a philosophy cheat sheet for social theory

As I’ve been preparing to teach, for the first time, an Advanced Social Theory graduate seminar this fall, I’ve realized that it would be helpful to have a “cheat sheet” of philosophical terms useful for social theory. I am going to put one together and distribute it the first day of class. I ask you, O Scatterbrains, what terms ought to be included thereupon. Below is what I’ve thought of thus far. Let the suggestions begin; I will post the sheet when I complete it.

  • Ontology
  • Epistemology
  • Emergence
  • Metaphysics
  • Phenomenology
  • Positivism
  • Realism
  • Analytic

for profit education*

Today, almost tens of billions of tax dollars are being dedicated to funding for profit institutions that have little interest in their clients than extracting as much from them as possible. These institutions are not what you might think they are. They’re schools. And the live off government money providing almost none of the earnings advantages that traditional schools do. Worst of all, this racket preys upon two groups: GIs returning from hard fought wars and the most disadvantaged in our nation. Continue reading “for profit education*”

obesity and life trajectories

This morning NPR had a story about this study, which followed high-school grads to age 40. It uses “growth mixture models” (I’m not sure what these are) to identify two latent classes: one of “normative,” gradual growth in weight from normal weight at high school graduation to higher weight at 35 or 40, the other of “persistent overweight,” i.e., being overweight at high school graduation and staying overweight. There are important differences in health at age 40, which I don’t think is that surprising (though worth demonstrating). But there are also differences in social outcomes, including having “ever had a partner” (romantic, I assume); welfare receipt; and not having pursued education after high school, all of them more likely among the persistently overweight group.

The paper also, though, demonstrates that low childhood SES is a significant predictor of overweight at high school graduation, as is (independently) high school GPA. Read in this way, it strikes me that we ought not understand persistent obesity as a biological cause of social outcomes, as the NPR story (and particularly Kelly Brownell’s commentary therein) suggests, but rather as a mediator between childhood SES and adult SES.

ask a scatterbrain: setting up talks

So, now that the book is coming out soon, a bunch of people have said, “you should set up talks.” Here’s the thing: I don’t know what this means, or how to do it. I mean, it’s not like I can show up in LA, drop by UCLA, and say, “hey there! here to give a talk.” I understand that “getting talks” this is something not-so-uncommon that people try and do. But how do they do it? Do you tell your friends you want to give a talk? Is that tacky? Is there an assumed quid pro quo? I’ve noticed that some people seem to do mini tours when they have work coming out. Any idea how they manage this? What’s the etiquette here? I realize posting this on scatterplot is a not-so-subtle way of “doing this.” But I’m not simply trying to use my bully pulpit. I’m curious about how people organize things like this…

rape by deception

I haven’t seen much press about it here, but upon returning from Israel a few of my colleagues told me about a court case that shows the salience of race and racism in Israel. The story is this: a man and a woman had sex. Both willingly. But the man had lied. He introduced himself with a traditionally Jewish name. But he was an Arab. She later found out, filed a complaint, and he has since been convicted of “rape by deception.”

Continue reading “rape by deception”

ask a scatterbrain: course material online

I understand that many of you folks have experimented with blogs in your class. I have been thinking about trying to structure my classes in ways that opens them up to a broader community. I’ve been looking at MIT’s Open CourseWare (which now has over 2000 courses online!), as well as some of the things on iTunesU. I’m curious about a few things. (1) Do folks know of good models that I might emulate to do this? (2) Are there guides that might help me avoid some of the pitfalls of the process as well as design things that get the most of out the process, and (3) Any general advice? I’m on leave this Fall and will likely get this up and running for our intro class here in the Spring. So there’s no huge rush. But I’d like to dedicate a little time this fall figuring it all out. Oh, and (4) does it matter that I’m low-tech teacher: that basically I teach without powerpoint and just a piece of chalk? I like teaching that way. I want more on-line content, but I like the classroom experience as it is… Does that matter?

ask a scatterbrain: qualitative informants

I’m posting this question for a friend. I suggested for a project she’s working on that she consider asking focus group participants about what they think others might say about the same issues. The idea is to think about these (relatively few) respondents as informants about the field in which they move. In this case, the focus groups are with health-care providers, typically doctors, and she wants to ask them to what extent they’d expect their own concerns to be similar or different to the concerns of other providers they know.

She’s proposing this strategy to her funder, but I can’t provide citations where people have argued for and/or used it. I see it as asking people to report on their networks and fields instead of just their own experiences.

Any pointers? Thanks.

adjudicating between networks and taste

I just read Frédéric Godart and Ashley Mears’ article in Social Forces, “How Do Cultural Producers Make Creative Decisions?: Lessons from the Catwalk.” The article is based on both ethnographic work and an interesting network analysis of fashion design firms “linked” by contracts with the same models.

Continue reading “adjudicating between networks and taste”


I wonder if we could start a blogcast series this fall in which sociology job candidates with multiple offers announce their decisions live on Scatterplot. Anybody know how to do streaming live video in WordPress?

canada dumps long-form census

I’m a little late catching up to the news, and dismayed to learn about the unexpected decision by the Industry Minister to stop administering the long form of the Canadian census to 20% of households. The Minister cites the desire to avoid invasion of privacy, which would be laughable if it weren’t so sad, as anyone who has tried to access Canadian data might know that we have a Fort Knox of data to contend with up here. StatsCan holds data so tightly up here that scholars who want to work on it have to go through a criminal background check and work only in special labs on a few university campuses. They are prevented from taking data home, and have to run all their work past guardians of privacy.

So, without consultation of the social scientists, municipalities, social service providers, or anyone else who uses these data, the Minister made a wholesale change, switching instead to a survey that is voluntary–the equivalent of an internet poll, really, and a waste of the paper it is printed on. What a terrible decision.