Michèle Lamont, written a few years back for Perspectives, the newsletter of the ASA theory section. Michèle’s analysis was admittedly “impressionistic,” but nonetheless interesting—and so was the discussion that followed in subsequent issues of Perspectives. And her reflections run somewhat against the grain of one of the claims Shamus seems to make, namely that theorists (or those who do “theory”) “basically read and talk about theory” and are engaged in “intellectual history.”

    Well, I suppose it all depends on the meaning of the word “basically.” If this means “mainly” or “only,” then I’m not so sure. Lamont’s analysis suggests that those who teach “theory”—and let’s assume, contrary to the old saw, that those who teach theory not infrequently find themselves doing it too, and perhaps even doing it well—”do not define themselves first and foremost as theorists.” That is, they self-define as “‘cultural sociologists’ or something like that,” though whether this is “masquerade” is perhaps a separate question.

    But—and here I think Shamus and I agree—we should be careful not to conflate being and doing. As he puts it: “you can certainly do theory without being one who does ‘theory’.” That is—if I’m getting this right—you can do theory without defining yourself primarily as a theorist—though yes, this does mean that you will have to masquerade as (indeed, you will have to be) something and someone else. But that is probably all to the good, since even the most die-hard theorists ought to be urged to get out of their armchairs. Bourdieu once called it “fieldwork in philosophy.”

    And what about “intellectual history”? Sociology as a discipline would probably be at least somewhat better off if more sociologists were willing to pay it some good attention. We ought to hesitate before forgetting our founders (and their followers), if only because they helped forge the field that now forges us (and because even those who did not significantly shape the field might, with a bit of reading and reflection, still manage to significantly shape us).

    But again, this could, and perhaps should, be figured not as a matter of exclusive intellectual identity, but rather as one form of intellectual activity among many. Kieran Healy is not primarily an “intellectual historian,” but his article does some good work that looks a lot like intellectual history. Similarly, Shamus himself has done a bit of intellectual history, it seems to me, for an excellent chapter in this big fat book. This isn’t the only thing that theorists (or those who “do theory”) might do. Yet it is, I think, worth doing.

    And will those who do it find jobs in departments of sociology? Good question. But it is probably safe to say that the American sociologist does not usually live by theory alone.

  12. Posted February 4, 2008 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the plug, Jonathan! Over the past couple days I realized that more people may have read my work here on this blog than may EVER read an article I write (our readership has skyrocketed, at least for the last couple days, because of a plug from marginal revolution). Which is interesting to contemplate. I learned more about the history of American Sociology in writing that essay and reading the others in the volume than I ever learned in grad school. That, and when I briefly had a job for Chas Camic reading articles written from 1895-1940 in AJS.

    At that time I also read a couple ASR pieces, including one by the 1939 ASA president Sutherland on white collar crime. I really liked that paper and wonder if anyone ever picked up on it.

  13. Posted February 4, 2008 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    shakha: I assume this means you did some of the research behind Camic’s article, “Three Departments in Search of a Discipline”? Actually, I’d be very interested in seeing his take on Dan’s initial question. Maybe you should see if Chas would respond…

  14. Posted February 4, 2008 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    Actually, it was for a follow-up project (“Three Departments” was written while I was still in high school, I believe!). The new project looked at the relationship between psychology and sociology, and argued that sociology moved away from a conceptualization of “character” – by which agents were understood as whole coherent entities, to “personality” – where agents were made up of parts that could be used to understand them. Quite an interesting idea of Camic’s. The shift away from a holistic understanding of people to a constituitive one happened around 1915, as I recall. And the implications for the direction of the discipline are, to my mind, enormously important. If we think of people made up of “parts” of personality (as opposed to holistic entities) then variable based analyses actually make sense (people are made up of different variable based parts). I’m not sure if Chas ever published the paper. He gave a version of it at that Bourdieu and history conference at Yale back in 2004. My job on the project was data gathering – reading articles from 1895-1940 and coding the usages of character and personality. I was not intellectually involved in it. Or put more simply, it paid my bills one summer, and I was grateful for that!

    I’ll email him about the initial question.


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  1. By theory is dead, long live theory « orgtheory.net on January 29, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    [...] comments at Scatterplot, Dan Hirschman asks, A colleague of mine in graduate school interested in social theory claimed [...]

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