I received an e-mail about the mini-conference for The Sociological Imagination Group‘s miniconference that occurs concurrent to the American Sociological Association meetings. As it’s name suggests, the group takes much inspiration from C. Wright Mills’s book The Sociological Imagination, published in 1949. One of the group’s leaders says in the e-mail:

Mills was a Moses who took social scientists to the Promised Land yet was unable to enter it himself. . . Yet here we are, next to that Promised Land, or ‘the promise of sociology.’ I am convinced that our failure to move into it at this time in history may well decide the future of the human race. Do we have the guts, the understanding and the ability to change what is required to enter that land? Can we learn to take on the enormous responsibility that this historical situation places on our shoulders? Can we come to see ourselves as the only individuals on earth who have already developed the basis for providing leadership in moving toward fulfilling the promise of sociology?

Sometimes I think I just don’t believe enough in what I am doing. Honestly. Someone I know who is A Name in her field says about her work: “I’m on a mission from God.” Meant metaphorically, as far as I know she’s not a theist. When she says it I think: “I wonder if people who feel like they are on a mission from God procrastinate.”

On an only-obliquely-related front, a friend sent me a link today from this post about how you can use tried-and-true-cult-techniques in order to brainwash yourself to be more productive. Consider if the described techniques were actually effective and actually did constitute “brainwashing” in all its connotative glory. It’d be kind of the professional academic equivalent of the dilemma of using performance enhancing drugs in professional sports, if such drugs were legal: “Sure, you might be averse to brainwashing, but: you want to keep up? Brainwash yourself!”

i had an idea today

As long as we’re having name tag ribbons, I think we should also make a sash. The sash should be given as a great honor, worn by a different person each day. We can decide who gets it through a series of competitions. One of the competitions should be at the scatterplot party, and the sash will be given as a door prize based on some criteria. I suggest the criteria be, “that person who clearly least wants the sash.” But that’s negotiable. There’s no way org theory will have a sash. Take that, org theory!


Writing from my elliptical trainer, as I work out and watch an episode on iTunes from Season 1 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  This will be my 34th gold star as part of my scheme where I give myself a gold star every day I work out, and for ever day short of 200 stars I earn for 2008, I have to give $25 to a cause I don’t want to give money to.  I’ve been trying to decide on a cause.  I’ve been wanting to choose a cause that I despise enough to motivate me while not actually being something where I would feel like I was harming others as a result of my sloth.  I have thus decided that if I do not make 200 stars I will be sending a check to help fund the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

I was contemplating picking something involving psychoanalysis, astrology, or Paul McCartney, but then I decided that would be overthinking it.

protons and politics

At a dinner party tonight, I was asked by an Italian postdoc to explain the process by which either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton will become the Democratic Party’s nominee in the general election in November. As I got to the part about the super-delegates, it was clear from the expectant smiles on my friends’ faces that they were glad that someone else had gotten this question. Because what makes these delegates so *super* (technically, they are “unpledged party leaders and elected officials delegates”)? And doesn’t it seem undemocratic that they are not bound by the popular vote?

Also tonight, Democrat and Fermilab physicist Bill Foster defeated Republican Jim Oberweis in Illinois’ 14th Congressional District special election to replace Dennis Hastert. Call me a geek, but I like the idea of the co-inventor of Fermilab’s Recycler Ring in the U.S. Congress.

And yes, Foster will be a super-delegate (or, UPLEOD?). He supports Obama.


I’ve not been feeling very bloggariffic, for whatever reason. I have been angry at the Confederacy lately. No Confederacy, no Civil War. If not for Civil War and its aftermath, the major city of the Midwest would be St. Louis rather than Chicago. Which means that the structural equivalent of Northwestern would be located there instead of here. And I would have the same job with all the same splendid people, only winter would be shorter. Curse you, Dixie.

Anyway, while I’ve been at a blogging ebb, a new WordPress venture has begun whose raison d’blog is “preserving the wit and wisdom of sociology bloggers.” The posts are 1-2 sentences with links to us and other sociology bloggers. I’ve no idea what the point of it is. I don’t know if this is yet another incarnation of those people who’ve been obsessed with Scatterplot. Looks like it maybe. Crazy. Mere boldface and italics are insufficient to express how I am so not in the mood for that. In any case, presumably there’s some proto-noxious intent, and so following company policy I’m not going to link to it. Good to know that our sociology celebrity continues, however, even in spells of lower posting.

the road to hell was actually a flight path.

Those red-eyes are so deceiving. Omar and I were at a meeting this week at USC. He chose to stay an extra night so as to avoid the red-eye but spend a day traveling. For a multitude of reasons (first and foremost getting home to relieve the babysitter), I chose to take the red-eye instead, thinking I’d get in, take a nap, and have an entire day to be productive while Omar was stuck in a middle-seat.

It didn’t matter that I upgraded to an exit row or that the baby behind me was actually really good for 99% of the flight or that everything went just as planned at my connection. I came home, took a nap, and am still absolutely exhausted. On the list of things I’ve accomplished – printing out work to do, grocery shopping, and paying bills. Not exactly the immense list of things I hoped to get done.

The really sad thing is, there was a time when red-eyes were all I flew and once I didn’t actually sleep, but stayed up all night talking to the person beside me (who seemed interested, of course). The fact that this flight derailed me is evidence of yet another valuable ability that has waned with age.

wicked manuscript outline

Hallelujah for academic templates! Wicked Anomie has brilliantly one-upped my research statement to lay out a basic template for a research paper. Although she notes that her outline best applies to quantitative work, I have found it helpful in the past to teach my qualitative students a (much more crude) basic layout of a quantitative paper as a starting point. It can be modified to suit the needs of the paper, but starting with this lends some structure to what often feels like unruly data.

electoral survivor

I have a theory. That theory is that reality television has benefited the democratic process. I’m sure that seems like a stretch to you, but I have been curiously watching the really unprecedented hoopla surrounding the primaries this (and last) year and it strikes me that the press is treating the races very much like a Survivor-style elimination contest Continue reading “electoral survivor”

how do you build a network? ask a scatterbrain*

From grad students, a series of questions that I have compiled into one big mess. Basically: how do you build a network and does it matter what kind you build?

People keep telling me how important it is to “build networks.” I understand why. I just don’t understand how. So, how do you go about “building networks”? If you’re at Berkeley or Wisconsin it’s one thing (big departments, people leave, you have “real” connections outside your department). But what if you’re not? Or if you are and you don’t really have a network other than your adviser and committee members? And what kind of networks are most important? Inside your substantive area? Outside your substantive area? Does it matter? And while we’re on it, would I rather have a few really strong ties, or a bunch of weaker ones? You know, would I rather have a few people who overlap with one another (they know each other) that I know well, or a bunch of people I don’t know well but who aren’t themselves overlapping? I know what Granovetter says. But what about in sociology, the discipline? And finally, are ties that important early on when I’m first getting a job? Or are people just telling me this because it’s important for later (tenure) so I might as well start working on it now?

* I know this is a Wednesday feature. But I’m busy tomorrow. So I’m pushing it forward to today. And I leave on Thursday to go to visit Kieran’s (and my mom’s) people back at the old sod.

yet another!

Yet another fake memoir! That makes two in one week! Of course this new one is not as clearly untrue as the last. Then again, this new memoir has the distinction of coming out, generating favorable reviews, a heart-touching story written in the NYTimes about the author, and within a week being identified as a fake. To the reveiwer’s credit, she does note that, “some of the scenes she has recreated from her youth (which are told in colorful, streetwise argot) can feel self-consciously novelistic at times…” Turns out that the author was not adopted in “Gangland”, but instead went to a private Episcopal School in wealthy Sherman Oaks. It seems that since James Frye these things are happening more and more frequently. It makes me wonder how many other memoirs are mostly fiction – particularly older ones (where the truth was less easy to dig up on Google). I’m also curious how many of our own scholarly works are more fiction than fact. I’d bet that it’s more than I am willing to imagine.

the brief research statement

A graduate student of mine is writing up a scholarship application that includes a one-page statement of proposed research. In giving this student feedback, I offered the following advice for what to include and the order in which to present it:

My proposed study is about this. Here is why this problem is important. Here is what we know about this problem. These studies leave THIS IMPORTANT THING that needs to be found out. Here is what I will do to find that out. I will do the study this way. It will produce these results. This is the value of doing the work. This is why I am qualified to do it, and whom I’ll work with. Remember, this is the contribution my study will make.

Do you masterminds of sociology have any feedback for me on my feedback to students? After all, you have read more than your share of research proposals. Wouldn’t the world of sociology be a better place if we all knew how to write the one-pager?