adventures in fame

So handily enough, today I’m doing some kind of video/TV interview that no one will ever see. It’s on inequality.Thank God I was smart enough to ask for the questions in advance (I got them three hours ago, the team just arrived to set up the camera). Why? Because when I got them, I realized that I was less “doing an interview” and more “taking an oral exam”. The  questions were (are) ridiculously extensive. I joked with a grad student that I thought I’d never have to take a prelim again, but I was clearly wrong. I say “handily enough” because though I was unable to work today I was able to study for this thing. Which took me about three hours. Do people really think that academics know stuff like this off the top of their heads? Do you guys? I hope not. Otherwise, I’m in for a rough career. Well, at least I learned something today (Sorokin’s view of mobility and revolution – YES, they asked that!!!). Here are the list of questions:

interview questions for Monday, Nov. 3
•    What’s a sociologist? What kinds of things do sociologists study? What are some sociological research methods?
•    Why do you, Shamus Khan, study stratification/class?
•    What’s social differentiation? How’s that different from inequality?
•    What’s the difference between inequality and stratification?
•    Sociology textbooks always walk students through historical models of stratification: the caste system, the slave system, feudalism, and capitalism. Why is this useful?  What maintains stability in these different systems? Is it ideology?
•    Do societies have to be stratified? How do sociologists try to answer this question?
•    I would think that most people have some ideas about class; they know, or they think they know, what class they’re in, and they could probably tell you what class other people are in. ….So what’s so tricky about ‘class’? Why is it hard to study class?
•    Have people always thought about society in terms of ‘class’? When did the idea of ‘class’ arise?…And why then? What changes in society led to class-consciousness, class theory, etc?
•    Are there practical reasons for understanding inequality in a society?
•    Are there intellectual reasons? Can thinking about ‘class’ help us think about society, art, literature, history, etc?  What about other ways of dividing society—like race and gender?
•    What if we just set aside the idea of ‘class’ and study society by socioeconomic gradation? What are some ways of doing this? What does this miss?

•    Can you explain the difference between studying class as an objective phenomenon, and studying the subjective experience of class?
•    When we everyday folks make judgments about a person’s class affiliation, what are we basing that on?
•    Do all sociologists agree that ‘class’ exists? Do sociologists agree that ‘class’ is a good thing to study?
•    I’ve read a lot about the critique of social class. What was the root of this? How does the critique of class relate to the increasing attention paid to race, gender and other sources of group affiliation?
•    Do you think class is becoming less important? There are huge differences between wealthy and poor…
•    Where do you think the field is going? What excites you about your work?
•    If you want to study class, what are different ways you can think about doing this?
•    Can there be a non-theory laden way of studying class? Why is this difficult?
•    Can race and gender stratification be lumped into class? Have scholars tried to do this?

•    Why is Marx so important?
•    What’s his big idea, in a soundbyte/nutshell/fifth grade version?
•    What’s the significance of exploitation, to Marx?
•    What did Marx think was going to happen to the capitalist system? Did he want it to change? Was it ok for non-proletarian leaders to interfere to make it change faster, or would it topple automatically?
•    Tell me a little bit about Karl Marx, the person.
•    Who is Engels?
•    Tell me about the historical context that led Marx to see society the way he did.
•    What were the elites like?
•    What’s Marx’s political legacy, in a nutshell? Marxists today must acknowledge that historical examples of state communism failed or are failing. So how would Marxists defend their political beliefs?
•    How did Marx’s political legacy influence the development of sociology? For instance, was it OK to be a Marxist sociologist  American sociology during the Cold War?
•    What did Marx mean when he drew a distinction between class “in itself” and class “for itself”?
•    What’s the significance of ‘class consciousness’ in Marx’s view?
•    How has Marxism been used to try to understand gender and race stratification, for instance?
•    Is this reductionist picture still in use today?
•    Give me a very basic version of critiques of Marxism.
•    How have people tried to retool Marx and respond to these criticisms?

•    Why is Weber so important?
•    What’s his big idea about social stratification, in a soundbyte/nutshell/fifth grade version?
•    To Weber, what was the ideal stratification system?
•    Tell me a little bit about Max Weber, the person.
•    Tell me about the historical context/Weber’s milieu that led him to see society the way he did.
•    Compare and contrast Marx and Weber’s ideas about economic class differences.
•    Both Marx and Weber’s ideas about class/status fit into their larger theories of history. Tell me about Weber’s idea about protestant work ethic.
•    What is status, to Weber? What’s a status group?
•    What’s “status crystallization?”
•    What is multidimensional stratification? Is Weber’s picture more pluralistic that Marx’s?

•    Very briefly, what’s the idea here?
•    If this was a correct picture of society, what would you expect to see? …stability?
•    What’s been the critique?
•    Do sociologists still use the functionalist paradigm?
•    Is there a legacy of this sociology that’s still with us today? (in the US? In political rhetoric?)

•    Tell me about this man-biography.
•    What’s his big idea? Why has he become such an important source for thought about class and status?
•    What are Bourdieu’s four kinds of capital?
•    Symbolic capital is the weirdest, I think. Tell me more about that.
•    People talk about Bourdieu as a public intellectual. What does that mean? How did that affect the reception of his ideas within sociology?
•    How could you do sociological research within Bourdieu’s framework?
•    What’s his legacy?  Today, are there neo-Marxists and neo-Weberians, or have we gotten beyond that?

ascriptive stratification
•    What is ascriptive stratification?
•    People say that race is a social category. What does this mean? Is gender a social category?
•    What’s the history of sociological attention to ascriptive stratification? Is that new?  What brought about the current emphasis on race/gender now?
•    Tell me about reductionism  in sociology. Does anybody see things all through the lens of race or gender, the way for Marx, class was everything?
•    What did Engels have to say about gender stratification?
•    Why is gender a wrench in the works for stratification theorists? What’s the unit of analysis problem?
•    Now, many women work, and women are doing better in college than men. Is there still gender stratification, in the US and elsewhere?
•    How do we get started thinking about race/ethnic stratification? What are these categories? Are race and ethnicity both socially determined? Is there a difference between these 2?
•     How have different sociologists thought about race? Are races like warring classes? Are they cultural groups?
•    What enduring problems of race/ethnic stratification still exist?

class in the US
•    In the US, the majority of people identify as middle class. And we have the “American Dream” idea. Do you think this background affects people’s perceptions about class and society?
•    Is there really much class mobility in the US? What’s the importance of class mobility?
•    Did Marx and Weber have anything to say about class in the US?
•    Who is Sorokin? How did he understand the relationship between social mobility and revolution?
•    Is there great socioeconomic inequality in the US?
•    When there’s socioeconomic inequality, what other kinds of inequality are there? How does the US compare to other countries?  (Health inequality, education inequality…)
•    Is there an elite in the US? How do people study this?
•    What’s ‘hereditary closure’?
•    Is there an underclass in the US? How do people study this?

6 thoughts on “adventures in fame”

  1. Obviously you have just been punkd. I imagine these answers will soon be for sale to students in countries around the world. You gotta give the scammers some credit for appealing to people’s desire to be on TV — if you’d gotten this list of questions over email it’d have gone straight in the trash.


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