making social facts easy to understand

Below is a guest post from Nathan Palmer, creator of a site focused on spreading ideas and resources for teaching sociology.

“Uh Professor, I think you are way off on this one. I know what your sociology research tells you, but people round here aren’t like that.”

Teaching students to see beyond the individual and at the sociological level is really hard. Especially in the United States we overvalue anecdotal personal experiences & undervalue empirical social facts. Worse yet, when student’s lived experiences differ from what sociological research finds, they believe that their lived experience invalidates the sociological research. So how can we get our students to see at the sociological level? Easy. Just put it in terms they understand.

Continue reading “making social facts easy to understand”

rip, milton babbit

Famous for writing, “Who cares if you listen?”* – an essay that reflected on the gulfs between composers listeners, Babbit was one of America’s great composers. He also taught Stephen Sondheim, which is a little hard to guess if you listen to his music. Here’s his second string quartet, which you can follow along with the score.

*Babbit complained of the title, and for good reason, it’s not really an accurate summary of what he says. But the folks at High Fidelity figured it would be more famous with their title. They were right. Babbit wanted to call it, “The Composer as Specialist.”

frances fox piven under attack

January 24, 2011

Dear members of the Collective Behavior and Social Movement Section of ASA

We write to express our outrage at the way in which our esteemed colleague, Frances Fox Piven, has been pilloried, even terrorized, by both the right wing media (most especially Glenn Beck of FOX News) and character-assassinating, vicious, right wing extremist blogs associated with (but not limited to) him. One of us first heard about these assaults Continue reading “frances fox piven under attack”

ask a scatterbrain: crossover sociology

I am finally getting around to writing the second paper based on letters-to-the-editor data I collected in 2002 (!). I’m trying to decide whether to submit the paper to a sociology journal or a political science journal. Background: I think this will be a good paper, at least as important as the other one I published on these data.

Reasons for publishing in political science:

  • Larger audience
  • Opportunity for dialogue with scholars outside my discipline
  • The argument is relatively political science-esque, and much of the referenced material is from political science

Reasons for sticking with sociology:

  • The main colleagues I interact with regularly are sociologists
  • It’s not everyday that I have an article with potential for placement in a top journal in my field
  • Professionally, how will my own and other departments “count” a publication in a cognate discipline?


my trip to the us consulate

Or, how the United States wasted a day of my life.

Did you know that Americans with dual citizenship must declare the U.S. to be their “primary citizenship” (whatever that means) and must use their U.S. passport to enter the United States? I did not, but I have heard rumour that if a border guard catches a non-citizen in even the tiniest lie, you can be banned from entering the United States. Which is why, every time we cross the border, our family reports our citizenship as accurately as possible: one American, one Canadian, and one dual citizen. And we hand over Kid’s Canadian passport, and all is well. Not one time has a border guard mentioned that Kid needs a U.S. passport. Nonetheless, my rule of thumb is Don’t Antagonize the Border Guards, so as soon as I found out about the rule, I started doing the paperwork to renew Kid’s U.S. passport, which expired in 2009. Continue reading “my trip to the us consulate”

is civic literacy fiscal literacy?

From The Monkey Cage, I took the American Civic Literacy quiz. It’s tough but interesting – I got 100% right, which puts me slightly ahead of John Sides and Mike Munger. Which is kind of ironic, because Munger is a libertarian, indeed formerly a libertarian candidate for governor of NC (I don’t know Sides), and the quiz shows a marked libertarian bias in questions 25 on. Frankly there are empirical and theoretical disputes about some of the claims, so one has to sort of engage in temporary suspension of disbelief in order to figure out what answers they’re looking for! It’s not that hard to figure out, though, since the very fact that 8 of 33 questions are fiscal in character.

boundaries of performativity, continued

Over on OrgTheory, a discussion of the apparent constancy of color perceptions morphed into a(nother) discussion of performativity and, by inappropriate extension, postmodernism and epistemological skepticism. Rather than hijack that post, I’m moving over here to post some thoughts and critique of Teppo Felin and Nicolai Foss’s paper, “Social Reality, the Boundaries of Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, and Economics.”

Continue reading “boundaries of performativity, continued”

help wanted

I’m interested in identifying different adjectives that appeared in front of a particular not-uncommon noun in sociology. Think of, say, adjectives that precede “theory.” This search by no means needs to be exhaustive of anything, but I want it to be broad. So I’m trying to think if there is an efficient way to do this.

Having to page to each time the word occurs in JSTOR takes too long. Sage’s journals online, in contrast, provide a suitably good way of doing this for ASR, insofar the search for a term provides a snippet of text around the term and so you can see if there is an adjective and what it is, but Sage’s ASR selection only appears to go back to 2004, and I was hoping to go back farther than that. Any ideas?

you’ve got the power to rank sociology

Brilliant idea by Kieran Healy and Steve Vaisey to invent a new ranking system for sociology programs: head-to-head matchups clicked by all of us mouse-wielding adjudicators of quality. Click here and spend the day voting on which program is better: Indiana vs. Harvard? Florida State vs. U of Minnesota? Cornell vs. Stanford? You make the call.

should i add postmodernism back into my theory course?

The postmodernism firestorm over on OrgTheory contains a delicious irony to me: I actually did not teach postmodernism the last time I taught my graduate theory course, for reasons much like Fabio’s #4: other theory seemed more relevant to contemporary sociological practice. When I teach the class again in fall ’11, I’m wondering whether I should add it back in. (NOTE: I’m actually leaning against adding it back, but thinking it through.) Continue reading “should i add postmodernism back into my theory course?”


Things you learn as department chair: Did you know departments pay to be listed in the ASA Guide to Graduate Departments? It’s $300–on top of whatever we pay to be a “Department Affiliate”–or roughly the cost of a fax machine for our graduate students. Does anybody use the Guide to Graduate Departments, or at least, does anyone use it in a way that might actually benefit our department, as opposed to like in studies of the history or structure of the discipline?

Of course, I suppose you can ask if anybody still uses a fax machine, but that’s a separate issue.