congressional briefing on culture and poverty

Some folks might be interested in the “Issue on Reconsidering Culture and Poverty” in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, edited by David Harding, Michele Lamont and Mario Small. In addition to the issue, there are podcasts available from the Congressional Briefing this May. Continue reading “congressional briefing on culture and poverty”

women in the hockey hall of fame

It seems like just a short time ago when the winter Olympics added women’s hockey to its roster, but it turns out that was 12 years ago now. Women had already been playing high-level international hockey for years then (and, of course, at the college level for much longer), but the Women’s World Hockey Championship wasn’t covered on television in the United States, so it was really the Olympics that brought women’s hockey to my attention.  Continue reading “women in the hockey hall of fame”

annals of academic life: teaching and research

The Tomorrow’s Professor blog has an interesting, if fairly obvious, article claiming that by emphasizing research productivity major universities compromise their teaching mission. The reason is that contemporary research (the author claims) is so esoteric as to be all but irrelevant to classroom issues, and that “pedagogical experts” are better at teaching than are actively-producing scholars. While I think there’s some merit in the concerns, I worry about a few things (after the break):

  1. Continue reading “annals of academic life: teaching and research”

ask a scatterbrain: leave

I’m on leave this fall. I’m excited. The first book is done and I’m starting a couple new projects. As both of these involve New York, I’m staying in the city. And so I have some questions about managing a leave while staying near my university. How strictly do I limit my contact with my colleagues? My students? I obviously won’t do committee work or anything like that. But is it wise to disappear completely (don’t go to talks, to workshops, etc.)? And on a more professional level, is it okay if I reject all requests to review papers, etc.? I normally never say no to a review. But I’d like this time to really work away on my own stuff…

bender, the new metaphysicals

The Immanent Frame asked me to participate in a discussion/forum on Courtney Bender’s great new book, The New Metaphysicals. The book, like the discussion, is really interesting and a fun read on its own. Also interesting, from a disciplinary-boundary sort of perspective, is the way in which this portion of the study of religion transcends the humanities-social sciences boundary, with productive results.

The whole discussion is at and my post is at .

stepping carefully

Yesterday I had an email exchange with a local conservative politician & blogger. I realized I was concerned to be careful not to say anything that could be pulled out of context. He originally asked (in less than polite language) a not-unreasonable question about whether statements about incarceration rates considered arrest rates, so I sent him the appropriate tables with an offer to explain the data. He responded without even looking at the data with an ill-worded and hostile question asking me to say whether this is all a matter of Black criminality or all a matter of “scapegoating whites.” I responded by complaining about his false dichotomy and inflammatory language and explaining (at length) about the complexity of the issue and the nature of the relevant data. I stressed that assessing the balance of “differential crime” and “unfair treatment” is difficult and that people working on the issue offer proposals both to address the sources of crime and to address the treatment in the system. I got back another less-insulting but still oversimplified dichotomized question about whether it is just a matter of people being punished unfairly or not, so I responded by saying that I believed my previous reply had already addressed that question. I was afraid that any attempt to answer his over-simplified question would just make its way into an ill-informed blog post. Sigh. This whole society has degenerated into slogan-slinging. We’ve reached the point where trying to address issues in a reasoned and nonconfrontational way is, itself, attacked. Ugh.

What makes this so hard is that racism is, of course, one of the central problems. Racism impacts the conditions that foster crime as well as the treatment of people by the criminal justice system. And “crime” is a heterogeneous category. I read the evidence as saying that the racial differences in arrests for serious crimes probably roughly track racial differences in doing the crimes, while there is a huge racial gap in your chances of getting arrested for a drug offense or a lesser crime (like disorderly conduct, vandalism, theft). It is very hard to keep a moral focus about the importance of the issue and the problem of race while also pushing past over-simplified dichotomies about what is going on.

that smoking article

Did y’all see this article in Contexts:

“In Defense of Smokers,” Contexts Summer 2009

What a truly bizarre argument, presented apparently without irony (intentionally at least). The article assumes, without demonstrating in any way, that the evidence that smoking causes health problems is incorrect or trumped up; it then goes on to call upon sociologists to “recognize, analyze, and (perhaps even) disrupt the public attack on smoking and smokers.” The rhetoric is overheated to the point of silliness; the author implies that smokers are denigrated while cocaine and heroin users and rifle-carriers are left to roam the streets.

The punch-line, though, is the claim that the spread of “no smoking” rules impedes the “open spaces of conviviality.” Again: no evidence offered whatsoever.

Sociology can’t succumb to the totalitarian medical views toward cigarette smokers. Sociology is meaningless if we allow other fields of social knowledge tell us what the precise meaning of “public” is. Public life and the rituals of group solidarity should be kept alive, free from excessive forms of social  control.

The article reads like a complaint letter from a disgruntled smoker. I thought sociologists were supposed to offer some kind of evidence to support arguments in professional publications!

scatterplot: npr, 4pm today!!!

Our own Dan Myers will be on NPR’s all things considered at 4PM today!!! To discuss what else? Monopoly. Take that, orgtheory!!! I got a call today from the folks at NPR this AM. Not sure why they found me. Perhaps I’m the only one in my office. I guided them in Dan’s direction. I’m excited to hear the sociological wisdom reigning down. Or, at least why the heck Dean Myers decided to do this.

further adventures in public sociology

So I recently decided to move beyond the college newspaper and try writing a series on elite education for GOOD magazine. I have a few articles drafted, which will come out in the months to come. And it’s been interesting trying to say something in 800 words that is both social science-like without being social science-light. I’m not sure my first post succeeds. Something interesting happens when I start to write for a no professional audience (you, GOOD, the college paper, etc.). I try and be more provocative than I normally would. It’s an interesting experience, especially as I often find myself muttering about new sensationalism. We’ll see what the future series holds for me.